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HP ElitePad 900 review: A business-minded Atom tablet with accessories

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The Good The HP ElitePad 900 is a well-built business tablet with an impressive array of add-ons and accessories.

The Bad The base tablet starts out expensive, and those docks and jacket accessories add even more to the cost. Intel's Atom performance continues to underwhelm.

The Bottom Line If someone else is footing the bill, HP's expensive ElitePad 900 and its accessory ecosystem cover a lot of bases, but this isn't going to be a consumer crossover product.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Battery 7
  • Support 8

Review Sections

One of the interesting things about the current crop of Windows 8 tablets is the many opportunities it gives PC makers to come up with clever accessories. For a standard laptop, there are, I suppose, bags and sleeves, but once you have that and maybe a mouse, you're pretty much done.

The Windows 8 tablets we've seen are essentially nearly identical black slabs of metal, glass, and plastic, whether from Acer, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, or others. Most of these devices even have identical specs, with Intel Atom processors, 2GB of RAM, and 64GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage, so coming up with the proper accessories is even more important for differentiating from the pack.

The HP ElitePad 900 could have been just yet another slablike Windows 8 tablet, but this business-oriented system offers the widest range of tablet accessories we've seen to date, making it very flexible for mobile, home, and office use.

The tablet itself starts at $699, but that only includes a 32GB SSD. Trading up to a 64GB SSD to match other Windows 8 tablets takes you to $799. That's more than roughly comparable consumer tablets cost, but mobile broadband capabilities from T-Mobile or AT&T are included. Some configurations also currently include two years of 4G data from T-Mobile.

The set of accessories that came with our review unit is what really makes the ElitePad interesting. Unfortunately, the most interesting accessory -- called the "productivity jacket" -- is not yet available. It's a keyboard case with three adjustable screen angles, a very nice portable keyboard, and expansion ports that are built right into the case. When available sometime this spring it will cost $199, which is steep for a keyboard case, but this is essentially a sleeve, keyboard, and docking station in one.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Currently available are an expansion jacket, with HDMI and USB ports, plus room for an optional extra battery ($79), and a weighted docking station, with multiple video and data ports ($119). Putting all three together adds almost $400 to the already expensive $799 tablet. For $1,200, you could get a 13-inch MacBook Air, Microsoft's Core i5 Surface Pro, or for another $100, get Google's super-high-res Pixel Chromebook. There are dozens of other worthwhile investments in that price range, the key point being that $1,200 is an awful lot to spend on an Intel Atom/2GB RAM/64GB SSD tablet with a 1,366x768-pixel display.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

There is, however, a justification for this hefty investment. HP created the ElitePad 900 for business customers, not the casual consumers who might buy one of the many $500-$600 Atom Windows 8 tablets we've previously reviewed. The ElitePad is built with corporate IT department needs in mind, with support for various managed deployment technologies, such as HP BIOS Protection and LANDesk. Also to that end, the tablet itself lacks even a USB port -- for security reasons, all ports are relegated to the docks and case accessories (a SIM card and microSD card slot are under a tiny pin-open panel). That's something to keep in mind if you need on-the-go connectivity. Note that NFC is built in, but has yet to become a mainstream data transfer tool.

Many of HP's business-focused products, such as its early ultrabooks, make great crossover PCs and have a lot of consumer appeal. The ElitePad probably isn't one of those, as its high price and security quirks aren't as consumer-friendly as many of the other Intel Atom windows 8 tablets we've reviewed.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $799 / $699
Processor 1.5GHz Intel Atom Z2760
Memory 2GB, 800MHz DDR2
Hard drive 64GB SSD
Graphics Intel GMA
Operating system
Dimensions (WD) 10.3x7 inches
Height 0.4 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 10.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 1.3 pounds / 2.0 pounds
Category Ultraportable/tablet

Design and features
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but the actual slate part of the ElitePad 900 ecosystem looks pretty much like every other Atom-powered Windows 8 tablet we've seen so far. In the hand, however, the build quality stands out, with a one-piece aluminum body and a Gorilla Glass screen.

While the dimensions look similar to those of tablets from Acer, Asus, Dell, and others, a concession to the corporate user is a screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio, rather than the more common 16:9 found in most laptops and tablets; this ratio gives you a little more vertical resolution. The 1,280x800-pixel resolution is the same as what you'd find on a non-Retina Display 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the screen is bright, with decent off-axis viewing, and is very responsive to finger input.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

I found myself using the ElitePad most often in its productivity jacket, which includes a full keyboard and USB/SD card connections. Like a heavy-duty iPad keyboard case, the jacket adds weight and size to the system, making it feel more like a chunky ultraportable laptop -- although at only 1.3 pounds by itself, the tablet is very light. The stiff hinge on the keyboard case keeps the screen from slipping, but also makes it nearly impossible to operate with one hand. It slots into three screen angles, but the screen may not tilt back far enough for your tastes.

