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The majority of today's tablets are aimed at consumers or target the consumer/business crossover market. HP's 10.1-inch Atom-based ElitePad 900, by contrast, is aimed squarely at businesses. It runs Windows 8, has a good choice of accessories and is attractively priced starting at £623 (inc. VAT; £519 ex. VAT) for a model without mobile broadband.
With its black screen bezel and silver outer rim, the ElitePad 900 has a very familiar appearance: at first glance, from a distance, you could easily mistake it for an iPad. Look closely and you'll spot the differences, though. The Windows button beneath the screen is an obviously giveaway, while the device's slightly angled short edges, which make the silver piping seem overly thick, aren't particularly easy on the eye.
Even the rounded corners manage to jar the eye as the silver piping twists from being angled on the short edges to flat on the long edges. None of these design niggles are deal-breakers for us, but HP could have crafted a sleeker look.
Still, the ElitePad 900 is comfortable to hold. It has a starting weight of 630g (rising slightly if the mobile broadband module is added) and is admirably thin at 9.2mm, which makes it feel particularly good in the hand.
The back is mostly silver and has a metal-look finish that helps keep the ElitePad 900 cool to the touch. It might also be prone to scratches though.
Buttons and connectors ranged around the edges include a volume rocker on the left short edge; mirroring its position on the right is a hinged cover which you release via a pinhole to reveal microSD card and microSIM slots. The top edge houses the headphone jack, the main power button and a toggle switch that switches automatic screen rotation on and off. The system's dual internal microphones also sit in this upper area.
On the back is an 8-megapixel camera with its own LED flash, while the front camera has a 2 megapixel resolution. Both are capable of shooting 1080p video.
The bottom edge of the chassis houses a pair of stereo speakers and, in the middle, HP's proprietary charging connector. The sizeable two-piece AC adapter with a fixed cable will be annoying to have to carry around — but carry it you must, if you want to keep the battery topped up.
The ElitePad 900's 10.1-inch screen has a resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels, or 149 pixels per inch (ppi). This is a fairly ordinary resolution compared to the 4th-generation iPad's 264ppi (9.7in./2,048-by-1,536-pixel) display, for example, or the 300ppi (10.05in./2,560-by-1,600-pixel) Google Nexus 10. The ElitePad's aspect ratio of 16:10 might appeal to business users who do a lot of spreadsheet-related work, although at this resolution text generated in classic Windows mode can be painfully small to read.
Running Windows 8 Professional, the HP ElitePad 900 is suitable for use as a business tool in both 'modern' and 'desktop' modes. The modern (Metro) interface looks great, but you may need to squint to see detail when working in desktop ('classic' Windows) mode.
However, you're not getting business-notebook-grade specifications here. The Windows 8 version is 32-bit rather than 64-bit, while the processor is a 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 with 2GB of RAM. This will be underpowered for many business users — think 'netbook' rather than notebook. If all you do is a bit of web browsing, produce simple documents, check email and create straightforward spreadsheets, then you'll be OK. But if your requirements include more processor-intensive tasks you should look elsewhere.
Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) is included as standard, with mobile broadband (HSPA+) available in two of the four available models. There are two models with 32GB of eMMC SSD storage and two with 64GB. To get the maximum storage and mobile broadband, the current asking price at HP's UK website is £713 (inc. VAT; £594 ex. VAT).
One thing you do get here is NFC (Near Field Communications). The tapping area is helpfully marked on the back of the chassis so you can find it easily. How much this matters will depend on how your business values NFC, of course; we suspect that it's not a big draw for many firms at the moment.
To get the most out of the ElitePad 900 in the office, you'll almost certainly need to buy into the accessories ecosystem. This includes a keyboard that connects via Bluetooth, a stylus pen, a docking station and an 'expansion jacket'. HP sent us the dock and the jacket to evaluate.
The keyboard does not come in the form of a dock or have any way of attaching to the ElitePad 900, so you'll need to find a way of taking care of it in transit. Also, there's no housing for the stylus on the ElitePad 900 — as there is on, for example, Samsung's Galaxy Note range. So you'll have to find a way to stow this safely too.
The expansion jacket can accommodate a second battery for extended life and costs £78 (inc. VAT) without the battery. It adds two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI connector, an combo audio jack and an SD card slot. It's bulky and will add a fair bit of weight (260g without the battery) to your setup. The docking station (£94 inc. VAT) is small and exceptionally heavy at 670g. The weight means that it won't topple backwards when you prod the screen as with so many tablet docking units. It's not intended to be carried, but to sit on your desk, where it holds the ElitePad 900 at a good, but inflexible, viewing angle, adding HDMI and VGA connectors, four USB 2.0 ports, a combo audio jack and an RJ-45 Ethernet port. It also includes a passthrough power connector.
Given its specification, it's no surprise that the ElitePad 900's Windows Experience Index (WEI) is mediocre at 3.3 (out of 7.9). The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which went to Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance). The other component scores were 3.5 for Processor (Calculations per second), 3.6 for Graphics (desktop graphics performance), 4.6 for Memory (RAM Memory operations per second) and 5.5 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate).
The ElitePad 900's 2-cell 25Wh Li-polymer battery should deliver around nine to ten hours' life — although you'll get less with heavy use of mobile broadband and/or GPS, in particular. Add a second battery via the expansion jacket and you can double your uptime — albeit at the expense of considerable weight gain.
The HP ElitePad 900's combination of a basic Atom-based tablet and a range of optional extras is an expensive way to build a work-ready system. Without the extras, it's hampered as an office device by its limited connectivity and lack of a physical keyboard. We're much more drawn to touch-enabledWindows 8 notebooks like Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch, or convertible designs like Dell's XPS 12.