HP Pro Slate 8 review
HP’s business Android tablet is no Galaxy Note knock-off
While all eyes are on HP's upcoming split into two separate companies, the consumer-focussed HP Inc and the plainly-named Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the old HP continues to release new products. Given this context, you'd be forgiven for thinking that HP would be treading water or coasting with its Pro Slate 8 Android tablet. Or that, with its stylus and note-taking features, this 8in mini tablet would be a mere imitation of Samsung's Galaxy Note range. That couldn't be further from the truth.
HP Pro Slate 8: casing
A lot of tablets aimed at the enterprise tend to be plain-looking, but the Pro Slate 8 looks far classier. From the front it looks like a super-sized HTC One M9 with its shiny metal rim and large speakers at the top and bottom of the screen (in portrait orientation). Despite the narrow bezels on the left and right hand sides of the screen (again, in portrait orientation), we found it was reasonably easy to avoid inadvertently touching the screen. This was due to the raised chamfered edges which gave us a place to rest our fingertips.
The tablet's plain grey backing is sadly made out of plastic rather than metal, so it therefore bended under pressure more than we'd like. It's still reasonably sturdy though especially when compared to the alarmingly creaky Nexus 9. Still, it's lightweight at 350g making it easy to hold and use for relatively long periods of time.
HP Pro Slate 8: stylus
What really sets the Pro Slate 8 apart from the competition is its stylus. Like other tablet styli, you can use it to take notes and jot down sketches - the HP Notes and Corel Painter Mobile apps are preinstalled. The former can perform basic OCR on your handwriting and while it wasn't quite as accurate as a Livescribe, the results were still good enough to use after a little editing.
The stylus has basic pressure-sensitivity for use in Corel Mobile Painter so you should, in theory, be able to create sophisticated drawings with lines of various thickness and boldness depending on how hard you press down. In practice, the accuracy and reliability of this feature left much to be desired. It sometimes misread how much pressure we were applying with the stylus, leading to missed strokes or lines that were darker and thicker, or lighter and narrower, than we intended. It's good enough for rough sketches, but little else.
An optional fake-leather folio holds both the tablet and a standard notepad together so you can use the mirrored feature on the go
The Pro Slate 8's stylus-related features don't stop there. Instead of writing directly onto the screen, you could use mirroring mode instead. Whatever you write or draw onto a piece of paper will be automatically copied, in real time, into the HP Notes app. It looks very futuristic, but it's very rough around the edges. The accuracy of both OCR'd text and of captured drawings was far worse compared to using the stylus traditionally. You can, of course, save your mirrored notes as mere static bitmap images, but this is less useful compared to having digitised, searchable text.
HP Pro Slate 8: encryption and MDM
Unlike many other Android devices, the Pro Slate 8 supports hardware-accelerated encryption. Annoyingly, this isn't enabled by default and the tablet won't even begin the process unless it's plugged into a charger. It'd be far more preferable, from a security standpoint, if encryption were enabled by default.
For SMBs, HP is pushing its own Touchpoint Manager mobile device management service. This cloud-based service allows administrators to remotely lock and locate lost or stolen tablets as well as reset passwords and enforce security policies. It's not confined to the Pro Slate 8 either - it also works with devices running Windows, Android 4.0.3 Jelly Bean or later and iOS 7 or later. It costs 7 per user per month, with a far more spartan and therefore considerably less useful Basic service at 1.60 per user per month. You can, of course, use your own MDM service if you already have one in place.
HP Pro Slate 8: battery life and performance
The HP Pro Slate 8 isn't just relying on its good looks and business-specific features for its appeal. Its battery lasted just over 12 hours when playing H.264 video on a loop which is very good for a mini tablet. The only similarly sized tablet we've seen that can last longer is the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact which managed 19 hours in the same test.
Performance was good too. Although the quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor is no longer the bleeding edge state of the art, with 64-bit processors from Qualcomm as well as others now available, it's still fast. It fared well in our benchmarks and in everyday use, stuttering only when switching between lots of apps open simultaneously. We had few complaints about the responsiveness of the touchscreen - it only occasionally had trouble keeping up with our finger swipes and taps.
HP Pro Slate 8: screen, camera and Android
Like the iPad Mini 2 and Mini 3, this tablet has an 8in screen (7.9in according to HP) with a resolution of 2048x1536 pixels. This high pixel density means text looks very sharp. The screen is exceptionally bright too with accurate-looking colours, wide viewing angles and good contrast.
We weren't expecting much from the eight megapixel camera, but it turned out to be surprisingly decent. Although it wasn't able to capture very fine details, especially outdoors in overcast conditions, shots were generally well-lit, reasonably sharp and with faithfully captured colours. Low light shots weren't any good with a lot of blurry smeariness, but overall it's perfectly acceptable as a secondary fallback camera.
Although a few units in channel may still have Android 4.4 KitKat pre-installed, our fresh out of the box review unit came with Android 5.0 Lollipop instead. Thankfully, HP has resisted the urge to tamper with Android, so it's little different from Google's stock version.
HP Pro Slate 8: conclusions
The HP Pro Slate 8 is a very good Android mini tablet. Although its stylus-related features aren't quite good enough to justify its price premium over the superb Apple iPad Mini 2, it's still an excellent choice - especially if you need to deploy in-house apps that take advantage of Android's relative flexibility over iOS.
Its business features need a little more finesse, but this still is a surprisingly good Android mini tablet
OS: Android 5.0 Lollipop
Display: 7.9in 2048 x 1536 pixels
CPU: 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor
GPU: Qualcomm Adreno 330 graphics chip
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 137 x 207 x 8mm
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