HP Slate 10 HD review

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Good sound
  • Long battery life
  • Optional built-in 3G

Cons

  • Low resolution screen
  • Poor performance

It's clear where HP is going with the Slate 10 HD. It's a budget 10in tablet for the undemanding home and business user, designed to sell more on price than on style, a high-end screen or an impressive spec.

To make it more tempting, it's sold with the option of a built-in HP datapass; a combination of a 3G modem and access to an HP data network, with 256MB of data renewed every month (the tablet’s price is £249 with the datapass). In other words, buying the Slate 10 HD doesn't just net you a tablet but a basic mobile Internet solution. That might not mean much to the average home user who's rarely out of range of a Wi-Fi network, but it will to students, sole traders, frequent travellers, or anyone else who spends significant amounts of time out and about.

Design

Kudos to HP for one thing: The Slate 10 HD might be a budget tablet but it doesn't feel like one. The frame is a bit thick by 2014 standards and the rear casing is textured plastic rather than metal, but it all fits together quite snugly and there's not a whole lot of give when you apply pressure to the corners and twist. The screen and frame are covered edge-to-edge with toughened, scratch-resistant glass, and while it hasn't got the most effective oleophobic coating, we've seen worse fingerprint magnets on premium devices.

It also comes in a choice of colours, with our review sample arriving in a natty magnetic red. The weight, at approximately 630 grams, isn’t enough to stop you comfortably holding it one-handed, and the only odd thing is the placement of the buttons, with both the power switch and volume rocker inlaid in the back of the case – something that takes a little getting used to.

Sadly, connectivity is very basic. There's a microUSB port at the bottom of the tablet and a headphone socket top left, while the SIM card slot and a microSD card slot hide beneath a flap on the left hand side. HP wins merit points for using microUSB to charge and including a high-speed charger, but loses one for the lack of any video output. Whether you use you tablet for business or pleasure, it can be useful to hook it up to a projector or a bigger screen.

Screen and sound

In some respects the screen on the Slate 10 HD is a disappointment. We're now seeing mid-range tablets with 1920 x 1080 screens, and after you've got used to a Retina display, the Nexus 10 and rivals, the Slate 10 HD's 1280 x 800 effort looks a little crude. Yet just a couple of years ago this was standard for even premium Android tablets, and once you get over the initial shock it's still a perfectly palatable resolution. The screen on the Slate 10 HD beats those older Android models for brightness and clarity, and its colours are richer and more vibrant too. If you want to watch movies or play games then the resolution might be a compromise too far, but then if you're after entertainment, this might not be the tablet for you anyway.

Sound isn't bad. The Slate 10 HD comes with a Beats branded audio system, leveraging HP's long relationship with the trendy headphones manufacturer. While you don't get that much bass, body or clarity, the noise you do get has a bit more welly than the norm. You can watch an episode of Justified on Netflix without feeling like you have to plug some headphones in right that second. That's more than we can say for some more premium tablets.

Software and usability

The Slate 10 HD comes running Android 4.2.2, and HP hasn't done it the disservice of whacking a gruesome and obtrusive skin on top. There’s a simple clock widget, two columns of app shortcuts, a bar for the most widely used apps and that's about it. You get a handful of apps for file management, printing, and photo sharing and printing, but otherwise the only extras are Kingsoft Office and the Android client for the popular cloud storage service, Box (with up to 25GB of free space included). There's no unnecessary duplication of stock Android functionality, the default browser is Chrome, and the keyboard is the standard Android effort, now with Swype-esque swipe-to-type input. If only all Android tablet manufacturers showed similar restraint.

This makes the Slate 10 HD a very usable budget tablet, and one that most of us would feel happy to use. Unfortunately, there's just one major problem: The Slate 10 HD is slow.

Spec and performance

The Slate 10 HD is powered by a dual-core Marvell Armada PXA986 processor running at 1.2GHz, accompanied by 1GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage. The PXA986 is based on two ARM Cortex A9 cores and a Vivante GC1000 GPU, and you can actually see it struggling when you're trying to run more demanding applications, play 3D games or browse more complex websites. Let's not go overboard; I've spent hours working on the Slate 10 HD, checking my emails, watching streaming video and browsing the web, and only on a handful of occasions have I found its performance hard to swallow. All the same, if you're used to something quicker, more responsive and slicker, then you'll notice that the Slate 10 HD can't offer the same kind of experience.

This impression is reflected in the benchmark scores. A Geekbench 3 Multi-Core score of 694 puts the Slate 10 HD well behind old Tegra 3-based tablets, and even tablets based on budget Rockchip RK3066 and Mediatek MT8125 processors. The Sunspider 0.9.1 score of 1594 is fairly pitiful, and GFXBench’s T-Rex test stutters and splutters with every second frame. This is not, by any standards, a fast tablet. Performance could be better described as just about acceptable.

Cameras

HP has fitted a 5-megapixel camera at the rear and a 2-megapixel camera at the front, but both suffer from the same problems: Detail is fuzzy, and without a lot of light to work with the image is extremely grainy. Colours aren’t actually that bad and we’ve seen worse handling of exposure, but even in bright lighting there’s not much definition, and in poor lighting you’ll find the autofocus struggling to lock on. The rear camera can record 1080p HD video, but we wouldn’t recommend it. It’s also fuzzy, and the frame rate isn’t exactly smooth.

Connectivity

If the Slate 10 HD is let down by its performance and its cameras, then the optional built-in 3G connectivity might just sweeten the deal. It’s provided by Fogg Mobile, and after registering in the browser you get 256MB of usage per month for two years, with the option to boost the cap by between 500MB and 3.75GB for £7 to £14. The service has its own status screen where you can track your usage, and you can also set Android to monitor your usage and warn you if you’re about to go over the top. At just £20 over the cost of the regular Slate 10 HD model, this is a steal.

In practice, roving around rural East Devon it worked well, and we were able to get a good service in most places where we can get 3G or HSPA on a mobile phone. It makes the Slate 10 HD a more attractive option if you’re a light mobile user, as you’re covered for basic email and a little bit of browsing while you’re out, without paying extra for a mobile data SIM or contract.

Battery life

Battery life is a surprising strength. We managed in excess of nine hours of streaming HD video from the Slate 10 HD, and while the charge drops faster if you have Wi-Fi and the 3G radio turned on, you can still get a good ten hours of work out of this budget slate. That’s an improvement on many more expensive Android tablets, and not something we’d expect from a 10in model at this price.

Verdict

Whether you should buy the Slate 10 HD or not is a matter of priorities. If you need performance or the clarity of a full HD screen, it’s not for you. If speed matters, and the slightest delay when you’re scrolling a website or flicking between app to app drives you crazy, then it’s not for you. If you have a little more cash to spend, you could easily buy better.

If, however, you’re on a tight budget and you have more modest requirements, then it might be worth a look. It’s a cheap tablet, but it’s well-built. The screen is perfectly usable and battery life is great. Throw in the option of two years of cheap 3G, and it’s actually better value than you might expect.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

HP Slate 10 HD

Processor

1.2GHz Marvell PXA986

RAM

1GB

Memory

16GB

Memory Expansion

MicroSD memory card

Display

10.1in, 1280 x 800 pixels

Connectors

MicroUSB, headphones

Main Camera

5 megapixel

Front-facing camera

2 megapixel

Wi-Fi

802.11b/g/n

Battery

2 Cell 26W/HR

Size and weight

301 x 230 x 25mm, 630g