So far, Windows 8-powered hybrids haven't set the world on fire because they tend to be pricey and because there simply aren't enough touch-friendly apps for Microsoft's OS. But the SlateBook x2 ($479) could be the laptop-tablet combo shoppers have been waiting for. Powered by Android, this device offers hundreds of thousands of apps in the Google Play store, and its Nvidia Tegra 4 processor promises record-breaking performance. Plus, HP bundles apps to make the SlateBook x2 a good productivity partner, including an office suite and file manager. Not bad for $20 less than the iPad, right?
Made of smooth gray plastic, the SlateBook x2 looks like a mini laptop with its keyboard base attached. The hinge area protrudes a bit from the back, but when closed, most people won't know you're carrying a 2-in-1 device. Going from notebook mode to tablet mode is a cinch, thanks to a magnetic hinge design that lets you detach the display with the flick of a switch. Similarly, reattaching the screen proved easy, thanks to the large metal guideposts on the base.
When detached, the 10.1-inch slate portion of the SlateBook x2 looks somewhat plain. There's a large HP logo on the back, flanked by the power button and volume rocker. We prefer to see these controls instead of having to feel for them, but at least they're positioned close enough to the tablet's tapered edges so you won't accidentally turn off the screen. Up front, the x2 sports a thick bezel and a small plastic lip beneath the screen; this area houses two speakers.
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The bottom edge of the SlateBook x2 houses a microSD Card slot for expanding the 16GB of onboard storage, a headphone jack and the proprietary power jack.
Measuring 10.2 x 7.2 x 0.38 inches and weighing 1.34 pounds in slate mode, the SlateBook x2 is wider than any 10-inch tablet we've tested recently, most likely to accommodate its larger keyboard base for comfier typing. The Toshiba Excite Pro weighs a similarly hefty 1.4 pounds and measures 10.3 x 7 x 0.4 inches. Other Android-powered slates are much thinner and lighter, including the Sony Xperia Tablet Z (1.1 pounds, 0.27 inches) and Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 (1.1 pounds, 0.31 inches).
When attached to its keyboard dock, the weight of the SlateBook x2 doubles to 2.8 pounds, which is fairly heavy for a 10-inch device. For instance, the 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 3 pounds. Fortunately, the dock feels quite sturdy, and it offers a full-size SD Card slot for expansion along with a USB port, HDMI and combo headphone/mic jack.
About 91 percent as large as a traditional laptop keyboard, the SlateBook x2's is netbook sized. Nevertheless, the layout offered plenty of room as we typed notes in the pre-loaded Kingsoft Office and Email apps. We also appreciated the snappy feel of the keys. Android shortcut keys include everything from Home and Recent apps (for multitasking) to Settings, Brightness and Volume. You can also start Voice Searching via Google Now with the push of a button.
We tested the USB port by plugging in a USB mouse, which worked well. A cursor arrow appeared almost instantly.
The 3.6 x 1.75-inch touchpad beneath the keyboard proved too fast at first, until we dialed down the Pointer Speed in the Settings menu. There, you'll also be able to adjust Palm Check, or the sensitivity of the touchpad's palm rejection as you type, and toggle the click function. Unfortunately, you can't change the scrolling direction with the pad.
Selecting text proved frustratingly difficult on this hybrid. On Windows and OS X, you can click and drag your finger with a single motion to select a block of text. On the Android-powered x2, you need to double tap and then drag the on-screen posts, which sometimes took multiple attempts to select exactly what we wanted. Something you don't even have to think about on other platforms is a chore here.
The SlateBook x2 features a full HD (1920 x 1200-pixel) IPS display that delivered sharp and colorful images, but it's not the brightest panel in its class. When viewing the "Thor: The Dark World" trailer, we appreciated the level of detail in Thor's pained, blood-stained face as he yelled. However, it was tougher to make out characters in darker scenes, and blacks looked a little cloudy.
