HP Stream 7: More Mini PC than Tablet

The Stream 7 is a cheap Windows based tablet priced at only US$99. I have used it for about a month till date so I thought I should share my past one month experience. The price point makes for an inexpensive tablet that sits alongside typically China-branded cheap tablets that traditionally run Android. It is more like a normal computer than a tablet, as it runs the full Windows 8.1 platform. It is therefore compatible with all the usual Windows applications, not just the Modern UI apps that you get from the Microsoft App Store.

There’s significantly less popularity for Windows devices, and they generally don’t attract the same sort of attention as Apple or Android tablets. Well, with the low price, that might just shift things a little. It’s an attractive deal. There are a number of freebies to sweeten the deal further. You get 1 year Office 365 live included, 60 world minutes of Skype outgoing calls per month (to a number of countries, including mobile numbers for some destinations), and 1 TB of One Drive storage. Available from Amazon and ships to Singapore free under the free shipping Singapore for carts above $125.

I bought it for the free office, 1TB cloud storage, and monthly 60 minutes of Skype!

Quick look at the HP Stream 7 Specifications

7.00-inch, Resolution 1280×800 pixels, IPS screen
Processor 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z3735G
Front Camera 0.3-megapixel
RAM 1GB
OS Windows 8.1
Storage 32GB
Rear Camera 2-megapixel
Dimensions 4.36 x 0.39 x 7.59 in
Weight 0.8 lb
3000 mAH Battery

Hardware

It is powered by the Intel Z3735G that we would see in quite a number of devices for 2015, both Windows and Android-based. The processor was adequate and while I initailly thought the 1GB of RAM would struggle, the overall performance turned out rather reasonable on the Stream 7. I generally had a few tabs and programs opened, but other than the occasional lag when switching between apps, the Stream 7 was up to the mark.

The screen is bright, good colour representation and provides good viewing angles. There’s a bit of a backlight bleed though. The low resolution does affect readability slightly, especially when working with small fonts, but generally acceptable.

The HP Stream 7 has a tiny battery. 3000 mAH is about the same as most flagship phones today, and I personally found that Windows 8.1 can be quite the energy guzzler too. Screen on time is about 5 hours on average and I frequently find myself looking for a charging port. Also, since this is a full Windows OS, there seem to be quite a number of background processes running and sleep functionality can be rather subjective. There might be times when a certain app is running in the background and I would return to a totally drained Stream 7. It’s part of the learning curve in using the Stream 7, in that it behaves more like a laptop than an iPad or Android tablet, and you gotta pay attention to the apps left running.

Design

An all black tablet, with small bezels on the front, and a capacitive Windows button on the bottom. It is on the chunky side though, and you can feel the heft when you try to hold it in one hand for two long. It weighs about the same as a Nexus 7, 350g to 340g but due to the thicker edge, it is more uncomfortable to hold, as compared to the rounded edge on the Nexus 7, with the gripper rubber back.

In terms of connectivity, other than a 3.5mm output audio jack, there’s a micro SD slot under the back casing and a micro USB port. No standard size USB slot, so you would need to use an OTG cable with the tablet. There’s no video out, you are limited to mirroring by Miracast or through a VNC screen cast technology. These really limit the functionality of the HP Stream 7 but if you are willing to pay, there are now devices such as the Plugable Pro 8 which would provide much needed connectivity to the HP Stream 7. The Plugable Pro 8 was first launched on Kickstarter for the Dell Venue 8, but is also compatible with the HP Stream 7. It is a a US$89 docking station that allows you to hook up your usual USB devices (mouse, keyboard), and provide power concurrently and also for connection to a full HD monitor, as well as wired ethernet.

Plugable Pro8 Docking Station: http://plugable.com/products/ud-pro8

Software

I tried out a couple of games, the Modern UI games from the Windows store ran pretty well. I even installed Steam and tried out some less graphics demanding games like Zen Pinball 2. Framerates dipped when there were too much action on screen, but still generally playable. Due to the Windows OS, there are tons of full games that you can load up on the tablet. Older games in the 2000 – 2008 era should be playable on the tablet, and there are a number of gems in this category, Halo PC, Age of Empire 2, Warcraft 3, KoTOR etc. I load up one popular RPG which I didn’t try last time, Jade Empire, and it played well on the Stream 7 with a controller.

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The Stream 7 does comes with a lot of extra software that you might not find very useful. For example, I don’t really use the HP installed software, like their Connected Music service or Photo printing stuff, so out they go.

It handles full Windows application fine, so that really gives the tablet a whole lot more functionality. I use it mostly for reading, so Flipboard, Reddhub are my go to apps on the Windows platform. I also use media apps such as Popcorn Time, Kodi and Plex and they were able to playback most videos but the audio out on the mono speaker was disappointing. While it can run stuff like Microsoft Office, Photoshop, the whole user experience on a 7″ tablet isn’t really ideal. But it can be handy when in a pinch. For example, the ability to SSH using PuTTY to my PLEX server and configure it are things I cannot do on an Android tablet.

Some fun stuff, like Samsung gestures – MSN food app has gesture controls using the front camera. There’s a “hands free” mode for cooking with. Hands-Free was designed specifically for use while cooking because it allows you to view the app’s recipes in a format that’s easier to read from a distance. If your computer or tablet is equipped with a camera, Hands-Free will allow you to look through recipes without touching the screen by waving your hand in front of the camera (perfect for messy hands).

Conclusion

I’m in two minds about this purchase. Despite the low price, the experience is limited by the Windows quirks. While the desktop mode offers a great lot of functionality, the small screen doesn’t make for a good user experience and you are better off keeping to the modern interface. The lack of additional USB ports and a video out port further limits functionality. As i’ve said the screen is one of the strong aspects on this tablet, and in a pinch, this tablet can run my normal windows applications. It offers great value, but think of it more as a mini computer rather than a tablet. If you can wait, the popularity of the Stream 7 should see more manufacturers releasing similar Windows devices this year and there would be more options to pick from.

Sean

Sean is a tech geek and star wars fan. He loves playing with new gadgets, writing little code snippets in Python, JS, and dabbling with Android programming from time to time, while keeping a lookout for the next biggest happening in the world of tech!

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