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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  • sonny73n - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    Sony would never send their junks to this reputable site.
  • hpglow - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    How many times can you bitch about the lack of Sony reviews in these comments sections?
  • sonny73n - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    What about it? Sony Z3 phones are garbage. I just bought a Z3C from BH Photo last week. I thought 10+ positive reviews from popular tech sites couldn't be wrong. Turned out I've made the biggest mistake. You want one of the Z3 phones review? Here it is:
    Pros: Good looking, great battery life, micro SD slot.
    Cons: Display is the worst I've seen on a smart phone beside other Sony junks of course. Touch panel patterns are clearly visible whether the screen is on or off. Color shift when tilt. Sony stock firmware contains spyware Baidu and bloatwares. Unlock bootloader will delete the TA partition which contains DRM keys.
    Other thoughts: I wish its display has the same quality as my old iPhone 4 which was from 5 years ago. I bought 3 Sony phone in the past 2 year. First the ZR, it got very hot even at browsing the internet - returned. Second the ZL, it got uncomfortably warm at normal use. Both phones displays made with TFT panels which are just terrible. Now the Z3C after very careful consideration because of those 2 ZR and ZL but this time it just pisses me off so much. Let me repeat - the Z3C display is worse than the iPhone 4's aftermarket ones on eBay which just costs about $14 each. Sony is nothing but a scam. They didn't post the display types for those 2 ZR and ZL on the spec sheets. Now I wonder the Z3C IPS display is some new kind of low cost IPS tech they just invented. I'd rather have a TN display with no visible touch patterns than this junk they claim ips.
  • Wolfpup - Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - link

    Are you serious? They've got malware on their stock phones?!? Yowzers, I almost bought one for the waterproof-ness, but ended up going with a Nokia 635 'cause figured it's cheap so if it gets damaged....well, it's cheap. (And actually I like my 635 quite a lot too as a phone...I think 90% of people would probably do just fine with it and don't need a $650 phone lol)
  • victorson - Saturday, December 20, 2014 - link

    If you are thinking that this subsidizied pos tablet is any different than what the Chinese are doing, good for you, but you have little touch with reality. I've had the chance to use and review the latest top smartphones from Xiaomi and Meizu, and those are nothing short of amazing smartphones, and yes, they are getting regularly updated
  • Gich - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    No one? I do.
  • zero2dash - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Obvious troll is obvious.
    Why are you reading articles on "boring devices" and then bothering to leave a troll comment on top of it.

    The device isn't something you're interested in - congratulations. Read another article then. If you're looking for phone only reviews, there's plenty of sites out there for those.
  • III-V - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    What a sad world we live in, where we casually dismiss what others have to say as "trolling." And what makes you think he read the article?

    I don't necessarily agree with him, but you're just being incredibly stupid.
  • Cinnabuns - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    So the OP's casually dismissive comment about a whole device category and the people who may be interested in it brought on a response in kind. This is sad how?
  • schizoide - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    It's a full, usable, x86 windows 8.1 tablet that regularly sells for $99 (and hit $79 on black friday!). It's not boring at all, it's downright astonishing that this thing even exists.

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