HP ElitePad 900 full review

HP ElitePad 900

The HP ElitePad is a tablet running 32-bit Windows 8 Pro, aimed at business users. Running Windows 8 means that it has an Intel rather than an Arm processor - in this case an Intel Atom Z2760 chip clocked at 1.5GHz-1.8GHz combined with 2GB RAM. Often tablets that run full-blown Windows sacrifce performance and battery life in order to offer full PC capabilities. We took the HP ElitePad 900 Windows tablet for a spin to see how it stacks up in a world of thin-and-light, high performance tablets.

HP ElitePad 900: build, style

Show the HP ElitePad to a non-technical friend and they'll likely describe it as 'an iPad'. A square slate, all black Gorilla Glass on the front and silver aluminum on the back, the moderately stylish ElitePad does differ from the competition, but mostly in ways of which we're not personally enamoured. The bezel is wide and the corners rounded in an almost cartoonish way. And the tablet's edges taper to a point that is almost sharp to the touch - it's a strange style point, because at 9.2mm this qualifies as a thin full-sized tablet (thinner than the iPad with Retina Display). It's also not as heavy as you might expect from an Intel tablet - at 680g it is in the same ball park as the 650g iPad, and blows out of the water the Surface Pro (Microsoft's own Windows 8 slate weighs 900g and is 13.5mm thick).

There is, alas, a single proprietary connector at the bottom. This allows the ElitePad to connect with a number of accessories - but only HP's own accessories. And we found the connector had a tendancy to slip out in our tests. At the top of the ElitePad is a power button, screen rotation lock and headphone jack. A volume rocker sits on the left. You can find welcome MicroSD and micro-SIM slots on the righthand side.

Generally the ElitePad feels unremarkable but classy. You certainly wouldn't feel ashamed to plonk it down on a meeting room table, and it feels built to last, but the silver back of the ElitePad did pick up black marks in our few days of carrying it around.

HP ElitePad 900: display

The ElitePad has a 10.1in multitouch Gorilla Glass display powered by PowerVR SGX 545 graphics. It's an LED display with a native resolution of 1280x800 - or WXGA, if you like. That gives it a pixels per inch of 150 - not poor in comparison to your Windows laptop, but very far from the eye-catching displays of consumer tablets such as the iPad with Retina Display (264ppi) and the Nexus 10 (300ppi). An image aspect ratio of 16:10 makes it a widescreen display in its native landscape format, which will be good for business tasks such as email and spreadsheets. And that is probably why the display is relatively underpowered on the detail front - this is a business tool and the ElitePad doesn't need to be able to display HD movies or games with any great degree of clarity.

In use the ElitePad's display is perfectly adequate. Text on the live tiles in Windows 8's Modern UI is occasionally a little unclear, but on documents with white backgrounds everything is fine. Viewing angles are pretty good, too. Subjectively the touchscreen can feel a little spongy in comparison to the best Arm-powered tablets, but not to the extent we could complain about it. Photos look pretty good - occasionally a little washed out and lacking a tiny bit of detail.

HP ElitePad 900

HP ElitePad 900: performance, specifications, battery life

Here's where we get to the meat of the issue: how does the ElitePad perform? First our subjective thoughts: the ElitePad is not a noticeably bad performer. It is perfectly adequate for general web-browsing and office use. But the sacrifices made to fit a Windows PC into such a svelte frame are there to be seen. As I previously mentioned the ElitePad is a much smaller device that the Surface Pro, but it can't hold a candle to Microsoft's tablet when it comes to performance. And that is born out by the test results.

Where the Surface Pro turned in an Ultrabook-like PCMark7 benchmark score of 4751, the ElitePad could stretch to an average score of only 1444. That's not a disaster, it puts it on a par with other Windows 8 tablets such as the Acer Iconia W510 and HP's own Envy x2 hybrid laptop/tablet device. The latter turned in a score of 1402 - like the ElitePad the Envy X2 is adequate for basic tasks such as web browsing, streaming video and running Microsoft Office. Don't even think about trying the latest Windows games, however.

'But that's not fair', I hear you shout. 'The ElitePad is a tablet and as such it should be compared to other tablets.' Never let it be said that I don't listen to you, imaginary head voices. In our GeekBench2 tablet and smartphone benchmark the ElitePad returned an average score of 1430. Given the ElitePad's business credentials this equates pretty well with the iPad's score of 1769. The Nexus 10's 2505 blows it away, but it is worth pointing out that those are the fastest two 10in tablets we have tested.

And although we can't prove it with our own science, we were impressed with the ElitePad's battery life. With moderate use throughout the day we found we could get a day out of the ElitePad which is the basic for tablets (and unusual for Intel Atom based devices). Indeed, CNET Asia recorded 8 hours and 24 minutes of use on test, which is very strong for an Intel Atom device. The battery is a 2-cell (25 WHr) polymer HP Long Life cell.

You get 64GB or 32GB of storage, as well as that MicroSD card slot. Our 64GB device has only 40GB of availabile space, however. Other now standard tablet features are present: NFC, accelerometer, gyroscope, e-compass and ambient light sensor. Our model has a 3G chip, but that is an optional extra.

HP ElitePad 900

HP EitePad 900: camera(s?)

The ElitePad has an 8Mp rear-facing camera, and a front-facing 2Mp webcam. That webcam is no slouch in the video department, able to capture 1080p HD video. Your camera's shot button is a tap of the screen. Software options include brightness, contrast, flicker and exposure, and you can set the megapixel rating of shots captured. We doubt anyone would buy the ElitePad in order to use it as their primary snapper, and that's reflected in its capabilities. Video calling using the front facing camera is pretty good. As is video captured by it (there's a test video below).

I'd love to tell you how good, bad or indifferent is the rear-facing 8Mp camera, but I couldn't work out how to use it. It is in the specs list, and there is a definite lens-like hole on the back... but we simply can't work out how to enable it. And if that is embarrassing for me as a technology journalist with more than 10 years under my belt, it doesn't reflect all that well on the ElitePad's usability.

Any suggestions gratefully received. (See also: What's the best tablet PC?)

UPDATE: after we reinstalled the ElitePad 900 in order to send it back to HP, we noticed that the rear-facing camera worked perfectly well. It can only have been an odd bug in an early production model of the ElitePad, and as such should not be considered a criticism. Unfortunately that means we didn't have the chance to properly test the rear-facing camera.

NEXT PAGE: ElitePad accessories, software and the bottom line >>