Averaging 264 lux on our light meter, the x2 trails both the tablet category average (368 lux) and its competition by a wide margin. The Xperia Tablet Z averages 354 lux, Excite Pro 323 lux and the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 444 lux. Viewing the x2's display outdoors proved extremely challenging; the brightness couldn't overcome the glare.
Brighter content proved more enjoyable, such as tropical backdrop and sparkling blue water in the "Riptide GP 2" game. By the same token, The New York Times offered crisp text and wide viewing angles. Just be sure to keep a cloth handy, as the x2 picks up fingerprint smudges in a hurry.
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Sporting stereo speakers, the SlateBook x2 delivered a good amount of volume after we engaged DTS Sound + in settings. The Arctic Monkeys' "When the Sun Goes Down" got a definite sound boost, and you can choose from three presets: Music, Movie and Voice. However, tracks sounded harsh and tinny at the max volume setting.
When we plugged in headphones, music sounded best on the Movie setting; on Music, vocals blended in with the low end and the lyrics got kind of lost.
Although the dual speakers on the front of the x2 sit toward the bottom edge, the sound doesn't get blocked when the tablet is in the keyboard dock.
Operating System and Interface
Running Android 4.2.2, the SlateBook x2 offers a nearly pure Google tablet experience. You won't find any sort of skin here -- just your standard lock screen and five home screens.
The main home displays the time in the center, a Google search bar up top and two separate battery gauges for both the internal laptop battery and the keyboard dock (when attached). A row of nine app shortcuts line the bottom of the display, beneath which you'll find the Home, Back and Recent App buttons.
Sliding down form the top left side of the display reveals your notifications, which are interactive. For instance, for a 10 a.m. meeting alert, we had the option of emailing all guests, mapping its location or pressing snooze. Sliding down from the top right shows your Settings shortcuts, including Brightness, Wi-Fi, Airplane Mode and more.
Because the SlateBook x2 uses a standard Android keyboard, you'll get the ability to gesture type (a la Swype) and select next-word suggestions. There's a sound on keypress option, but no haptic feedback support. We advise using your fingertips to type instead of your thumbs, as we found reaching the center of the layout to be a stretch with the x2's wide design.
To make the SlateBook x2 feel more like a laptop, HP bundles a few productivity apps to get users started. Kingsoft Office, for instance, includes Writer, Presentation and Spreadsheets for viewing and editing Word, PowerPoint and Excel files. You can also view PDFs.
The Writer Portion of the app proved useful, complete with a Word-like toolbar atop the screen that lets you adjust the Font, insert tablets or pictures, add comments and check the word count. You can also save your document to local storage or the cloud, but we ran into trouble when saving to Dropbox. All of a sudden, the option to change the file name stopped working. Undocking the tablet and using the on-screen keyboard worked.
HP also includes its own HP File Manager (powered by Cyberlink), giving you a straightforward and touch-friendly way to access of all of your files. We used the Downloads, Documents and Pictures folders most often. The File Manager gives you some options, including the ability to Copy, Cut, Rename and Print. You can also search for items with a tap. HP says it will contact Kingsoft about this bug.
Other HP apps include HP ePrint for printing photos, websites or files to compatible wireless printers. The latest version of the app works in both portrait and landscape mode. (Kingsoft Office offers a print function, but only to Google Cloud Print, and not HP's ePrint.)
HP bundles several third-party apps, including Box (with 50GB of free storage), Evernote, eBay and WildTangent Games. We're not sure why, but simply opening WildTangent automatically triggered several games to download. That's really annoying, especially since many of the games are trials. HP says it is aware of the issue, but in the meantime, we just deleted WildTangent.
We found the Tegra Zone app to be more satisfying, which offers suggested games that can take advantage of the SlateBook x2's Tegra CPU. You'll ultimately go to the Google Play store to download the titles, but we enjoyed Tegra Zone's slick front end.
Packing a 1.8-GHz Nvidia Tegra 4 processor and 2GB of RAM, the SlateBook x2 promises best-in-class performance for Android tablets. The camera app opened very quickly (1.2 seconds) and we experienced little to no lag when switching between apps and the home screen. Only on a few occasions were the app shortcuts slow to display.
