HP Stream 7 Review and Minecraft Test

 

The HP Stream 7 is a tablet running full Windows 8.1 which includes a year subscription to Office 365 Personal, all from a relatively respected OEM, and priced at under $100.

Is it really possible to get a good Windows experience for under a hundred bucks?

If that’s all you’re here for, I’ll make this easy:  the answer is not really, no. Some of this has to do with the Stream 7, and some has to do with Windows 8.1 itself.

Still, the HP Stream 7 is cheap enough, and decent enough at a wide enough range of tasks, that it somehow becomes a compelling device despite its limitations.

Here is my long time coming, and long-winded, review of the HP Stream 7.

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Specs

 

The HP Stream 7 is a 7” Tablet running 32-bit Windows 8.1. It has an Intel Atom Z3735G processor, running at 1.33 GHz with Turbo Boost to 1.8 GHz, and 1 GB of RAM. The display is an IPS multitouch-enabled screen at 1280×800 resolution. Note that this is 5-point multitouch, not 10-point as on most reputable devices, though at this resolution and screen size, it appears to work well enough.

It comes with 32 GB of eMMC Flash Storage, of which just under 20 GB is user accessible after accounting for the operating system.  The Stream 7 offers 802.11 b/g/n wireless connectivity, and has a 3000 mAh battery rated by HP at 8 hours, though my personal experience with any reasonable amount of brightness and doing actual common tablet activities like watching video, was significantly less: more in the 4-5 hour range especially for watching video and playing games.

It has a single Micro-USB 2.0 slot used for charging the device which can support USB 2.0 via an adapter (sold separately), as well as Bluetooth 4.0. There is no video out option. There’s a single Micro-SD card slot located on the rear of the device, under the rear cover. As in literally below it, as in you have to take the device’s rear cover off to access it.

Finally, the Stream 7 has an atrocious 2 MP rear camera and even worse 0.7 MP front-facing camera, and a single mono speaker of limited volume. The less you need to rely on any of these items, the better.

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Build Quality

 

The HP Stream 7 reminds me of the older model Kindle Fire tablets, by which I mean the original, 2011 models. Thick, heavy, and best described as “functional”, this isn’t exactly a marvel of modern engineering, but then, hopefully no one is expecting that for the price. The overall appearance is decent, and the tablet feels more substantial than cheap in the hand. Certainly it doesn’t look or feel as budget as most of the sub-$100 Android tablets made by no-name manufacturers.

I’m not sure what HP coated the Stream 7 in, but it appears to be designed to attract and show off as many human fingerprints as possible. I am almost disturbed by the quantity of fingerprints on display after handling this tablet for even a brief period of time. Hopefully HP has since made local law enforcement aware of the miracle properties of their tablet coating.

The buttons feel pretty good, having the expected tactile response and being located where you expect them to be when handling the device; perhaps it sounds odd, but for whatever reason OEMs keep getting button placement and feel wrong this year.  Even expensive and high-end Android tablets, such as the NVIDIA Shield and HTC Nexus 9, have shipped with woefully bad power and volume buttons, so it is nice to see HP get that right on a budget device like this.

The screen is better than I expected it would be: an IPS screen with decent touchscreen response, it has solid viewing angles and acceptable brightness. Certainly this far exceeds the mess that Toshiba shipped on its similarly priced and spec’d Windows Tablet, but obviously there’s a big quality drop here as compared to the Nexus 7 or iPad Mini 2.

The Stream 7 has a capacitive Windows button which, when pressed, returns home to the UI or, if already there, switches between the Modern and Desktop UIs. I found this to be quite useful, but it also can be irritating when touched accidentally, or put in the hands of casual tablet users. My son, who is used to watching videos on Android tablets without issue, consistently managed to press that button every 60 seconds or so while viewing content just because he’s used to handling the tablet bezel.

The other odd thing about the HP Stream 7 is that it supports Micro-SD cards, but to access the card slot, you have to remove the back of the tablet case. To be clear, this is the entire back cover, exposing the battery and other bits that I’d prefer not to see. It also doesn’t feature a sliding cover, or a latch, or something like this, you just pry it open and the snap-on plastic prongs give way and it comes apart.

