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Featured Review: HP Pro Slate 12

May 30, 2015 - Written By John Anon

While the tablet market reportedly continues to decline, one would assume there would be very little in the way of any new or novel tablet options hitting the market. However, HP are looking to buck this trend by offering more individually recognizable and featured tablets. The HP Slate Pro 12 is a prime example of HP’s vision for the future of the tablet market. This is a tablet which is more designed for the enterprise market, however, it is also one which might appeal to the consumer as well and especially for those who have more of an artistic flair. The HP Pro Slate 12 comes with two defining features. The first one is that this is a large 12-inch tablet. The second defining feature is that it comes with a pen. That said, in the sliding tablet sales market, this is not a cheap tablet with the MSRP coming in at $569.99.

Disclaimer: The paper attachment portfolio case seen with the Pro Slate 12 in some images, does not come with the device. The price quoted is only for the tablet and accompanying Duet Pen only. The case is available from HP as an accessory item for the Pro Slate 12.

Specs

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This is a tablet and therefore, typically, does not come with the same blazing level of specs that you might find on a smartphone. That said, the HP Pro Slate 12 does pack some impressive specs. Of course, the biggest (in every sense of the word) is the screen size. The HP Pro Slate 12 comes equipped with a massive 12.3-inch display. This is an IPS display which offers a 1600 x 1200 resolution. On the inside, the Pro Slate 12 is equipped with 2 GB RAM and powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor (clocking at 2.3 GHz). In terms of storage, the Pro Slate 12 is equipped with 32 GB internal storage and also offers the ability to expand another 32GB storage, thanks to the inclusion of a microSD card slot. Moving to the cameras, the Pro Slate 12 comes loaded with an 8-megapixel rear-facing option, which is coupled with a more modest 2-megapixel front-facing camera. Additional features include front-facing stereo speakers (with DTS Sound+), a 3G SIM-card for those interested and the tablet comes running on Android 5.0.2 (Lollipop).

Design & Hardware

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Straight off the bat, the design of the Pro Slate 12 is one that elicits a premium build. The Pro Slate 12 is very well built and does represent what you would expect at the premium end of the market. The Pro Slate 12 comes with a metallic frame which runs the full border of the device along with an aluminum-based backing. This is coupled with the large Gorilla Glass display offered on the front of the device. Not to mention, the front facing speakers run down the two sides of the device while, the corners of the Pro Slate 12 are curved which further adds to the premium feel of the tablet.

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In terms of connections, the Pro Slate 12 is a little light. The tablet does come with the USB charge point on the side of the device along with the 3.5 mm headphone jack socket. There is also a SIM-card slot for those who want to make use of the 3G connection and a docking port positioned on the bottom end of the device. However, that is the extent to the connections with no further connectivity or ports on offer.

The display on the Pro Slate 12 is one of the big selling points. Primarily due to its size which comes in at a whopping 12.3-inches. However, partly due to the size of the display, the resolution does suffer with only a 1600 x 1200 resolution. It is probably worth pointing out that this is a lesser resolution than what is offered on the smaller version of the Pro Slate. The PPI is also at quite a low level (163) which further decreases the overall quality of the images rendered by the display. That said, there were no major issues with watching content on the Pro Slate 12 and some users will simply prefer the larger display for content regardless, of what is a technically lower resolution and pixel per inch ratio than other devices.

The Duet Pen which comes bundled with the Pro Slate 12 is quite contrasting in terms of the design and compared to the Pro Slate 12. This is due to the Duet Pen being completely made of rubber. While this does result in an extremely lightweight addition to the tablet, it also does leave the presentation of the pen lacking in some respects.

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The pen comes with a mini-USB socket located underneath a small side panel along with small buttons on the front

Software & Performance

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First up, the Pro Slate 12 comes running out of the box on Android 5.0.2 (Lollipop). On top of this, the software overall is largely stock Lollipop with the software seemingly very lightweight by design, with a minimal level of additions or bloatware included by HP.

So far, very little has being mentioned in regards to the pen (which is one of the big selling points of this device) and this is intentional as the pen will be discussed shortly in its own right. Similarly, there are a few software elements included on the HP Pro Slate 12, which are designed to maximize and utilize the Duet Pen. As such, this particular element will also be discussed in the pen section.

