In many respects is not really fair to compare these two products, as they are mostly targeted toward two different markets, however, the HP Slate 500 is the best offering that Microsoft and it’s partners have put forward to compete head-on with Apple and the rapidly growing tablet/slate market. 

As way of background I have been a Windows Tablet PC user since the product was first released as an extended version of Windows XP.  I started by testing a Panasonic Toughbook convertible, moved on to what is still my favorite convertible, the Toshiba M200, and last used the Toshiba M400 convertible.  I mainly stuck w/ the convertible form factor as it met the dual need of a development laptop (ie I had to have a keyboard) combined with my desire for a pen input device for note-taking.  The new HP Slate is my first foray into a Windows slate device as my development (Windows, iPhone and Android) has moved to a 15” MacBook Pro. 

I have also been using an iPad since about a month after its release, and recently upgraded to the new iPad 2, managing to grab hold of one on launch day.  (The 2 is definitely a worth upgrade to the first device.) 

HP Slate 500

While I may have missed a few quality slate releases in the previous years, in my experience the HP Slate 500 is the best Windows tablet to hit the market.  The Asus Eee Slate may come close, but the size the HP is what makes this unit the perfect business companion.  The screen resolution can be a bit small, especially for software not written for such a short screen, but where you really use it, OneNote, the size is perfect. 

Even though I love the iPad and use it daily, I still believe Gates has it right when he says pen input is required for a usable tablet device in business.  The iPad is great for consumption, say for execs or board members in a meeting and needing access to information, but doing little in the way of creating digital content.  While there are great Apps for the iPad that actually work to take notes, it still feels like writing on a paper w/ crayon.  This is the single strongest point of the HP Slate and Windows 7 on slate devices.  Handwriting recognition is incredible, OneNote is perfect for use around the office, and the HP Slate is truly a business device in Gates vision.

This same vision has led the Tablet PC market to sit stale for years and years, until Apple again took an idea and turned it around to create an entirely new market.  What has been missing all these years was a quality Windows interface that worked well in a tablet form factor.  Yes touch and pen input has been around forever, but the standard keyboard and mouse experience has remained the core of a paradigm that has been with us since Windows 1.0. I believe the focus on pen input has also been the biggest distraction keeping Windows from embracing the tablet form factor. Since a tiny stylus point can compensate for bulky, awkward fingers, there is no need to increase fonts or button or various other UI elements.  Thus Windows has remained Windows but now you use a pen instead of a mouse.  

Of course the single greatest benefit of Windows on a slate, is well, Windows on a slate.  It’s a full Windows PC, so every single piece of your favorite software runs perfectly.  There’s no need to purchase new software, learn new software or change anything you’re used to. 

Hardware

Enough about Windows, what is the hardware like?  As I mentioned the form factor is great for note-taking.  Unlike when I carried the M400 into a room, I now fit into the meeting environment, with a notepad size device in front of me, not an SUV.  The screen resolution can be a little low, but any higher res and things would be unreadable.  Battery life has been great, I pretty much never worry about the battery, and just keep the unit in its (included) dock when I’m not actively using it.  I find that it’s actually small enough that I use it even during phone calls at my desk instead of sticky notes or various scraps of paper. 

There is a bit of adjustment is getting used to the NTrig digitizer over the Wacom digitizer though.  Wacom makes an incredibly accurate and high quality digitizer that I have loved on the M400.  The HP, while the screen is much clearer, doesn’t have quite the same resolution and my handwriting isn’t quite as sharp as it used to be.  This took about a week to get used to.  Another change from the Wacom is that the stylus requires a battery, which a AAAA (yes 4 A’s) comes with the stylus.  This makes it a bit thicker than expected but still a very comfortable to use. 

There are camera’s on the front and back, though I really haven’t used either beyond the initial tests with Skype.  There is also an SD card slot and single built in USB port.

The nicest thing HP did was include both a dock and a leather case for the unit.  This helps reduce the total cost of the unit and gives you everything you need right in the box.  The dock is nice and includes 2 additional USB ports, and an HDMI port.  The case includes a spot for the stylus, though it would have been nice to also have a pocket for business cards or other small pieces of paper. 

Overall the hardware design on this unit is excellent.  HP even went to the trouble of hiding all the serial numbers, and government labels in a small pullout plastic component, rather than covering the back of the unit with crap like regular Windows based units. 

Now only if Windows 8 really does improve the tablet experience, this might be the perfect device for business users. 

iPad 2

As I write this the iPad 2 is still very hard to find in stores or online, I was lucky enough to pick up a unit on launch day before inventories ran out around the country. 

There have been many many reviews on the iPad 2, but one item I’d like to point out is the upgraded dual-core CPU.  I’m not sure if my expectations were off on the original iPad or not, but the vast majority of reviews that I’ve read have said the original CPU was more the adequate for regular usage.  What is interesting is from the moment I started using the original iPad I felt that the CPU was underpowered and that application performance was impacted because of that.  Small things stuck out, like switching between apps, or scrolling being jittery on many native iPad apps.  While I fully understand and appreciate the need to limit the CPU for the benefit of power consumption, this was always a weak spot for me.  So much in fact that I was using the original less and less during my regular daily routine as Apps such as MobileRSS were just to slow to use while syncing my Google Reader feeds in the background. 

The upgraded iPad 2 CPU nearly resolves this issue 100% for the current swath of Apps.  There are huge visible performance gains in many applications, everything is more responsive and snappier than before.  MobileRSS is fully usable while synchronizing in the background.  The WSJ app, while it still has usability issues, is actually usable on the upgraded CPU.  To me this is the single best improvement that makes the iPad 2 a very worthy successor to the original release. 

iPad 2 in Business

It has been said across the web, the iPad is a consumption device.  You read books, watch movies, read PDF’s.  The on-screen keyboard is nice and okay to use, but it is still a far cry from a real desktop keyboard.  There are different stylus you can purchase that work okay, and apps like Penultimate are great at ignoring your wrist as it rests on the screen.  But all of these input mechanisms are a kludge to get you by. 

The keyboard is just too slow to take reasonable notes, and the stylus is much like writing on a paper with crayon or kids markers.  Do both work?  Definitely. Are they realistic to use in a fast paced meeting? Maybe if you practice *a lot*. 

Where the iPad does shine is the many cloud based apps and extreme ease of use.  For meetings where you don’t need to take notes, it is the perfect device to send the agenda’s and backup documentation to the cloud via a service like Drop Box, then consume those documents digitally.  The PDF readers let you stay focused on the documents at hand and quickly browse to find relevant information.  This is dramatically better than trying to find supporting documents in stacks of file folders or notebooks. 

Instant on and instant access to Apps are also another huge win for the iPad.  While the SSD on the HP really makes Windows fly, there is still a 10 – 60 second delay as you wait for a sleeping slate to wake.  The iPad provides instant access to the information you need when you need it, not after the agenda has moved to the next topic. 

Verdict

If is very hard to pick a specific device as the winner in this comparison.  Each have their strengths and weaknesses in the business world.  For me pen input is the deciding factor in my day-to-day workflow, so the HP Slate 500 goes with me to all my meetings.