Late last month, we published our annual holiday guide for people interested in buying tablets. We took a look at what we considered to be the best tablets running iOS, Android, and Windows as these have become the three dominant operating systems among tablets. That being said, users are likely more familiar with iOS and Android tablets than they are with ones that run Windows, myself included.

There's significantly less coverage of Windows devices, and they generally don't attract the same sort of attention as high profile launches like Apple's iPad and Google's Nexus tablets. This makes it somewhat challenging to determine what Windows tablets are good recommendations, and I had to take a look at what owners of Windows tablets were saying about their experiences. During my search, I came across a tablet that was genuinely interesting. I had seen it previously in posts about Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, and the reason I found it to be so interesting was because of its low price. The tablet that I speak of is the HP Stream 7.

The Stream 7 is priced at $119, which makes it an extremely inexpensive tablet that sits alongside cheap tablets that have traditionally run Android. Around the Black Friday shopping period, it was at an even lower price of $99. In fact, even today you can still find the Stream 7 on Amazon for $99. When I first saw it, I assumed there had to be a catch. I thought it might be running Microsoft's failed Windows RT platform, but in fact it runs a complete copy of Windows 8.1 and is compatible with all the legacy applications you're familiar with on your laptop and desktop computers.

This is the result of Microsoft's Windows 8.1 with Bing initiative, which allows manufacturers to ship low-cost Windows devices without having to pay Microsoft a licencing fee for including Windows. I find this remarkable, as a separate copy of Windows 8 can cost as much as the Stream 7 that includes it as part of the package. It turns out that there isn't really a catch; there are simply hardware compromises that need to be made to achieve such a low price point. I've put the specifications of the Stream 7 in a chart below so you can get an idea of exactly what $119 gets you.

  HP Stream 7
SoC Intel Atom Z3735G 1.33GHz quad core Bay Trail with 1.83GHz burst speed
Display 7" 1280x800 eIPS LCD
Dimensions 192.78 x 110.74 x 9.90 mm, 353.8g
Camera 2MP Rear Facing , 0.3MP Front Facing
Battery 3000mAh, 3.7V (11.1Wh)
OS Windows 8.1 with Bing
Connectivity 802.11b/g/n + BT 4.0 , USB2.0, Miracast

As you can see, it's actually a bit better than you might expect from a $119 device. Many Android tablets at this price point either use TN displays, or sport resolutions of 1024x600 or even 800x480. The quad core Atom CPU should also be capable of running Windows smoothly given the tasks that users will typically perform on a tablet. The points of concern are the battery capacity, which is quite low for a 7" tablet, and the inclusion of only 1GB of memory; that's definitely pushing the limits of what Windows can run on. 

The design and build quality of the Stream 7 is what you'd expect from a $119 tablet. It's somewhat heavy, and it definitely won't be winning any awards for thinness. The construction is entirely plastic, aside from the glass on the front that appears to be more reflective than any other device I own. Viewing the device in portrait orientation, the left and right sides of the display have identical thin bezels, while the top and bottom have thicker asymmetric bezels with the bottom one being larger. The top bezel is home to a 0.3MP front-facing camera on the right, and the name HEWLETT-PACKARD on the left just in case you forget which company made your tablet. The bottom bezel has a single capacitive button with the Windows logo, which acts as the start menu key. 

The right side houses the volume rocker and power button, the top has the 3.5mm combo jack and the microUSB port, and the bottom has a small slit for the mono speaker. Something that is interesting to note is that the sides of the tablet are slanted, so the width is greater near the back cover than near the display. It's an interesting design choice that makes it stand out from other tablets. It doesn't seem to make it feel any easier or harder to hold; it just feels different. 

The back cover of the Stream 7 is adorned with logos. From bottom to top we have the Intel logo, the name of the tablet, and a very large HP logo. Above the HP logo is a center-aligned 2.0MP camera. Beneath all the logos is a sticker with regulatory info that thankfully comes off quite easily. Something that doesn't show up in marketing images of the Stream 7 is the sparkly pattern on the back cover. It's not a completely black back cover, as it has speckles that show up when you shine light on it. 

The back of the device is unfortunately also where the issues of build quality begin to crop up. The Stream 7 has a removable back cover, but it only serves the purpose of accessing the MicroSD slot in the back of the device as well as the officially non-removable battery. The problem is that there's a large gap between the back cover and the back of the tablet body, which means that there's significant flex to the back of the tablet. HP could have made their device thinner and more rigid by having a non-removable back without the gap between it and the components beneath it. The MicroSD could have been made accessible through some slot on the side. That being said, at a price point of $119 or less this is honestly excusable; you get what you pay for with regards to build quality. 

Display and Calibration
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  • eriri-el - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    No problem there, wouldn't want you guys to get into trouble. Strange, UFOTest shows my display refreshing at 53Hz. Time to ask HP directly. I apologize for assuming that you missed it out, might be a problem/defect on my end. Thanks for the reply.
  • Brandon Chester - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    Does yours say 53Hz in the Intel control panel?
  • eriri-el - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    Yes it does. The Intel control panel shows 53p Hz only. Strange, I've posted in the HP forums, and so far one person says that his Stream 7 runs at 53Hz too.
  • Brandon Chester - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    That's super odd. I can confirm mine says 60p. I would love to contact HP about that, but they haven't even gotten back to me about the headphone jack and WiFi so you'll have as much luck getting answers as I will.
  • Brandon Chester - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    Updating to the latest bios brought it to 53Hz.
  • eriri-el - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    So I guess my device comes with a newer bios out of the box compared to your device. Thanks for updating me. Guess I'll let it slide since it's not really a defect, nor does it affect the user experience on such a budget device.
  • Yuriman - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    Highly interested in this device. I'm very happy with the HP Chromebook I got recently, and it looks like this tablet should be able to run Hearthstone well enough.
  • jameskatt - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    Great review. The most important thing I learned: I would rather have a great laptop like a MacBook Air running Windows 10, than any Windows Tablet. Windows is simply better interfaced for computers with keyboards and mice not fingers.
  • jb14 - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    I picked up similar tablet, a cheap Chinese import to the UK (Voyo WinPad A1 mini) at just under £100. 2GB and 8" being the main differences. Great as a couch surfer and using on planes/trains, using the OTG cable & accessories when x86 is required. I wouldn't spend more than £150 on such a device personally though.
  • Teknobug - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    Wow why are there so many cheap Windows tablets lately. The low price always tells me "junk", but it makes me wonder. I'd love an x86 based tablet to handle some stuff I do on my desktop while on the go (without needing VNC or remote desktop).

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