The thought of a Tablet PC has long been appealing to me, though the price of such devices kept them out of my reach until recently. Since first using and owning a Toshiba Portege M200 tablet, then later an M400, I've been looking for just the right one for me. I've had a chance to use an HP multi-touch tablet and a Fujitsu T1010 and opted to pass on them. Now on tablet number three, I think I may have found just the thing for me in the HP Compaq 2710p.
The short version is that the 2710p is an incredibly high-quality machine that is a pleasure to use. Where my previous tablets were decent laptops with shortcomings that were worth dealing with for the tablet features, the 2710p is a very high-quality machine that also happens to be a Tablet PC.
Let's get this part out of the way: The HP 2710p shipped with 1GB of RAM and is upgradeable to a whopping 8GB. As it arrived at my house, it had some unpatched flavour of Windows Vista. It was not a pleasant start. Vista was slow, the I/O performance pre-SP1 and 2 in particular was unbearable. From reading reviews of the laptop when it was new in 2007, it sounds like the 2710p was a great Vista laptop for the time, but I couldn't stand it. So, off with Vista, on with Windows 7 Professional and Ubuntu 9.10.
For a change, I installed Windows 7 Professional x64. Upon completion of Windows Updates, all drivers were installed. Microsoft seems to have done a great job integrating vendor's updates into the Windows 7 update process. All HP HotKey software etc. was installed correctly. The process was utterly painless. The tablet features that I had briefly used in Windows XP Tablet Edition on the earlier Toshiba tablets are much improved. Working in slate mode, subtle keyboard icons appeared in text boxes that would open up a nice little on-screen keyboard.
I have to say, the overall tablet features integrated into Windows 7 are top-notch. Much better than Ubuntu 9.10 running Gnome plus the rather clunky onboard on-screen keyboard.
At the time of writing, my 2710p now has 4GB of RAM and runs brilliantly in Windows 7 and manages to eek out about 5 hours on the battery with light use. Windows Vista was terrible but Microsoft has clearly put much effort into tablet and touch-screen integration in Windows 7. Good for them.
This section will be refreshingly short: Ubuntu 9.10 works brilliantly on the 2710p. Tablet integration is unsurprisingly less complete than in Windows 7 but power management, wifi, Bluetooth, the touch screen etc. all work out of the box in 9.10. I had read reports of the 2710p failing to resume from suspend in earlier versions, I saw no such problems. The 2710p runs cool and quiet in Ubuntu, shortcut keys work and battery life seems to be about 4+ hours on a full charge depending on use.
It's great to be using a laptop with all components properly supported with open source drivers. Between my HP 2133's Via video, the Dell Mini 12's GMA500 and the Toshiba M400's odd ACPI quirks, I'd almost forgotten how simple Linux setup can be on a well-supported laptop.
At it's heart, the HP Compaq 2710p is a lightweight 12" Tablet PC. The latest version of this machine, the essentially unchanged 2730p, falls under HP's new EliteBook brand. If you've seen any other EliteBooks, this will give you a good idea of the build-quality of the 2710p. This is to say that it is absolutely top-flight. With the number of low-end Acer, Asus, Dell, and HPs that cross my desk, it's always a pleasure to see a laptop where such care has been taken with the build-quality. Nothing about the 2710p seems cheap, except the slot for the pen. (More on this later.)
The machine is made of metal, with a distinctive industrial design that gives it a very professional look. The machine is pleasing to the touch. It looks more angular than an Apple laptop but has no sharp corners. HP clearly spent a great deal of time getting the design of the 2710p right, and it shows in subtle ways throughout the machine. For example, the screen glides cleanly from clamshell to slate mode before resting comfortably with a recessed, magnetic latch that is far more elegant than the Toshiba's I had used previously. Another unexpected improvement over the Toshiba tablets is that the hinge, while fluid, allows you to rotate the screen and position the tablet at any angle. This is very convenient for drawing and will likely eliminate the need for an easel or dedicated stand, unless one prefers to draw in portrait mode.
In keeping with HP's subtle, understated design, and in stark contrast to the Toshiba tablets I have used, the 2710p doesn't feature an array of buttons on the screen. This makes for a less-distracting interface. HP did place a special "Control-alt-delete" button on the underside of the screen. I likely wouldn't have even noticed it if I hadn't read the book. HP has also placed a fingerprint reader on the side of the screen, near the top-right in clamshell mode. Again, I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't gone looking for it.
Design considerations continues to the bottom of the tablet, which features an interesting black rubberized coating that does much to give it an unusually solid feel. Ports are easily accessed and nicely spaced, but don't jut out the way they do on some machines. Another nice touch is the HP's take on the ThinkPad light found at the top of the screen. I prefer this to back-lit keyboards. It's just a simple, pop-out LED that shines a light at the keyboard. It's a simple thing, it couldn't cost HP much to add, but for me it greatly adds to the utility of the machine.
