HP has an uncomfortable history with tablet computers. The recent acquisition, and subsequent squandering, of mobile technology company Palm left a sour taste in the mouths of HP and Palm fans alike.
The Windows-based HP Slate wasn’t completely terrible. Successful enough, at any rate, for the company to launch a second iteration of the product. And its convertible notebooks bear mentioning, too – but while these digitizer-equipped devices found their niche, they were always too heavy or too thick to really achieve mainstream popularity.
You can imagine my utter delight when I got to pick up HP’s next-generation business tablet, the ElitePad 900.
The ElitePad, with its sharp aluminum casing, is going to fit right in with the rest of the computer manufacturer’s business product lineup – it looks like an elegant, futuristic version of HP’s Elitebook notebooks.
There will very naturally be comparisons to Apple’s iPad, as the latter is now the standard bearer for tablet computers, so let’s get them all out of the way now: despite the superficial color and material similarities, you would never mistake one for the other. It’s true that the ElitePad is going to be silver and black, with an aluminum back, but the silver creeps around to the front, and the aspect ratio is 16:10 — which is surprisingly comfortable to hold.
The ElitePad will measure 7.0 by 10.28 inches, and just 0.36 inches (9.1mm) thick at its center, before tapering out at the edges.
You may notice that the prototype unit’s beveled edges look particularly sharp, and you’d be right. I thought they were fine, though any sharper and they’d make the ElitePad uncomfortable to hold. HP mentioned that they’d likely soften that aspect before it came to market (we didn’t get to spend time with final hardware or software builds).
The bottom of the device will feature stereo speakers — which sound reasonably good — as well as a proprietary docking port. The docking port can be used with a number of adapters, as well as all sorts of crazy HP docks that promise to turn the ElitePad 900 into one of several different devices. More on those later.
Around back you’ll find a smooth volume button that sits discreetly flush with the surface of the device. When holding the unit in landscape mode, they’re really easy to push. Holding it in portrait orientation — which most will probably avoid, due to the larger aspect ratio — makes accessing the volume keys more problematic; suddenly their location is not entirely obvious. Across from the volume buttons will be a hidden microSD card slot.
At the top will be an 8MP camera with LED flash; another camera in the front promises up to 1080p recording for crystal clear teleconferencing. The screen is a superbly responsive IPS panel with good viewing angles. The pre-production unit I spent several minutes with suffered from significant dithering issues, which you may notice in a few photos; HP swears that these issues will be fixed before the unit ships next year.
The 10.1-inch, 1280×800 touchscreen will offer up to 10 fingers of simultaneous multitouch, although few Windows 8 apps exist to support that just yet. A pen digitizer setup will also be installed on the device, a handy feature for artists and notetakers alike. I didn’t get to try it out, because all of HP’s “Executive Tablet Pens” were made of wood at the time.
There’s going to a lot of technology packed inside of the ElitePad 900’s svelte frame. First and foremost, this thing will run on top of Intel’s next-generation Atom CPUs — a dual-core chip running at 1.8GHz with Hyper-Threading. Graphics will be handled by a PowerVR SGX 545. As a result, the ElitePad will run just about any application your current Windows 7 installation can — unlike Windows RT on ARM tablets, nothing needs to be recompiled for these chips.
Wireless communications are going to be handled by 802.11a//b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC with a Secure Element, and an optional HP hs2350 HSPA+ mobile broadband chip. There’s also a 2-cell, 25WHr li-poly battery in the offing — HP was cagey about battery life, but the ElitePad should be comparable to most tablets of this size.
One of the biggest differentiators for the ElitePad 900 — or so HP hopes — will be the variety of docks and cases that will be compatible with the new business tablet. Perhaps most useful for enterprise customers will be the basic docking station.
The ElitePad Docking Station
This will allow ElitePad owners to plug in an external keyboard, mouse, and display, turning it into a tidy little desktop computer. While charging, customers can also use the docked tablet as a secondary display.
The ElitePad Rugged Case
This case is going to transform the ElitePad 900 into a rugged tablet at home in the boardroom or shop floor, offering what HP calls “military-grade reliability.”
The ElitePad Expansion Jacket:
This jacket will make the ElitePad quite a bit thicker, but it will give users a full-sized USB port as well as HDMI-out, without the need for additional dongles. If you’re really paranoid about battery life, HP will also be selling an ElitePad Jacket battery that fits inside of this case, which could double your tablet’s useable battery life.
The ElitePad Productivity Jacket:
Perfect for users who don’t need the external display the Docking Station offers, HP’s Productivity Jacket will include a keyboard, SD card reader, and built-in multi-angle stand. It’s going to be slightly thicker, but a bit reminiscent of Microsoft’s Surface keyboards.
HP is promising general availability sometime in January of next year, but refused to give any solid details on pricing for the new tablet. While the accessories are likely to bump up the cost substantially (those don’t won’t come cheap!), we’re expecting the unit to land somewhere around $600. To help mitigate that fee, HP promised that the docks will be compatible with ElitePad tablets for some time to come, just as the current notebook docking stations work across several generations of their mobile product line.
Be sure to check out our photo gallery for more hands-on images, and hit the HP ElitePad 900 announcement to gawk at all the shiny PR photos!