HP Android tablet sparks debate

HP has released an Android tablet for $169. It’s sparked a lot of questions — and a lot of people reading symbolism into it.

The device is called the HP Slate 7, the number being the screen size in inches. It only has two notable features that you wouldn’t expect in most Android tablets, namely support for Beats audio tweaks and a integrated in-app printing over Wi-Fi.

Other than that, the specs are much what you’d expect from a low-end tablet. Compared to the Nexus 7 it’s got only a dual-core processor compared with quad-core, has 8GB storage (expandable via microSD) compared with 16GB, and is missing GPS and NFC support. The screen resolution is also lower at 1024×600. Specs-aside, early hands on reviews suggest it works smoothly and the hardware certainly doesn’t feel cheap.

From a buying perspective, given the Nexus 7 is just thirty bucks more, it seems the only obvious audience is people that want a reliable brand name but are determined to pay as little as possible. One commenter makes the interesting point that this category won’t just be consumers, but could include businesses that want to use the device as an interactive display screen. The known brand/budget price combo could work well in many corporate buying processes.

One debate that’s already begun is exactly how HP is able to sell the device so cheaply given it isn’t making any extra cash once somebody has bought the tablet. It’s possible it’s a combination of sheer economies of scale and HP having the capacity to set up particularly efficient assembly lines. More cynical folk have speculated that the device’s economies might be exposed by long-term use.

The other topic of discussion is what this says about the mobile device market as a whole. With HP having previously tried and failed with its own tablet operating system (WebOS), it’s becoming increasingly clear that (outside of the Apple universe) manufacturers largely have to choose between Android and various incarnations of Windows.

A big name brand like HP — that has been utterly reliant on Windows for much of its past business — opting for Android in such a high profile way is certainly a big statement. HP isn’t talking much about the reasoning behind the decision yet, so it will be interesting to see if it was more about the flexibility and usability of Android (in which case Microsoft at least has a hope of working on its software to compete) or the simple fact that in such low-costs devices the expense of a Windows license makes an insurmountable difference.

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