So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
HP Slate 7 Android tablet
The HP Slate 7 is let down by an extremely ordinary display and questionable performance
- Competitive price tag
- Relatively stock Android UI
- Decent build quality
- Horrible display
- Questionable performance
- Poor cameras
The HP Slate 7's competitive price tag makes it worth an initial look, but it only proves that looks can be deceiving. It's let down by an extremely poor display and questionable performance.
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
After a long hiatus and the ill-fated, webOS-based TouchPad, HP is back in the tablet game with the Slate 7. It's a low-priced 7in Android tablet targeted squarely at consumers. The Slate 7's competitive price tag makes it worth an initial look, but looks can be deceiving — it's let down by an extremely ordinary display and questionable performance.
Solid build quality, poor display
The HP Slate 7 may have a budget price tag but its build quality feels respectable. It looks like an ordinary 7in Android tablet from the front with a thick, gloss black bezel surrounding a touchscreen display. The thickness of the bezel makes it easy to hold without accidentally bumping the screen, though the look is rather run of the mill and the gloss surface is hard to keep free of grubby fingerprints.
The fit and finish of the Slate 7 is impressive given its price tag.
The back of the Slate 7 is coated in what HP calls a "soft black paint" finish available in grey or red variants. The surface isn't as grippy as the Google Nexus 7 but is comfortable to hold and almost feels rubber like. This design makes the tablet very easy to grip and prevents it from sliding out of your hands. The back cover does feel a little hollow when pressed but the fit and finish of the Slate 7 is impressive given its price tag.
The sides of the Slate 7 have a very industrial look, highlighted by the visible screw heads. It's another nice touch considering the budget price. On the top right is a power/lock screen button along with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, a microphone and the microSD card slot. The latter is an open slit with no cover or flap concealing it and it ties in nicely with the overall look and feel.
On the right side you'll find a volume rocker with + and - symbols printed above and below the buttons, while dual speakers sit either side of a standard micro-USB port on the bottom. All buttons and ports on the Slate 7 are well positioned and provide good tactility when pressed.
Viewing angles are mediocre, blacks appear grey and sunlight legibility is poor.
HP hasn't cut many corners with the design of the Slate 7 but the company has made plenty of sacrifices when it comes to the display. The tablet has a 7in screen with a rather low resolution of 1024×600. It's a lesser resolution than both the Apple iPad mini and the Nexus 7 and it results in fuzzy looking text. Further, viewing angles are mediocre, blacks appear grey and sunlight legibility is poor.
The Slate 7 also lacks an ambient light sensor, so you can't have the brightness adjusted automatically. Speaking of brightness, you'll need to have it turned up almost full to ensure the screen is bright enough to view. Perhaps the only real positive of the Slate 7's display is that is performs reasonably well under fluorescent office lighting and is nowhere near as reflective as devices like the iPad mini.
Stock Android with Beats Audio
We didn't notice a huge difference with Beats Audio turned on or off.
The HP Slate 7 ships with an almost stock, vanilla version of Google's Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean' OS. Given this, we expect the Slate 7 to receive software updates in a timely fashion, though it's a little disappointing that the device is currently not shipping with the latest Android 4.2 version.
The experience using the Slate 7 is almost identical to the Nexus 7, save for a few small additions. There's a page in the settings menu for the Beats Audio profile, which can be turned on and off, or set to on-ear, in-ear or passive audio profiles. We didn't notice a huge difference with Beats Audio turned on or off, apart from a boost in bass when used with over-the-ear, noise cancelling headphones. It's a nice feature for the Slate 7 to boast at this price point, but definitely not something that should sway a consumer from purchasing the tablet over other alternatives.
The Slate 7 uses Google's stock Android keyboard but HP has decided it would be best to use a typewriter clicking sound each time you tap a key. It's a real annoyance but thankfully it can be easily turned off in the settings menu.
The interface is otherwise identical to Google's stock Android layout. There's five home screens for your own combination of app shortcuts and widgets, an app drawer for all installed apps, and a pull-down notifications panel that includes shortcuts to the settings menu and a toggle for auto screen rotation.
Basic interface transitions like swiping through home screens and scrolling can feel sluggish.
The only app that HP pre-loads on the Slate 7 is the ePrint app. It's not the smoothest or easiest to set up but we eventually managed to get it working with our wireless HP printer.
The Slate 7 is powered by an 1.6GHz ARM dual-core processor, has 1GB of RAM and comes with just 8GB of internal memory. Thankfully, there's a microSD card slot for extra storage, though we still would have appreciated more internal memory.
Performance on the Slate 7 is a mixed bag. For most part the tablet is good enough to perform the large majority of tasks. It has no problems watching HD videos, playing most graphically intense games in the Google Play Store and handling basic files like PDFs. However, basic interface transitions like swiping through home screens and scrolling in the Chrome web browser can feel sluggish at times and this detracts from the overall user experience.
Horrible cameras, decent battery life
The Slate 7 has two cameras, but the less said about both the better.
The HP Slate 7 has two cameras, but the less said about both the better. On the back is a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera for photos and videos and there's a VGA camera on the front that handles video calls. Photos captured with the rear camera are lacking in detail, suffer from excess image noise and reproduce poor colours. The front camera is almost unusable for still images, though it does a reasonable job with low quality video for apps like Skype, Tango and Snapchat.
Battery life on the HP Slate 7 is decent but not outstanding. We found it lasted around seven hours on average, which is far less than the market-leading iPad mini and also less than the Nexus 7. Battery life will depend heavily on the brightness control, so if you can tone it down you should be able to squeeze a little longer out of it. Annoyingly, the Slate 7 takes over three hours to fully charge.
The HP Slate 7 is available now through retailers Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, The Good Guys and Radio Rentals in Australia. The 8GB model retails for $199, but there's also a 32GB model for $249.
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