I was recently given a HP Stream 8 with Intel Inside®, along with an opportunity to work from my happy place. I accepted the challenge and used the chance to escape the orderly chaos of Tokyo, temporarily relocating my office to a secluded stretch of beach just outside Kailua on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
What I left behind was a basement level home office cluttered with gear and wiring (yes, I roll old school with CAT6, gigabit switches, a UPS, and RAID 6 NAS). It's exactly the sort of dungeon office you'd expect from a life-long-geek turned food blogger. When I travel, the first things I usually pack are my gadgets, along with their assorted chargers, cables and adaptors, so the idea of spending a week working off of an 8-inch tablet on a beach was both liberating and terrifying. As I boarded the plane bound for Hawaii with a lighter-than-usual suitcase, I felt a bit like a 3 year old who'd left his security blanket at home.
With a quad core 1.8Ghz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of memory and 32GB of storage the Stream 8 is a perfectly capable tablet that's in line with others at its price point. It's not razor thin, nor is it like lugging around an Oxford dictionary. It's also not going to make the cover of Vogue anytime soon, but it's not the kind of device you'd hide in a brown paper bag either. In many regards it's a very ordinary tablet.
Except that's not the whole story. What makes this tablet extraordinary is the stuff that comes bundled with it. By "bundled" I don't mean the useless collection of free trials, bloatware and crippled demos that you've come to expect from bundled software. HP has done something truly unique and packaged this diminutive tablet with software and services that are not only useful, they make the $180 Stream 8 an exceptional value.
First of all, the HP Stream 8 with Intel Inside® runs a full version of Microsoft Windows 8.1, which normally sells for $120. This is a desktop OS, meaning that in theory you can run almost any desktop app that runs on Windows, not just apps that were built for tablets.
Since one of the most important parts of food blogging is eye-catching photography, I use a piece of software called Adobe Lightroom to process my shots. Although Adobe has released tablet versions of its software they're not as fully featured as the desktop version. I decided to install the full version of Adobe Lightroom 5.7 onto the Stream 8... because I could. It's a GPU, CPU and memory intensive application and tends to be more sluggish than I'd like it to be, even on my new $4000 desktop computer at home. Putting it on the Stream 8, I wouldn't have been surprised if it failed to load, but it opened up just fine. Editing photos without a mouse is another problem entirely, but given the location of my new office, I was just fine with that.
As anyone who has signed up for a "free" trial only to get billed 2 weeks later can attest, free trials are lame. The HP Stream 8 with Intel Inside® comes bundled with a 1 year subscription to a fully functional, cloud connected version of Microsoft Office, it's not a trial and it doesn't even ask for a credit card when you activate it.
Writing in the cloud is great because I can pick up whatever device is closest to me and pick up where I left off. That's why I've been using a different cloud-based office suite for all my writing over the past 5 years. But because that particular office suite is web-based it has all sorts of issues. Office 365 is great because it installs the software locally on the device while syncing all your documents to the cloud. Whether I was updating my schedule in Excel or writing up this post in Word, it was great having a fully featured spreadsheet and word processor at my fingertips that didn't freeze up every time the Internet connection got a little dodgy.
This brings me to my last point. While there are many ways to connect to the Internet while out and about, they all have their disadvantages. Looking for a Wi-Fi hotspot often involves buying a cup of coffee, and while Hawaii has some great coffee, I didn't fly almost 4000 miles to hang out at some dimly lit coffee shop. LTE Wi-Fi hotspots are great and portable, but it's another gadget to carry around and yet another monthly bill.
With the Stream 8, HP has done something truly innovative and has included a T-Mobile SIM card with a free 4G data plan for the lifetime of the device. This is the feature that more than anything, allowed me to work from the beach, responding to emails, comments, and follow up on social media posts, free of wires or having to worry about a monthly bill.
Sure, any tablet that comes equipped with a cellular antenna can get access to the Internet, but I can't think of another device (tablet, laptop or otherwise), that comes with a free LIFETIME data plan. I'll let you ponder the gravity of this for a moment.
Do you see why this gets me so excited? Okay, so there is one small catch: there's a 200MB monthly cap, but this is plenty to get a very nice tan before heading back to some shade and Wi-Fi.
What review would be complete without testing a device's durability. The thing is, I hate the idea of a durability test. Often involving ridiculously implausible scenarios, like dropping a 50 pound safe on a smartphone or sticking a device in a blender, they don't prove much more than the fact that those involved have more money than sense. That's why I hadn't planned on testing the durability of the Steam 8. Unfortunately, being the clumsy oaf that I am, fate intervened and created a test of its own.
Shortly after this shot was taken of me enjoying a cold one while updating my draft recipe for the Island burger, the beer slipped out of my hand and I had a choice to make. Let the beer drop, or rescue it and drop the tablet. As any sensible person would do, I freed my left hand so I could use both hands to rescue the brew. Unfortunately, my instincts were faster than my reflexes and the beer hit the concrete with a sickening metallic thud... followed shortly after by the Stream 8 coming to a crashing halt on the pavement with a loud crack. I looked down fearing the worst, and indeed things looked bad. The beer had managed to stay upright, but was now foaming over, and the tablet was literally discombobulated. The battery cover had come off and there was beer splattered all over the inside of the tablet which was face down on the concrete in a growing pool of suds.
As I picked the tablet up, I was certain I'd be greeted by a beer-soaked spiderweb of shattered glass. To my surprise, the display glass survived the fall intact with only a few beads of beer streaming down the screen. After hastily drying off the parts and putting it back together, I crossed my fingers as I pressed the power button. Staring at a blank lifeless screen for what was probably no more than a few milliseconds, I had a sinking feeling in my gut. And then... as if heralded by a chorus of trumpeting angels, the familiar blue HP logo came up, followed shortly by the familiar tiles of Windows 8.1.
Aside from a few character building scars on one side, the Stream 8 took the fall like a champ. Nothing short of a miracle for someone who has a history of turning aluminum and glass tablets into very expensive paperweights. As with any durability test, luck probably had a lot to do with my results, so I wouldn't go trying this at home, but I think it's safe to conclude that the Stream 8 is at least on par with its more expensive competitors in the durability department.
Given that I normally use a tablet that costs over 3 times as much as this one, I was a little worried about what using the Stream 8 was going to be like. To be honest, I set my expectations pretty low, telling myself that this was an entry-level tablet. But this little-Stream-that-could proved itself to be more than adequate, often outdoing its pricier competitors on capabilities if not performance.
My only real gripe was that the display was pretty reflective, which made it hard to see on the beach (in all fairness, it was very sunny outside). You should also know that because this tablet is running a full version of Windows 8.1, it doesn't go to sleep the same way a regular tablet does. That's why it's important to keep it plugged in when you're not using it.
Overall, I found the Stream 8 to be a solidly built device that has capabilities that make it usable as a both a computer and a tablet. It comes with an attractive bundle of software, and the 4g data plan is what makes the Stream 8 a piece of tech I'll carry around with me whenever I'm in the US. It may not be the fastest or prettiest tablet, but for $180, you'd be hard pressed to find a better value.
Congratulations to @JustJeanine for winning an HP Stream 8 with Intel Inside® as part of our #WorkFromHappyPlace Giveaway. Enjoy your new tablet!
P.S. This post was sponsored by HP and Intel, but as always the opinions expressed are my own.