The Amazing HP 7 Model 1800 “Mesquite” Tablet: Intel powered, Wal-Mart (!) exclusive

Not great, but pretty darn good. Email, social networking, Skyping, Google HangOuts, and watching videos are a breeze. Music player is awesome!  Did I mention $99??
This is a guest post from our friend and longtime Practical Hacks reader and contributor, Michael W.   After reading it, I purchased an HP 7; for the price, it’s very, very good.  One point:  it has 8GB of internal storage, but has a slot for a micro SD card.  I added 32 GB of storage for $24.99 

Sub-$100 tablets haven’t been that rare this year – I fell for the Hisense Sero LT based on online reviews claiming it was the first decent budget tablet, but the screen proved to be pretty dismal and the performance was noticeably slow.

This Black Friday / Wal-Mart exclusive HP 7 (NOT the Slate) is refreshingly different. The back lighting is somewhat weak (and therefore problematic in bright office lighting) but the colors are vivid and high quality in home lighting, and the performance is zippy, the build-quality rock solid. It leaves some things out to hit its price-point, but it doesn’t skimp on the features it does include.

HP 7 015

Its single quirk is using an Intel Atom processor instead of the more customary ARM-licensed chip. Intel wants to be in the “mobile space” and teamed up with Google in 2011 to roll Android out onto Intel chips, and the chip powering this tablet is their first effort, the “Medfield” Atom-powered “system on a chip” or SOC where all the key video, Bluetooth, and WiFi components are on a single chip, to reduce manufacturing costs and to save power. The Medfield made its first public appearance in a Lenovo smartphone in April 2012 and was remarkable not for being great, but for being passable. Given ARM’s total dominance in smartphones and almost complete dominance (with the exception of Windows tablets) in the tablet arena, being “passable” was actually a win for Intel. In fact, the performance of Medfield (and the quickly released Clover Trail and Bay Trail) have been praised, the only question mark has been battery life – Intel is used to achieving performance at the cost of power, having grown up in the server and desktop world (remember those only 100 watt and up desktops?). So having to survive in sleep and during  low activity on micro-watts is naturally a challenge.

The net result is a zippy, affordable tablet (you’d never believe it is powered by a single core chip with two virtual cores) that delivers on performance but has noticeably less battery life than it’s ARM-powered competitors – 5 hours vs. a bottom threshold of 7 hours on ARM tablets and an upper threshold of 12 hours, at least for the non-budget Android tablets. 5 hours here isn’t as bad as it may sound, however – many bargain-basement Android tablets don’t even run that long, since lithium batteries are expensive and tablets built to a low price point usually have smaller batteries. Also, compared to other bargain-basement tablets, this comes with 8gb of built-in storage (with a uSD slot to expand), 1gb of RAM, and 600p instead of 480p resolution.

Screenshot: Home screen

About that 600p (1024 x 600) resolution: yes, that isn’t 720p like on the original Nexus or 1080p like on the current Nexus. But it’s not far off iPad 2 and original Mini levels (1024 x 768). The non-IPS screen is more of a problem – for the best video-viewing experience, you need to keep the screen carefully centered, unlike mid-range tablet with their wide viewing angle IPS screens. This is sharp enough for e-reading, but if you are a pixel hound you should also look at tablets with 1280 x 800 resolution levels (original Nexus, current Asus MemoPad HD 7 ($149) and EVGA Tegra Note 7 ($199)) or a “retina level” display like the 2013 Nexus 7.

Where this tablet excels is cheap, risk free tablet use – absorbing a $99 tablet damage or loss is a lot easier to accept than losing a $499 iPad Air (heck, the extended warranty alone on an Air is about 50% of the cost of this tablet). When I was overseas last time, I even got lazy about leaving out my MemoPad HD 7 when I went down for breakfast – under a pillow or stack of clothes, but not in the room safe. Same thing applies over here – if you know you are going to do a lot of web browsing at a cafe, a higher resolution tablet is what you should take, but if you want something handy all the time to slog around, this is fine. Beats the small screen on a smartphone and a smartphone Android interface any day of the week.

The Antutu benchmark is 11,200 which is “good” for a tablet. My own experience is that the downloading is fast, apps load and switch fast, touch is responsive, and videos play smoothly (I use Dice Player). Skype works well with clear sound so the built-in microphone and speaker work well; I didn’t try video calls however, and the front camera is just VGA quality (.3mp).

