With a matte plastic lid, done up in a serious gray color, it would be easy to dismiss the SlateBook x2 as bland. In fact, the SlateBook is memorable, mostly because it's one of the lightest tablets we've ever handled. At 1.34 pounds for the slate alone, it's lighter than both the current iPad (1.44 pounds), as well as the Toshiba Excite Pro, which weighs a similar 1.39. As you'd expect, then, that makes it easy to hold aloft for an extended period of time, not that you'll need to if you make use of that keyboard dock. Even with the base attached, the whole thing weighs in at 2.8 pounds, making it slightly lighter than a similarly sized laptop, even HP's own Pavilion TouchSmart 11. What's nice, too, is that the center of gravity here is in the heavier dock piece, so not only is the tablet light, but it also never tips over backward when you're working with it in your lap.
That one winning quality aside, though, this is a design with problems. For starters, while the plastic finish does a good job resisting scratches, it manages to show a good deal of fingerprints, despite the fact that it doesn't have a glossy surface. Ditto for the shiny metal logo on the rear cover, which is also ripe for grease stains. We're sure it was meant as a premium touch (metal accents usually are), but more than anything it just looks out of place.
Worse, HP hid the most important buttons! Both the power button and volume rocker are located on the back side of the device, each flush with the lid so that even if you know what general area they're in, they can still be difficult to find by feel. Even after weeks with the tablet, I was more likely to flip the tablet over and press the power / lock button than successfully hit it with my finger. Which gets pretty old after you've accidentally let the tablet go to sleep for the umpteenth time.
Since HP designed the SlateBook so that there are barely any defined edges -- just gently sloping curves -- the company's design team had to put all the ports on the bottom side, the one that fits into the keyboard dock. There, you'll find a headphone jack, a proprietary charging port and an exposed microSD slot to augment the 16GB of built-in storage. Of course, you've also got a pair of cameras, including a 720p front-facing webcam and a fairly wimpy 2-megapixel rear shooter (no LED flash). That about covers the tablet itself, but because this is meant to be used in laptop mode some of the time, you'll also find a handful of ports on the accompanying keyboard dock. These include a USB socket, additional headphone jack, HDMI-out, a full-sized SD card reader and another charging port -- the same kind of proprietary socket featured on the tablet itself.
Maybe it's because we've tested one too many Transformer tablets, but we were sure the SlateBook's keyboard dock was going to be cramped, flimsy and a pain to type on. It seems, though, that our fears were unfounded. After many years of cramming nearly full-sized keyboards into tiny laptops (see: the Pavilion dm1z), HP is bringing that same formula over to its new Android tablet. Though the keys here don't necessarily offer more travel than what you'll get on an ASUS Transformer, the underlying panel is sturdier, allowing it to stand up to more insistent typing. Also, considering this isn't quite a full-sized layout, the buttons are well-spaced and generously sized. In fact, yours truly rarely made typos while responding to emails, browsing Chrome or even writing this review.
Pairing a trackpad with an Android tablet is a funny thing. On the one hand, Android wasn't designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard. On the other, once you've gotten used to typing on a keyboard dock, it can feel cumbersome to lift your hand away from the keys to scroll through a webpage or hit the little refresh icon. Basically, if you've already settled into a typing groove, it's only natural to want to throw in a two-finger scroll. As it happens, the trackpad here is responsive enough that you could page up and down without having to take your hands far from the keyboard. It's a finicky setup, though, and more than once, we gave up and swiped the touchscreen instead. On the plus side, the touchpad's surface area is larger than we would have asked for, and the Android hotkeys (home, back, search, volume controls, et cetera) should be indispensable to anyone already used to keyboard shortcuts on their regular laptop.
Display and sound
We'd be lying if we said full HD resolution was a standard feature for tablets, but at least with the expensive models, you're more or less in the clear. For the money, the SlateBook x2 offers a 10.1-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display. Despite having an IPS panel, the viewing angles are a bit narrow, though we suspect that has more to do with a low brightness rating than a failure of the IPS technology. To be fair, too, we only first noticed the limited viewing angles when we played a movie with the tablet lying face-up on a table. And honestly, that's mainly a scenario for us reviewers (we do have to test the battery life without the dock, after all). Because this thing comes with a keyboard, we can't imagine why you'd want to watch a movie with the tablet lying flat -- not unless you forgot the dock at home, anyway. Once you've put the tablet in the dock, you can adjust the screen angle, so chances are good you'll find a sweet spot where the colors are bright and the contrast is balanced. (Psst: Head-on is a safe bet.)
To its credit, HP put the two speakers on the tablet's front face, so that the sound is always firing toward you. Still, even ideal speaker placement doesn't do much to improve the audio quality. For one thing, the volume here is pretty low. So low, in fact, that we wondered at first if perhaps the quality itself would be decent (oftentimes, devices with weaker sound exhibit less distortion and tinniness). Here, though, the sound is both low and tinny -- basically, the worst of both worlds. What's interesting, too, is that HP went with DTS Sound+ on this one, as opposed to Beats, with which it has a very strong and, uh, colorful partnership. As much as we mock HP's red-and-black Beats-branded PCs, that may have been a welcome feature here.
HP only recently re-entered the tablet market, and while it hasn't always gotten the hardware right, it's done the smart thing in sticking with unskinned Android (version 4.2.2, in this case). Even the list of pre-installed apps is fairly light. On board, we have: Box, Evernote, Kingsoft Office, Skitch, Splashtop and TegraZone, for finding Tegra-optimized games.