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. 

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  • lazymangaka - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    I wonder if the headphone static is a problem with the Bay Trail chips or something weird with this zero cost version of Windows, because my Acer Iconia W4-820 also suffers from an annoyingly large amount of static over its 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • Regular Reader - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    Interesting. I have an Iconia W4 and haven't noticed the static. Does it happen to you at any volume level?
  • AllanMoore - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    If you live close to a MicroCenter, a much better pick would be the Winbook TW800 ($ 100). It's got a full USB 3.0, hdmi, micro sd, ips. In my opinion, it's by far the best $ 100 out there. Otherwise i would add extra $49 and buy <a href=" Asus Nexus 7</a>. It's faster and better value!
  • ados_cz - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    Whether it is a better value depends on user, I prefer the full windows 8.1 on my Linx 7, bookmark bar in IE synchronizes with my desktop pc as well as bunch of other things. It is just nice to have a proper PC in pocketable form factor. I have even found a very nice touch screen touchpad in windows store for mouse cursor navigation, handy when you connect external screen and extend the desktop. I just really love this cheap windows tablet. Linx 7 is sooo nice, 280g of full PC experience goodness :-) I have even sold my very good touchscreen Dell e5440 because it became obsolete to me, still keeping hi end mini itx desktop.
  • harrynsally - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    With HDMI and full size USB, I thought of getting one of these to use with external monitor and wireless keyboard/mouse.

    At $100, the TW800 WinBook only has 1GB RAM and 16GB eMCC storage. Even after tuning, Win 8.1 will use 95% of the storage and adding microSD only good for saving photos, documents.

    For $200, you can get the TW100 WinBook that comes with 2GB RAM and 32GB eMCC storage, which will allow room to run additional software.

    Did my homework and just purchased a Dell Inspiration NoteBook for $300. that included a Haswell i3 processor, 15.6" touch screen, 4GB RAM, 500GB storage, HDMI, 3 USB ports including one 3.0), optical DVD drive, 4 cell battery etc.
  • marvdmartian - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    Bought one of these on BF, on sale from Office Depot for $79. Tried it for a few weeks, and I'm shipping it back to them today.
    Frankly, I was underwhelmed with it. As pointed out in the review, battery life is dismal.....even when it's on standby! While I wasn't using it every day, I did try to pick it up whenever possible, to attempt to immerse myself in the Windows 8 experience, as this was my first W8 device. But it seemed as though every time I picked it up to use it, I had to plug it in and charge it first! Sorry, but sitting there, doing NOTHING for 3 days, and the battery dies (from WHAT??) is NOT acceptable to me.
    As I already said, this was my first W8 device.....and will likely be my last one, too. I know, I know, some people are enamored with it, and think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I'm just not impressed with it (and this is the improved Windows 8?? yikes!). I have used pretty much every version of Windows since 95, and found this one to be the least intuitive one of all. Hopefully Windows 10 will bring back some of the simplicity of the older versions!
    As I said, this is being shipped back today. I did a refresh of the operating system (to wipe my info off of it), boxed it up, and Office Depot is paying the return shipping. In its place, I'm looking at the year old Asus 7" tablets, running Android. I've owned one of the newer 10" tablets made by them for almost a year now, and have been much more impressed with their products, as well as their value, than any other manufacturer out there.
  • kg4icg - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    I actually have this tablet, been using it for a couple of weeks now. Not bad at all,, Have a 64gb Samsung SXDC UHS-1 card in it. Actually use it to program radios in the field by way of USB-OTG adapter. Use my phone as a hotspot whenever I need to do something online. Not bad for something I picked up from Microsoft for $100. Oh by the way, I'm posting this comment thru it.
  • kg4icg - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    By the way, only the Back cover is plastic, the frame is metal, possibly aluminum. A Plastic tablet this size is half the weight, Namely the Samsung Tab 4.
  • BuddyRich - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    I recently bought a DVP8 on-sale (wanted more RAM) but considered the Stream 7.

    I justified it as a Raspberry Pi with a built-in screen. I mean outfitted with a case you are spending $35 to 45 for that Pi Whats another $50-60 for a multi-touch screen if you have a use for it? If you don't, obviously don't spend on it. I bought it to be a replacement for a squeezebox touch, which this does superbly.

    It comes with a Windows License which is handy, you can still get Linux on it if you want the lighter-weight OS... I think the UX is rough using desktop Windows with touch. They really should have put the keyboard on the charms bar rather than taskbar as you'll be using it alot if you don't use a bluetooth keyboard.

    My only complaint is the OS is not a "pro" license so I had to use Team Viewer rather RDP to connect to my device.
  • Wolfpup - Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - link

    So glad you guys reviewed this! Very disappointing that the headphone jack is bad. Everything else seems...well, not bad or even good for a $100 tablet, but not being able to use this for media, when otherwise it would be AWESOME for media since it's real Windows kind of kills it for me.

    Meanwhile I think it was Toshiba has a cheap 7" one too but it's killed by using a 1024x800 (?) screen with a higher resolution scaled down to it. Seems like it both cases spending the extra $60 or whatever for the 8" tablets would be the way to go (assuming the 8" models don't have these problems).

    Worth noting that actually the Windows desktop is VERY useable on a 10.6" even works pretty well through my iPad's 9.7" screen with remote desktop. (The issues there are more just that there's a bit of lag/weirdness since it's sending touch commands across a wifi network!)

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