Lenovo set the bar for ultra-light convertibles with its ThinkPad X60 earlier this year. HP reaches high with the light, solid, and versatile Compaq 2710p. Unlike many in its sub-five-pound class, it has power, a full digitizer, and excellent screen performance, just like the X60. Unfortunately, a few design miscues prevent HP's Tablet from taking the crown.
At just more than an inch thick and starting at 4.5 pounds (although you can get it as light as 3.6 pounds), the 2710p is light enough for frequent travel. Its 11.4 x 8.4 x 1.1-inch magnesium-alloy chassis has a bare-bones industrial look to it, with a finish that resembles brushed steel--nothing like the flashy consumer notebooks we've grown accustomed to with HP. We're disappointed not to see an optical drive for this size and weight, however.
The bright Illumi-Lite LED backlit LCD holds up well to daylight and remained viewable even at extreme angles. But cramming 1280 x 800-pixel resolution onto a 12.1-inch monitor squeezes letters and menus down to a size that may challenge aging eyes. The webcam includes both a landscape and close-up mode. Sound was acceptable for a small notebook but not exceptional.
One of the 2710p's strongest features is its keyboard, which feels much larger than it is. HP makes excellent use of the extra real estate the system's 12.1-inch widescreen allows, with a good expanse for comfortable typing across broad key surfaces. There's even a handy pop-up LED keyboard light atop the LCD that makes typing in dark trains and planes much easier.
The interface relies on a pointing stick rather than a touchpad. The stick is quite good, however, and we had little trouble pointing and clicking with its touch-sensitive action. On the edge of the lid is a biometric fingerprint reader for added security. We like the volume slider above the keyboard: It lights up to let you know that your presses are registering.
Opening the 2710p from its closed position took more effort than it should. Because of the shape of the sliding latch, the weight of the digitizer in the screen, and the way the lid lies flat on the keyboard, there's no easy way to unlatch and pry up the screen when the unit is lying flat. In Tablet mode, the screen doesn't fit snugly against the keyboard; it bounced and clicked against the base as we used the stylus. The awkward ergonomics of the lid and screen aren't deal breakers so much as unnecessary irritants.
Otherwise, the 2710p performed well as a Tablet. The stylus was comfortable in the hand, and the digitizer was extremely responsive and accurate. HP has dispensed with the usual hardware launch buttons and instead uses its pop-up menu for changing screen orientation and accessing the Task Manager and other Tablet settings.
We weren't thrilled with the quality of the microphone. Unlike many recent convertibles that focus on audio input for voice recognition and recording meetings, the 2710p picked up our voice well only when we were right on top of the lid. Its capacity for picking up other voices at a table or in a meeting room was limited.
For its size, the 2710p packs a fair amount of power, but it's challenged by the resource-greedy Vista Business operating system. Our review unit had a 1.2-GHz Core 2 Duo processor with 2GB of RAM that ran most productivity and multimedia applications as well as a road warrior could expect. The system turned in a respectable but not blistering PCMark05 score of 2,365. That's significantly faster than the Toshiba Portg R500's score of 1,778. That system had an identical CPU but only 1GB of RAM.
The 4,200-rpm hard drive loaded programs faster than we would expect from such a modest rotational speed. Our test unit was configured with an 80GB hard drive, but consumers will be able to get a 100GB drive for the same price. The Intel integrated graphics chip also handled the 3D Aero interface well and earned a decent 3DMark03 score of 1,235. Although we wouldn't expect to play Half-Life 2 on this system, it handled the Flip 3D task switcher and basic 3D screen savers without a hitch.
The 2710p lasted 2 hours and 27 minutes on a DVD rundown using an external optical drive. This means you can expect about 4.5 hours for typical usage, which is good for a notebook this size. We saw disappointing wireless scores on the 2710p, however, with just 11.1 Mbps of throughput at 15 feet from our access point and 8 Mbps at 50 feet, very low considering its 802.11a/g/n radio. You can opt for EV-DO Rev. 0 mobile broadband (not the faster EV-DO Rev. A) for an additional $199, or HSDPA connectivity for $249.
HP backs this system with a three-year warranty and 24/7 toll-free technical support. It also comes with HP's ProtectTools Security Manager and TPM circuitry to keep your data safe.
With all of the HP 2710p's obvious strengths (power, keyboard, longevity, and stylus performance), the actual act of converting from laptop to Tablet mode and back again should be much smoother. Nevertheless, this is one of the better Tablet notebooks on the market.
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