Does HP’s budget-friendly Android tablet make a splash in a crowded market?
Hewlett Packard’s first entry into the tablet market was at least memorable, if not entirely successful. After acquiring Palm and its mobile operating system WebOS in 2009, HP launched the TouchPad in July 2011. While the TouchPad was originally running WebOS, users found that they could quite easily install Android on the tablet, making it a much nicer device to use. Sadly, this didn’t help sales, and the following month, just 1 week after it launched in Australia, HP announced that they were discontinuing the TouchPad, and drastically reduced its price. Virtually overnight, the TouchPad went from a $499 tablet to a $99 bargain. Customers lined up outside shops all over Australia to get their hands on the discontinued device, creating headlines everywhere. HP sold the rights to WebOS to LG, and disappeared from the mobile market for a while.
Fast forward 2 years, and HP are taking a second stab at the tablet market, this time in the form of the HP Slate 7. This time they’ve gone with a 7-inch tablet running Android 4.1. The 7-inch tablet market is a tough market to crack, given the popularity of Google’s own Nexus 7, so any new entry has to offer something new. On the face of it, HP seems to have done just that.
The Slate 7 has 3 major features that the Nexus 7 does not: expandable memory, a rear camera, and a sub-$200 price tag. Is this enough to knock the Nexus 7 from its perch?
The tablet is the first thing you see when you open the box, which also contains a wall charger, USB cable, and quick start guide. The Slate 7 looks about what you’d expect, but feels a bit heavier in the hands (370g) compared to the Nexus 7 (330g).
The power button, MicroSD card slot and headphone jack are all on the top edge of the device, while the volume rocker lives on the right edge. The bottom edge features stereo speakers and a Micro USB port, while the left edge is completely clean. The back of the device is a hard silver plastic (also available in red) with a slight rubbery feel, and aside from the HP logo in the middle and the rear camera on the top left corner, is relatively empty.
The Slate 7 features an ARM A9 Dual core 1.6Ghz processor, a 7-inch FFS+ LCD screen and 1GB of RAM. We have been supplied with the 8GB model which has a RRP of $199, but there is also $249 32GB model available. The 8 GB model has about 5.5 GB of usable memory out of the box, but the MicroSD card slot means that you can add up to 32 GB of memory, so storage space shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
The Slate 7 looks to be built quite well. It’s nice and solid, and doesn’t have that flimsy feel that a lot of cheaper devices have. A steel band that runs around the edge of the tablet holds everything together nicely, and the whole thing feels like it’ll withstand a bit of wear and tear.
Unfortunately, the Slate 7 isn’t a great device to hold. The square edges aren’t a great fit for your hand, and the weight of the device combined with the slippery plastic back mean that it feels like it could slip out of your grip at any moment.
Unfortunately, this is where the Slate 7 really falls down. The screen has quite a low resolution of 1024 x 600, and a pixel density of just 170 ppi. Not only that, but the screen is a little longer and wider than it probably should be for that resolution, which means that everything looks stretched when in landscape view and squished in portrait view. Adding to the screen problems is the colour – everything just looks washed out, and the poor viewing angles certainly doesn’t help this either.
On the plus side, the touchscreen works well and is very responsive. This isn’t really enough to balance out the negatives though, and if having a good quality screen is important to you, then the Slate 7 is probably not the tablet for you.
Being a budget device, the Slate 7 doesn’t have too many bells and whistles. There’s no GPS, no video output and it only has Bluetooth 2.0, but this is enough to get by with. My old Bluetooth headset connected just fine and worked with no problems. The Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) works well, and I was able to connect to a number of different networks in a variety of locations with no real signal strength problems or dropouts. However, the Slate 7 only supports 2.4 Ghz wi-fi networks, so if you were planning on using it with 5 Ghz networks, you’re out of luck.
The HP Slate 7 features Beats Audio, and has two stereo speakers on the bottom of the tablet. These speakers are okay, but they’re too close together to get any real stereo effect from them. Using the tablet in landscape mode renders the stereo effect pretty useless too, as both speakers end up on the same side of the device. The quality of these speakers is a little lacking, and the higher you turn up the volume, the more you notice the tinny sound and lack of bass.
There is a Beats Audio tab in the settings menu, which gives you the ability to choose from 3 sound profiles for different styles of headphones. If you try hard, you can hear a bit of a difference between the different profiles, particularly when switching between in-ear buds and over-ear style headphones, but not enough to really be a major selling point for the Slate 7.
