Reviews

HP SlateBook X2 Review: Is Android Ready To Be Your Primary Operating System?

In many ways, a review of the HP SlateBook X2 turns into a review of Android. Is the world's most popular mobile operating system ready to be a full-fledged notebook operating system too? Granted, the SlateBook X2 isn't a laptop in the traditional sense, due to its detachable screen. But this gizmo is going up against the likes of Windows 8-powered devices at the same price, with a similar form factor. The question then becomes about Windows vs. Android in the world of convertible tablet-notebook hybrids. Does Android have what it takes?

What Is It?
The SlateBook X2 is the first device in India to be powered by the new Nvidia Tegra 4 processor, and HP's new Android flagship at Rs. 38,990. The tablet part (with a 10.1-inch FullHD 1920x1200 pixels IPS touchscreen) houses the processor as well as other machinery, such as the 2GB RAM, 16GB internal memory (10.4 GB available to the user), as well as the chipset for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. There's room to expand the memory via a microSD card on the tablet or a regular SD card on the detachable keyboard unit. There are also separate batteries in both parts, which lets you extend the life of your tablet since the keyboard acts as a recharging dock. And of course, all of this runs on Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean.

Who Is It For?
Someone looking for a portable convertible device to complement an existing desktop or bulky laptop, with the ability to work on it as well as use it as a multimedia gadget. But you probably still need access to a Windows device as well.



Design
There's one very clear reason why I see the HP SlateBook X2 as Android trying to be a full-fledged operating system -- there is no way to connect the device to a PC. Normally, you get a microUSB slot or some such to let you connect your Android tablet/convertible to a laptop or desktop running Windows, Mac or Linux. But not so with the SlateBook X2, which only offers standard USB and HDMI ports in the keyboard dock, apart from a proprietary connector to charge both the dock as well as the tablet.

What this means is that the tablet can't be used standalone, nor can you carry just that on a trip, since there's no way to charge it without the dock.

Yes, the tablet has to be docked to charge. In fact, no wires can be attached to the tablet. There's a connector on the bottom to attach it to the dock, and this bottom also has the microSD card slot as well as the headphone jack.

Of course, you need to access that when you have docked the tablet, so there's an additional headphone jack on the chiclet keyboard dock, along with an SD card slot. Oh yeah, and HP's thrown in a trackpad as well.



The front of the tablet is clean and entirely buttonless, only sporting the 720p HD camera for video calls. The back has a matte white finish that keeps away fingerprint while housing the power button on your right and the volume buttons on your left. The buttons are flush with the back and yet the small grooves make it easy to always identify and click the right ones without looking -- top job from HP there.

The docking mechanism is quite simple. The tablet just needs to be pushed down into place to hear that resounding click, while detaching it takes the slide of one key. Put together, it weighs about 1.6 kilos and feels much like a netbook. Detached, the tablet alone is much lighter, its 600 gms feeling approximately as heavy as the iPad 3.

Using It
One of my biggest gripes with manufacturers of Android devices is the unnecessary changes they make to the OS, skinning it with custom icons and introducing UI elements that make little sense. With the SlateBook X2, HP has made a shining example of what I wish more companies would do.

The Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is more or less untouched, except for two factors. First, HP has preloaded the device with plenty of apps that you will probably find useful, like Chrome, Kingsoft Office, HP Files Manager and more. And second, HP has worked to make the keyboard respond to Android very well, giving you shortcuts you are used to with Windows, such as Alt+Tab to switch between apps. As you might know, Android has its own multi-tasking app switcher and that button is still available as a physical key -- but years of hitting Alt+Tab is hard to change overnight (also perhaps not something you want to do), and HP has recognised that and made things just a tad easier.



Such shortcuts permeate throughout the system, even in apps. Take Kingsoft Office, the free office suite that's bundled with the OS. It's a great clone of MS Office and was a pleasure to use. I could hit Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V with ease, and even look up the word count quickly.

Of course, HP hasn't managed to get every single shortcut yet. For example, selecting multiple words at a time with Shift+Ctrl+Arrow still doesn't work.

The added benefit of the device is that when you aren't working or chatting with the dock, you can just detach the tablet half and use that alone. And Android has a much more robust app store than Windows 8, so you get some of the best games and tools. Whether it was reading comics, playing Respawnables, surfing the web or doing all of these together, the Tegra 4 processor can handle it all with ease.

I should mention one hitch in performance, though. When typing in the preloaded Kingsoft Office, there was a discernible lag between my typing and what showed up on screen. This might just be a software flaw with this particular app, since typing in Google Docs or other apps wasn't a problem.

Overall, the device performs admirably and smoothly. But perhaps its biggest strength is its biggest problem: Android.



