Saturday, December 27, 2014

Review: HP Stream 7 Tablet

A fall from the couch destroyed the screen of our 2 year old Nexus 10. You can't easily repair tablets, so we needed a replacement. Our household's been moving away from Android tablets in recent years: compared to Windows tablets, they offer poor value, and more saliently, you simply can't use Amazon Instant Video on them, which is where most of our video consumption comes from, since we are Amazon Prime customers and are not about  to pay for video from any other source any time soon. Amazon's Fire tablets are similarly non-contenders because they offer a poor experience for YouTube.

If you were to tell me 4 years ago that the tablet-specific OSes such as Android would perform less well than a version of Windows on low-memory machines, I'd have laughed at you. Microsoft has a well-deserved reputation for writing bloatware that expands to eat all available CPU, memory, and storage resources. The funny thing is that on small memory machines now, Windows 8.1 rules! The OS is tight, the OS is optimized for tablets use, and having a real web-browser (Internet Explorer) that's been improved by years of competition with Chrome means that you don't need dedicated apps to visit YouTube, use Amazon Instant Video, or even use Google Play services.

The HP Stream 7 tablet comes with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Windows chews up 16GB of the storage, so you're left with about 10-15GB of storage. I was skeptical about the 1GB of RAM, but in reality, the only difference between this and the Dell Venue 8 Pro for web-browsing is that the Dell can support 2 logins at once while the HP Stream 7 will log you out one user before logging in another. The kicker is the price: while the Dell Venue 8 Pro costs around $200, we picked up the HP Stream 7 for $75. If you're familiar at all with the tablet market place, $75 on Android gets you a badly designed product: no-name Chinese tablets with 8GB of storage, dual core CPUs, and 800x400 screens. And of course, over at the Apple side, $75 won't even buy you upgraded storage on any of their products!

The Stream 7, by contrast, comes with a 1280x800 screen, a quad core Atom Bay Trail CPU, and bluetooth.  It even has a microSD card slot for additional storage! This is an amazing value by any measure. What's more, the tablet lives up to the specs. It's fast, snappy, and could run Office. The signature edition we bought comes with an Office 365 Personal subscription for 1 year, which is a $70 value. What's more, if you talked to Microsoft support, for $99, you can turn it into a 2 year Office 365 Home subscription, which gives you 5 users, and 1TB of cloud storage  Contrast this with Google's $120/year for 1 user, and you can see that Microsoft is really working hard for your business.

The tablet does have nits: the headphone jack is reportedly unusable for most relegating you to using Bluetooth for sound (not the worst thing in the world). There's screen bleed (but no big deal), there battery's small so it'll only last for 8 hours, and the tablet's heavy for it's size. The cameras built into the device are crappy (no surprise: 2MP isn't going to get you decent results even if you're a heavy instagram user). But none of that detracts from the amazing value that this tablet represents.

With Google seemingly exiting the low cost Android tablet market (no new Nexus 7 this year, and the Nexus 9 is priced like an Apple product), it's very clear that Microsoft is going to dominate the low-end tablet market. My biggest wish is for them to succeed so wildly that Google and other vendors take note and start paying attention to this market again.

In any case, this tablet is highly recommended.
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