The Slate 7 features 1 GB of RAM and an ARM A9 Dual core 1.6Ghz processor, so you’d expect it to perform quite well. Sadly, this is just not the case.
Running a Geekbench test on the Slate 7 produces a score of 1114, which ranks it in between the Samsung Galaxy S II (997) and the Galaxy S III (1411), and well below the Nexus 7 (1479).
Video playback is okay to start with, but there is noticeable stuttering when there’s a lot happening on the screen. It’s much the same when playing games. Angry Birds played okay, but Temple Run 2 caused a lot of stuttering, and Need for Speed Most Wanted was virtually unplayable.
Even with simple tasks, the tablet can be unresponsive. When pressing the power button to wake the device up, there was often a big delay before the lock screen was displayed. In some cases I had to wait over 5 seconds before anything happened. Navigation around the homescreens and settings is relatively smooth, but it definitely starts to struggle once you have a couple of apps open.
Sensibly, HP have opted not to weigh the Slate 7 down with unnecessary skins and pre-loaded apps. Instead, it comes with vanilla Android 4.1.1, with only the slightest of tweaks. The settings menu comes with an extra tab for adjusting the Beats Audio settings, and the Slate 7 also comes pre-loaded with HP’s own ePrint, an app that lets the tablet talk to selected HP wireless printers. Aside from those small changes, this is a pretty stock standard Android experience.
Unfortunately, while Android 4.1 isn’t ancient, it is almost 12 months old now and having a slightly outdated OS puts it behind its competitors. We asked HP about their plans for software updates, and the response wasn’t good – there are currently no plans to update the Slate 7 to Android 4.2.
The HP Slate 7 is powered by a 3500 mAh lithium polymer battery, and it seems to suit it quite well. If you’re just using it for web browsing and email, then the battery should last you the whole day, possibly longer. Watching video or playing games starts to eat away at it though, and it only lasted about 4-5 hours with constant video playback.
One of HP’s big selling points for the Slate 7 is the rear-facing camera, which is quite unique to tablets in this price range. If you’re after a cheap 7-inch tablet with 2 cameras then sure, the Slate 7 has them. Unfortunately, the cameras aren’t very effective.
The VGA front camera is only 640 x 480 so it’s pretty blocky, but it’s probably adequate for quick Skype calls. The 3 MP rear camera is indeed unusual for a tablet at this price point, but given the quality you have to wonder why they bothered. There’s no built-in flash, so indoor or low-light photography is pretty much out of the question – unless you’re happy with super-grainy images.
Sadly, it doesn’t get much better outside. The camera picks up even the slightest movement, and with no autofocus everything is quite blurry. I really can’t see any situation where you’d want to use the Slate 7 for taking photos, unless it really was the only camera you had available.
- 7″ 1024×600 HFFS+ LCD capacitive multi-touch screen, 16M colours
- 1.6Ghz Dual-core ARM A9 CPU
- 1 GB RAM
- 8 GB eMMC storage, micro SD (up to 32 GB)
- 3 MP rear, VGA (640×480) front cameras
- Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.0
- Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean
- 3500 mAh lithium polymer battery
- 297.2 x 116.1 x 10.7 mm, 372 grams
Even though it’s quite cheap at $199, it’s very hard to recommend the HP Slate 7. It’s quite slow, the battery is mediocre and the screen is woeful. Most of the features that set it apart from others in this price range, such as Beats Audio and the rear camera, are average at best and in some cases practically useless.
If expandable memory and rear facing camera are important to you, the HP Slate 7 certainly won’t break the bank. That said, once you factor in the cost of a 32 GB MicroSD card, it no longer has the price advantage. The Slate 7 has recently seen a price drop in the US, bringing it down to just US$139, which makes it a much more attractive option. Unfortunately we won’t be seeing that price drop here in Australia at this stage.
With its solid build quality, it could make an ideal tablet for the kids on long car or plane trips but for anything more than that, you’ll find the Nexus 7 a far superior option at only $50 more.
For a cheaper option, the Asus MeMo also has expandable memory (but no rear camera) and its 16 GB model is priced $20 less than the 8 GB Slate 7. HP have tried hard to make a tablet that’s both affordable and useful – and they almost succeeded – but ultimately the screen really lets the Slate 7 down.
The HP Slate 7 is currently available at most Australian retailers, including Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, The Good Guys and Radio Rentals.