HP just announced that it's getting back in to the tablet game, but this time with Android instead of webOS. The Slate 7 is a perfectly straight-forward 7-inch Android tablet, with specs as middling as its build quality. For $169, you'll get an Android machine running on a 1.6GHz Arm Coretex A9 of mysterious provenance (HP wouldn't tell us precisely who makes it) with a 1024 x 600 LCD display and 1GB or RAM. There's the usual Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1, plus a 3.1 megapixel camera on the back and 8GB of storage — though you can augment that with a microSD card.
Since it's running (mostly) stock Android 4.1, really the most important differentiators between this and the Nexus 7 are that aforementioned microSD card slot and the Beats Audio-powered stereo speakers (positioned at bottom). HP would also like you to know it supports ePrint — which along with Beats is the only real departure from stock Android. That's not much of a difference, though the price may appeal to HP's corporate customers. Build quality is classic HP, which is to say it doesn't fall down in any particular way but it's not especially inspiring either. The plastic on the rear of the frame has a matte finish that provides grip but doesn't feel very premium, though the steel frame running around the rim at least gives it a sense of solidity. There is, however, a model with a bold, red backing that gives the tablet a lot more flair than the standard gray.
Running it though a few paces, the device seemed, well, like a perfectly fine 7-inch Android tablet. Like Lenovo just earlier today, HP isn't bothering too much with software differentiation. Instead, HP is looking to compete with the Nexus 7 by undercutting it on price. That might be all well and good, but those ePrint customizations, even if you don't see them, could theoretically slow down the pace of software updates for the device. HP says that it can't comment on future software update plans, but that those customizations shouldn't present any problems in delivering timely updates. Come April, customers will be able to decide whether or not they will believe HP can sustain a tablet business this time around — because last time it didn't go so well.
Ross Miller and Ryan Manning contributed to this report.