Jan 22, 2011

HP Slate 500 User Review

As a tablet PC user since the launch of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in November 2002, I've longed for a lightweight, portable and thin slate device that essentially functions as a digital notepad computer, and this is what I believe HP has delivered in the 500. There's nothing new here, the Slate is just a vanilla Windows 7 Professional device with practically no 3rd party applications installed except Evernote and the camera software, but I think that's actually a good thing as it keeps the unit from being bogged down given its adequate but less-than-powerful Atom platform.
HP Slate 500 SpecificationsHP Slate 500
  • Genuine Windows 7 Professional
  • Slate tablet design starting at 1.50 lb/0.68 kg
  • 8.9-inch diagonal LED-backlit WSVGA wide-viewing angle display (1024 x 600 or 1024 x 768 for some applications)
  • Capacitive multi-touch screen with pen digitizer
  • Integrated 802.11 b/g/n wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 3.0 + HS
  • Intel System Controller Hub (SCH) US15W chipset and Intel Atom™ processor
  • 64 GB SSD
  • Secure Digital (SD) slot
  • Two integrated webcams (VGA inward facing; 3 MP outward facing)
  • HP Slate Dock, HP Slate Digital Pen, and HP Slate Folio are optional accessories that may be included on select configurations
  • $799 MSRP
HP Slate 500The HP Slate 500 packs a lot of hardware into its svelte 5.91 x 9.21 x 0.58 inch body, and it only weighs 1.5 pounds to boot. The unit is impressive with an Atom Z540 1.86 GHz CPU, 64 GB SSD, 2 GB of DDR2 RAM, front-facing VGA camera, rear-facing 3 megapixel camera and an 8.9-inch 1024 × 600 screen with an N-trig Duo Sense capacitive touch and digital pen digitizer. This combines to give the HP Slate 500 topline specs at a topline price compared to most consumer slates. The 500 is sealed with no user replaceable battery or other parts.
The device is physically attractive and the rubberized back with a distinctive textured repeated pyramidal design with the HP logo in the center allows for good gripping either lying on a surface or in one's hand, and the flat back allows the Slate to function well for inking on a desk.
The device is fanless and completely silent but still manages to keep cool most of the time. The back does get quite warm when the device is charging or being taxed, such as when playing HD video. It's not scalding, but it might make your hands sweat.
Ports, connections, buttons & accessories
The Slate has one USB port, a full SD slot, a combination headphone/microphone jack and a combined power/dock connector. There are five hardware buttons along three sides of the machine. On the right in the primary landscape orientation is the combination power and screen rotation lock switch that disables the accelerometer. At the top right is the home button that minimizes all open windows and when held down for several seconds turns off the display backlight. To the left is the Control-Alt-Delete button for domain security purposes. On the top left is a volume rocker and finally on the left side is a toggle button for the Windows Tablet Input Panel.
HP Slate 500The dock is lightweight with a folding leg and provides two additional USB ports, a headphone/microphone jack, a power connector that's identical to the one on the HP Slate 500, and finally an HDMI output. The Slate pops in and out of the dock nicely.
The metal digital pen uses an AAAA battery and is very comfortable to hold but the battery cap at the top is a bit flimsy, I've already broken the plastic ring around the top but fortunately it hasn't interfered with the pen's function as far as I've noticed. As with most digital pens on tablet PCs, it has a right click button.
The leather portfolio is form fitted for the Slate and has cutouts for the cameras and a strap holder for the pen. It reeks of professionalism and is a wonderful touch to the package as the Slate 500 is a device many will want to take to professional settings such as meetings.
The total weight of the Slate, dock, AC adapter, portfolio and pen is 3 lbs. according to my postage scale, which is accurate to within two ounces.
The 8.9-inch screen is bright however, viewing angles are not very good in primary landscape mode. I've found that rotating the screen 180 degrees so that the HP logo is at the top provides better image quality especially for video when viewing the screen outside of 45 degrees.  As is common with slates, the screen is smooth and glossy and does produce glare, but I've not found it distracting in normal indoor lighting conditions though bright and direct sunlight will washout the screen. There is a good amount of backlight bleed around the edges of the screen. It's not typically a problem but it is noticeable with darker colors and blacks, especially during video playback in darker lighting conditions.
The dual cameras are basically of cheap-USB-webcam quality and you'll not be using them to do serious work, but the rear facing camera is quite a bit better and produces fair quality photos and videos in bright light. They're fine for videoconferencing and calls.
As the HP Slate 500 is essentially an Atom based netbook running Windows 7; it's simply not a speed demon. It has a Windows Experience Index of 2.7, with the 2.7 being the CPU rating, which is a bit higher than first-generation netbooks, and the 64 GB SSD does help to keep things humming along nicely for a netbook.
You'll find that common desktop applications like Office 2010 run wonderfully. Web browsing in IE 9 Beta overall is a solid experience with all of the Flash and other browser plug-ins you've become accustomed to in Windows.
That's not to say that web browsing on the Slate 500 is a super smooth experience in all cases. While most web sites run well, there are some that just don't. Some vertically-oriented sites will often stutter when scrolling, which can be frustrating particularly while using the touchscreen. On the flipside, pure Flash sites like Geforce.com run very well. Major sites like YouTube, Facebook, etc. all run fine. You'll have a blast updating your Facebook page with a pen!
