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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  • - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    you can't run flash or FULL APPLICATIONS on your Android nor icrap.

    this is a FULL LAPTOP on tablet form for $100.
  • - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    and i have Toshiba Encore II 8 which is a similar device with only 1gb ram.

    it runs faster than my ipad mini retina on everything and i was able to open 8-10 browsers without leg.
  • ados_cz - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    Cannot agree more, very usable in deed. I have faster eMMC on Linx 7, 170 / 65 MB/s and hard-set swap file to 2GB, have not run into any problem so far.
  • tipoo - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Try a tablet with 1GB RAM on Windows before talking about it, for tablet uses like mail, the browser, etc, 1GB is decent so long as you stay in Metro. This isn't for loading desktop apps on.
  • mss2 - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Though even there, it depends on the desktop app. I bought one to replace the 10-year-old iPod we use to play music in the kitchen, so we run desktop iTunes (there being no Metro version, Apple presumably not being in a hurry to support a competing tablet). Fortunately, either we don't have the headphone jack issue reported here, or it's not noticeable at relatively low volumes on a dock that's not exactly audiophile-quality itself.

    It's easily the cheapest device that would a) hold all our music, with a microSD card, and b) support the star ratings and playlists we've already got in iTunes. (Any iDevice would be at least twice as much. I use various Android sync tools on my phone, but they don't Just Work without any issues. Mirroring the music directory from my desktop does.)

    I'm not a huge fan of the onscreen keyboard (true on my Surface Pro as well; I wish Microsoft would let Swiftkey or someone take a crack at it). But for setup, I had an old folding Bluetooth keyboard first used with a Windows Mobile PDA a decade ago that still worked. Since then, it's worked fine as a music player with a sideline in light web browsing. Overall, I'm genuinely impressed at what a $99 device proves to be capable of.
  • tipoo - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    Fair point, some simpler desktop apps will also work. And also good point for a use case, streaming audio would work well on this, if the headphone jack issue was indeed just a manufacturing error and not within spec and not common.

    Did you try the headphone jack on actual headphones by the way? Is it noticable there?
  • tipoo - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I beg to differ, the niche, sometimes low end devices that you call "boring" are a refreshing change for me, most people aren't buying high end all the time. I was also interested in the Streams specifically as gifts for people who don't need many apps, just a Metro browser basically.
  • eanazag - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I also am interested in this review. Not totally sold on the device, but the price is great. A sub $100 device does make me nervous. There are goofy things that you may want a Windows device for in the single task category. This is clearly not a do everything device.

    What size SD card does it support up to?
  • Brandon Chester - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I have seen it listed as "Up To 32 GB of Expandable Storage" on the pages of several retailers.
  • mss2 - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I have a 64GB microSD card in mine with no issues thus far.

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