Hands-on with the HP Slate 500

At long last, an actual HP tablet is being officially released--but it may not be exactly what you'd expect. The HP Slate 500 Tablet PC is a 9-inch Windows 7 slate, aimed at business and industrial users, rather than casual consumers.

Even before Apple's iPad was officially announced, HP was showing off a prototype tablet on stage at CES 2010. Since then, the company and its slate have been in and out of public view, offering up tantalizing sneak peek videos , followed by rumors of delays and OS changes , further complicated by the company's merger with Palm.

At long last, an actual HP tablet is being officially released--but it may not be exactly what you'd expect. The HP Slate 500 Tablet PC is a 9-inch Windows 7 slate, aimed at business and industrial users, rather than casual consumers. In fact, it seems to be exactly the same product we obtained a series of leaked photos of several weeks ago, right down to the leather case and docking stand.

We got a chance to sit down with the HP Slate 500 recently, and found it to be a lightweight, sturdy device, with a slick industrial design and several hardware advantages over the iPad, especially when it comes to ports and connections.

The Slate 500 has an SD card slot, both a front-facing VGA camera and a rear-facing 3MP camera, a USB port, and a docking connector. The included dock has an HDMI output, two more USB ports, and a second headphone/mic jack. Internally, there's a 1.86GHz Intel Atom Z540 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD hard drive, and a Broadcom Crystal HD chip for HD video playback (via the 8.9-inch 1,024x600-pixel display).

The HP Slate 500 Tablet PC. HP

While the components are very Netbook-like, we found clicking around the Windows interface to be largely lag-free, and certainly much better than some of the disappointingly underpowered Window-based tablets we've seen in the past. Besides touch input, an active stylus (also included) is supported.

The biggest weakness, however, is the total lack of any specialized touch interfaces. HP is shipping the system without any custom software, relying instead on the limited tablet software built into Windows, such as the mediocre default Windows onscreen keyboard.

This makes actually doing anything productive with the Slate 500 hard to imagine without either hooking it up to an external keyboard/mouse set-up, or using your own custom software or Web apps (as HP expects customers in the medical, education, and hospitality fields to do). It's a shame, because HP's business PC team often has superior designs and products with excellent consumer cross-over appeal.

The HP Slate 500 is available only as a bundle, including the tablet, docking stand, carrying case, and stylus, for $799. Future consumer-targeted versions, perhaps with Palm's WebOS or Android, are a possibility, but for now, this is HP's big tablet push for 2010.

 

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