InkingHP Slate 500
I'm not a digital artist, so my view and experience is entirely from a note taking and handwriting recognition perspective. Overall, the experience is very good and extremely enjoyable due to the Slate's physical characteristics. However, I have found consistent quirks in the inking experience.
When my hand is not touching the screen all is well with ink, but when my hand is resting on the screen as it would on a paper note pad, the N-trig digitizer doesn't seem to always filter out touch input. Thus, from time to time, phantom clicks register and the pen cursor will jump down and then back up. This creates an EKG effect with what I'm writing, especially at the edges of the screen.
I've seen both of these behaviors before with my N-trig based HP tx2. I've spoken directly to HP's Slate 500 engineering team, and they can reproduce these issues. Also, HP is in contact with N-trig and this is an open customer case in HP's database.
I want to tread carefully on this subject as I don't know for certain the cause of these issues, they don't always occur and I don't want to leave the wrong impression. Yes, there is an intermittent problem here and at least with text inking, one may have to correct mistakes caused by the digitizer.
That said, I've had the 500 for three weeks and I've inked tens of thousands of words on it since then. The entire text of this review was inked on the Slate using Word 2010. While I'd say the inking performance for text is overall superior on the tm2, the Slate's weight and size are HUGE pluses in its favor.
The inking experience just feels so natural on the HP Slate 500 and in spite of the current digitizer issues I'm seeing on the 500, I'd pick it over the tm2 every time for writing. When considering weight, size, accuracy and performance as a whole of the six active pen Tablet PCs I've owned over the years, the 500 provides the best overall writing experience even with the current issues I'm experiencing.
Touch Interface
The N-trig Duo Sense digitizer also has a capacitive multi-touch part that supports four touch points. Touch is responsive and works well in most applications, but since Windows is a desktop OS, most of those applications will not have the beautiful and fluid visuals of the iPad. The tradeoff is that one will usually have more functionality with those programs.
The Office 2010 suite of applications are examples that do provide enough touch awareness to be completely functional via only touch, and Office will generally outpace mobile OS equivalents in features. But even in Office, there are still buttons and menus that were obviously not updated or designed with fingers in mind, and not all of the applications work equally well with touch, including PowerPoint and Publisher. You might have to use a little more care to do certain things but there is rarely something that can't be done via touch in most applications, even if it is not as fluid as it should be.
Video Performance
The Slate 500's video playback abilities are strong gratis Windows. I've used a variety of applications: Windows Media Player & Center, VLC and KMPlayer, and they all perform well, though VLC seemed to provide the smoothest 720p playback. 720p and even 1080p playback over 802.11n Wi-Fi is possible, though 1080p only worked in WMP and WMC as those applications use the Broadcom Crystal HD video decoder out of the box, though it is possible to get KM Player to as well.
Battery Life
It appears that HP was being honest about the 5 hours of battery life. In standard desktop use, I'm getting a consistent 5 hours until I hit my shutdown level of 5%. Continuous video playback life is considerably lower, ranging from 2.5 hours playing 1080p content over Wi-Fi and using Bluetooth headphones to about 3.5 hours playing 720p content locally from the SSD with all wireless radios turned off. The battery does take a good while to charge fully from empty, about 3.5 hours while the device is in use.
The Slate was remarketed as a business class machine after HP's buyout of Palm, however it's as capable at gaming as any Atom powered netbook, which is a large application base. The problem will be finding games that don't need keyboards and mice, though one is perfectly free to connect those peripherals.
There are exceptions, and one of my favorites is Plants vs. Zombies. It plays beautifully on the Slate. You'll have to hunt for games for now to find ones that work with touchscreens, though hopefully soon with Microsoft's emphasis on slates and tablets that will change; I hope that Windows will see more touch-based software across the board.
The HP Slate isn't a revolutionary device nor is it an iPad killer. It is nonetheless very evolutionary. The Slate's feature set, size and inking capabilities have never before been offered for this price point. There simply isn't anything like it for the money currently, though with CES around the corner that may change quickly.HP Slate 500
If one doesn't need or desire active pen based digital ink in a slate computer, then the HP Slate 500 probably isn't the best choice for that person. The 500's first best destiny is to be a digital inkpad. Because of its form factor, weight, dimensions and the powerful digital ink technology in Windows 7, there is no reason to ignore the Slate 500 if you need an inking device. The Atom platform may not be able to provide power necessary for higher-end digital art, but for text-based inking, I've found it a joy to use even with the current pen digitizer issues I'm experiencing.
  • Doesn't support a lot of touch optimized software
  • Low battery life compared to ARM based slates
  • Expensive compared to consumer slates
  • Poor viewing angles in primary landscape mode
  • Wonderful inking experience 
  • Native Windows application support
  • Good number of connections and ports
  • Strong video playback capabilities
Thank you tabletpcreview

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