Since this has an Intel chip instead of the standard ARM chip, there might be some minor app compatibility issues, since Android apps are being rewritten to optimize for both ARM and Intel. Definitely all the factory-installed apps run fast and glitch free, as do Facebook, Skype, and my other key applications. But until a few days ago, Firefox was off the list; an Intel-supported version was just released, however. If you have any key apps, be sure to install and test them out during the 14 day return period. If you want me to check a particular (free) app, leave a request in the comments and I will try to help you out.

Screenshot: YouTube video

There is no rear camera. Presumably your smartphone is your first choice for pictures, though, and the lack of a rear-camera means fewer headaches about how to set the tablet down without scratching or smearing a rear camera lens. There is no GPS/GLONAS, so you won’t be using this in lieu of a GPS unit, but then again most smartphones now have turn-by-turn GPS built-in. Bluetooth is an older version, 2.1., but that’s good enough for an accessory keyboard (I like the Amazon Basics keyboard which has worked well with my iPad and also works with Windows and Android tablets).

Who is this suitable for?

Anybody who could previously get by with a netbook: travelers, grandma and grandpa, casual users. This tablet is perfect if your primary uses are checking email, checking and updating social media, viewing snapshots. At $99 it is a bargain, and a lot easier to carry to a Starbucks than a netbook. 5 hours is pretty good battery life for those forays. A Chromebook is a simple solution if you need a built-in keyboard, and/or larger screen, but the cost is greater. The Chromebook is probably more secure for online banking etc. simply because Google is always rolling out updates to the operating system, while Android seldom updates the actual operating system (but is constantly updating the actual apps).

Screenshot: Chrome browser

 Who is this NOT suitable for?

  • I’ll go out on a limb here and say that even though the price is right for small children – and watching NetFlix is fine – most games and educational apps are still on Apple. So this may not be as good for kids as you hoped. It certainly makes a fine alternative to a portable DVD player, but it is NOT a good alternative to an iPad, due to both app availability, and the moderate performance specs of this budget tablet.
  • Teenagers are also problematic. The just released Tegra Note 7 has the new Tegra 4 processor with amazing graphics – if your favorite game is released on Android and optimized for the Tegra 3 (original Nexus) or newer Tegra 4. But those are a couple of big “ifs” compared to the certainty of fast and visually engaging game play on an iPad Air or Retina Mini which both got upgraded to the “hottest” current chip on the market, the A7 home-grown by Apple.

The HP 7 Model 1800 Mesquite was an $89 Black Friday special at Wal-Mart that continues to be available, only at WalMart, for the remainder of the holiday shopping season at $99 (with at least one, one-day return to $89 on their website since Black Friday). After that it isn’t clear if HP will discontinue the model, keep selling it as a Wal-Mart exclusive, or roll it out to other retailers.

 HP continues to sell the ARM-based, somewhat slower and low-rated Slate 7 through big-box stores like Staples, Office Depot, Office Max etc., and since it is offered on sale at $99 too, there is some confusion between HP’s two $99 tablets – but I give the nod to this Intel-powered one.

 Specifications:

 HP 7 with WiFi 7″ Touchscreen Tablet PC Featuring Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) Operating System, white:

 Technical Specifications:

  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2460 processor

  • 1GB DDR2 of system memory

  • 7″ touchscreen, 1024 x 600 resolution, virtual keyboard

  • Built-in 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 EDR

Additional Features of the HP Tablet:

  • Front VGA webcam with omni-directional microphone

  • microUSB port

  • 8GB on-board storage memory, additional memory via microSD card slot

  • Built-in speaker

  • Accelerometer

  • Up to five hours of run time on a full charge

  • Weighs 0.83-pounds; 7.6″ x 4.92″ x 0.4″ dimensions

Software and Applications:

  • Android 4.1 OS (Jelly Bean)

  • Google Search, Google Voice Search, Gmail, Google Sync, Google Talk, Chrome browser, Google+, Google Maps, Google Street View, YouTube, Widevine digital content manager and Google Play (for applications)

  • Media Formats: popular media formats

What’s in the Box:

  • 7-inch tablet and AC adapter [note: a USB power charger with micro USB cable]

HP 7 002

Unboxing the HP 7


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2 Comments on The Netbook is Dead: Long Live the $99 7” Android Tablet!

  1. Michael W. says:

    I am chagrined to report that while the demanding benchmark suites say this tablet isn’t good for games, my 6 y.o. is currently merrily playing games on it.

    [Reply]

  2. Michael W. says:

    This has been replaced by the much superior HP 7 Plus, which is quad-core ARM chip, dual core Power VR graphics, and most importantly an IPS screen for much better viewing angles and more vibrant colors. You can find the new model on Best Buy or the HP website. Note it is the 1302us model….

    [Reply]

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