HP Gets Into the 7″ Android Tablet Game

The Slate7 is late to the 7" party, but sounds like a reasonable deal at $169.

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More news from Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress show: HP is announcing the Slate7, a 7″ Android tablet. It’s HP’s first Android tablet, unless you count the Photosmart eStation, an offbeat 2010 printer with a detachable Android tablet. And it marks the first signs of the company’s return to the mobile-gizmo market it hastily abandoned in 2011 when it scrapped its TouchPad tablet and Pre phones, which were based on the WebOS software it acquired when it bought Palm. (Of course, HP never stopped making Windows-based tablets.)

It’s seriously late in the game to be getting into the 7″ Android tablet market, which is already thickly populated with models from Google, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others. And there’s a limit to what HP can do to make its unit stand out. But it sounds like a plausible contender, with Android Jelly Bean 4.1 (with custom printing featues but, HP says, a minimum of modifications to its interface ), cameras on the front and back, Beats audio, 8GB of storage, a MicroSD slot and an aluminum case. The $169 price should help, since most of the tablet’s rivals go for $199; Amazon’s Kindle Fire is just $159, but it doesn’t have any cameras…and does have ads.

I spoke with Alberto Torres, the head of the mobility group which HP formed last year, about the Slate7. He told me that this 7-incher will be joined by other new tablets and, eventually, by HP smartphones. He didn’t confirm that the phones would run Android, but it’ll be startling if they don’t.

Along with HP’s recently-introduced Chromebook, the Slate7, which arrives in April, is a sign that the company sees its future as being less Microsoft-centric than its past. Even for those of us who think Windows 8 deserves more time to prove itself before it’s written off as a failure, it’s not hard to see why HP wants to keep its options open.