The netbook is dead, and HP’s Mini-note range hasn’t exactly been resurrected, but that isn’t stopping the brand from attempting something close in the Android-based SlateBook, a machine that tries to do what made the Envy X2 work so well, except with Google’s OS.
HP and Android don’t have much of a history in working together, what with one Android tablet out there from the brand, but it appears they’re adding another to the group in the form of a new SlateBook model that combines the ease of use of a tablet and brings in a keyboard dock with mouse and extra battery.
Inside the computer, you’ll find a chip not normally associated with laptops, the NVidia Tegra 4 quad-core processor clocked at 1.8GHz, paired with 2GB RAM and working alongside 64GB storage.
Storage is actually a friendly part of this computing setup, with a microSD slot in the tablet and an SD card slot in the keyboard section, making this very, very upgradeable and friendly to excess space.
WiFi is of course included, with 802.11 a/b/g/n support, as well as Bluetooth, while other connections include HDMI and one USB 2.0 on the dock, with a headphone jack on both the dock and the bottom of the tablet (which disappears when docked).
Cameras are here – it’s a tablet, after all – and there’s a Full HD rear camera as well as a HD front-facing camera, so don’t expect this to replace either your dedicated or your smartphone any time soon.
The screen keeps in line with most Android choices, and as such is a 10.1 inch touchscreen supporting the Full HD resolution of 1920×1200.
HP’s SlateBook X2 comes in two parts, just like the Envy, with the tablet section supporting its own battery, and the keyboard dock also arriving with one.
Before the release of Windows 8, Android tablet notebook hybrids were in abundance, a section of the market spurred on by devices like the Asus Transformer which managed to bridge the laptop space with an operating system people loved.
HP never really had a hand in this space, thanks to the brand’s reliance on Windows, and so never really got to play with Android
But all of that has changed, and several months ago, even decided to tackle Android by using Google’s mobile operating system on a small handheld tablet, in the Slate 7.
Now HP is back with Android, trying it again in a familiar design that we’ve seen once before in the Envy X2.
In that computer, it was the Asus Transformer tablet design, with the innards of a computer inside of a tablet section, while a keyboard and mouse brought a backup battery and some connectivity options, making the package a balancing act between the two form-factors.
For the SlateBook, HP is treading the same ground with a nearly identical design, and some very different bits and pieces under the hood.
We’ll start with that nearly identical design because that’s precisely what it is. While the colouring has changed from brushed steel to pearl white on the outside and black on the inside, the physical design is mostly right. That includes the main buttons for the tablet sitting on the back shell, with a release latch on the keyboard section.
The innards have changed too, and in this computer you’ll find a variant of the Tegra 4 chip, NVidia’s processor known to handle its own with games, graphics, and regular system stuff.
HP has picked a winner when it comes to the screen section, picking up a Full HD capable display that shows sharpness in spades. It’s also bright enough for us, though there will be some who would no doubt like to see more from it.
You might see a little yellow tinge to the display, though. We certainly noticed it wasn’t a pure white, and while it wasn’t hard to look at, the slight shading and tinge of the whites were noticeable to our eyes.
That said, it’s very clear, and no one should have any problems reading from this screen.
Android hasn’t been changed too much, and that’s a good thing. If you’re already familiar with Jelly Bean, that’s what you’re getting here, with dropdown settings, shortcut dock, app menu, widgetised homescreens, and even widget loving lockscreens.
The physical keyboard is actually quite responsive, but it can take some getting used to, thanks to some very hard keys and soft travel. It’s interesting, because the SlateBook doesn’t have the keyboard section of an ultra-thin Ultrabook, and yet the keys feel like they lack depth, and your strokes literally go through to the solid body below, echoing through your fingers and in some ways feeling like you’re typing on concrete.
That said, the keyboard doesn’t skip a beat, and we typed this review on the keyboard without too many typos, telling us just how responsive and similar to other keyboards it is.
HP’s included mouse in the tablet section is also quite good, even if it is very thin.
You do get a lot of width for it, roughly as wide as the space bar, though it’s out of alignment with that key, and it supports some gestures, in case you find the method of zooming and scrolling using a touchscreen a little strange.
Even the battery is ok, and we found quite a few hours of life here, no doubt thanks to the extra battery inside the keyboard dock, which recharges the tablet when it’s plugged in. Overall, we found life of around 6 to 10 hours, but in fairness, it did stay on standby for much of the time we were reviewing.
Where things get confusing is in the performance department.
You see, synthetic benchmarks rank the SlateBook quite highly, beating out some of the best smartphones out there with a score of 13,524, a mark that we’re not surprised of since HP has elected to use a quad-core NVidia Tegra 4 clocked at 1.8GHz in this system.
Android’s memory sweet-spot of 2GB compliments this, too, and there’s 64GB inside the tablet, with a microSD slot in the tablet section and a SD card slot in the base, making this one storage-friendly system.
But then there’s the real-world performance, which lags ever so slightly when you jump between apps or type.
Indeed, our experience showed that every so often, the system would stall, it would take it a second or two to catch up, even when there were very few apps running.
Web browsing revealed similar concerns, with noticeable lag when we zoomed into pages or scrolled, as the SlateBook hiccupped and seemingly waited for the rest of its parts to keep going.
There’s the problem of having a proprietary port to charge the computer with, and HP should know better. As more and more tablets pick up on the useful international standard that is microUSB, we kind of expect HP to follow suit and not provide us with yet another plug port.
We’d also probably move the microSD slot out from under the tablet and where the dock connects to somewhere in easier access.
As it happens now, you need to detach the keyboard from the tablet just to throw in a microSD card, making it a little irritating to do quick changeovers.
Netbooks may be dead, but HP’s SlateBook feels like it’s trying to take the place of that style of machine, with a delivery of a computer that acts as both tablet and notebook, except for a price point closer to that of budget Ultrabooks.
It’s not that the SlateBook X2 is a bad computer, though – it’s not – but with a suggested retail price of $749, it’s hard to recommend, especially since Windows 8 feels more useful than Android, and you can find similarly priced machines with that operating system on them.
If you love Android and the idea of a tablet netbook hybrid, this is a great option, but for a new computer, we’d be looking at all our options for this price point.