Now for the one design flaw: The pen holder. The one thing that seems oddly placed, that looks and feels a little bolted-on is the pen holder. The pen sits at the top-left of the keyboard. The placement is fine but it's spring-loaded. Unfortunately, this causes several problems: First, in barely two days of use I've accidentally popped the pen out at least a half-dozen times. Yet, sometimes when I attempt to eject or replace the pen, it catches in the holder. HP must have known about this, as the tablet had a string attached to the pen. Very tacky. It's so unfortunate because it seems so preventable. Hopefully this is something else they addressed in the 2730p. Anyway, if you do buy a 2710p, be aware of this glaring oversight.
Let's get this out of the way quickly: The 2710p only has an eraser-style nib for a mouse, similar to those found on ThinkPads and business-oriented Dells. Get over it. As far as these go, I find the tracking speed to be just right. Unlike ThinkPads, the nib is concave. I like this. The biggest change between the HP 2710p and the newer 2730p is the addition of a standard trackpad. Personally, I have no problems with the lack of trackpad but this would likely be a deal-breaker for some.
The keyboard is absolutely fantastic. The keys, a brushed metal-looking ordeal with HP's DusraGuard coating, have a fantastic feel. Key spacing is perfect, the layout perfect. The only thing that I would change would be to label the arrows keys to indicate that they can also act as page up and down with the function key. There are dedicated page up and page down keys somewhat awkwardly placed on the top row next to the function keys. At first this through me off. Thankfully, while nothing indicates it, it seems as though HP also overloaded the up-down keys to behave appropriately as well. Labeling aside, this is a flawless keyboard. My favourite laptop keyboard yet. (And believe me, I'm picky about such things.)
It has a standard 1280x800 display with a layer of glass over the screen that makes writing on the screen very fluid. The screen is without question the nicest tablet display I've used. There's something about it that looks a little different than a normal laptop display but casual observers probably wouldn't peg this machine as a tablet just by looking at the screen. Images are sharp and clear and the glass layer doesn't cause any glare. In fact, it seems to diffuse any light that hits it, making it quite suitable for outdoor use. It may not be as good as the Toshiba R500 in direct sunlight but on balance, the screen is far better than average for outdoor use. Viewing angles also seem to be quite good.
Screen brightness is quite good. I've seen brighter but it's perfect for me. Brightness controls are good, allowing one to go from very dark all the way up. There is even an ambient light sensor, if you're so inclined.
The 2710p uses a special ultra-low-voltage Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. While this results in less raw CPU power than some machines, it also makes for virtually no heat or noise and excellent battery life. The system does have a very quiet fan but it only spins up on demand. In my normal use, it almost never does. The hard drive is a 1.8" 4200 PATA drive. This makes it tricky to replace and maybe not a great performer but it also means that it's quiet and cool. The system is whisper-quiet. Much quieter than a new MacBook Pro, to say nothing of the other tablets I've used. If, like me, you're picky about system noise, this is the machine for you.
The battery lasts for up to 5 hours. Under Linux, with brightness down and under low load, I can easily get 4+ hours out of it. A bonus for me is that it uses the same power adapter as HP's 2133 and 2140 mini notes, so power is always close by for me. HP offers an optional additional battery that can provide a total of up to 10 hours.
The system is quite svelte, measuring just a hair over an inch thick, 8" wide and 11.55" tall. It weighs in at 3.6lbs with the battery, so it's quite manageable to carry as well. Moreover, the port for the optional slim dock provides a nice place to hold the tablet one-handed in slate mode.
Being more used to Apple and ThinkPad laptops, I find the expansion options on the 2710p to be quite good: There are two USB ports, firewire, an SDHC slot, an ExpressCard port, VGA out, ethernet and modem, headphone and mic inputs, and an optional webcam. As mentioned, there is also an optional second battery as well as a slimline dock. The dock provides four USB ports, DVI and VGA out, and a slim optical drive. I've seen these on ebay for as low as $50.
These days, one year is standard. If you're lucky, you can pay extra for a three year warranty on better laptops. With this in mind, I was surprised to see a standard three year warranty with the 2710p. Even the used one that I picked up on ebay is covered until 2011. While I fully understand that this is an easy place for manufacturers to cut costs, it's still great to see a company stand behind their product.
Overall, the HP 2710p is an absolutely fabulous machine. It is hands-down the best tablet that I've used or owned. It's not even in the same league as the more popular Fujitsu T1010 that I have access to. It outclasses my older Toshiba tablets but that may be an unfair comparison, given their age.
This is a high-quality, long-term machine that I would recommend to anyone looking for a quality tablet. Depending on the price, it may be worthwhile picking up just as a general-purpose laptop. I picked mine up for $600CDN on ebay and consider it to be a phenomenal deal. The build-quality is second to none, the screen, keyboard, battery life and weight are all fantastic. It even runs well in Linux.