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HP Slate 7 review: Low price undone by absent features, dull screen

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The Good The HP Slate 7 is a durable 7-inch tablet, includes an expandable storage option, and has good gaming performance. Beats Audio effectively enhances bass-heavy music through headphones or earbuds.

The Bad The screen’s resolution is eye-squintingly low, large apps take a long time to load, and its cameras produce washed-out, dull-looking shots. Also, there’s no GPS, and Android 4.1.1 can feel a bit archaic compared with newer versions of the OS.

The Bottom Line The HP Slate 7 strips out way too much to make its low price, and what's left can't compare to the Nexus 7's offerings.

6.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6

At $170, you'd expect the HP Slate 7 to be stripped of a few features; however, HP takes this a bit too far. The Slate 7 includes only 8GB of storage, and it has no gyroscope, no GPS hardware, poor camera quality, a slightly (but significantly) older version of Android, and a low-resolution screen.

And even the unique features we do get have their drawbacks. MicroSD is great, but with so little storage to begin with, buying a storage card won't simply be an option but a necessity. And while Beats Audio enhancements work great on your headphones, it does little to improve the tinniness of the tablet's speakers.

All of this serves to clearly illustrate that a Nexus 7, with more storage, faster app loads, a better-looking screen, GPS, and the latest version of Android is only $30 away.

The HP Slate 7 features a 7-inch screen with a thick, thumb-accommodating black bezel, making it easy to hold without accidentally touching the screen. A silver metal spine encloses its entire body, reinforcing it over your typical fully plastic tablet.

On the bottom edge sits a Micro-USB port flanked by a narrow speaker grille on each side. The top edge sees a headphone jack, microphone pinhole, and microSD slot gathered on the left, with the power/sleep button on the right. Along the right edge is a slightly concave volume rocker. A silver embossed HP logo graces the gray rubberized back side, and in the top-left corner sits a 3-megapixel camera, sans LED flash. At the top of the bezel is a low-quality VGA front-facing camera.

The top edge features a headphone jack, microSD slot, mic, and power button. Josh Miller/CNET

HP Slate 7 Asus Memo Pad ME172V Google Nexus 7 Apple iPad Mini
Weight in pounds 0.80 0.78 0.74 0.68
Width in inches (landscape) 7.7 7.7 7.8 7.87
Height in inches 4.6 4.7 4.7 5.3
Depth in inches 0.42 0.45 0.40 0.28
Side bezel width in inches (landscape/portrait) 0.87/0.56 0.87/0.55 0.8/0.49 0.76/0.25

There's nothing particularly distracting or uncomfortable when holding the Slate, just nothing especially cozy about it either. Aesthetically, Slate 7's gray back side would probably make for an effective contrast to its thick black bezel, but for the aforementioned silver spine, which kind of clashes with the light gray back. Otherwise, it looks like a typical 7-inch Android tablet. Ports and features have sensible placement, and the rubbery back and metal spine give it a durable feel.

Software features
The Slate 7 ships with Android 4.1.1 and features an effectively pure Jelly Bean experience. However, the State 7's slightly older OS serves only to remind me how far we've come in just a year. A couple of features in 4.2.2 that smooth out navigation, such as the pull-down shortcut menu, are sorely missed here.

Beats Audio in full effect! Well, maybe not Josh Miller/CNET

HP adds a Beats Audio music-enhancing feature (more below) that seems to make bass more prominent when listening through headphones or earbuds. The ePrint app requires that you first register with an e-mail account, but if you're not locally-connected to the printer or on the same network, you won't be able to print.

Hardware features
The Slate 7 houses a 1.5GHz Rock CPU and a Mali-400MP4 quad-core GPU. It comes with 8GB of storage and includes 1GB of RAM. The tablet supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 EDR, and it features an accelerometer. There's no GPS hardware and no gyroscope included, however.

From this distance, the Slate 7's low-resolution screen isn't much of an issue. Upon closer inspection however... Josh Miller/CNET

Most new 7-inch tablets feature minimum screen resolutions of 1,280x800 pixels; however, HP went with a lower 1,024x600 resolution for the Slate 7. The screen displays distractingly jaggy text in app icons and on Web pages, and both games and movies suffer from diminished clarity. Thankfully, text becomes less jaggy when zoomed in, however. As for viewing angles, HP used an IPS (In-Plane Switching)-derived technology called Fringe Field Switching (HFFS), which provides wide viewing angles as well as a high screen brightness.

Tested spec HP Slate 7 Asus Memo Pad 172V Google Nexus 7 Apple iPad Mini
Maximum brightness 373 cd/m2 317 cd/m2 288 cd/m2 399 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.47 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.28 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 793:1 1,056:1 1,028:1 814:1

(In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance)
N.O.V.A. 3 Level 1 load time  

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