Ever since the first CEO demanded from his IT department that he be allowed to use his iPad at the office, tablet makers have been working to create a device that bridges the gap between work and play. HP's latest tablet, the ElitePad 900, attempts to do just that. This Atom-powered Windows 8 device, which starts at $699 ($799 as configured), offers a sleek design, a bright display and has several optional accessories that add to its functionality. And some models feature 200MB of free 4G connectivity as well as 50GB of Box.net storage. Has HP found the right balance?
The ElitePad takes some cues from the consumer-focused Envy x2. The rear aluminum panel is gracefully curved on the two short sides, and wraps around to the front. However, the chamfered edges can be a little sharp if you're gripping the slate too tightly. Like the Envy x2, the ElitePad 900's volume buttons are on the back left, which means you'll have to locate them by feel. On the opposite side is a SIM card slot.
Both the top and bottom edges are flat; the top is made of black plastic, where there is a power switch on one side, and a rotation-lock and 3.5mm headphone jack on the other. The bottom of the ElitePad 900 has a proprietary docking connector in the middle and two speakers toward each side.
At 10.24 x 6.98 x 0.36 inches and 1.4 pounds, the ElitePad 900 is lighter, but larger than the fourth-generation iPad (9.5 x 7.31 x 0.37 inches, 1.44 pounds), but heavier than the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (10.1 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches, 1.2 pounds). The Dell Latitude 10 (10.8 x 7.0 x 0.4 ~ 0.6 inches, 1.6 pounds), is bigger and heavier than them all.
With a resolution of 1280 x 800, the ElitePad 900 is almost as sharp as the ThinkPad Tablet 2 and the Dell Latitude 10, both of which have resolutions of 1366 x 768. All pale in comparison to the iPad's resolution of 2048 x 1536. Blacks were deep and true when watching the 1080p trailer for "Fast & Furious 6." The bright reds of explosions and the colorful paint schemes of the cars also stood out nicely.
At 427 lux, the ElitePad 900's display is one of the brighter tablets we've tested, outshining the average (374 lux), the iPad (346 lux) and the ThinkPad Tablet 2 (389 lux). However, the Dell Latitude 10 (474 lux) was brighter still.
The ElitePad 900's two bottom-mounted speakers delivered passable, but hollow, sound. Guitar and banjo strums came through clearly, but was tinny in Mumford & Sons' "Roll Away Your Stone." Everything sounded jumbled and mashed together during the chorus. Higher tones in Jay-Z's "Heart of the City" also sounded somewhat harsh, and bass was thin.
The rear-facing 8MP webcam on the ElitePad 900 takes very good photos. We could make out individual details on petals in an outdoor shot of daffodils, but the camera had a little trouble with the bright sunlight. As a result, the white flowers were a bit washed-out.
A 1080p video shot with the rear camera also picked up colors well, but wasn't as sharp as we'd like; the bricks on a building across the street from us weren't well-defined.
The front-facing camera is capable of taking 2.1-MP stills and video in 1080p. In a well-lit room, colors were fairly accurate, but there was a significant amount of graininess.
Like many Windows 8 tablets in its price range, the ElitePad 900 has a 1.5-GHz Intel Atom Z2760 processor and 2GB of RAM. Our review unit also has 64GB of eMMC Flash memory. On PCMark 7, the ElitePad 900 scored 1,225, which is about 1,500 points below average (2,785), but just a bit below the Dell Latitude 10 (1,440) and the ThinkPad Tablet 2 (1,428), which have the same CPU and RAM as the ElitePad.
The ElitePad 900 also came in a little lower on Geekbench, scoring 1,253, versus the Latitude 10's 1,329, and the ThinkPad Tablet 2's score of 1,521.
With a boot time of 14 seconds, the ElitePad 900 launched Windows 8 a hair faster than the Latitude 10 and the ThinkPad Tablet 2, which both took 16 seconds. All three were about 10 seconds faster than the category average of 23 seconds.
The 64GB eMMC Flash memory in the ElitePad duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 9 minutes and 49 seconds at a slow rate of 8.6 MBps. By comparison, the category average is 59 MBps. While the ThinkPad Tablet 2 (21 MBps) and the Latitude 10 (22 MBps) weren't exactly speed demons, they were more than twice as fast.
HP says the ElitePad 900 is meant for consumption, not creation, and its productivity performance bears that out. It took the tablet 31 minutes and 26 seconds to match 20,000 names to their addresses in OpenOffice. That's a long time to wait. Still, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 took an equally long 30:33, and the Latitude 10 took 29:48.
