Despite the high quality of its premium-priced productivity-oriented Surface Pro tablets, Microsoft is playing catch-up in the mobile OS market. The Redmond-based software giant could start to close the gap on Android and iOS, however, now that budget tablets running full Windows 8.1 have become a common site in stores. One such product is Hewlett Packard's Stream 7. At around $100 it is highly affordable and has some decent specifications, albeit with inevitable limitations.
As its name suggests, the Stream 7 has been designed to take advantage of online services such as cloud storage and streaming media. Its small size and budget price means that it lacks the USB or HDMI inputs that some more expensive devices have. It is not totally reliant on wireless data access, however, because it does have a Micro SD card slot. Swapping disks is not convenient, though, because you have to remove the thin plastic plate from the back of the Stream 7's chunky chassis to move cards in and out.
The Stream 7's suboptimal options for directly accessing files limit its value as a work tool on-the-go. Even so, with an Intel® Atom® Z3735G processor and 1 GB of DDR3L SDRAM, the Stream 7 is capable of running general use productivity software like Microsoft Office. We also tested it with the statistical analysis programs Systat and SPSS and encountered no problems.
Manipulating these and other programs on the Stream 7 is challenging, nonetheless, because of the small size and 1280 x 800 pixels resolution of the display. Everything is rendered in small type on the Windows desktop unless you bump up the resolution, which then restricts how much you can fit on the screen.If you want to take advantage of Windows' full capabilities, then, you need either small finger tips, a good stylus or a mouse. The upside is that you have the option to install Windows programs, which you don't have with Microsoft's original ‘budget' tablets running Windows RT.
Moreover, the limitations imposed by the Windows desktop on a small screen aren't likely to be a huge problem for users looking to take advantage of what this tablet is principally designed for: consumption of streamed data and media. In our tests, the Stream 7 had no trouble with playback of HD video files over a wireless network from Netflix and Plex.
Local playback of DRM-protected video files purchased through iTunes was a different story. These were unwatchable in iTunes or QuickTime due to constant stuttering. Music playback was fine but you are limited to mono sound if you use the Stream 7's inbuilt speaker.
Like similar budget tablets, the Stream 7's biggest advantages are its size and its price. Running the full Windows OS also means that, in principle, there's plenty it can do. In practice, though, the small screen limits the value of the Windows desktop and makes the Stream 7 less than ideal for anything other than playback of movies and music or storing and viewing holiday snaps. It does a decent job of performing these tasks but there's nothing special that makes it stand out from other tablets in the same price range.