The flat-topped island-style keyboard built into the case is as good as the best iPad keyboard cases, and reminds me of the excellent keyboard case for Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet, but built into a much thicker base.

So far, so good. But, here's where the ElitePad and its keyboard case run into trouble. The Surface Pro keyboard cover includes a small but functional touch pad. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 has a small pointing stick built into its optional keyboard dock. But the ElitePad keyboard is just a keyboard -- there's no cursor control available at all, aside from directly using the touch screen.

Sure, Windows 8 is designed to be operated directly by the finger-on-screen method, and when the ElitePad 900 is used as an in-hand slate, it's fine. But when set up on a desk, in either the keyboard jacket or on the docking station, the system's productivity potential shrinks. You only solution is to connect a separate mouse or other pointing device. I actually paired the keyboard case with Logitech's T650 standalone touch pad and ended up with a very usable combination. But HP doesn't go out of its way to suggest a touch pad or even mouse pairing.

The expansion jacket is more like a protective sleeve, but includes HDMI and SD card ports, plus two USB ports. There's a compartment inside for a not-yet-available extra battery, making it feel like an oversize version of an iPhone battery case. The docking station is the most familiar of the accessories, and includes both HDMI and VGA outputs as well as an Ethernet jack. Dongles that connect directly to the tablet and offer Ethernet, SD card, USB, and video connections are sold separately for $29 to $39 each.

HP ElitePad 900 (tablet only) Average for category [ultraportable]
Video None HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Dual-array microphones, stereo speakers Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 1 microSD, SIM card slot 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

Connections, performance, and battery
Trying to connect with the ElitePad 900 can be easy or difficult, depending on your approach. The tablet itself has no easily accessible ports, but if you are using one of the accessory jackets or the dock, then you have a reasonable set of connections. The individually sold dongles are annoying -- no one wants to walk around with a pocket full of those. The tablet has dual cameras, an 8MP one on the rear and a standard 1080p Webcam on the inside.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Every available EliteBook configuration has the same 1.5GHz Intel Atom Z2760 GPU and 2GB of RAM, with the main differences being either a 32- or 64GB SSD and various mobile broadband options. All this means that the system's performance is predictably comparable to other Atom-powered Windows 8 tablets we've tested, some of which cost a lot less.

Unfortunately, if you're counting on the ElitePad as a workplace machine, we have to hold it to a higher standard than a casual consumer PC. That means the Intel Atom experience can frankly be sluggish, especially if you're using apps, such as Google's Chrome Web browser, that are not optimized as well for Windows 8/Atom as Microsoft's default apps (IE10, for example). That, coupled with the small screen and relatively low resolution, made using the ElitePad fine in short bursts, but not as an all-day (or even all-afternoon) PC.

Battery life was good at first glance, running for 7 hours, 15 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. But, considering the battery life we've seen in some other Atom tablets, which can run 90 minutes longer or more, there's room for improvement. Our expansion jacket did not include the optional additional battery pack, so we were unable to test both batteries together.

Conclusion
Of all the Windows 8 tablets we've tested to date, or at least the ones with Intel Atom CPUs, the HP ElitePad 900 has the most in-depth ecosystem of add-ons and accessories. Pick the right set for your needs and you can overcome most of the limitations of trying to work on a small, low-power tablet -- still, it's a shame there's no officially pitched HP solution to the lack of touch pad, pointing stick, or mouse (besides digging through a generic list of mice you can buy at the same time).

With the high starting cost of the tablet itself, plus the expensive accessories, you might be better off investing in a full Core i5 Surface Pro from Microsoft, or else hoping that your IT department is willing to foot the bill.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP ElitePad 900
1,833 

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Load test (average watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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System configurations

HP ElitePad 900
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GBDDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 32MB Intel GMA; 64GB SSD

Asus VivoTab Smart
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 725MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB SSD

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 737MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB MMC SSD

Dell Latitude 10
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB MMC SSD

Acer Iconia W510P-1406
Windows 8 Pro (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB SEM64G SSD

Microsoft Surface Pro
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Micron SSD

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