Taking HP Slate 500 Tablet for a Test Drive

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-10-22

Taking HP Slate 500 Tablet for a Test Drive

eWEEK had an opportunity Oct. 21 to test the new HP Slate 500 tablet, and, as one might imagine, it's similar-but not at all the same experience-to an Apple iPad.

It's completely understandable why Hewlett-Packard is positioning its 6-by-9-inch device for a different market from that of the iPad: It's not going to compete well there at all.

In the six months since the iPad has been available, it has owned the consumer tablet market with more than 5 million sold-more than 300,000 on the first day alone, 1 million in the first month-and 2.5 million are expected to sell per month in the short term. Demand shows no signs of letting up.

Now, HP isn't predicting how many of the new Slate 500s it will sell, at a price of $799, but the world's largest IT company clearly has a steep road to climb to get into the touch-screen tablet race. Dell, with its Streak tablet, faces the same challenge.

Click here to see images of the Slate 500 tablet.

As in any comparison of products, there are tradeoffs. With the iPad, you get Apple's elegant user experience of outstanding touch control and magically moving icons and images, among other smooth features. But you don't get anything near a full menu of business-type features, and you don't get a camera-yet, anyway.

With a Slate 500, you get more horsepower (1.86GHz Intel Atom Z540 processor, 2GB RAM), more storage (64GB NAND flash), more immediately usable business applications, two cameras, a Webcam port and a series of other practical goodies. But the ease of use and elegance of application performance aren't as special as an iPad's.

This is as one might expect; Apple has built its business for more than 30 years on knowing exactly how to cater to its users, and no other computer maker has been able to get near it on that level.

Slate 500: Artistically, still not close to iPad

Operationally, the Slate 500 has a lot of things going for it. It runs Windows just like a PC, and you can use any browser you like (Firefox and IE fans, rejoice!) With the iPad, you're stuck with whatever Safari allows and, as most people know, it is very finicky about what applications and plug-ins you can download and use.

And there's the little matter of Adobe Flash. Yes, it runs on Windows, and thus it will run on the Slate 500. Can't say that for the iPad. How many Flash presentations fall by the wayside on the iPad because Apple has a bone to pick with Adobe? It's time Apple just got over it and added that functionality.

HP's 6-by-9-inch Slate 500 has much more horsepower and business functionality than an iPad, but the touch control isn't as accurate. However, it's also designed for a different user segment.  (eWEEK Photo by Chris Preimesberger)

Little Things Add Up to Irritations

There are several little things about the Slate 500 that can be irritating. For example, when the orientation is changed from vertical to horizontal, or vice versa, the image on the screen disappears while the change is made. There is the daunting feeling that maybe the unit has crashed; when the image does return, you breathe a sigh of relief.

Making images larger or smaller by opening or closing two fingers or more across the screen is not nearly as smooth as the iPad. This was among the most disappointing attributes of the Slate 500. The image was slow to change sizes-very slow-and when it did change, the result often wasn't what was desired, and the type we were trying to read wasn't readily located.

Because the Slate 500 screen is smaller than an iPad's, many people are going to want to increase the size of the Website content they're reading more often. If all Slates are as slow-moving as the one we tested, HP is going to have to answer to a lot of frustrated users.

Granted, any touch screen would turn out second-best to Apple's. But there's no question that a user will have to employ an entirely different touch approach in working with a Slate 500; the touch control is different and it's simply not as responsive as an iPad.

See a video of the Slate 500 in action.

On the Slate 500, Web pages do not magically appear out of a central location on the screen, as on the iPad; they simply pop into place. Nothing wrong with that; it's just different.

Again, the screen itself is smaller than the iPad's; naturally, links, buttons and images are all smaller, making it a bit more difficult to navigate-especially for users with eyesight challenges.

Keyboard smaller, but pen is available

The keyboard-which rolls out from the side at a button press-is quite a bit smaller and harder to use than the iPad's. For this reason, a small pen is included in the Slate package for precise typing and button-pushing. People with larger fingers will have some difficulty, but that's the case for all touch-screen devices.

While we certainly would not call the Slate 500 a clunky device, it is a little more difficult to use than an iPad. But with all those important business features, the cameras, the Webcam port and everything else, there will surely be a substantial number of buyers waiting in virtual lines to buy it.

That's right, virtual lines. You won't find the Slate at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target or Fry's Electronics. HP, at least at this point, is not going to sell it via retail. If you want a Slate 500, you'll have to go the HP Website and buy it there.

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