When Google launched the Nexus 7, many felt it revolutionized the tablet market with its high performance, accessible size, and very affordable price. It’s still one of the best 7-inch tablets on the market, and the device is even expected to get a refresh soon.
Thanks to its success, it was only a matter of time before other companies adopted this same strategy, and tried to possibly do better. The HP Slate 7 is one of those devices, which Hewlett Packard showed off at CES this year.
It’s affordable, has some decent specs, and runs stock Android. However, is it able to compete with the Nexus 7 — a tablet that wowed the 7-inch market? If you’re in a rush, jump straight to the video, otherwise, stick with us and see if the HP Slate 7 is as good as it sounds.
As the name suggests, the HP Slate 7 is a 7-inch tablet much like the Nexus 7. In fact, it looks a lot like a Google tablet at first glance. I’ll try my best to keep this from being a comparison, but it goes without saying, the Nexus 7 is a good benchmark.
On the front, you have your black slate with a sizable bezel around the screen. A front facing camera is up top. In size, is has a similar profile, but it is thicker and noticeably heavier. This is mostly due to the metal spine that joins the back and front. It’s a thick spine that allows for easier gripping in a single hand.
The power button, microSD card slot, and headphone jack are on the top of the HP Slate 7, and the volume rockers are on the side. The speaker grill can be found at the bottom, and looking around the back, we have a rubberized material surrounding the rear facing camera.
It’s almost as if HP took the somewhat cheaper feeling Nexus 7 and gave it an industrial look and feel. The thicker profile makes the HP Slate 7 easier to grip in a single hand, and the added weight helps raise the build quality. The attractive, rubberized back can be found in some other colors, such as a vibrant red, but the grey still looks quite good on it.
All in all, HP has made a sturdy and attractive 7-inch tablet, and they should be commended for that.
If the 7-inch tablet market is supposed to be more affordable, the HP Slate 7 definitely fulfills in that area. We’ll get to the price later, but know that the “you get what you pay for” saying is truer than ever here. Starting with the screen, the 7-inch LCD panel is actually, and disappointingly, lower in resolution than the majority of other devices. The display comes in at a mere 1,024 x 600 resolution rated at only 170ppi.
The HP Slate 7’s display looks decent from afar, but you can already notice some fringing in the colors that gets increasingly worse when you get closer. Just about everything from shapes and text looks jagged and pixelated, and even the general, everyday user will notice the lowered quality in the display. As I previously mentioned, this is one of those “you get what you pay for” tablets.
HP outfitted the Slate 7 with a dual-core Cortex A9 CPU clocked at 1.6GHz. It’s now slow by any means — it works just fine for the budget Slate 7. It slides through the interface just fine, but it does take longer for it to load the more intensive apps. Gaming is also decent, as the Slate 7 is equipped with a Mali-400MP4 — a respectable graphics package.
The budget tablet also has 1GB of RAM, which gets you some multitasking abilities. All in all, you can get around typical tasks without any problems, but expect some stutter and lag when you try to take on more intensive applications.
Benchmark scores are just where you would expect. AnTuTu places the Slate 7 below the 15000 mark, and Epic Citadel at just High Performance was only able to maintain 40 frames per second.
Hardware on the Slate 7 gets a tad bit of a boost with the microSD card slot mounted on top. Being able to extend the 8 or 16GB of storage will help people get a lot more media usage out of this device, which is a nice addition. Other than that, you would expect to have the standard features, such as Bluetooth, which is included. Unfortunately, you don’t get GPS here, which means the Slate 7 is a last choice in navigation. It doesn’t have NFC or a gyroscope either. So if you try to play any games that require tilting the device, you’re out of luck.
Beats Audio is perhaps the only real addition that differentiates the Slate 7. As you might expect, it does its job, adding volume and some richness to music through headphones. It was a disappointment finding out that the outer speakers couldn’t do the same. They’re just not loud enough for more than one or two people trying to listen.
It really is hard to not be disappointed by all that is missing here. If HP could have pulled off the standard tablet experience at such a low price point, this tablet could have been seen as one of the top dogs in the 7-inch market.
Battery and camera
The HP Slate 7 is equipped with a 3,500 mAh battery, which HP claims will keep the device running for up to five hours. This is true, for the most part — after a couple of hours of YouTube usage, the battery drained to about 45% life. So when it comes down to it, overall battery life will depend solely on the degree of usage. However, a smaller battery offering is yet another blow to the Slate 7.
Cameras on tablets usually aren’t very good. Often they’ll be a 1.3-megapixel rear shooter at best, but they’re still a nice addition. However, HP took a step above and equipped the Slate 7 with a 3-megapixel shooter, which is a far cry from what the Nexus 7 offers. While it’s something the Slate 7 has over the Nexus 7, it’s probably something you won’t be using much anyway.
The camera app is as standard as it gets, and panorama functionality is really the only added mode. Pictures are also full of grain, lacks good color reproduction, and the decision to not include auto-focus adds to the troubles in the camera. The front facing camera is decidedly lower in quality too, capable of only VGA resolution and consistently washed out pictures.
Furthermore, if you need a camera on your tablet, it is indeed provided on the HP Slate 7 – but you’re probably better off taking photos with the camera on your smartphone.
Finally, we arrive at the software. There isn’t much to say here, as HP tried to keep the Slate 7 as close to stock Android as possible. There has really been no changes here, and without a proprietary ecosystem like Amazon and its Kindle to back it up, this is about as close to vanilla Android as you can get.
Many of us prefer the Nexus user experience, and that’s just what you’re going to get. There’s not much else to say.
Hands-on video review
Price and final thoughts
It’s important to keep in mind that HP stripped a lot away to make the Slate 7 one of the most affordable 7-inch tablets on the market. At $169, the HP Slate 7 is only $30 cheaper than a Nexus 7, and it has twice as much storage and better performance all around. The downside is that there isn’t very good camera functionality, but it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth the jump. I think it is.
I commend HP for putting themselves out there and offering a very affordable Android tablet. On the other hand, it’s a disappointment to see that something so well constructed doesn’t have much to show for it under the hood. On a positive note, perhaps the HP Slate 7 would prove to be an affordable learning tool for your children.
However, the fact that I had to think outside the box to justify the HP Slate 7 should tell you everything you need to know about it. Don’t discount it though — it’s worthy a try, especially in design, and I only hope it gets better from here on out.
Brad Ward contributed to this review.