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What About the HP Slate? Exactly. What About It?

I've gotten a lot of email about HP's upcoming Slate PC. Supposedly in development for over five years--my guess is it was really jumpstarted around the time that Apple tablet rumors cropped up--the Slate features an 8.9-inch touch screen running at 1024 x 600, a 1.6 GHz Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM (upgradeable), 32 or 64 GB of flash storage (upgradeable, and has SD), integrated graphics (but capable of running 1080p video), and so on. (Read more at Engadget.)

So what do I think?

The screen is about right. I've found that the iPad screen is simply too big: It makes reaching for the upper corners of the screen, often required for software "back" buttons in many, many apps, ponderous. So a smaller screen, with the right widescreen aspect ratio, is the right decision. This is, I think, the HP's biggest (only?) advantage over the iPad, the latter of which has proven itself awkward and heavy to hold, and hard to use as a result.

Beyond that, I'm not impressed by this device.

The Atom processor is barely acceptable, and if my experience running sub-HD video on the Acer AspireRevo is any indication, those wishing to run 1080p video off of this thing will be disappointed. The iPad, for all its faults, can in fact run HD video, purchased from the iTunes Store, without a hitch (on its own screen, which is not HD). In fact, iPad performance, overall, is unbelievable. So is the battery life.

The Slate runs Windows 7, which is nice, but not ideal at low resolutions. An argument can be made for Media Center on such a device, I guess. And of course, because it's a full PC, you get Flash, Office, etc. But let's not get crazy, this is a tablet. It's meant to be something less than a PC. Say what you will about the iPad, but Apple was right, I think, to go with its PDA OS (iPhone OS), and not the full Mac OS X. One can only imagine how nice future tablets and other devices will be if they run the Windows Phone OS; it's a natural because the panoramic UI would work great on bigger screens. But that's just speculation. The iPad is here now, as is Windows 7. My vote is for the simpler OS on such a device (i.e. the iPad) because that's the decision here: You're making a trade-off because the good outweighs the bad.

Pricing is in HP's favor, and by a wide margin, given the capabilities of each device: HP will charge $550 to $600 for the Slate, compared to $500 to $850 for the iPad. But that's not how people make buying decisions. Many will choose the iPad because it is simpler and works seamlessly with the iTunes ecosystem. Yes, you can run iTunes on the Slate. Can you run iPad or iPhone apps? No. Can you put a price on this compatibility? I guess you can. Advantage iPad.

The things that HP gets right then, are the screen (mentioned above), the integrated dual cameras (a silly and obvious omission on the iPad), expandability, and, if such a thing is important to you, PC/Flash compatibility.

The iPad has the support ecosystem (iTunes, App Store, etc.), which I think is almost the only reason to even consider the device. It's simpler and more elegant, and is well designed. The battery life is incredible.

I guess you can pick one based on your wants. But not your needs. No one--no one--needs either of these things. They are luxury items, pure and simple, accessories that do not replace something else you're already using. Let's at least all be honest about that, please.

Long story short. Based on what I've seen so far about the HP Slate, I'm not hugely interested (in part because I have experience with UMPCs, unlike many) and not hugely impressed. And even with the limitations of the iPad, I'd be hard pressed to recommend a Slate over an iPad, again, based on what I know so far.

We'll see if things change over time, and as I learn more. They often do.

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