HP Stream 7 – $120 Windows tablet is remarkable value

I don’t normally link to Best Buy (the name of the company is not entirely accurate!) but, as I got my Stream 7 from there, I figure it’s as good a place as any. You can probably find it a little cheaper elsewhere but Best Buy/FutureShop (essentially the same company) are convenient for most people living in Canadian cities and let you play before you buy.

I’ve written elsewhere that e-book readers are an essential commodity if, as Athabasca University is increasingly demanding, students are required to use e-texts instead of paper books. This device is a serviceable Windows PC that can do pretty much anything any other Windows PC is capable of and that also makes a very decent e-reader. At $120 it is cheaper than many textbooks.

The Stream 7 is a basic 7″ tablet, with few bells and whistles: technically speaking, it has no 3G, no GPS, no 802.11AC wifi, only 5 touch point recognized at once (not normally a problem unless you have a piano keyboard app), slightly chunky construction, a battery life of 8 hours at best (5 or 6 would be more typical), no HDMI output, 1GB RAM, dreadful (but usable for simple needs) front and back cameras, measly speaker and poor headphone output. On the plus side, it does have bluetooth, a pretty generous 32GB of flash storage (expandable via MicroSD), it charges using a standard Micro USB cable, and (notably) the screen is absolutely excellent, bright and vibrant, even if it’s resolution (1280×800) is not quite up there with Retina displays. As an e-reader and for videos it’s pretty good, and it runs pretty much any e-reading software, including the DRM-afflicted and web-based stuff we sometimes use at AU.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that it runs the full and uncrippled version Windows 8.1, not the ugly mess that was Windows RT. Admittedly it’s only 32 bit and is joined at the hip to Microsoft’s mediocre Bing service, but it smoothly runs almost any Windows program you can throw at it, even elderly Flash programs. It’s mostly fairly snappy too, given the constraints of its modest 1GB of RAM. I wouldn’t want to try running lots of programs at once, but for single task activities like web browsing, e-reading or email, it’s absolutely fine and very usable. Windows 8.1 (admittedly a somewhat fuller version than this and without the Bing branding) currently retails at $120, so one way of looking at it is that you get a free tablet with a copy of Windows. Moreover, it even comes with a year’s subscription to Microsoft Office (usual price $100), for those that need it. This is not a thing I’d recommend to anyone, given that there are equally good and often better free competitors available, but it’s astonishingly good value if you are actually thinking of forking out for it anyway. If you do have an existing subscription you can add the year to what you already own, thereby getting a usable tablet for $20 (plus tax and recycle fee).

 

Of course, if you just want a tablet or e-reader, there are better and cheaper Android devices available, and much better iOS devices if you can afford them. My only reason for getting this was to test web sites using Microsoft’s IE browser and to use some ancient IE-only webmeeting software, and this was the cheapest way I could find to do that. Windows is a terrible ugly mess that appears to have been designed by the makers of Spongebob Squarepants and that is so full of holes it is more like a torn insect screen than a window. I am unlikely to use this device for much e-reading myself because I have much better (and mostly costlier) devices that beat it hands down on almost every front. But, if you need to run Microsoft software and also need a means to read e-books and watch the odd video, this is a pretty cheap and effective way to do it.

Address of the bookmark: http://www.bestbuy.ca/en-CA/product/hewlett-packard-hp-stream-s7-5701ca-7-32gb-windows-8-1-tablet-with-intel-atom-z3735g-processor-black-licorice-s7-5701ca/10341178.aspx

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology and teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems, of which I am the Chair. I am married, with two grown-up children, and live in beautiful Vancouver.

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