Tragic Flaw
While the OS makes the tablet part a pleasure to use, it still is a mobile operating system that doesn't have the chops of a Windows or Mac. For example, Chrome still opens all websites in their mobile version by default -- which is ridiculous to use if you are looking at this as a laptop replacement. There is a vast difference not only in the looks but in functionality of desktop and mobile sites -- case in point, Google Drive does not have many of the editing features of its desktop site in its mobile one.

Such things make Android feel like a crippled computing OS. For 80% of your regular usage, you will be completely fine with Android. It will even offer a little more on pure tablet use. But those missing 20% of the situations are where you end up wanting access to a Windows, Mac or Linux PC with all its bells and whistles. And that makes the SlateBook X2 a great companion device, but not a standalone single solution -- which HP seems to think it is, since you can't connect the device to a regular PC.

The Best Part
As I mentioned before, there's a battery in the tablet and another one in the keyboard dock. When both are charged, the SlateBook X2 has the best battery life I have seen in a laptop or convertible device. Given that all my work happens on a computer and I'm a power user, I have never before come across a device that hasn't needed to be charged in the work day. But the SlateBook X2 managed that while connected to Wi-Fi and being used for work. The battery backup claim is 14 hours and I can happily vouch for that -- it lasted between 14 and 16 hours for me on average. As a power user, it's the first "all day laptop" I have seen and for regular users, charging it once a day is going to be sufficient.



Test Notes
-The 10.1-inch FullHD 1920x1200 screen is gorgeous. Images are crisp, the viewing angles are great and the colours are true. The only real problem is glare. The glossy screen is difficult to use with a light source behind you, and impossible to use in sunlight. And yeah, the screen is an absolute fingerprint magnet!

-Gaming on the Tegra 4 is fantastic and especially so for games from the built-in Nvidia TegraZone. Just to check if it's marketing hype, I played Reaper, Fractal Combat and Riptide GP2 side by side on the TegraZone and a Samsung Galaxy Note 800. Without a doubt, the TegraZone games perform better as I could see better (and more) details on the HP device.

-The front camera for video calling gets the job done, but the back camera is nothing to write home about. The images are "strictly ok" and you expect more at this price point. Even at half the price, the iPad Mini takes better pictures.

-Because of its compact size, the keyboard takes a little getting used to. Once you do, it's very comfortable to use. The chiclet keys are fantastic to type on and the trackpad is smooth and responsive. HP has also introduced a few new keys, such as the Home button and the Multi-tasking button.

-I was very happy with the way the USB port performed. The HP Files Manager is as easy to use as Windows Explorer, so just plug in your pen drive and copy-paste your files as you would normally do.

-Slatebook X2 also handled HDMI output to a TV with ease. No complaints there.

-The built-in speakers aren't great. The bass is bit subdued and the volume doesn't go up as high as I would have liked. Hooking the device up to headphones did solve those issues though, so the problem seems to be just the speakers, not the audio output of the device itself.

-Whether docked together or separate, the SlateBook X2 did not heat up and scorch my lap, and was comfortable to use even for extended hours. That's something I can say for very few notebook PCs.



Should I Buy It?
The HP SlateBook X2 has many avatars and it really depends on what you are looking for to see if it's the right device for you. And at the high price of Rs. 38,990, you need to be sure. After all, you can buy a full-fledged Windows 8 touch-laptop at this price, or even an iPad.

If you are looking for the best Android tablet in the market, I would say the SlateBook X2 can lay claim to that title at the moment. Its added keyboard dock puts it a notch above the Samsung Galaxy Note 800 and the Sony Xperia Z Tablet, and the overall package is better value for money than the Asus EEE Pad Transformer.

The iPad still has a better ecosystem for tablet apps, so it edges out ahead of the X2 on that. But the keyboard dock, simple USB plug-and-play, expandable memory and better battery life are features that can't be ignored, so the SlateBook X2 is as good value for money as the iPad in my books.

As a laptop replacement, Android still doesn't have what it takes to topple the likes of Windows, Mac or Linux. The HP SlateBook X2 is a great device to take with you when you are travelling for work or even to operate for 80% of your daily computing. But it still can't get you through those missing 20%, so this isn't going to be a complete replacement for your desktop or laptop PC.

HP Slatebook X2 Specifications:
OS: Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean
CPU: 1.8GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 4
Screen: 10.1-inch 1920x1200 IPS Touchscreen with Gorilla Glass (224 ppi)
RAM: 2GB
Storage: 16GB internal (10.4 user available), expandable microSD slot, expandable SD card slot
Camera: 1080p FullHD rear camera / 720p HD front camera
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4
Battery: Base: 2-cell; Tablet: 2-cell
Dimensions: Base: 258x193x20.5 mm; Tablet: 258x182.1x9.65 mm
Weight: Tablet: 0.59 kg; Base: 1.25 kg
Price: Rs. 38,990
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