Review: HP overreaches and underdelivers with the SlateBook x2
At a Glance
I wanted to love the HP SlateBook x2. I imagined the Android tablet-slash-laptop replacing my daily driver, a mid-2012 13-inch MacBook Air, and I saw myself taking advantage of its lengthy battery life to get through an entire day’s worth of work without having to worry about where I left my charger. Now that Android has a better library of productivity apps that work on a larger screen, I should be able to do everything I want to.
Then I actually used the damn thing.
Whereas HP’s previous Android offering, the Slate 7, disappointed only as a tablet, the SlateBook is a tablet/laptop hybrid that has problems no matter which way you use it: This device is clunky, awkward, and extremely buggy.
Stiff joints and cramped quarters
The SlateBook is surprisingly heavy for its diminutive size. Although the tablet alone weighs less than the fourth-generation iPad, the tablet and dock together weigh as much as a standard Ultrabook. When not docked, the SlateBook resembles pretty much every other Android tablet: The 10.1-inch, 1920-by-1200-pixel display is clear enough that you can read text without straining your eyes, and the tablet as a whole seems designed for use in landscape mode rather than portrait. Having a widescreen aspect ratio makes the SlateBook great for movies and games, but comic books and magazines will appear squeezed in portrait mode on the tall and skinny screen.
The tablet itself doesn’t feel cheap like the Lenovo IdeaTab A1000, and it’s pretty sturdy considering its all-plastic construction. You can easily chuck it into a bag or purse without much fear of the chassis cracking—just make sure to keep your keys and loose change in a different compartment, as the shell is easy to scratch. The power and volume buttons are located on the rear of the device, so they’re hard to reach if you’re using the tablet one-handed or in portrait mode. The buttons themselves are too spongy, and you need to press them pretty hard to get them to work.
Docking the tablet is a cinch, and the two pieces make a satisfying click when you put them together. The physical, island-style keyboard is 91 percent of the size of a full-size keyboard and has special keys that assist in navigating around the SlateBook’s Android OS. The single-button touchpad is small—about the size of a business card—and supports two-finger scrolling. While the keyboard works great for entering text and typing longer documents, the small touchpad makes mousing from one side of the screen to the other tiresome. Luckily, the dock features a full-size USB port, so you can easily plug in your own mouse.
Speaking of ports: Aside from the aforementioned USB port, the SlateBook has a MicroSD card slot, a full-size SD card slot, and a full-size HDMI port. The MicroSD and SD slots each support memory cards with a capacity of 32GB, so theoretically you could augment the 16GB of on-board storage with an additional 64GB of memory.
Since the tablet does most of the computing, the SlateBook is top-heavy and will tip over if you angle the screen too far back. The hinge on the dock is really rigid, and you need two hands to open the SlateBook to a usable position. Shaking the SlateBook slightly causes the screen to wobble, something you usually encounter only on cheap netbooks.
It’ll bring your world crashing down
Powered by a quad-core 1.8GHz Tegra 4 processor and 2GB of RAM, the SlateBook doesn’t come close to matching the processing power of other laptop/tablet hybrids such as the Surface Pro or Lenovo ThinkPad Helix. But while those competing devices run a desktop-centric operating system, the SlateBook ships with the more finger-friendly Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. You may not be able to run the full versions of Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, but you do have access to a large number of touch-optimized apps that perform similar functions. Granted, very few of the apps you run across will be optimized to take advantage of the SlateBook’s 10-inch display, but you should have no shortage of software to choose from.
The SlateBook’s beefy processor has enough power to run almost anything in the Google Play Store, and I managed to play a few high-end games such as Shadowgun and Riptide GP2 without encountering any problems. I did, however, have difficulty using pretty much every other app that came preinstalled on the device: Google Magazines, the Play Store, Gmail, Skitch, and YouTube all crashed multiple times for no discernible reason. It seemed to happen only while the tablet was docked, leading me to suspect that the apps all had compatibility issues with the dock in particular. Because the SlateBook is a niche device and not, say, a superpopular smartphone, these compatibility problems are likely to remain unaddressed.
When the apps weren’t crashing left and right, many of them benefited from the additional keyboard and mouse. Using the Chrome app felt no different than using Chrome on a traditional PC, and the included Kingsoft Office app made a passable substitute for Word and PowerPoint. (I wrote part of this review using the Kingsoft Office app on the SlateBook, but I switched back to my MacBook because the SlateBook’s smaller keyboard was harder to type on.) All of the apps work fine when you use the SlateBook as just a tablet, but it seems wasteful to have a device that’s realizing only half of its potential.
The SlateBook has a battery life of around 7 hours, though your result will vary depending on how you’re using the tablet. The keyboard has its own battery that can charge the tablet when docked, and using the two together nets you an additional 3 hours of battery life. Although such numbers are good for a laptop, the Nexus 7 and iPad both deliver longer battery life without the aid of external battery packs.
HP would have been better off just making either a laptop or a tablet; as a hybrid of the two, the SlateBook x2 offers the worst of both worlds without most of the benefits. As a tablet it doesn’t have enough going for it to stand as a viable choice against the Nexus 10, Sony Xperia Tablet Z, or Apple iPad. The SlateBook could make for a compelling netbook replacement, but its relatively high price and unstable software mean that it is pretty much useless for anything other than Web browsing—a task you can accomplish for much less with a traditional PC or even a Chromebook. It’s only a matter of time before someone makes a good Android-powered laptop, but the SlateBook demonstrates that we’re still a ways off from that reality.
Updated at 10:41 a.m. PT to include a video review.