The HP Slate 7 ($169.99 direct) is a surprisingly speedy tablet with an enticing price tag, but it’s competing with tablets like the Google Nexus 7 which features a better display, faster performance, and more up-to-date software. And the features HP touts as distinct feel a bit contrived—the native wireless printing support, while useful, is currently limited to HP printers, and Beats Audio doesn’t make that big of an impact. The Slate 7 is a good budget-friendly Android tablet that falls somewhere between the Asus MeMO Pad ME172V and the Nexus 7 in terms of price and performance: competitive, but no category killer.
Design and Features
The Slate 7 is a handsomely designed device with a sturdy frame, soft-touch plastic back, and stainless steel accents along its perimeter. At 7.76 by 4.57 by 0.42 inches (HWD) and 13.05 ounces, the Slate 7 is right in line with the MeMO Pad and Nexus 7. Along the bottom are two stereo speaker grilles flanking a micro USB port for charging and syncing with the included cable and power adapter. Along the top you’ll find the 3.5mm headphone jack, microSD card slot, and Power button, with Volume buttons along the right edge. I’ll delve deeper into the Beats Audio later on, but note that the enhancements are for headphone output only and not for the built-in speakers—they get decently loud, but sound tinny, like most tablet speakers.
The 1,024-by-600-pixel LCD is OK. It’s lower resolution than the Nexus 7 and not an IPS panel, but the HFFS technology here does produce a wider viewing angle than found on the MeMO Pad’s display. The 169 pixels per inch isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it doesn’t look terrible on the 7-inch screen.
This is a Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on the 2.4GHz frequency only. You also get Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, which worked fine with a pair of Bluetooth headphones. The tablet comes in a single 8GB model, and our 32GB SanDisk microSD card worked fine, but not our 64GB card.
Performance and Android
The Slate 7 is powered by a dual-core 1.6GHz Rockchip Cortex-A9 processor with 1GB RAM. I had admittedly low expectations for performance, given the low price point, but I was pleasantly surprised. The tablet scored high marks on the Antutu overall system benchmark, coming within striking distance of the quad-core Nexus 7 and easily besting the Asus MeMo Pad. Browsermark and Sunspider benchmarks were equally impressive here, and the Slate 7 actually outperformed the Nexus 7 on some of our graphics benchmarks as well. You get a good helping of processing power with the affordable Slate 7.
HP’s first stab at Android is understandably minimal, which will appeal to a large swath of Android enthusiasts, but it lacks some genuinely useful features other companies have added through skinning. The Slate 7 is running a near-stock Android 4.1.1. HP promises an update to 4.2, but couldn’t give any timetable for release.
There are two main software customizations at work here: Beats Audio and native wireless printing capability. In some products, like the HTC One, the Beats moniker goes with custom hardware like an amplified 3.5mm headphone jack. On others, it’s simply a software equalizer that jacks up the bass. The Slate 7 falls under the latter category, but here it’s not just booming bass. HP offers specific settings that are tuned for different types of headphones (on-ear or in-ear). From what I could tell, the main difference between On-Ear and In-Ear settings was volume levels, with In-Ear mode reducing the volume. I didn’t notice any variations in stereo image when switching back and forth between the two, just volume differences. Now, protecting ears by dropping the volume for in-ear headphones makes sense, but you can achieve that same effect with the volume rocker.
The wireless printing feature is built into the Slate 7, meaning a handful of native apps, like the Gallery or Email app, will have an option to directly send printing jobs to compatible internet-connected HP printers. I tested the Slate 7 with the HP Envy 110 printer, and found setup and printing was a snap. If the printer is properly connected to your Wi-Fi network, it’ll automatically show up in the print options of your Slate 7. Then just press print and you’re good to go—supremely easy and admittedly pretty useful. The only problem is that this function, for the time being, only works with HP printers. If you happen to own one, great, you’ll love this feature. If not, well, it’s not going to be very useful. On top of that, the feature is only built into a handful of native apps: Gallery, Browser, and Email, not Gmail or Chrome. There’s also an ePrint app preloaded, which works with ePrint compatible printers—it basically assigns an email address to your printer and allows you to send printing jobs through the app. The ePrint app isn’t exclusive to the Slate 7, however, and you can find it in the Google Play app store.
For media playback, the Slate 7 supports MP3, AAC, WMA, and OGG audio files, but not FLAC or WAV. Video support includes MPEG-4, H.264, and WMV files at resolutions up to 1080p, but not DivX or Xvid. Those omissions are a bit disappointing, but downloading any number of apps in Google Play can alleviate that.
In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to max and Wi-Fi turned on, the Slate 7 lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes. Compared with the herculean 10 hours turned in by the Nexus 7 on the same test, the Slate 7’s endurance leaves something to be desired.
For cameras, you get a VGA front-facing camera and a 3-megapixel rear-facing camera. HP touts this camera as a key advantage over the Nexus 7, but I have yet to find a tablet camera that is actually worth using. That trend continues on the Slate 7, with noisy, low-quality images in indoor lighting and just serviceable shots in bright, outdoor lighting. It’ll suffice in a pinch, but I wouldn’t count on it. Still, people do like to take pictures with their tablets, so if you need a camera on your tablet, the Slate 7 has you covered.
HP has a laudable effort in the Slate 7, but it just doesn’t really offer many reasons to choose it over a tablet like the Nexus 7. There are a few key areas where the Slate 7 just isn’t up to snuff—namely the lower resolution screen and modest battery life. At $170, it’s more affordable than the Nexus 7 and offers competitive performance, but I’d take the sharper screen, stellar battery life, and timely updates direct from Google any day. Unless a rear-facing camera and a microSD card slot are must have features, I’d spend the extra $30 and grab the Nexus 7.