Friday, June 6, 2008

HP 2710p

  • Pros Carry-anywhere size. Build justifies price. Vivid screen
  • Cons You can buy more for less. Less than snappy running Vista

Tablet PCs sound great. What right-thinking person could resist a £1,000+ wireless Etch-A-Sketch that runs iTunes and plays solitaire? Yet six years after Bill Gates predicted that tablets would rule the world, they account for a measly one in 50 of all notebook sales.

The image of tablets doesn't help endear them – online stores usually hide them under 'business laptops' – so a new HP machine is unlikely to set your pulse racing.

But it should... if only for a couple of beats. Because the 2710p is a cool, smartly engineered piece of work that's truly portable, and even packs a few clever tricks that might impress Smithers in accounts.

Priced on the high side
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first: the 80GB HP's £1,200 price tag is questionable if you sit it alongside the Toshiba Portege R500. Tosh's tablet may be £100 dearer but it comes with a DVD drive as standard, and offers 40GB more drive space to sweeten the deal.

Then there's the operating system. The 2710p comes with Windows Vista Business installed as standard. And within a week we were reaching for the spare XP install disc on the Stuff office shelf.

OK, so our test model arrived with just 1GB of RAM; from experience, Vista needs at least 2GB to breathe normally. But we'll judge it as it came, and every application launch had a hesitation built in. Twist the screen into tablet mode and you can wait for up to 40 seconds for the display to switch. Boot-up's hardly snappy, either.

In fairness to HP, we didn't do what we'd normally do with one of our own laptops – namely, strip it bare of the memory-hungry apps installed as standard. And we'd only buy the 2710p with 2GB of RAM installed in the first place (it takes up to 4GB).

Light and built to last
Now for the good stuff. The HP is light. Not as light as the freaky 1kg Toshiba, but plenty light enough at 1.68kg to swan from sterile office meeting to sterile office meeting without breaking a sweat.

It's also built. Nothing on the 2710p feels even remotely hewn from plastic. Panels fit perfectly, and there's almost zero flex in the chassis. The full-sized keyboard is a pleasure to thump, with keys that are Bentley-suspension damped. And it feels like it will last an age (which you should have every right to expect from a £1,200 toy, we suppose).

One note for HP's design team: the notebook opens by sliding a latch on the leading edge of the base, and as much we tried over the period of a week we could never flick it open with the ease of, say, a MacBook. It was always a two-handed, one-palm operation.

But let's not end on a moan. Battery life is good – arrive fully charged in the morning, carry it around during the day, and there'll still be at least 40% left by lights out.

Blinded by the screen
The 12.1in screen is a beauty. It's bright (blinding, actually, if you turn it up to 10), sharp, accurate, and suffers from none of the viewing angle issues you'll find in lesser screens.

Handwriting recognition is good, and gets better with time (especially if you have a spare night to run through the 'train me' program). But that's a fundamental flaw with tablets: the simple, immovable fact is that it's faster and easier to type.

Ah, you say, but you can draw stuff and show people – you can't do that with a conventional notebook. Yep, fine, but most of the "let's sketch something out!" meetings in Stuff-world are around big boards using old-fashioned markers.

We'd worry for your sanity if you splashed the cash on the 2710p without first checking out the Toshiba R500. But neither would you be damned as a lunatic in you then went with the HP – it's beautiful enough in a kind of austere way, and is just cool enough to live with.