After giving up on WebOS and embracing Windows 8 for business-oriented slates, HP is finally releasing an Android tablet called the HP Slate 7. Here at Mobile World Congress, we had a chance to go hands-on with the budget-minded, $169 slate and were pleased with its premium design and unspoiled Android 4.1 JellyBean operating system.
The .42-inch thick, 13.05-ounce HP Slate 7 isn’t the lightest 7-inch tablet on the block, weighing a litle more than the 12-ounce Nexus 7 but less than the 13.9-ounce Kindle Fire. However, it felt light enough for once-handed use when we held it aloft.
The most interesting thing about the device is its luxurious soft-touch back, which comes in either silver or vibrant red, our preference. The sides are a matte silver color, giving the Slate 7 a truly premium look.
A microSD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack sit on the top surface while a microUSB chrarging port sits at the bottom. Considering that many Android tablets require you to use proprietary, hard-to-replace charging cables, we appreciate HP’s decision to use a standard interface. The microSD card slot is also a nice touch, allowing users to easily and cheaply expand the Slate 7’s internal 8GB of memory. 32GB microSD cards can be had for under $25.
Unfortunately, the front surface isn’t quite as attractive as the rest of the chassis, with a giant glossy black bezel surrounding the the screen. The 1024 x 600 screen seemed reasonably sharp and bright in our brief hands-on time, but it wasn’t particularly colorfulful. We weren’t able to compare the screen to a Nexus 7’s HD display but expect that the HP’s lower-resolution would be more noticeable if we looked at it side-by-side with higher-res competitors.
We were particularly pleased to see that the HP Slate 7 has an unadulterated version of Android 4.1 Jellybean on it. Unlike the heavily skinned versions of Android on the Kindle Fire, Nook or just about any tablet from ASUS, Acer, Lenovo or Samsung, HP’s install uses the stock-Google icons, widgets, wallpapers and apps. Like the Nexus 4, 7 and 10, the Slate 7 uses software navigation buttons rather than hardware ones. Best of all, the tablet supports Google Now, which appears when you long press and swipe up from the home button, just as it does on Nexus devices.
HP doesn’t include a slew of preloaded software, but it does have a Beats Audio control panel in the settings menu that lets you choose between in-ear and on-ear optimized sound. We didn’t get a chance to play any music during our hands-on, but an HP rep told us that Beats will mainly improve the sound coming out of headphones, not from the built-in speaker.
The Slate 7 also has native printing which is available from the menu in certain preloaded apps, including the browser and gallery. We didn’t get to print anything, but HP tol dus that tablet will work with any Wi-Fi enabled printer and that the print function does a particularly good job of maintaining the fidelity of whatever web pages or pictures you print.
Though HP wouldn’t disclose the make and model of the 1.6-GHz dual-core Coretex A9 CPU inside the HP Slate 7, the processor is definitely fast enough to play games. When we fired up Temple Run 2, which was preloaded on the demo unit, we were able to move our character around the 3D world and jump without any slow downs.
We look forward to getting a closer look at the HP Slate 7 when we get one in for review. From our brief experience with the device, it seems like it could be an interesting option for users who want an inexpensive, pure Android device and don’t want to spend the extra money for the more-powerful $199 Google Nexus 7.