HP Slate 7 HD Review: Jelly Bean OS, £99 Price Tag & Free 3G

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While the Apple iPad dominates the top end tablet market, the mid- and low-end market is filled with a number of contenders from Samsung, Amazon, and countless PC vendors who realized that Steve Jobs was right: we’re in the Post PC era.

That’s why so many of these PC vendors are jumping to make budget tablets: if you can create a product with some nice features and keep costs low, you can control an area of the tablet world Apple has no interest in. And vying for part of that low-cost tablet market is PC powerhouse HP. Here’s how their HP Slate 7 HD fares in the increasingly crowded tablet space. 

Specs 

First let’s look at the raw specs of the HP Slate 7 HD. 

  • Screen: 7″ diagonal HD ultra wide view capacitive LED multi-touch (1280 x 800)
  • Weight: 430 grams
  • Dimensions: 201.3 (w) x 119.8 (d) x 9.95 mm (h)
  • Processors: 1.2 GHz Marvell Dual-Core PXA986 (ARM Cortex-A processor series)
  • RAM: 1 GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • OS: Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
  • Storage: 16 GB
  • Audio: Beats Audio with stereo speakers
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light, eCompass, GPS
  • Battery: 1-cell (15 WHr) Li-Ion polymer
  • Cameras: 2 MP front-facing ISP-embedded webcam (720p HD video recording), 5 MP rear facing ISP-embedded, autofocus webcam (1080p HD video recording)
  • Connectivity: 3G, 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0 combo (Miracast compatible)
  • Colors: Silver, Bright Red 

Design and Build 

Coming from the world of the iPad with its sleek aluminum body I was surprised how comfortable the HP Slate 7 HD felt in my hand. Its red textured plastic back panel makes the tablet highly grip-able so that it doesn’t feel like it is ever at risk of sliding out of your hand during one-handed use. That same back panel also makes it feel highly durable, like you could drop it from a desk and the thing wouldn’t even blink (I didn’t test this theory with the loaner unit I had, however).

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On the back panel you’ll find the black HP logo in the center with the volume buttons on the upper left side. The power button and rear camera rest near the center top of the back panel. On the upper right side of the back panel is a snap away covering that hides the microSD and microSIM card slots. Both the volume and power buttons were very responsive to my touch. 

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At the bottom of the HP Slate 7 HD are a microUSB port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as the Beats speakers. The front of the device sports a glossy black bezel that houses the 7-inch display. HP’s logo rests at the bottom of the bezel. It’s something I don’t mind from a branding perspective, but I think some users might be confused into thinking the logo is a touch capacitive button. On the upper bezel is the front-facing camera. 

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The HP Slate 7 HD comes in both silver and bright red colors. The unit I tested was bright red and I actually thought the color scheme was quite striking – a nice change from the black, grey, and white world of iPads. At 430 grams the HP Slate 7 HD is a bit hefty, but I felt the weight actually added to its feeling of durability. 

Screen

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The screen is often the most important thing for tablets in many respects and for a budget tablet the HP Slate 7 HD’s screen isn’t half bad. It’s an LED display that measures 7 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 1280 x 800 with a ppi (pixels per inch) of 216. Given that its ppi is only 216 it can’t be considered “high quality” – that’s usually reserved for slates with a 326ppi or higher. Still, text and images did appear crisp and sharp on the display. However, I did find the whites to be a bit yellowish.

Processor and RAM 

The HP Slate 7 HD features a 1.2 GHz Marvell Dual-Core PXA986 from the ARM Cortex-A processor series. It also comes with 1 GB of DDR3 SDRAM. To be sure, the processor and amount of RAM are nothing to write home about. However, keeping in mind that this is a budget tablet it does exceptionally well with its lower spec components.

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Everything I did on the tablet from browsing the web to taking pictures to playing some games was exceptionally smoothly. Do keep in mind that I wasn’t editing video or using prosumer photo editing apps, which I sometimes do on my iPad. For those tasks I doubt the HP Slate 7 HD would be much help. But then again, if you need a tablet for professional use you aren’t going to be looking at budget tablets. 

