Hewlett Packard's foray into tablets following its webOS purchase was short lived, the HP TouchPad barely seeing the light of day before being withdrawn from sale — along with the webOS smartphones that HP had only recently bought from Palm.
But webOS isn't the only operating system HP has put into tablets. Towards the end of 2010 the company announced the 9in. Windows 7-based Slate 500. Now the Slate 2 follows in its footsteps, with a similar hardware design and a price intended to appeal to the business sector. However, with Apple's iPad firmly in the driving seat, and some compelling Android-based devices like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer and Transformer Prime now available, can the Slate 2 make an impression?
The HP Slate 2 is relatively small as tablets go, with an 8.9in. screen offering a maximum resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. However, this is an interpolated resolution intended for some third-party applications that require it; the 'recommended' (native) 1,024-by-600 resolution looks much sharper.
HP Slate 2: an Atom-powered 8.9in. Windows 7 tablet
The Slate 2's 8.9in. screen feels small compared to the 10in. tablets we're more used to seeing, and also to the iPad 2's 9.7in. screen. Web browsing in landscape format often requires vertical scrolling before you reach the content, while horizontal scrolling is almost always required in portrait mode to see the full page width.
We found viewing angles to be quite poor, which could be a key issue — particularly if the Slate 2 is employed for data-capture activities involving the subject being questioned sharing the screen view.
The Slate 2's build quality is best described as 'robust', although it's not sold as a ruggedised tablet. It has a solid chassis with no significant give in the backplate, and our review sample came with a nicely-made case that affords extra protection in transit.
Despite being quite compact, at 690g the Slate 2 is not especially lightweight. That's on the heavy side compared to larger tablets and nearly 100g heavier than the 601g Wi-Fi-only iPad 2. Its smaller size does make it very comfortable to hold in the hand, though.
The HP Slate 2 runs Windows 7 Professional 32-bit, and the 8.9in. touchscreen responds to both finger touch and the very good quality £35 (ex. VAT) optional stylus that was supplied with our review unit. The latter can be used with Windows 7's integrated handwriting recognition system, with a Sticky Notes app that can accept freestyle drawing as well as text, and with a preinstalled copy of the popular Evernote note-taking application. You can also enter text by prodding at an on-screen QWERTY keyboard, and Swype is also preinstalled.
The Slate 2 is powered by Intel's 1.5GHz Atom Z670 processor supported by 2GB of RAM, with graphics courtesy of the integrated GMA 600 module. We found the system somewhat slow even with very few apps running: web pages took their time to load, although video streamed smoothly enough over Wi-Fi. This device is not intended for compute-intensive workloads, so the lack of horsepower may not be a crippling issue.
HP says the Atom Z670's Mini-SATA SSD technology helps with fast boot times, but it took our review sample 45 seconds to boot into Windows from cold.
The SSD in our review sample was a 32GB unit, although 64GB is also available. Out of the box, our tablet had 14.7GB of free capacity — a paltry amount when you consider that SD and microSD cards can accommodate up to 64GB, while USB sticks can run to 1TB.
Ctrl-Alt-Del and Home buttons (top); USB 2.0 port (middle); volume buttons (bottom)
Fortunately, the Slate 2 has both SD and USB slots, which you can use for extra storage capacity. There's just one USB 2.0 slot on the chassis, on the top edge (in landscape mode). The SD card slot is on the left edge, which also houses the microphone and a button that calls up the on-screen keyboard. As well as the USB port, the top edge houses a pair of volume buttons, a Home button and a 'Ctrl-Alt-Del' button that takes you to the Windows lock screen.
Clockwise from top left: on-screen keyboard button, microphone and front (VGA) camera; on-off/hibernate slider; microphone/headphone jack; SD card slot
The right edge has a microphone/headphone combo jack and the on/off switch, which you slide to fire up the tablet or enter hibernation. This system is a little slow to react to this switch, which can be irritating. An adjacent light blinks or is on steadily depending on the tablet's status; this is useful, although you do have to twist the device slightly to see it.
On the bottom edge of the chassis is the power connector, a proprietary flat-pin type. This is also used for the optional Slate Dock, which adds another microphone/headphone combo jack, a full-sized HDMI port and two further USB 2.0 ports.
The Slate 2's documentation suggests that some models can accommodate a mobile broadband SIM card immediately adjacent to the SD card slot. However, this slot was occupied by a space saver in our review sample.
There are two cameras: the front one, located discreetly in the top left corner of the screen bezel, is a VGA-resolution unit. On the back is a flash-free 3-megapixel camera. HP provides its own application for use with the cameras, which can be used to capture both stills and video.
HP's optional Slate Dock charges the tablet via a proprietary connector and provides two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port and a microphone/headphone combo jack
There's no fingerprint sensor for security and no Ethernet connection — not even on the Slate Dock.
Performance & battery life
We've already noted that the Atom Z670-powered Slate 2 feels a little slow in use, and this is reflected in the system's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 2.1 (out of 7.9). That's just a tenth of a point higher than the WEI for the dual-OS (Windows and Android) 10.1in. ViewSonic ViewPad 10pro, which uses the same processor.
The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which was for Processor (calculations per second). The top score of 7.2 was for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), thanks to the SSD. In between were Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) with 2.9, Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) with 3.0 and RAM (Memory operations per second) with 4.2. Clearly, the CPU/GPU combo is the performance bottleneck here.
The Slate 2 could be a useful vehicle for giving presentations. The speakers on the bottom edge deliver enough volume for a small audience, although at higher levels the sound becomes somewhat distorted.
According to HP, the Slate 2's 2-cell 30Wh lithium-polymer battery is good for up to 7.5 hours' usage. To test this, we charged up the battery, turned on Wi-Fi and chose the HP Optimized power scheme. Then we looped video until the battery ran out, 4 hours 38 minutes later.
This is clearly a demanding workload, so if you're frugal with the device you could get a full 8-hour day's usage away from the mains. However, we'd advise that you budget for a power boost mid-way through the average day.
The 8.9in. HP Slate 2 is neat and compact Windows 7 tablet that's available with a high-quality stylus and a docking stand. Organisations running bespoke Windows applications whose focus is data capture or mobile use should consider the Slate 2, so long as its small screen, sluggish processor and limited internal storage are acceptable.
We'd prefer mobile broadband as standard rather than optional, though, and battery life could be better. HP might also do well to take a leaf out of Asus's book and offer an affordable keyboard dock.