The Tegra 4 chip really flexed its muscles when we played "Riptide GP2." The splash animations looked fantastic as we raced around the water track. Similarly, we enjoyed the immersive graphics in "Real Boxing" and the fun running-and-shooting action in "Bounty Arms." Even with multiple enemies on the screen, the SlateBook x2 offered smooth performance.
On our home-grown VidTrim test, which involves transcoding a 204MB 1080p video file to 480p, the SlateBook x2 took 4 minutes and 18 seconds. That's even faster than the Tegra 4-powered Toshiba Excite Pro (4:27) and much faster than the Galaxy Note 10.1 (7 minutes).
The SlateBook x2 also performed well on synthetic benchmarks. On Quadrant, which measures CPU, graphics, memory and I/O performance, the hybrid notched 13,880. That's better than the Excite Pro's 11,540 and miles ahead of the Intel Atom-powered Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 (6,153) and Xperia Tablet Z (1.5-GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 7,513).
Graphics performance was similarly strong, with the SlateBook x2 scoring 11,770 in 3DMark. The Toshiba Excite Pro turned in a comparable 11,728 and the Xperia Tablet Z scored 10,203. Neither the Tab 3 10.1 (6,203) and Nexus 10 (7,853) were in the same ballpark.
If you want to extend your fun to the big screen, the SlateBook x2 supports Miracast wireless display technology. If you pick up an accessory like the Netgear Push2TV Wireless Display Adapter, you can stream whatever is on this hybrid's screen to your TV. We connected to a Samsung TV with the Netgear box plugged in within a couple minutes, and enjoyed smooth animation when playing "Riptide GP2." Text wasn't especially crisp, but overall we enjoyed the functionality.
Don't expect much out of the SlateBook x2's back camera. It shoots stills at just 1920 x 1080 pixels (2 megapixels). A shot taken on our office roof looked hazy and blurry, as did a photo taken indoors of a painting. A 1080p video clip of New York City traffic looked somewhat sharper, but mostly blown out.
The 1-MP front-facing camera produced fuzzy images as well, but at least the colors looked warm and natural (provided we had good lighting).
The SlateBook x2 comes with two power sources, a 3,375 mAh battery in the tablet portion of the device and a separate 2,960 mAh battery in the base. Between the two batteries, the x2 lasted 9 hours and 16 minutes. That's pretty good endurance, but the slate itself lasted 6 hours and 4 minutes. That runtime is an hour shorter than the tablet average (7:04), but on a par with the Toshiba Excite Pro (6:14). Thus far, tablets powered by Nvidia's Tegra 4 chip just aren't going the distance, even though they have a separate battery saver core.
Also keep in mind that the x2's charger is fairly hefty; it looks more like a laptop charger than your typical tablet cable because there's a rectangular power pack. The three-pronged plug could also prove problematic, depending on where you're plugging in.
For $479, the HP SlateBook x2 delivers a tablet and mini laptop in one device for a fairly aggressive price, making it a particularly intriguing choice for students. The keyboard is comfortable to use, and it's easy to switch from slate to clamshell mode. Plus, Nvidia's Tegra 4 processor provides plenty of pep for work and play. Speaking of work, the bundled File Manager and Kingsoft Office apps get the job done (cloud-saving bug notwithstanding). On the other hand, the x2's display is on the dim side, and you get below-average battery life in tablet mode. The good news is that you'll see 9 hours of endurance with the dock attached.
Another sticking point is the x2's touchpad. Moving the cursor works fine, but Android simply isn't optimized for traditional mouse tasks like selecting text. (You're probably better off touching the screen.) Among tablets we've tested with Tegra 4's CPU, the SlateBook x2 is a better deal than the Toshiba Excite Pro ($499), because HP includes a keyboard dock for less money. Overall, though, the x2 isn't the most satisfying tablet or laptop. You'll need to think through the trade-offs before purchasing this versatile little hybrid.