Software, Services and OS 

The HP Slate 7 HD comes preinstalled with Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) and a number of HP and third-party apps including HP ePrint, HP Connected Photo, Kingsoft Office, Box (with up to 25 GB of free cloud storage), HP File Manager, and Skype. 

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Jelly Bean ran smoothly on the device, which is something I was concerned about because other budget tablets I’ve tried in the past had some performance issues running their flavors of Android. One thing that I liked about the software package of the HP Slate 7 HD was the inclusion of Kingsoft Office. It lets users start creating Microsoft-compatible documents right out of the box. It’s a nice touch because those who buy budget tablets might not be comfortable navigating the complexities of the Play store, so the fact that the HP Slate 7 HD comes pre-loaded with a good selection of apps is a sign that HP has their target audience firmly in mind.

The fact that it only runs Jelly Bean is slightly irksome given the developments Google has implemented inside KitKat, namely its superior performance on lower amounts of memory. In this respect HP’s decision to not include KitKat is something of a faux-pas, as is the company’s inability to confirm if and when the Android 4.4 update is coming.

Storage and Cameras 

The HP Slate 7 HD comes with 16GB of built-in storage and also features a microSD expansion slot so you can add more storage at will. I always love tablets that offer storage expansion. Though it’s doubtful that users of budget tablets will be able to fill up 16GB, it’s always nice that they have the option to add more space after purchase if they need it. The microSD card slot will accept up to a 32GB card, giving your HP Slate 7 HD a total capacity of 48GBs. 

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One thing I was pretty disappointed with about the HP Slate 7 HD however was its cameras. The front-facing camera is a 2MP 720p camera that acts as a webcam and also takes photos and videos. Truthfully, those specs aren’t bad for a front camera. The back camera is a 5MP 1080p camera that takes photos and videos. Though those specs are decent on paper (but not great by any means) I was really disappointed with the quality of the photos. They appeared blown out and fuzzy in many of my tests. 

Granted, most of us don’t rely on our tablets for taking photos, but given the HP Slate 7 HD is a smaller sized tablet it’s conceivable many will carry this around with them and use its camera in a pinch. Unfortunately I fear most will find the results disappointing.

Wireless Connectivity & Sensors 

What the HP Slate 7 HD lacks in the camera department it more than makes up for in the wireless department. That’s because in addition to supporting the normal Wi-Fi bands of 802.11a/b/g/n it also sports a 3G chipset and comes with two years of FREE 3G service.

Yes, free. 

And this is what makes the HP Slate 7 HD a really compelling buy for budget tablet users. With their HP Slate 7 HD they’ll get two years of free 3G services. The only caveat is you’re limited to a positively paltry 250MB a month. Still free is free and 250MB is better than 0MB, right? 

As for sensors the HP Slate 7 HD is packed with an Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity sensor, Ambient Light sensor, eCompass, and GPS.

Battery and Power 

The HP Slate 7 HD comes with a non-removable single cell (15 WHr) Li-Ion polymer battery. HP doesn’t actually offer any battery hour usage stats in its literature about the device (usually never a good sign), but in my tests of web surfing, social media posts, email, and picture taking the HP Slate 7 HD lasted over eight hours before it told me it needed a recharge, which is done by plugging in the microUSB cable.

Conclusion

The HP Slate 7 HD can’t compete with the iPad or high-end Android tablets, but then again it’s not meant to. It’s built and designed for those light tablet users who want a budget device that allows them to surf the web, send emails, and download apps. And at that the HP Slate 7 HD excels. For £99 it’s the best budget tablet I’ve used – and that’s before even considering the free two-year 3G data plan it includes. If you’re looking for a good budget tablet for yourself, your children, or your parents the HP Slate 7 HD is definitely worth a look.

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