It seems that small, sub-$1000 slate computers are popping up like mushrooms these days and in order to alleviate some of the confusion among our clientele, Active Ink will assess some of these devices as platforms for filling out electronic forms. We realize that this one criterion is not a fair gauge of a machine’s overall capabilities, but it’s the only aspect we’re interested in and if you’re reading this, chances are it’s the only thing you’ll be interested in too.
For most of our customers, the tablet pc is a one-purpose device. They use it in business to input data into electronic forms as fast as they can. Therefore the speed and ease of input are their paramount concerns because by saving time and eliminating redundancies, they save money. Anything that interferes with the speed or ease of data input is a negative that can fatally detract from the desirability of a platform in spite of its many other attractive qualities.
With these thoughts in mind, we examined HP’s new Slate 500, one of the first sub-$1000 Windows tablets to hit the market. We had high hopes for this device thanks to HP’s promotional videos which showed that it was fully capable of accepting pen input and functioning in a business environment. When combined with HP’s solid reputation, the device’s a small form factor and its initial $799 release price, we thought this Slate would be a killer. Then we opened the box.
Sadly, our real world experience with the Slate was decidedly less impressive. And in the ultimate test of desirability –- namely, which worker in the office wants to take this sucker home and keep it -– the HP Slate 500 faired poorly. None of us were very impressed with the gadget and today it sits in a drawer; unloved, unwanted, and destined to be unloaded on ebay when we get around to it.
Our blasé overall impression was due to the Slate’s ergonomics rather than its technical specifications. Since the HP Slate 500 is a Windows 7 tablet, it is fully compatible with Active Ink and our e-forms can be filled out on it without resorting to any work-arounds. This is a major plus. Furthermore, there is nothing really wrong with the HP Slate’s performance or its combination of ports, cameras, display size, memory, or chips. It’s just a difficult little device to hold in your hands and fill out forms with its digital pen.
First there is the Slate’s plethora of awkwardly-placed external buttons (volume, control/alt/delete/home, keyboard, & power) which are all found along the sides of the device towards the corners – in exactly the same spots where your fingers tend to hold the device! In our experience, inadvertent pressings of these buttons were numerous and frustrating. If you try to move your fingers to avoid them, you have to hold the device in an awkward position.
We also took some small issue with the screen, which seems smaller than its 8.9” size. It is smaller than the Ipad, but larger than the HTC flyer that we’ve also reviewed in this blog. If you pull up the virtual keyboard or the Microsoft Handwriting input panel at normal size, you can see little of the form behind them, necessitating nearly constant scrolling and scrolling on a small-screened Windows device is quite a bit more frustrating than scrolling on an Android or Ipad with their flick-and-expand sensitivities. For example, examine the following comparison photo.
Finally, the most frustrating aspect of the HP Slate 500 is its pen. The Slate is a touchscreen device, so it is essentially a dual digitizing tablet, but it uses a unique hybrid stylus that has a spongy tip, which compresses slightly when touching the screen, probably to trigger activation of its electronic features powered via an internal battery. This means that even though the Slate has a touchscreen, its stylus can control the cursor position by floating its tip just above the screen. However, when the stylus was touched to the screen it was frequently hard to tell if the spongy tip had successfully engaged or not.
We have never encountered this type of hybrid stylus before and we found its responsiveness to be sporadic and imprecise, causing us to make frequent errors. Since every error necessitates a repeated attempt to input a data string or to activate a screen function when used as a pointer, this imprecision slows things down and increases the user's frustration factor. Handwriting with the Slate's stylus was challenging, with a noticeable lag, frequent omissions at the start of words or sentences, and that irritating spongy feel. We quickly found ourselves yearning for a “dumb” touch stylus or an "old school" active digitizer with more reliable responsiveness. Sometimes a hybrid fish & fowl can neither fly nor swim and this seems to be the case with the Slate 500's stylus.
Bottom Line: While the Slate 500 is a true Windows 7 tablet and it can use Active Ink software right out of the box, no one in our office wanted to adopt it as their tablet of choice. The frustration factor of the Slate’s awkwardly-placed buttons, its imprecise pen, and its crowded screen made us dread filling out forms on it. It may carry a low $799 price, but we found ourselves wanting to either pay more for different machine or pay less for a used "old school" device that is one or two generations old.