HP ElitePad 900 review: A rugged Win 8 tablet for business road warriors

The HP ElitePad 900 is a tough son of a tablet. Designed for business or outdoor use, it is built to survive being dropped, dinged, dusted, and handled roughly enough to make an iPad cry. HP has tested it to the military MIL-STD810G standard for dust, vibration, temperatures high and low, humidity, altitude, and drop-proofing for heights of up to 30 inches.

Most uber-durable devices end up looking like the back end of a tank, but the ElitePad 900 is quite attractive. Just 9.2mm thick and weighing less than 1.4 pounds, with a CNC-milled aluminum back (CNC refers to computer numerical control in manufacturing), a front that's covered in Gorilla Glass 2, and rounded corners, this tablet is small and sleek enough not to look out of place in the office.

Some will argue that a tablet shouldn't be compared to a notebook, but the two really aren't all that different.

While it is rugged, it's no speed demon: With just a 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 single-core processor and only 2GB of RAM, the ElitePad 900 managed a teeth-grindingly low Notebook Worldbench 8.1 score of 43. That's the lowest score we've seen with our updated test suite, and is less than half of the mark on our reference device, the Asus VivoBook S550CA.

Some will argue that a tablet shouldn't be compared to a notebook, but the two kinds of hardware really aren't all that different. Essentially, one has a physical keyboard and the other typically doesn't. In this case, much of the ElitePad 900's performance shortcomings come from its reliance on Intel's Atom processor (and its integrated GPU), and a paucity of RAM (which the CPU and the integrated GPU must share). This rendered the ElitePad incapable of running any of our game benchmarks.

Graphics performance

We don't expect anyone would buy this tablet for gaming, of course, but games are one of the best measures of graphics performance, and the ElitePad is decidedly weak on that score. What's more, HP's tablet didn't have the horsepower to play our HD test video smoothly, either. It did manage to play HD YouTube videos, but the sound that emerged from its speakers was thin and tinny. The 1280-by-800-pixel display, on the other hand, delivered good color and brightness: With the backlight cranked up, I measured it at 351 cd/m2 (candelas per square meter; I used a Spyder 4 Elite monitor calibration tool).

Storage is on the small side: The model HP sent for review has a 64GB SSD, or you can opt for a slightly less expensive model with a 32GB SSD. HP uses 3.5GB of that storage for a recovery partition and 100MB to store system tools, leaving 41.2GB of free space. Our review unit also included a mobile broadband adapter that works alongside the dual-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi adapter. The broadband adapter works with either T-Mobile's or AT&T's HSPA+ network, but not with the faster LTE network that AT&T has and that T-Mobile is rolling out.

You don't get many wired connections to the outside world, though. The tablet offers only a headphone jack, a SIM and microSD card slot (under a tightly fitted cover), and a proprietary dock/case connector. It has no USB or other ports, but the dock connector does allow you to plug in optional accessories, such as an HDMI/VGA adapter ($49), an ethernet adapter ($39), or a USB adapter ($29).

I/O port options

HP also offers a neat keyboard case (the company refers to this $249 product as a "productivity jacket," which might help you justify its expense to the accountants). It fits around the tablet, clamshell style, and while it adds some bulk (it's nearly an inch thick and weighs almost a pound), it also provides a number of features, such as a good keyboard, with decent-size keys and acceptable travel; two USB ports; and an SDHC card reader. The case also props the tablet up at your choice of three angles, so it sits like a conventional laptop. A connector on the back of the jacket duplicates the proprietary connector on the base of the tablet, so you can use the same adapters for extra USB ports or digital video outputs. These jackets and adapters are not as rugged as the tablet, so don't expect them to sail through combat in the same way.

Though the ElitePad 900 is, as noted, no speed demon, it's fast enough to run applications such as Word and Excel (as long as you don't do anything too complicated). And the upside to the presence of an underpowered processor and so little memory is that the tablet has excellent battery life: In our testing, it lasted an impressive 7 hours, 33 minutes. That's less than HP's 10-hour claim, but it's enough for a full day of work. And if you're planning a longer trip into the lovely, dark, and deep woods, you can extend that time with HP's Expansion Jacket with Battery. HP claims the jacket will extend battery life to 20 hours (we did not test this claim). The jacket, which also adds two USB 2.0 ports and a HDMI output, is priced at $229.

HP giveth, and HP taketh away

The ElitePad 900 is a corporate tablet in the purest sense: It looks unobtrusive, it has good battery life, and it can handle everyday tasks. HP also offers a good number of perks to make IT people's lives easier, including a special tool that lets you crack the case to replace or repair internal components, and a collection of high-end asset-management and deployment tools. But the ElitePad 900 lacks the processing power and memory to tackle complex tasks, and it provides very limited storage capacity.

This story, "HP ElitePad 900 review: A rugged Win 8 tablet for business road warriors" was originally published by PCWorld.

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