After you enter the card, it snaps back together, more or less.

There’s a definite difference in the give on the back of the tablet and overall “tightness” of the case after you’ve pried it open. As the tablet feel didn’t evoke champagne and caviar to begin with, I suppose this is fine, but the whole experience just struck me as a very odd and unusual design decision.

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Using Windows 8.1 on a Tablet

 

Windows 8.1 is perhaps the strangest operating system I’ve ever used, at least from the user interface perspective.

Using a tablet running full Windows 8 is essentially the opposite of trying to use Windows 8 on a non-touch system. Here, everything on the Modern UI side, with the tiles, makes perfect sense. Navigating the tiles is easy, and setting up that area using grouping and sizing feels oddly satisfying.

That said, one of the main draws of a Windows tablet like the HP Stream 7 is that it can run any traditional Windows application, such as TurboTax, Steam, PhotoShop, and iTunes. Unfortunately, a lot of major applications as well as almost all obscure or smaller titles you may find are not going to have an associated Windows 8 Modern application. Thus, you’ll be running them from the more traditional desktop side of things.

That’s unfortunate, as the traditional desktop is awkward to navigate and interact with; that interface and associated traditional desktop applications are not built for touch. These programs assume you have a keyboard and mouse. Many of them are therefore difficult to scroll. Almost all of them will not pop up the on-screen keyboard when on text entry fields. Menus are a challenge to interact with.

Gadgets such as 2-in-1s like the Surface Pro or Asus Transformer Pad get around this by including a keyboard attachment that stands up the tablet and provides a USB port so you can connect a mouse. They also allow for external display options when you want to use the device as a portable desktop. The HP 7 does not do any of this, thus it is considerably more challenging to use traditional Windows programs.

Ultimately the Stream 7 is best used as you would use a Windows RT Tablet, sticking to the Modern-friendly apps, with desktop applications used only when absolutely necessary. If you plan on spending  a lot of time on the desktop side of things, I’d strongly suggest you pick up a 10” 2-in-1 or 11.6” laptop instead of this device.

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Performance

 

The Stream 7’s performance in real-world use and in benchmarks is quite comparable to the HP Stream 11 and Asus X205TA, two sub-$200 laptops that came out around the same time as this tablet.  The Geekbench score for the Stream 7 at 722 Single-Core and 2078 Multi-Core, is in fact quite similar to those two laptops. Octane scores in the 5500 range place it similar to the Asus X205TA as well, but behind the N2840 Celeron in the Stream 11.

Keep in mind, though, that with only 1 GB of RAM, multitasking on this device can be a challenge, especially when trying to use Desktop applications. iTunes, for instance, will run well enough when opened alone, but much less so if opened alongside other desktop applications.  Chrome in particular does not run well at all on this device, chewing up too much RAM.

Also keep in mind that neither the Stream 11 nor the X205TA exactly light the world on fire with their performance, so being comparable to those devices isn’t extraordinary praise. Benchmarks for laptops, when compared to phones and tablets, can be misleading; for instance, my 2013 Moto X had a much lower Octane score than any of these devices, but using Chrome on it felt like a significantly better experience.

That said, apps opened via the Modern UI play much nicer with better performance and better multitasking, and you’ll get a significantly improved experience the more you can stick to that side of Windows 8.  For more detailed performance information in specific applications, see below.

 

Microsoft Office

 

I was pleasantly surprised at the performance of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on the Stream 7. Provided you’re using basic functions of these programs, you should have very few issues with performance despite the 1 GB of RAM. Considering the cost and display options, this is probably meant more for the casual user or student, and as such will work just fine. It really is a shame that there’s no mini- or micro-HDMI out on these devices as it would greatly improve their productivity options.

