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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  • ddriver - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    With a single gig of ram it is far from very exciting or usable... I've been looking for a small factor x86 tablet with 4 gigs of ram, but all devices are crippled to 2 gigs of ram max.
  • schizoide - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Have you tried one? It works OK with 1GB RAM. You can browse the web, including heavy sites, just fine. It runs Office quite adeptly. All the standard desktop stuff works great, as does (obviously) metro apps.

    Obviously it would be much better with 2GB. No doubt. But it _is_ usable with 1.
  • ddriver - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I can do that on my android phone, the benefits of having x86 device is running full desktop applications which are not available for android, which do not run at all well with a single gigabyte eof ram.

    That's why i'd prefer a device that has not been crippled to only serve for basic tasks by having little ram, which is not expensive at all.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Of course, running a desktop application on a tablet is almost as bad as trying to use Teamviewer to control a Windows device from an Android tablet. Windows desktop applications, especially legacy apps that were not built with any thought for a touch interface, are just not a great experience.
  • ddriver - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I don't care about the user experience, my primary intent is to run a full C++ compiler on the device. It is the kind of things you just run without interacting with it at all.
  • Tikcus9666 - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I've been using a Toshiba encore 8 for about 10 months now, after using previous android tablets. App selection does not bother me.

    Web browser works
    Email works
    youtube works
    twitter works
    Amazon instant video works (granted need to use desktop version of IE) this is one app i would like
    Netflix works
    I got a full version of office 2013 so, I can edit documents when out on the road (although would never want to spend hours working on a 8" screen)

    Bottom line it does everything I need at a fraction of the cost of other tablets and it comes with office.

    One thing the reviewer should note, on a desktop/laptop without a touch screen Windows 8.1 automatically boots to desktop so you barely see the start screen, you don't need any 3rd party apps to do that (also right clicking on the start button, gives you lots of options that used to be in the start menu)
  • ados_cz - Monday, December 22, 2014 - link

    Well, the included Office 365 is built with touch in mind, I have already created few tables for my work using touch screen and finished the last 20% of work on my desktop. Btw, I prefer the desktop IE on my Linx 7 as well. To me it is very usable even for desktop apps.
  • hughlle - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    Then this device is clearly not for you. you're complaining that an super budget device doesn't have high end specs.

    Out of interest, what's the cheapest x86 tablet with 4gb of ram you've found?

    Why do people read reviews of products and take the time to moan about the fact that it's not what they need. Shop nfor something else.
  • Azurael - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    I got a refurbished i3 Dell Venue 11 for £215. It has 4GB of RAM and a real 128GB SSD. It's bigger than this, I'll grant you, but it's a lot of power for the money and on a larger screen - desktop apps are usable. The latest version of Photoshop CC with a stylus is amazing!

    These devices got generally favourable reviews but suffered from terrible bugs (it froze every 10 minutes or so out of the box!) until a series of firmware updates for almost every component of the device (a touch screen firmware I get, but firmware for the LCD itself to fix a panel self refresh issue?! I didn't even know that was possible...) and now it's great with amazing battery life too.

    Sadly, Linux currently has a bug which prevents the internal LCD from working with graphics acceleration, although I have got OS X booted on it. I'm missing a few Android apps right now, so hopefully the kernel bug will get fixed because I haven't found Bluestacks a very good experience. It has 64-bit UEFI and a CSM so in theory it should run anything...

    It's a bit odd going from a Nexus 7 with a 1920x1200 7" panel to this with a 10.8" 1920x1080 one. I guess high DPI windows tablets will eventual arrive but at least this panel has good contrast and seems relatively well calibrated.

    I can even play a bit of Portal 2 on it!
  • schizoide - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    You're wrong. They run just fine.

    That was the point of my post.

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