Bonnie Cha

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Surprise! HP’s New Slate 7 Tablet Runs on Android.

It was only a few weeks ago that HP introduced its first laptop running Google’s Chrome operating system, and now we have HP’s first tablet running on Google’s mobile OS.

HP Slate 7 Front-Side

Unveiled today at Mobile World Congress, the HP Slate 7 is a 7-inch tablet running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and integrated Beats Audio technology.

While still committed to Windows, HP said it wants to offer its customers more choice, including access to the Google experience, and the Slate 7 is the company’s effort to do so in another form factor.

But it’s another device in an already crowded field of Android tablets, so how will HP try to woo customers? With a cheap price tag.

The Slate 7 costs $169 and will be available in the U.S. starting in April. That’s $30 less than the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD. Even so, it might be a tough sell.

There are trade-offs for the cheaper price. The display only has a resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels, and though it has expandable memory, it only comes in an 8 gigabyte model.

It’s powered by a 1.6GHz dual-core ARM processor and comes with a three-megapixel camera on back and a front-facing VGA camera. Battery life is estimated at up to five hours.

By comparison, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD lack rear cameras, but both have higher resolution screens (1,280 by 800 pixels) and come in 16GB and 32GB versions. The Nexus 7 also has a faster quad-core Nvidia processor, and as a Nexus device, it will be the first to receive the latest OS updates from Google.

The Kindle Fire HD, meanwhile, offers up to 11 hours of battery life and access to Amazon’s expansive content library.

A savings of $30 is nice, but a better screen, longer battery life and content might be worth the extra money in the long run.

P1030770

I got some brief hands on-time with the Slate 7 at a media event in Barcelona, and there’s nothing about the tablet that really stood out to me. The design is portable and light enough to use one-handed, but it blends into the sea of other Android devices. (HP is selling a model with a red back, so I suppose that’s different.)

As an entry-level device, I didn’t expect a high-resolution screen, and the display is bright and clear enough to view text and images. But if HP really wanted to grab people’s attention, it should have matched the competition. Also, HP is really pushing the Beats Audio integration as a differentiator, but I don’t see it as a killer feature.

There are rumors that HP is working on a high-end Android tablet.

HP has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Android. Back in 2010 it was rumored to have been developing an Android tablet and smartphone. That work started before HP acquired Palm for $1.2 billion and then focused its efforts entirely on webOS, tabling work already done on Android.

We know how things turned out with that. The Palm deal led to the TouchPad, which at its original selling price sold at Best Buy like ice cubes in the Arctic. That led to the device being killed along with the entire WebOS hardware business in 2011, and sudden, bizarre popularity when the price of unsold inventory was slashed.

HP’s CEO Meg Whitman has also said that the company plans to offer a smartphone, but it won’t happen this year.

AllThingsD’s Arik Hesseldahl contributed to this report.

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