That said, you’ll find the MS Office suite will bog down badly if doing any of the following:

  • Complex or advanced formatting templates in MS Word – these will cause a lag or delay as you type
  • Complex Macros, linking, and functions in Excel will cause the tablet to hang or even crash, as they do with any device with limited RAM and processing power
  • PowerPoint is probably the slowest performer of the three in general, and again will slow down and hang badly if presentations include complex formatting, animations, embedded files or videos, and so on

Working professionals hoping to use this tablet on the go for complex MS Office work will be disappointed. You really need something more like a Dell Venue Pro, HP Split, Lenovo Yoga, or Surface Pro to run the more advanced functions of MS Office smoothly, and again, with such limited output options you can’t use this as a mini-laptop as you can with some other Windows tablets.

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Streaming Video

 

I tested numerous video on demand services with the HP Stream 7 via the web, including:

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Instant Video
  • Youtube
  • HBO Go
  • Vudu

All worked without issue and the Stream 7 had a reasonable WiFi speed as well, though note that it does not offer AC connectivity. However, the screen is a bit of a letdown compared to other devices I own like the Nexus 7, Nexus 10, and Shield Tablet, and the speaker maximum volume is relatively weak.

It is also worth noting that some users have had a “buzzing” issue when plugging into the Stream 7’s headphone jack. I did not experience this on my device, and using an external speaker or headphones worked fine. You can also connect a Bluetooth audio device, and this worked fine as well, though managing Bluetooth connections through the Modern UI is a bit more cumbersome than on an Android tablet.

As noted above, while the Stream 7 does not have a premium screen, it is also very far from the terrible budget screens you’ll often find on sub-$100 Android tablets. You most definitely can use this device for media consumption.

 

Google Chrome

 

The HP Stream 7 is, frankly, abysmal at running Chrome. Chrome is unfortunately  just too RAM intensive for this 1 GB device. In addition, Chrome is not particularly touch-friendly and thus your best bet is to stick to the Modern IE. If you must use Chrome, you’ll have to make sure it is the only program running and minimize active extensions.

Even then, expect to have only one or two tabs open.

The best web experience on this device is the Modern UI version of IE, which runs fluidly and is touch-friendly. That said, as a full Windows 8.1 device, you can install and test any web browser that you wish that is compatible with Windows, such as FireFox.

 

iTunes

 

You can run iTunes on the HP Stream 7, but only on the Desktop side of things; there’s no Modern application version of iTunes today, and no reason to expect one to be coming any time in the near future. As a result, while the program itself loads reasonably quickly – even with a large library, and I tested it using almost 60 GB of MP3s from a micro-SD card – you’re relatively hamstrung trying to navigate menus without a mouse.

This unfortunately made my initial plan of using the HP Stream 7 as a cheaper, larger iPod not as successful as I’d hoped. I’ve also had some issues with other devices related to Apple’s auto-updates of their Windows programs, and iTunes eats up a lot of the system’s processing power while running.

Instead, try this:  Microsoft has a built-in music application which is pretty bare-bones and is tied to their XBox Music pass. That said, you can add any non-protected MP3s to your music library using this application and it has a very touch-friendly UI. I was able to add those same 60 GB of music via a micro-SD card, and have a nice, touch-friendly iPod facsimile. The application is also very light and lets you run it in the background while doing other tasks, especially those also located on the Modern side of Windows 8.

Note again that many users online have stated significant “buzzing” issues while using the HP Stream 7 headphone jack. While not originally an issue when I first wrote this, I have this issue now, which renders the headphone jack useless.

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Minecraft

 

For the most part, the same caveats apply to this as to the Asus X205TA. The HP Stream 7 tablet specs are similar in most respects to the X205TA, except it unfortunately has 1 GB of RAM instead of 2, and lacks the built-in keyboard and USB port you need for a mouse.

Running the game “as-is” requires you to turn off all graphical options like clouds and particles, and reduce the chunk render distance to as low as you’re able to tolerate, but I’d recommend no higher than 3. Doing this gives you a more or less playable version of the game, albeit one that isn’t all that attractive and will stutter and have sub-20 FPS in certain sections.

Alternately, as the Stream 7 runs full Windows 8.1, you can simply download and install the Optifine plug-in. While the increase in performance wasn’t quite as good as it was on the X205TA and Stream 11, it is still a dramatic improvement that makes the game playable even with some graphical settings turned back up.

