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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  • pugster - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I brought one of these tablets for $70 this week actually after a couple of promos from Microsoft. I wish that they had included an dongle where you can plug in an usb drive in it and an hdmi port. I have windows 8 pc's and using this windows 8 tablet is definitely a learning curve compared to Android tablets and ipads. I was surprised that windows 8 with 1gb of ram is responsive in this tablet assuming that you won't multitask that much.

    Since Microsoft gives out these windows 8.1 with bing licenses for free, I would imaging that we would see many Chinese tablets to get into this bandwagons for cheap tablets next year.
  • swkerr - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I actually bought 2 of these of the kids for Christmas. One at $99 and one for $74 from the Microsoft store. I have been using a Nexus 7 second Gen for more than a year and have found it to be the perfect size. It is really just a glorified reader and Alarm clock. I use it to read the news and check email and occasional light gaming but never video or music.

    I figured for this purpose the Stream 7 would be fine and anything else was just a bonus. The Office subscription is a big plus as well. I have already set them up and tested them and am actually very impressed. I actually purchased a case ($10) Mini Bluetooth Keyboard with touch-pad ($30) and a 64GB MicroSD card ($25)

    As setup I was able to install Sims4 and Origin and the game actually plays pretty good. I installed Steam and The Swapper on the other and again works fine. Some of the Windows games are not bad either.

    Flipboard, Facebook and Twitter all work well as well as Nexflix, Hulu and Plex. Alarm Clock HD + was the best Alarm clock app I could find and it works great. Not sure I would ever use office on one of these without the Bluetooth keyboard but with the keyboard it would work fine in a pinch.

    I have a Microsoft Wireless Miracast dongle on my TV and the Stream 7 works perfectly with it. Even at the low resolution it looks pretty good streaming from Netflix. I was able to get it to run at 1080p as well but then you need the bluetooth keyboard.

    If you think of this thing as a PC it sucks but as a 7 inch table it really does what you expect of it and at $99 it is a bargain. The Metro app store is limited but the basic crap people really use is there. And if it is not you still have a browser and all the old PC apps that will probably run fine. The lack of touch support on the old games and apps may be an issue and some things don't size will to the low resolution but for what you are likely to use it for it is great.

    Was considering buying another Nexus 7 in case I broke my current one but would probably get one of these instead. I have several 10" Transformer tables and They are just too big for how I use a tablet. Even the 8" android and iPad Mini are just that much too big as a reader.

  • CharonPDX - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    "This wouldn't be an issue if these Windows tablets allowed you to directly move files to them from another computer over USB, but they don't."

    But they do. The micro USB port supports the "USB OTG" (USB On-The-Go) specification. With a simple adapter, the port can be converted to a full-size USB Type-A port, to which you can plug in whatever USB devices you want. (That's the extra bonus of it running full Windows 8.1.) I have used my HP Stream 8 with a variety of USB devices.

    Note: The Stream 8 is different than the Stream 7 in only three ways that I can find:
    1. It has a 1" larger screen (8" instead of 7", but with the same quality of screen.)
    2. It includes 4G wireless (HSPA+, aka "3.5G" to most of us,) with 200 MB per month free form T-Mobile. I have T-Mobile for my family, so I just pay the $10/month to duplicate the amount of data on my highest-data line.)
    3. It costs $179. (Which is a steal - since it costs $139 just to *ADD* 4G to an iPad.)
  • Brandon Chester - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Out of the box you can't do it, which is what matters.
  • PC Perv - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Why not? All you need is a right cable. I am sure one will find such a cable for a lower price than Apple's Lightning cable's.

    You are such an ignorant and arrogant creature. Though I know why you want to disregard the utility of USB OTG. Which makes you a crooked creature on top of the aforementioned.
  • CharonPDX - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    Really? Then no desktop computer should ever have its utility on the internet considered since it doesn't come with internet built-in (you need SOME form of internet connection!)

    No printer should ever be considered worth using, because it doesn't come with paper in the box.

    A USB on-the-go cable costs all of $1.47 at Monoprice.

    I'm sorry, but that being your answer to my statement makes me seriously downgrade my judgment of you. Had you replied "I had forgotten about USB On-The-Go," I would have given you plenty of slack. But to completely dismiss an actually available core function completely, simply because "you can't do it out of the box," is rather haughty and dismissive.

    My Xbox is a crappy game system when it doesn't come with any games in the box.

    Using a USB On-The-Go adapter, you're limited to USB Hi-Speed speeds, but my USB 3.0 128 GB flash drive works just fine, and is plenty fast. In fact, it's almost certainly faster than the internal eMMC SSD. (Copying large files from eMMC to USB gets me about 27 MB/s. Copying large files from the USB to the eMMC is about 30 MB/s.) PLENTY fast to transfer large files.
  • Brandon Chester - Friday, December 26, 2014 - link

    It would be fine if the ability to send files from a PC via a direct USB connection was not an expected ability for a tablet, but it is. Alternatively, HP could have used faster and more stable WiFi and it would be a non-issue. Ferrying files between the two devices with a USB drive is a time consuming and cumbersome process, and having to go get additional hardware for it is an additional hurdle. I actually don't live near any electronics stores, so I would either need to drive a significant distance to get a USB-OTG adapter, or I would have to pay for one and have it shipped which takes time and reduces the tablet's price appeal, especially when paying shipping fees here in Canada.
  • CharonPDX - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Mini related review:

    I bought the Stream 8, which is 1" larger, and includes HSPA+ "4G" service, for $179. My findings are near-identical to this review. The battery life is longer, and the back of the device fits better than Brandon describes the 7, but otherwise it seems the same to me, right down to the headphone jack noise issue. (I use Bluetooth headphones, so I mitigate that.)

    In the past year, I have switched between an iPad Air, a low-end Android tablet (the Air became my daughter's tablet,) to the HP Stream 8. I like the Stream 8 the best - even better than the iPad Air (and I was a 100% Apple user for personal devices prior.) I REALLY like having full-blown Windows available to me when I need it. I carry a small Bluetooth keyboard and mouse with me (Microsoft Wedge Mobile keyboard,) when I need to use it as a "real computer" rather than a tablet.

    The cellular connection is a nice bonus over the 7" model - and while the T-Mobile "free 200 MB per month for the life of the device" isn't much data, but it is a nice "lifeline" for emergencies. (I have a T-Mobile family plan, so I just added it to my family plan for $10/month.)
  • bill.rookard - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Just as a quick note, maybe I got lucky. I'm watching Guardians of the Galaxy right now through headphones with absolutely no static issues whatsoever.
  • CharonPDX - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    I haven't listened to headphones often after the first couple times being static-driven. I was using Apple EarPods (because they're my standard "desk" 'phones at work.)

    I have now tried a few more, and the EarPods are the noisiest. Headphones that don't also have a microphone are the best, with some old-school Sony Studio Monitors (which are generally my best-sounding headphones every time,) having the lowest noise, but still having some.

    The Sonys, and a couple of the other "no microphone" ones are quiet enough that I can only hear the static during silent/very quiet periods.

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