HP Pro Slate 8: Enterprise tablet with a special pen (hands on)

The latest tablet from HP is commercial grade and comes with a unique pen that almost makes the cut.

Tablets are making inroads into the enterprise and HP has it targeted with the Pro Slate 8. This Android tablet features an attractive design engineered to handle heavy commercial use. HP has coupled the tablet with a unique pen that can write both on the screen and on any piece of paper.

The Pro Slate 8 has a 7.9-inch display surrounded by a black bezel embedded in a silver case. The Hewlett-Packard brand is tastefully displayed along the bottom of the display. The tablet feels solid in the hand although it only weighs 0.77 pounds. It is easy to hold in either portrait or landscape.

The tablet

Looking around the HP Pro Slate 8 shows there are few controls. There are two speaker grilles on opposite sides of the display and the front web cam above the screen. There is a microUSB charging port on the bottom side of the unit, and an audio jack on the top.

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On the left side of the device is a docking port for the optional keyboard folio, and a SIM slot. The right side houses the power and two volume buttons.

The back of the Pro Slate 8 is smooth, with only the camera interfering with the clean silver look. Overall the tablet is as well-constructed as any Android tablet I have tested.

Hardware specs as reviewed:

  • OS: Android 5.0 (Lollipop)
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, quad-core, 2.3Ghz
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Storage: 32GB (16GB available)
  • Display: 7.9-inch, 2048 x 1536, Corning Glass 4
  • Cameras: Front - 2MP; Rear - 8MP
  • Networking: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; Bluetooth 4.0; NFC
  • Ports: microUSB 2.0; 3.5mm audio; microSD
  • Dimensions: 5.39 x 0.31 x 8.16 inches; 136.95 x 7.99 x 206.99 mm
  • Weight: 0.77 lbs; 350 g

HP has focused on security with this commercial-grade tablet. The hardware features ARM TrustZone (trusted execution environment), TrustZone-based Key Store, 256-bit hardware acceleration, Secure Boot, FIPS 140-2 certified for Data-at-Rest (DAR) and VPN encryption. This is managed by HP Touchpoint Manager, HP Managed Mobility Services, and optional third-party Enterprise Mobility Management suites.

The HP Pro Slate 8 is a good performer with the Snapdragon processor. Scrolling is smooth and transitions happen quickly.

This is aided by the relatively stock Android that HP has installed on the tablet. The home screens are clean with just a widget or two preinstalled. It is refreshing to see an Android tablet without a lot of junk preinstalled.

Duet Pen -- a mixed bag

HP includes a pen with the Pro Slate 8 that it believes is ideal for the enterprise. It works like a typical tablet pen -- as a pointer and a stylus for writing on the screen. It also can be used to write or draw on paper, thus the Duet Pen moniker.

To accomplish the dual function, the pen tip is removable, and features a stylus on one end and a ballpoint pen on the other. To switch between paper and screen writing you pull the tip out of the barrel and flip it around, then reinsert it in the barrel. It fits loosely, in fact the tip fell out of the barrel once when I removed the pen cap. This is a bit clunky in practice, and you have to make sure the stylus tip is exposed before you write on the screen.

The pen uses ultrasonic technology to allow it to beam ink writing to the tablet screen in real time. You can write on any paper placed alongside the tablet, and whatever is written appears on the Pro Slate 8 screen. This requires first pairing the pen with the tablet, and then using an app that supports this beaming. The HP Notes app is installed on the tablet and the method used in my testing.

For the ink beaming to work properly, you must set the paper on the proper side of the tablet. This depends on whether the user is left or right-handed. The writing hand is set in the settings app. In addition to handling the beaming, this setting aids the performance of the palm rejection technology to prevent misreads when the palm rests on the touch display for writing. The rejection is quite good and I experienced no issues while writing directly on the screen.

While you can use any paper for ink writing and beaming to the tablet, HP recommends using the optional portfolio ($69) to ensure proper alignment of the paper and slate. The Pro Slate 8 snaps into one side of the folio and there is a paper pad on the other. It comes configured for right-handers and must be flipped around for lefties.

The folio case with the Pro Slate 8 inside is quite heavy and about an inch thick for carrying around. It forms a stand for propping the tablet up but otherwise ends up being used laid flat for taking notes.

The HP Notes app is a basic note-taking utility that supports both writing directly on the screen and beaming ink from paper to tablet. There are two types of notebooks in the app, standard and capture notebooks. You must take notes in the proper notebook type depending on pen or stylus writing.

The beaming technology worked well in my testing, with ink notes appearing instantly on the tablet display. There are basic markup functions in the HP Notes app for erasing and correcting handwritten notes.

While this worked well once properly set up, using the pen never felt natural in practice. Rather than simply opening the folio up and start taking notes, I had to stop and make sure I had the proper pen tip exposed, that the paper was aligned properly with the tablet, and that the correct notebook type was selected. It seems this could be easier than it is in practice.

Seeing my handwriting appear instantly on the tablet screen is cool, but it makes more sense to me to skip the ink and paper and take notes directly on the tablet screen. It eliminates the extra steps required.

The Duet Pen is rechargeable via microUSB so it's important to remember to charge it before heading out on a business trip.

Pros:

  • Enterprise class tablet
  • Good security features
  • Smooth performance

Cons:

  • Duet Pen is clunky

Reviewer's rating: 8 out of 10

The skinny

HP has produced a good tablet for the enterprise in the Pro Slate 8. Some may be surprised at the choice of Android over Windows 10, but in practice it works well. The premium design of the tablet will stand up to the bumps of the workplace, and road warriors should find it a good portable solution.

The Duet Pen technology may be ideal for some use cases, but in practice it's easier to write on the tablet screen and forego the paper.

The HP Pro Slate 8 as reviewed is priced at $469.