Of course, you’re also going to need a mouse and keyboard in order to play, and your best bet is probably to go Bluetooth as that will allow you to play and still use the tablet charger. Alternately you can use a micro-USB to USB adapter to plug in a USB device, or a hub. Just keep in mind that the device has no way to use the micro-USB as a USB port and still accept incoming power, and gaming (in any capacity) will very rapidly drain the device batteries.

So, yes: you can download Minecraft and install Optifine, and find ways to connect a mouse and keyboard, and play Minecraft on the Stream 7. I’m not sure you’d ever really want to do this

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Steam

 

As with other low-cost, low-power Windows 8 devices I’ve looked at like the Stream 11 and X205TA, Steam itself runs very well on the HP Stream 7, but like with iTunes, there’s no Modern UI app, so you’re going to have a difficult time navigating the Steam UI with just touch controls.

The Intel HD integrated graphics and 1 GB of RAM are also going to limit what games will actually run on the device, as will the lack of inputs. Again, you can use an adapter to use a USB device; I was able to game using an XB 360 Controller using this method. You can also use Bluetooth controllers or keyboard/mouse combination, all of which works just fine. Bluetooth has the advantage of allowing you to power the device via micro-USB as, again, gaming is a huge battery drain and the Stream 7 does not have exceptional battery life.

All that said, I tested a few indie games including:

  • Crypt of the Necrodancer
  • Risk of Rain
  • FTL
  • Towerfall: Ascension
  • Super Meatboy
  • Spelunky

 

Risk of Rain experienced slowdown below 60 FPS as soon as more than a few enemies were on-screen and plummeted badly from there, but the others were very playable. The Stream 7 is certainly better positioned to play Modern UI app games like Minion Rush than Steam games, but it is a perfectly functional device for indie gaming, and a cheap one at that. It obviously is going to lack the horsepower needed for 3D gaming, even with older titles.

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I should also note that the Stream 7 is fully capable of in-home streaming via Steam, and in fact I was able to play Metro 2033 Redux on it at a quite good framerate (given the lower resolution screen). This is a pretty cheap way to do this, but also limiting in that unlike the X205TA, you have no USB ports, no way to link an external display, and no built-in keyboard like on a laptop, so while you can stream games like this, it certainly is less ideal around the house than a full laptop would be.

One final trick here: if you’re close enough to your gaming PC, you can use the wireless controller hooked up to that PC to play the game streaming to your Stream 7, which can get around the problem of not having inputs.

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Retro Game Emulation

 

The Stream 7 does make a pretty solid emulation device, as you can pin the emulation programs to the Modern UI for launching them and most have relatively simple menus. Unlike Android, you can also get free (and ad-free) versions of emulators for NES, SNES, Genesis, GB, GBC, GBA, NGPC, PCE/TG16, and NeoGeo. You could of course try more advanced systems but will likely run into issues as you would with any more modern 3D gaming.

As these older systems work just fine with Bluetooth controllers like the NES30, or once launched via a USB-connected retro controller, this setup works a bit better than trying to run Steam games or Steam streaming.

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Kindle and other Reading Apps

 

While I prefer to read comics and graphic novels on a larger tablet like a Nexus 10 or iPad Air, I’ve been surprised with how readable some comics are on seven inch tablets like a Nexus 7. And obviously reading novels is much better on an E-Ink reader like a Kindle or Nook, but in a pinch, a regular tablet will do the trick.

The Stream 7 is a fully capable device for these functions, using the Kindle app for Windows 8, or for comics, other Windows 8 applications are available as well. The main issue you may have is, again, the screen just isn’t as sharp as something like the Nexus 7, making the experience less enjoyable and frankly very difficult for dialogue-heavy comics. For example, reading Usagi Yojimbo and Hellboy was fine; reading V for Vendetta was not.

For a list of the best comic reading apps for Windows 8, see here:

http://lifehacker.com/5858906/five-best-desktop-comic-book-readers

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Freebies

 

Included with the Stream 7, you get one year of Office 365 Personal, which gives you full Office 2013 licenses for one tablet and one PC. In addition, you get 1 TB of Microsoft OneDrive Cloud storage, which supposedly is being upgraded to unlimited storage in the near future. This regularly retails for $69.99 for an annual subscription, so that alone makes the Stream 7 a very compelling product if you were considering a subscription to this service.