Otherwise, the experience is largely a stock Lollipop one and as a result, you can expect a high emphasis on security and the other typical Lollipop aspects, as well as a clear focus on Material Design. Due to the inclusion of Lollipop, there were no issues in the performance of the Pro Slate 12. The device responds rapidly and in a very snappy and fast manner. Navigating between apps and the software was easy with almost no lag noted on any occasion. The notifications panel is a center drop down panel and was stripped down compared to what is more commonly encountered on Lollipop running devices.

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Duet Pen

The Duet Pen is one of the major selling points of the Pro Slate 12 and does add an element to the tablet which will not be found on other devices. In fact, the inclusion of a pen does make the Pro Slate 12 a little more difficult to compare to other devices as it changes the intention of the tablet. While, this is a tablet, it is not just a tablet but instead, is much more of an on-the-go workstation. It is equally difficult to compare the Pro Slate 12 to other stylus enabled devices, due to the Duet Pen’s unique nature. While this pen does emulate a stylus, it is very much a pen as well.

First up, the Duet Pen is highly built upon a scientific premise and utilizing technology by Qualcomm. Unlike any other stylus that you have encountered, the Duet Pen uses ultrasonic sound to transmit its presence to the tablet. In particular, the Duet Pen is recognized not just by its x and y coordinates but also by its z coordinate. Therefore, the recognition of the Duet Pen is highly focused and pinpointed in a three-dimensional manner.

Another extremely clever aspect of the Duet Pen is that it really is a pen. At first impressions, the pen comes out of the box with the rubber tip in place and assimilating its position as a stylus.

HP Pro Slate 12 AH - 6However, the rubber top can simply be pulled out of the pen and this then reveals a normal ink tip on the reverse side. The tip can simply be turned around, reinserted and will then to all purposes, this becomes an actual pen. What’s more, is that the pen tip does not seem to be detrimental to the screen display. So if you accidentally use the wrong tip on the screen, there does not seem to be any major issues incurred.

Due to the nature of this device, the software is going to be where the Duet Pen either succeeds or fails. To cut to the chase, it does neither. The Duet Pen does do what it sets out to do and provides users with a way in which they can work both offline and on-screen without any major issues. The pen sensitivity is excellent and the software is designed to improve the performance of the device overall.

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That said, there are some notable issues which are difficult to overlook. Firstly, the compatibility of the Duet Pen is limited in terms of which apps it is supported by. This is understandable as the app developers would need to port the apps to make them compatible with the Duet Pen. With this being such a niche product, it is unlikely to see a growing number of apps making the Pen a usable function. So, while the lack of compatibility is understandable, it still does result in the use of the Duet Pen (for its intended purposes) to be limited to the small number of pre-installed apps. The second issue which is probably more of an immediate issue is that the pen ability to translate from analog to digital is probably only semi-usable in a real-world setting. For instance, the Duet Pen does not bode so well unless the tablet is laid on a perfectly flat surface. Therefore, when the Pro Slate 12 is being used on a desk, in a meeting or similar situation, there are no major issues. However, any tilting at all, using when standing or used anyway other than on a flat surface, there is a significant loss of translation quality, which is unfortunate. As a result, the Duet Pen in translation mode is not a feature which can be so easily used on-the-move.

Moving back to the positive and where the Duet Pen does prove beneficial, there are a number of apps which are designed for use with the pen. These include the likes of HP Notes, WPS Office and Corel Painter. When opening the likes of the HP Notes and creating a new file, users are first prompted to select whether they would like to use the on-screen notebook or the pen-induced capture book setting.

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When used on a flat surface, the response of the pen was extremely consistent and proved to be a useful addition to the tablet. The Pro Slate 12 also includes the ability to activate a greater sense of Duet Pen detection by allowing for the pen to be identified by only hovering over the screen. However, when translating text from analog to digital, the pressure needed was a little heavier than what might be expected. Therefore, there is a slight adjustment period which needs to be endured when first starting out with the Duet Pen. Once a user become more experienced, the quality of the translation does become far more improved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t improve your artistic skills though.