The integrated Intel GMA in the ElitePad 900 is fine for playing the games found in the Microsoft Store and watching Hulu and YouTube videos, but not much beyond that. It doesn't support DirectX 11, and even if you wanted to take up a majority of its hard drive space with "World of Warcraft," you won't get much more than two to three frames per second, even on the lowest settings.
HP says that the several accessories it sells for the ElitePad 900 make it a more versatile business tablet in that it can be modified to suit different working environments.
The 1.5-pound desktop dock ($119) measures 5.25 x 4.8 x 2.1 inches at its highest, and is coated in a soft-touch paint. On its left are two USB ports and a 3.5mm line out. The back has HDMI, VGA, Ethernet and a power port that requires a different plug than is used for the tablet itself. The left side has two more USB ports and a Kensington lock slot.
The Expansion Jacket ($79) is designed to provide ports not on the tablet itself. The jacket, also coated in a soft-touch rubber, detaches at the top so you can slide in the ElitePad. At the bottom are two USB ports, HDMI and a 2-in-1 card slot. You can also purchase an extra battery that attaches to the inside of the jacket, which HP says will increase battery life up to 20 hours. The jacket measures 10.3 x 8 x 0.6 inches and weighs 15.3 ounces, so you'll have to decide whether the extra bulk is worth the connectivity. We also wish the extra battery attached to the tablet itself, like the Dell Latitude 10.
The Productivity Jacket ($199) is the most useful of the three accessories, but also the bulkiest, and most expensive. Weighing 1.6 pounds -- more than the tablet itself-- the Jacket measures 10.6 x 8.5 x 0.8 inches. An island-style keyboard sits inside this hinged case, also coated in a soft-touch rubber.
The portion of the jacket where the ElitePad 900 docks has a magnet at its base, so when open, the tablet rests in a secure upright position. Even when we tilted the jacket on our lap, the tablet didn't flop backward. While not full-size, the Productivity Jacket's keyboard was comfortable to type on. The keys are large and well-spaced, and we were quickly typing at our regular pace.
On the back of the Productivity Jacket is a power plug (the same one used with the tablet), two USB ports and an SD card slot.
The ElitePad 900 also supports stylus input, but as of this writing, the stylus was still in production.
On the LAPTOP Battery test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the ElitePad 900 lasted 7 hours and 16 minutes. That's on a par with the tablet average (7:13) and the same as the Dell Latitude 10 (7:16). The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 lasted a much longer 9:42.
Preinstalled on the ElitePad 900 is the Amazon Kindle app, Netflix, Evernote, Skitch Touch and CyberLink YouCam. One clever HP app, called HP PageLift, will automatically straighten any document you take a photo of using the ElitePad's Webcam. We took a picture of a Chinese takeout menu, and PageLift straightened it, and put it on a black background.
Those who purchase the ElitePad 900 will also get 50GB of free storage from Box.net.
Security and support
The ElitePad 900 has several security features that will allay the fears of IT departments, including HP BIOS Protection, HP Client Security, Credential Manager, Computrace and Drive Encryption. However, HP does not offer a version of the ElitePad 900 with a fingerprint reader, as Dell does with the Latitude 10.
The ElitePad 900 comes with HP Elite Premium Support, 24/7 U.S.-based customer support.
HP offers 10 versions of the ElitePad 900; five are non- configurable, and five can be modified by the customer. All have a 1.5-GHz Intel Atom Z2760 processor, 2GB of RAM, 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0.
Of the nonconfigurable models, the least expensive costs $699, has a 32GB eMMC SSD and comes with two years of free 4G service through T-Mobile (up to 200MB of data per month). The most expensive option costs $959 and comes with a 64GB SSD. While this configuration doesn't have mobile broadband, it does come with the docking station, Expansion Jacket and the extra battery.
In addition to T-Mobile, HP also offers broadband support through AT&T, though consumers will need to contact the carrier to set up service. While the idea of two years of free 4G service is intriguing, business travelers looking to stream a TV show on the go will run into that 200MB cap very quickly.
In this age of bring your own device to work, tablet makers are still feeling their way as to what makes the ideal combination of a work and play gadget. And, while the ElitePad 900 gets a lot right, HP hasn't quite perfected the mix. Among the Atom-based Windows 8 business tablets, we prefer the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, which not only offers better performance, but stylus support and longer battery life. However, HP's slate offers more expansion options. Overall, the HP ElitePad 900 is a good Windows 8 tablet for the price.