The HP Mesquite 7 Android tablet is this blogger's choice for best value under $99. It's the first tablet from Hewlett-Packard to retail for under a bill (not counting the HP Touchpad, which didn't hit that price until after that fiasco was put on clearance).
HP has a number of moderately priced Android tablets but so far as I know this is the only budget model with an Intel chip.
The HP Mesquite tablet, which is also known as the HP 7 (model number 1800), has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2460 CPU with 1GB of RAM, 5.1GB of storage, and a microSD card slot.This tablet is equipped with a VGA webcam, Wifi, Bluetooth, and a speaker/mike.
It's only available in a matte white shell (which attracts fingerprints like flies to honey) with the usual glossy black front.
There's a minimal amount of detail on the front of the tablet - pretty much the only noticeable feature is the VGA webcam centered on the face of the tablet over one of the long sides of the screen.
The curved rear of the tablet sports the single speaker and the microSD card slot. The USB and headphone jack are found on the left edge, and on the upper left edge you will find the power button and the volume buttons.
Like many other tablets in this price range the build quality is decent. The edges are smooth, the seams tight, and the tablet is pleasant to hold. This is neither the largest nor smallest of the 7" tablets I've tried and it can be held firmly in one of my largish man hands. But it is a little on the heavy side, so I'm not sure that I would hold it one-handed for very long.
This tablet is nice but it's not a candidate for a one-handed reading experience - not without some type of strap or case.
With a screen resolution of 1024 x 600, the HP Mesquite the same number of pixels as the original Kindle Fire and many other budget Android tablets.
Aside from the backlight I would say that the quality of the screen is quite good. The colors are sharp and not washed out like on other tablets in this price range. And in case you're wondering, this tablet probably cannot double as a flashlight. The backlight can get quite dim, but at its brightest it cannot compare to better tablets like the KFHD.
It has a wide viewing angle horizontally, which will make it easier for several people to share. The vertical viewing angle, on the other hand, is much more narrow. You cannot turn it more than 20 degrees before the colors start to shift and fade. To be fair, that is a wider viewing angle than on some other budget tablets.
This tablet has but a single VGA resolution camera. It's really not very good, and I would not use it.
Due to marginal software and hardware, battery life is the bugaboo of budget Android tablets. It's not uncommon to find tablets for under $100 that have a practical battery life of under a few hours. Fortunately, the Mesquite from HP isn't one of them.
The Mesquite tablet is specced as having 5 hours of battery life. Based on the time I spent using it over the past week I think that spec is accurate. I ran a stress test using a 3 hour long high resolution video, and based on that I would estimate that the Mesquite tablet should have at least 5 hours of movie watching time. If you are careful and install a power management app then you should be able to extend the battery life even further.
I would also estimate, based on randomly checking the battery meter over the past week, that the standby time rates at 2 and a half to 3 days. It's not bad but I wish that were higher.
The Mesquite runs a stock version of Android 4.1 with the usual Google apps as well as a single addition. That is last year's OS, and it's now 3 generations out of date (when compared to premium tablets).
Along with Gmail, Youtube, Chrome, Google+, etc, this tablet also includes HP ePrint, an app which lets the tablet interface with HP-branded printers. This is the older and less capable of interface apps which HP has released. It's useful but if you have an HP printer you'll probably want to install the all-in-one app. That supports HP's printers as well as their scanners, making it a lot more useful.
In general the software ran smoothly and I didn't encounter any problems. I have read that some have had compatibility issues with some apps in Google Play, but I have not.
My only issue with the Mesquite tablet is that Android 4.1 on the Mesquite is missing some of the more useful features which I have come to appreciate and which I have found on the Mesquite's budget tablet competitors.
For example, most tablets running Android 4.0 have a useful status menu which pops up out of the bottom right corner of the screen with readily accessible info on recent activity, battery status, screen brightness. A lot of tablets running Android 4.2 or above replaced that status menu with a new one in the upper right corner.
The Mesquite has neither. Instead it has an anemic status menu in the upper left corner. This is something that can be readily fixed by installing an app, so it's really not an issue. But I thought it worth a comment.
The Mesquite tablet is weaker at first glance than most tablets in its price range. It only has a single core 1.6GHz Atom Z2460 CPU which doesn't look like much in comparison to faster dual-core and quad-core CPUs like the ARM chips made by Rockchip and Nvidia.
Luckily for Intel their x86 chips average significantly more capable than the ARM chips found in most Android tablets. With a score of 11,120, the Mesquite tablet has an unremarkable but solid Antutu benchmark. It's not the best result of the sub-$100 tablets I have tried but it is also not the worst.
And then I put my hands on it.
Over the past couple months I have tried several budget tablets and I think this is one of the better ones. It woke up fast, installed and loaded apps with reasonable speed, the download speed was also good. I've been playing games on it this week, and it handles Angry Birds quite well. The touchscreen was uniformly sensitive and fast to respond.
I truly have nothing to complain about in the performance dept. Media, now that is a horse of a different color.
Audio and Video
This tablet comes with a Youtube app and the basic media player apps.
The media player was generally functional, but I think you're probably going to want to get a better one. The interface is quite basic and lacks anything beyond a play button. It also kept seizing on the video I used to stress test the battery, telling me that it couldn't play the video.
But aside from seizing it was able to play the video (1280 x 544). The sound stayed in sync, and there were no video artifacts on the screen.
Moving on, the Youtube app is something of a quandary. I was expecting the same app found elsewhere, but this app takes forever to decide to load a video. I also had to go into the settings menu, stop the app and then delete the content before I could get it to show me any videos at all.
I'm not sure that I can honestly call this a media tablet, not when it cannot decide whether it is capable of playing videos out of the box.
Want a second opinion on this tablet? Here's a video:
The HP Mesquite tablet lacks many of the refinements found on more expensive tablets and it even lacks some of the ports and other features found on similarly priced Android tablets (second USB port, HDMI port, etc). It's also running a slightly older version of Android which is missing a few of the subtle but useful tricks that many of its competitors have.
But in spite of its shortcomings, the Mesquite is still a solid tablet with a well-crafted shell, decent battery life, average performance, and an okay screen.
Of the several tablets I have tried in the past couple months, the Mesquite tablet is my choice for best buy under $100. It bests the Ematic EM63 (my second choice) in the screen department, and the EM63 also has less storage and battery ife.
On the other hand, the EM63 also costs $20 less, and that might be important to some price-conscious buyers.
Where to Buy it
- CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2460 single-core
- GPU: PowerVR SGX 540
- 1GB of RAM
- Android 4.1
- 7" (1024 x 600) screen
- capacitive touchscreen
- 8GB Flash storage (5.1GB accessible)
- microSD card slot
- Speaker, microphone
- Wifi, Bluetooth
- Weight: 13 oz
- Dimensions: 7.6" x 4.9" x 0.4"