Overview, Design and Features
While HP is synonymous with computing equipment at home and in the office, they had quite a rocky start in the tablet market. Its WebOS-powered TouchPad breathed its last gasp after a brief two-month tenure on retail shelves although it created a stir in Singapore when it was priced at S$126 (16GB) and S$201 (32GB) at Comex 2011. Even by today's standards, that's considered cheap and it became a highlight of Comex 2011. However being cheap isn't a great trait and more so for a product that has been discontinued.
For almost two years following that stint, HP had no presence in the tablet market until February 2013 when it announced its first Android tablet, the Slate 7. Positioned as an entry-level tablet, the Slate 7 failed to impress due to its mediocre specs and capabilities. There were compelling alternatives such as the Google Nexus 7 (2012) that cost only a little more and delivered better performance.
The company saw yet another opportunity to boost its presence when NVIDIA announced the US$199 Tegra Note reference tablet in September 2012. Despite its very affordable price tag, the Tegra Note is equipped with the Tegra 4 quad-core processor and a 7-inch display (1,280 x 800 pixels).
In October 2013, we had the chance to preview the HP Slate 7 Extreme, which is the successor of the Slate 7 and is based on the Tegra Note tablet platform. Will a rebranded Tegra Note tablet help HP get a stake in the booming tablet market? Read on to find out as we now assess the final retail unit. But before we begin, here's a quick look at the specs between the HP Slate 7 Extreme and Slate 7:-
Design and Handling
As a rebranded Tegra Note model, the Slate 7 Extreme looks almost like an exact replica (minus the rear finish). Its most distinct physical trait is the front-facing stereo speakers, a placement made famous by the HTC One family of smartphones.
Depending on how you place your hands while holding the tablet in landscape mode, the location of the front-facing speakers at either side means that you are more than likely to cover the speakers with your thumb. This can be averted by resting your finger closer to the edges. During our test period with the Slate 7 Extreme, we tried handling the tablet naturally, which would mean our thumb did cover the speakers; fortunately, audio quality was not as affected as we assumed it to be. The audio was still loud in an enclosed room and the quality was top-notch for a tablet.
While the Tegra Note has a dimpled rear like the Nexus 7 (2012), HP opts for a gun metal plastic rear for the Slate 7 that has a somewhat similar appearance (albeit darker tone) to the space grey Apple iPad Mini with Retina display. Despite its plastic build, the Slate 7 Extreme still feels solid, rigid and well built. While it has shed a lot of weight from the old Slate 7, it's still not the lightest 7-inch tablet around. However it weighs just enough that it adds to the solid feel of the device.
The top right side of the Slate 7 Extreme houses the micro-USB port, micro-HDMI port, 3.5mm audio output jack and the power button. You will find the micro-SD card slot and volume controls on the right profile of the tablet.
At the bottom left of the device (when turned on its back) is the slot for keeping the stylus. Besides NVIDIA's Tegra Note reference tablet, the Slate 7 Extreme is the first 7-inch OEM tablet to come bundled with a stylus. Samsung is the other Android vendor to bundle styluses for its tablet devices, but they are only supported on the 8-inch, 10.1-inch and 12.2-inch form factors.
Hardware and Software Features
7-Inch IPS Display
The 7-inch display is nothing to shout about; it comes with a resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels which is considered the norm for tablets these days. The Nexus 7 (2012) sports a similar display resolution and it would have been better if HP or NVIDIA bumped up the resolution a notch.
Compared to the Full-HD display (1,920 x 1,200 pixels) of the Nexus 7 (2013), the Slate 7 Extreme is lacking in comparison due to its slightly pale and washed out colors, which is in addition to the difference in screen sharpness. To be fair, we couldn't have asked for anything more at a price point of just S$299 and a higher resolution display would have a negative impact on the battery mileage.
Under the hood are some nifty features that you might want to take note. First and foremost, the Slate 7 Extreme has a color correction preset in the Display settings where you can switch between sRGB and native to have more consistent colors. However while in our use, we didn't notice significant differences when switching between the two color profiles.
Secondly, NVIDIA included the Tegra PRISM Dynamic Backlight toggle in Power Saving settings where you can enable it to adjust the display backlight dynamically for better power efficiency.
DirectStylus - A Different Implementation
First demonstrated at Computex 2013, NVIDIA took a different approach to stylus input on mobile devices today. While most mobile devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition and Toshiba Excite Write use an integrated digitizer and active stylus, NVIDIA's DirectStylus relies on a passive stylus and the imaging processing power of the Tegra 4's GPU to analyze data from touch input.
According to NVIDIA, DirectStylus works together with Direct Touch 2.0 technology which supports up to 300 scans a second (five times the typical 60Hz touch scan rate) to capture more detailed movement of the stylus for smooth ink and fine tip movement.
NVIDIA - "The result is the first low-cost screen stylus that replicates the natural ease of writing – and erasing – directly on paper. NVIDIA DirectStylus technology applies the image-processing power of Tegra 4’s GPU to analyze data from a standard touch sensor and recognize the difference between fine-tip stylus, finger, eraser and palm. The result: Users can write on the screen using a simple passive pen and its opposite end can be used like an eraser, whose unique touch pattern can be differentiated from drawing strokes."
NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang claims this technology is able to "reduce the cost of the stylus from US$20 for digital stylus to zero". This could potentially mean that there could be more mobile devices with stylus input in the near future if manufacturers hop on to the NVIDIA Tegra 4 bandwagon. Indeed, the HP Slate 7 Extreme is enough evidence of this possibility.
As DirectStylus is integrated into the architecture of Tegra 4, it is manufacturer-agnostic which means that manufacturers using Tegra 4 in their devices have the choice to decide whether to implement this feature. You can refer to the below video to see a preview of how the technology works:-
We used the stylus over a few days and found the user experience to be almost similar to that of the Samsung Galaxy Note devices and Toshiba Excite Write. We had no issues with note-taking, drawing or scribbling.
There are two apps developed for use with the stylus - the Tegra Draw and Write. As the names suggest, one is a drawing app with an extensive range of tools while the other is a basic note-taking app.
Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
The Slate 7 Extreme is powered by Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and sports some customized software features such as the two stylus-optimized apps and three power-saving features.
The first is the Tegra PRISM Dynamic Backlight toggle, which is discussed earlier in the article. The second is a toggle setting where you can configure the processor to run at maximum performance mode, balanced mode or battery saver mode. The third power-saving feature is called nSaver, which allows you to reduce the activities of selected apps so that the battery life is extended.