Here’s HP’s comeback tablet: the steel-framed, Android-based Slate7

HP(s hpq) is back in the non-Windows small tablet game, and this time Android(s goog) is the platform. The company’s webOS-based TouchPad may have been loved by some, but not by enough to help HP battle the iPad(s aapl). Now, after a year of licking its wounds, HP has returned with the Slate7.

The Slate7 is HP’s new entry-level tablet, a cheap-ish 7-inch Android device that has two main selling points: its shell is stainless steel, and it features Beats Audio, just as the TouchPad did. The choice of materials means the Slate7 is not the lightest in its class – at 368g, it outweighs the 340g Nexus 7 and 308g iPad mini — although it is lighter than the 395g 7-inch Kindle Fire HD. As for Beats Audio, well, it should produce decent bass.

The tablet runs on an ARM(s armh) dual-core 1.6GHz processor and has a 3-megapixel camera on the back and a VGA camera on the front for Hangouts and Skype(s msft) There’s no word yet on screen resolution or the possibility of a mobile-broadband-equipped version – the initial announcement is of a Wi-Fi-only affair that will go on sale in “selected” countries in the EU, Middle East and Africa for €149 ($196).

Multi-platform strategy

HP’s mobility chief, Alberto Torres, joined the company in September last year – he was previously in charge of the MeeGo project at Nokia(s nok). In a statement today, he laid out HP’s new mobility strategy pretty plainly:

”To address the growing interest in tablets among consumers and businesses alike, HP will offer a range of form factors, leveraging an array of operating systems. Our new HP Slate7 on Android represents a compelling entry point for consumers, while our ground-breaking, business- ready HP ElitePad on Windows(s msft) 8 is ideal for enterprises and governments.”

Also taking into account HP’s Pavilion Chromebook and its Envy X2 Windows 8 tablet, it is clear that HP is hedging its bets in both the tablet and notebook spaces. A major question now is which platform the company chooses for its smartphone strategy, which CEO Meg Whitman hinted at last year.

And across all these platforms, we still need to see what HP’s big differentiators will be. Hopefully I will get my hands on the Slate7 at Mobile World Congress in the coming days, so we can see if HP is counting on style alone to set itself apart from the plethora of 7-inch rivals.