The latest tablet from HP joins a growing band of business devices aiming to find a home in the office while taking a bite out of the all-conquering iPad’s market share.
That extra bit of budget has allowed HP to throw some sheen at the Pro Slate’s aesthetics. Every inch of the Pro Slate 8 screams high-class design: it’s ringed by metal and finished with a slick, shining bezel, and the screen is sandwiched between two long speaker grilles.
There’s a smart HP logo at the bottom and two cameras at the top. It’s a better-looking machine than the lopsided Dell, and it arguably has more character than the ubiquitous, white-bordered iPad.
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The rear of the Slate 8 Pro doesn’t have the same impact. It’s finished in a soft-touch material that gives a little when pressed, and there are exposed screws and visible seams. There maybe those who like the industrial touches, but all we can see is areas that will collect dust.
Overall, though, there’s no denying the HP’s good looks and build quality: it’s solid, smart and high-quality, with a business edge that will see it welcomed in an office.
The micro-USB port sits along the bottom edge, the left-hand side houses a docking point connector, and there’s a headphone jack at the top. The volume rocker and power button sit along the right-hand side – although they’re broadly fine, they lack the firm, satisfying snap of the iPad equivalents.
The HP is a little chunkier than both of its rivals: it weighs 350g and is 8mm thick. The Dell is 2mm thinner and almost 50g lighter, with the iPad Mini falling in between the two Android devices. Although this may bother some people, it isn't a deal-breaker, especially if you’re going to deposit the HP into a case.
HP is pushing its peripherals to the fore. Our review sample arrived with the Paper Folio case, which costs £60, and the tablet is bundled with the HP Duet Pen, which is around £42.
The pen is quickly calibrated and can be used to navigate Android, but that isn't its only use. Open up the Folio Case and you’re greeted with a pad of paper. At first this seems unusual – after all, the tablet can be used for note-taking – but it’s designed to be used with the Duet Pen.
Open the Slate Pro’s note-taking app and you’re able to write on the paper and have the pen display your scribbles on the screen. It’s a neat idea and, of course, it isn't restricted to the Folio’s notepad – but it doesn’t work well enough. The pen was inconsistent, with some letters transcribed perfectly and others missed entirely. It would sometimes skip entire words and we’d have to pause and wait for the tablet to catch up.
The fact that the Duet Pen’s insert can be switched around to work as an actual biro means it isn't a total loss.
The Pro Slate has a 7.8in screen with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536. This is identical to the iPad Mini, and it results in a density level of 328ppi. Images on-screen are pin-sharp, with pixellation barely visible even under close scrutiny.
Overall quality is also high. The Slate’s measured brightness level of 328 is excellent, and it means there’s enough punch behind the panel to make it easily visible in bright sunlight. The black level of 0.25 nits is also superb, delivering dark tones that are suitably inky and deep. The resulting contrast ratio of 1,312:1 is excellent, and impacts across the whole screen: it gives enough punch and vibrancy to light colours, helps to bolster dark tones, and displays a good amount of variance to fine changes in tone.
There’s no sign of banding or backlight bleed around the edges of the screen, either. In short, this panel is as good as the iPad Mini’s Retina display, if not better, and it's easily up to the task of both work and play.
Dell’s tablet has a higher density level than the HP because of its 2,560 x 1,660 resolution , and the Venue’s screen doesn’t just beat its rival for pixel count – the quality is comparable too. Its measured brightness level of 228 nits isn’t as impressive on paper, but it’s ample, and is backed up by the stonking black levels delivered by the AMOLED screen, which are even deeper than those produced by the HP.
The HP can’t quite match the Dell for pixel count, then, but it runs close; in daily use, most people won’t be able to tell the difference.
In the audio department, the differences between the HP and Dell become more obvious. The Slate’s pair of front-facing speakers pump out good treble and high-end sounds that avoid the tinny reproduction we associate with mobile devices, but the Dell has more bass, which makes for a well-rounded music and movie experience.
The Slate Pro is supplied with the latest version of Android, codenamed Lollipop, which is a boost over the Dell’s older version of the software. Version 5.0.2 has improved run-times, vector drawing, the new Material UI and improvements to the lockscreen, notification tray and Quick Settings menus.
HP has augmented the OS with its own office-friendly additions. The company's docking settings handle USB, audio, HDMI and Bluetooth connections, and the Duet Pen can be configured to interact with the screen without actually touching the panel.
Secure-boot and data-encryption tools sit alongside HP’s local and remote-management interfaces, and ARM TrustZone adds another layer of security. Avast Mobile Security is installed as well.
Thankfully, third-party tools are kept to a minimum. There’s Evernote, Corel Painter Mobile, KeyVPN and WPS Office, and the aforementioned Avast security suite – and that’s it.
It’s not a bad set of utilities, especially on the security front, but the HP falls behind the Dell in some areas. The My Dell tool provides reasonable tweaking facilities, and more diagnostic options are included.