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HP Business Tablet Offers Myriad Accessories, Won't Support Snap

HP's ElitePad 900 competes well with other Windows 8-based tablets, with one notable exception.

HP on Monday introduced the ElitePad 900, a tablet aimed at business users. Designed for Windows 8, the new device offers a sleek and durable design, optional accessories to boost enterprise productivity, and specifications that compete well with other recently announced tablets that will run Microsoft's newest OS. But the ElitePad 900 lacks the screen resolution required for the full Windows 8 experience. HP is taking a calculated risk that this omission won't cause business buyers to hesitate.

Constructed from machined aluminum, the HP ElitePad 900 is built to absorb the knocks of day-to-day business use. Despite the rugged construction, the 9.2 mm-thick device weighs a manageable 1.5 pounds. Its 10.1-inch display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 2, and its other hardware perks include an 8.0 megapixel rear camera, a 1080p front-facing camera for video chats, a MicroSD slot and a 3G/4G SIM slot.

Inside, the tablet runs on an Intel's Clover Trail chips, the newest system-on-chip (SoC) processers in the Atom line, and offers up to 2 Gbytes of RAM. Onboard SSD storage will be available in both 32- and 64-Gbyte varieties, and, like most of the forthcoming Windows 8-based offerings, the ElitePad 900 should support about 10 hours of battery life. Enterprise users will be able to use legacy applications, thanks to x86 compatibility, and touch-, pen- and voice-based input options will allow the device to cater to a number of different applications and working styles.

To expand the ElitePad's enterprise appeal without compromising the tablet form factor, HP also announced optional accessories called SmartJackets, which can make the device suitable for specialized uses and environments. The Productivity Jacket includes additional connectivity ports and an integrated keyboard, effectively allowing the tablet to double as a desktop PC. The Expansion Jacket, meanwhile, is a tablet case that includes not only USB and HDMI connections but also space for an extra battery, ideal for on-the-go users who require more than 10 hours between charges. Rounding out the add-ons, the ElitePad Docking Station can support a secondary screen for multitasking while the ElitePad Rugged Case transforms the tablet's already-sturdy build into an armor-like encasing that meets the military's MIL-STD-810 standard.

While the tablet is designed for Microsoft's forthcoming OS, its 1280-by-800-pixel resolution will disqualify it from running Snap, the new Windows 8 interface that allows two Windows Store applications to be viewed simultaneously on a single screen. Some of the device's competitors, such as the Dell Latitude, offer the 1,366-by-768-pixel resolution necessary to support this feature.

According to HP's press release, Snap "may be enabled by attaching an external 1,366 by 768 or higher resolution display."In an emailed message explaining why HP opted not to support Snap's requisite resolution, Katie Norris--a representative from PR firm Edelman, writing on behalf of HP--said, "[W]hile the Snap feature is a convenient tool for consumers in the new Windows 8 interface, it does not currently support Outlook or other business applications." She noted that focus group testing and customer feedback conducted by HP indicates that users prefer 16-by-10 aspect ratios for reasons of comfort, usability, wider viewing angles and display of legacy applications. In other words, what the ElitePad 900 lacks in native Snap functionality, it might make up for by being one of the few 16-by-10 options in a predominately 16-by-9 universe.

In an email, HP PR manager Mike Hockey illustrated possible 16-by-10 advantages, writing that many customers "have invested heavily in 'home grown' form-based applications that are used in portrait mode, such as in healthcare." He mentioned that the ElitePad's aspect ratio will allow it to avoid "unnecessary horizontal and/or vertical scrolling," adding that common 16-by-10 formats include Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF and "most" e-reader content.

With HP's PC business in a downward trend, much has been written about the risks and rewards that its post-Touchpad tablets could bring. HP plans to make the ElitePad 900 available in January and promised to reveal pricing information close to launch--so it will be a few months until industry-watchers can observe how the company's strategy plays out.

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