 

Accessories

 

HP makes a well-reviewed case for the Stream 7 that’s available from Amazon and the Microsoft store with an MSRP of $29.99, and there are third-party cases as cheap as $10 available on Amazon. As you’re likely to want to use this standing up and may (at least occasionally) want to use a keyboard or mouse, I’d definitely suggest you get a case.

The Stream 7 also supports storage expansion via a Micro-SD card slot, which is very helpful; additional storage in Windows is much better than in Android as you can move basically any files or applications to external media, whereas Android has many limitations on which apps can move to an SD card (for the tablets that actually offer this option).  As 32 GB Micro-SD cards with decent read/write speeds are often on sale for under $15, I’d definitely suggest a 32 GB or 64 GB card. This is a great way to store movies, games, graphic novels, and so on.

 

Final Thoughts

 

The HP Stream 7 is an interesting device, and I took my time in writing this review because I had a hard time formulating a final opinion.

For $100, the combination of a functional Windows 8.1 tablet with a great cloud storage offer and access to the newest versions of MS Office for a year seems like a screaming good deal. Without a doubt, if you’re going to buy a one-year Office 365 Personal subscription anyway, definitely spend the extra $30 to get the HP Stream 7.

As a tablet on its own, the Stream 7 is decent as a media consumption device. The screen is so-so and battery life isn’t that good, but for reading books or comics, watching streaming videos, and basic web browsing, this is a solid budget tablet with decent performance. You can even play some indie PC games via a Bluetooth controller or USB adapter, and game emulation is, if anything, easier to manage than on an Android device.

My issue comes from the fact that this isn’t just a tablet for media consumption, it is a tablet computer running a full-blown Windows 8.1 operating system. If you want a tablet just for the things I described above, you can get sale or refurbished tablets with significantly better specs for barely any additional cost.

As a PC replacement the Stream 7 is just not good enough. It has no built-in dock with USB port like the Acer Swtich 10 or Asus Transformer Pad, which use those accessories to offer functional access to the traditional Windows Desktop environment. It also has no external video option, so you can’t just hook it up to an external monitor, either. And, the single micro-USB slot used for charging can’t support use as a USB port and charge at the same time, limiting your input options.

Yes, you can use an adapter to hook up a USB hub and buy a folio case and do all these things, but, why would you want to do that? What reasonable person sits in a use case where that’s an acceptable solution to this device’s shortcomings? How could that possibly be a better solution than a cheap Windows 8 laptop or 2-in-1 device?

Then again, for $99, there’s really no other device that offers average build quality and average performance, and can do all the things the Stream 7 can do.

I’ve watched movies from all types of places including those that don’t play well with Chrome OS, and with better file management options than on Android. I’ve used iTunes. I’ve played Steam games and even streamed games from my gaming PC, using the Stream 7 as a very cheap NVIDIA Shield. I used it like a cheap Kindle Fire to access Amazon content including video, books, and graphic novels.  And, I’ve demoed PowerPoint presentations and opened up Excel Spreadsheets which, while somewhat difficult to navigate, still offered far better performance than anything available on Android.

Ultimately, that’s the HP Stream 7’s selling point: it doesn’t do anything all that well, but it does basically everything you’d want a tablet or laptop to do, at a price low enough – and value high enough – that it seems like a reasonable purchase.

If you need a jack-of-all-trades device, and have any interest in Office 365 Personal or a ton of MS Cloud storage, this is pretty easy to recommend.

TL;DR – The HP Stream 7’s tombstone will read: “For the price, I guess it was kind of ok at everything.”

Well, that, or, “Fingerprints, fingerprints, fingerprints!”

Buy the HP Stream 7 at Amazon.com:

 

4 thoughts on “HP Stream 7 Review and Minecraft Test”

  1. Great review. How did spelunky run? A portable 4 player windows 8 spelunky playing tablet would be wonderful

    1. It ran just fine, the main issue with that as a plan though is that there’s only one USB (via OTG) and you can’t charge and use it, so your battery life will be very short.

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