HP Slate 21 Review

User Interface, Apps, Camera, and Performance

Software and User Interface

Running Android 4.2.2, the Slate 21 stretches the mobile interface to fit its giant display, so the normally large clock widget on the main screen takes up about a ninth of the page. A translucent Google search bar sits at the top, while thumb-size app icons litter the home screen.

At the bottom of the display are 11 customizable shortcuts to all apps, a folder containing 16 Google apps, Chrome, Email, Calendar, Google Play, Kingsoft Office, Gallery, Camera, HP Media Player and HP File Manager.

Just as on other stock Android devices, swiping down from the top left and right corners bring down drawers for notifications and settings, respectively. Unfortunately, the white case framing the screen makes it difficult to swipe from the edges. You’ll have to get your finger under the gap between the case and the slate before swiping down.

On the Slate 21's two-point touch screen, playing games such as "Angry Birds: Star Wars" and "Fruit Ninja" was a breeze, but it was difficult to play games that required both thumbs on the screen at the same time. We had trouble aiming and firing on "N.O.V.A. 3," for instance.

What the Slate 21 could really benefit from is a feature such as Samsung's Multi Window view, which lets you have two apps on the screen at the same time.

You can add up to five user accounts to share the Slate 21 with your family members. However, you can't set limitations for each profile, as you can on Android 4.3 devices, such as the Nexus 7. Considering this device is meant for a wide range of ages, the lack of parental controls is a letdown. HP has not indicated a time frame for upgrading the Slate 21 to Android 4.3.

Performance

Powered by a quad-core 1.66-GHz Tegra 4 processor with 1GB of RAM, the Slate 21 delivered a mixed performance. We switched between apps such as "Angry Birds: Star Wars," Camera, Email and Gallery with ease. The camera app let us snap pictures within a second of each other and gameplay on "Riptide GP2" and "N.O.V.A. 3" was smooth and speedy.

Over time though, the system started to lag. For example, it took about 10 seconds to switch between user accounts. Often the Slate also stalled, displaying alerts like "Process isn’t responding. Do you want to close it?" as we tried to compose an email in Chrome.

On the general performance benchmark Quadrant, the Slate 21 notched 14,138, much higher than the Tegra 4 tablet Toshiba Excite Pro (11,540) and the tablet category average (4,473).

The Slate took just 3 minutes and 53 seconds to transcode a 204MB 1080p video to 480p on VidTrim. That's much faster than the Excite Pro, which took 4 minutes and 27 seconds, and the average tablet (10:58).

Graphics-wise, the Slate 21 blew us away with its impressive scores, scoring 8,342 on the taxing 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme. That’s twice the tablet category average of 4,178 and better than the Excite Pro's 7,625.

Unfortunately, the Slate 21 packs just 8GB of onboard flash memory -- of which only 4.94 GB is available -- which made it difficult to download many other apps once we installed the 3.1GB "N.O.V.A. 3." You can supplement this storage by attaching USB drives or an SD card, but it's not ideal.

Apps

A truckload of Google apps come pre-loaded on the Slate 21. You get the full suite of Google apps, including Play, Talk, Hangouts, Calendar, Books, Maps, Music, Partner Setup, Gallery, Videos, YouTube and Gmail.

On top of that, HP includes its own HP Camera, HP Media Player and HP File Manager. The camera app's icon looks different from the standard Android version, but the program itself looks identical and packs the same features.

Third-party apps such as Kingsoft Office, Evernote, Evernote Skitch and Box.net are also pre-installed, and the latter comes with 25GB of free storage. Kingsoft Office will be particularly welcome for those who want to create and edit Office documents.

Camera

The 2.1-MP camera on the front of the Slate 21 snaps images with accurate color. We could clearly see the faint green eye shadow on our face, while our deep blue dress stood out against a gray backdrop. Though the camera is supposed to help you look your best in low light, we found the images somewhat dim, even in moderately well-lit environments.

The 720p HD video that we shot in our well-lit office was clear enough to show flaws on our skin, but was also dim.

Warranty and Support HP offers a year of limited hardware warranty and technical support as well as lifetime use of its online service portal HP Support Online.

HP does not offer any other configurations of the Slate 21.

Verdict

For $399, the Slate 21 is an affordable and fairly attractive all-in-one for those who don’t need a powerful computer. We like the bright and colorful full HD touch screen, loud speakers and useful bundled apps. However, the very thick bezel around the screen is a turn-off. And while we appreciate that HP bundles a keyboard and mouse, we wish they were wireless. 

Ultimately, the Slate 21 is held back by a number of software limitations. There are few Android apps that can take advantage of such a large and high-resolution display, and, for a device intended for the whole family, the Slate 21 needs better parental controls. And, while you can add an external drive, the 8GB of internal storage is very limiting for storing media and apps.

Those looking for a big-screen all-in-one without the big price might like what the HP Slate 21 has to offer, especially those who spend a majority of their time surfing the Web, checking email, and watching videos. But the app experience and inconsistent performance give us pause.

Follow Cherlynn Low @cherlynnlow and on Google+. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • Salvage
    I bought a Slate 21 and when I discovered it only has 2 touch points I almost tossed it out my window. Are you kidding me HP? My smart phone has at least ten. Try mixing audio with only two fingers idiots. Last time I ever but HP. What is worse is that reviewers don't even point out this major flaw. Some websites even claim it has ten touch points, trust me is only two. Multi touch? Try two touch. Sad
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  • LSTA
    FYI, this is basically a beefed-up ViewSonic VSD220 or Acer DA220HQL (Tegra 4 and Android 4.2.2 FTW). If you were considering either of those, this is the one to get. Where am I putting it? I'm mounting it on my wall (the hinge in the back unscrews and hides a VESA mount) and using it for a home control system. I'll write a couple apps (or make a webpage) that will show me when buses leave, and use it as a server to run background apps to watch for when I come home or leave. Since it's Android-based, it uses far less power than a traditional PC would (I hope) and regardless, the touch-screen alone would cost as much. Admittedly, without Android you'd get a 10-finger touch screen, but hey, after that you'd want pen input, and once mounted on a wall, putting all 10 fingers on the screen at once becomes awkward.
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