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Another clever add-on from HP is one which is designed for when the Duet Pen is being used as an on-screen stylus. In these instances, the inclusion of software which offers the ability to adjust the handrest was extremely helpful. For instance, in the HP Notes app, there is a pull-up screen from the bottom which allows for users to choose where they want to rest their hand. This significantly helps avoid unintentional print occurring on the screen due to the position of the user’s hand. This pull-up menu can continually be altered allowing for the user to move down the page as and when needed.

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There is also a settings menu within the tablet settings specifically designed for the Duet Pen. Via this settings menu, users can adjust some of the more basic elements of the Pen including whether it is based on actual touch or hovering. Not to mention, the pen can be activated, deactivated or paired using this menu.

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The Pen itself is rather well designed and does fit nicely with the overall presentation of the tablet. However, it was felt the pen could have maybe adopted a few more premium accents to really make the device look as good as it should. The Duet Pen comes with a mini-USB socket which allows for direct charging of the pen over USB. During testing, charging was not a significant issue with the pen’s battery life seeming significantly longer than the average battery life achieved by the Pro Slate itself.

Battery Life

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As this is a device which seems to be more aimed toward the enterprise sector, battery life is going to be an important issue. Devices like this, will need to be able to be road worthy in terms of their usage away from the desk or office. Overall, the Pro Slate 12 was acceptable in this respect. That said, the battery life was not anything spectacular. When mixing up the use of the device between normal tablet use as well as some moderate media playback, the device on average tended to provide a screen on time of roughly 6 hours. This was on average and evidently would offer longer for those not using the device for any media playback at all. As a result, it was believed the Pro Slate 12 would be able to provide a normal (working hours) level of usage on a daily basis.

Screenshot_2015-05-25-04-00-48In terms of charging, when tested the Pro Slate 12 typically took in the region of 3.5 to 4.5 hours to charge from empty to full.

Camera

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Cameras are notoriously less well developed on tablets than on smartphones and as such, the argument continues as to whether tablets deserve the same level of camera abilities as smartphones. Either way, the Pro Slate 12 does seem to offer a good level of camera functionality compared to the tablet average. Of course, this is to be expected with a device which is clearly positioned as a work tool. To not be able to take sufficient quality images on a tablet like this would be disappointing. However, that is not an issue, with the Pro Slate 12 coming equipped with an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera. The shots taken were of a good quality with no major issues noted. The software onboard is a little limited compared and does not offer a massively detailed level of adjusting.

In terms of the front facing camera, being a 2-megapixel offering does limit the quality of the images which can be taken. That said, there was nothing majorly wrong compared to other devices containing a similar 2-megapixel camera option. This is not a selfie oriented device and the size of the tablet alone would make taking such images a little difficult to begin with.

You can see examples of the type of image quality you can expect from the rear 8-megapixel offering in the gallery below.

Summing Up

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The HP Pro Slate 12 is certainly an interesting device. This is a slight gamble device by HP as the size will be immediately offputting to some consumers. In truth, it should not be. In terms of just being a tablet, the Pro Slate 12 performs extremely well. The battery life is sufficient for an average day use and the tablet was snappy in terms of the UI and performance. The large screen (which is very large) does quickly become normalized after a brief transition period and quickly begun to feel more like what a tablet should realistically be these days. After all, if your smartphone is edging towards 6-inches, then a tablet coming in at the 8 to 9-inches starts to feel less appropriate. In contrast, the Pro Slate 12 does immediately make its tablet presence known. The Duet Pen is also a very interesting addition and does differentiate the Pro Slate 12 from other pen-oriented devices. This was partly due to its high emphasis as an actual pen, instead of a stylus. Therefore, for those who HP are probably marketing the Slate 12 towards, this is an excellent option. If you see the point to having a large screen device and a pen which can translate text from paper to digital, then you cannot go wrong with the Pro Slate 12. That is, once you get past the high price tag of the device. However, if the pen in itself, is something that you cannot see yourself using that often, then the suitability of the Pro Slate 12 starts to seem less relevant.