HP EliteBook 2740p Review

As you may have noticed if you follow my ramblings, I am a big Tablet PC fan. Recently, my favourite computer died (well, its batteries died). While Motion Computing took get care of me and helped me get some new batteries, this pointed out that I really need to start looking for a replacement.

Enter the HP EliteBook 2740p. This is the newest in HP’s ongoing series of convertible Tablet PCs, and features an updated processor, support for more RAM, and support for both stylus/handwriting input and multi-touch. I recently (about a week ago) received a new 2740p to use as my main work computer, and to evaluate for my employer. So, lets talk about this machine…

Configuration

I got pretty much the base configuration:

  • Intel® Core™ i5-540M Processor (2.53 GHz, 3 MB L3 Cache, 1066 MHz FSB)
  • 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (2D)
  • 250 GB 5400 rpm 1.8-inch hard drive
  • 12.1-inch diagonal LED-backlit WXGA UWVA with Digitizer & Touch (1280 x 800)
  • Intel Centrino® Advanced-N 6200
  • Bluetooth
  • TPM+FS
  • 2MP Webcam
  • HP 6-Cell 44 Wh Li-Ion Battery
  • Windows® 7 Professional 64

First Impressions

My first impression of the laptop when I unboxed it was that it felt very solid. Not heavy, but with a sturdy feeling to it. The case is aesthetically pleasing, and looks like it should be able to stand up to wear and tear. Placement of ports, switches and buttons seems logical, and nothing seemed overtly "cheap” About the only thing I was not impressed without of the box was the stylus – it is quite small for doing a lot of writing.

One good thing I note is that there is not a lot of heat coming of the machine. I was a little worried about this, as I have used HP’s TouchSmart consumer convertibles in the past, and they run really hot. The 2740p seems to stay nice and cool, however.

Performance seems pretty good, but I have not really done anything heavy on it yet.

Battery Life

I had seen numbers for the battery life of the 2740p in 5 hour range. I have not so far seen anything close to that – I see 3 hours, maybe 3 and a half at a stretch. Not bad, but not 5 hours. Also, the 3-3.5 hours is in power-saver mode, wireless off, etc. in “normal” working mode, I see something around 2-2.5 hours.

I suspect that I will definitely be buying the secondary battery for the 2740p if I want to use it on the road.

Display

I really like the display. It is nice and bright when I want it to be, and also looks good when I turn the brightness down. I like the fact that it is a matte finish, especially for handwriting and for reading documents it is much easier on the eyes than a glossy screen.

Ink Input

Ink input seems pretty good. I use Ink a lot – mostly in OneNote and in MindJet MindManager. Initially, I had trouble in OneNote as the accuracy of the stylus seemed really bad. Once I set the tablet settings properly (left-handed) and calibrated the digitizer, however, the handwriting in OneNote worked well.

Using the stylus to navigate is not without issues, however. Even after setting the tablet for left-handedness as well as calibrating the digitizer, I find there is significant parallax in the positioning of the cursor relative to the stylus tip. This is especially true near the edges of the display. It is better than on the Acer tablet MS gave out at PDC09, but far worse than it is on, say, my Motion Computing LE1600.

I was also disappointed in the coexistence of ink and touch on the 2740p. I still find that when I am  trying to write, the computer is recognizing touch events and confusing the process. There is a way around this – you can configure the machine to not automatically switch from ink to touch and back, but to rely on a double-touch gesture to switch modes. A little clunky, but at least it works.

Multi-touch

Multi-touch is, in a word, disappointing.  As I stated above, it does not coexist very well with stylus input. Once you are in “touch” mode, basic operations seem to work ok (scrolling, gestures for things like “back” or “forward”, etc.), but there seems to be a significant lag in touch response. I have not really had much success with multi-touch interactions at all – for example using a pinch type gesture to zoom in or out in IE or Word. The latency involved makes it not useful.

Quirks

There are a number of quirks (other than the ink/touch coexistence I mentioned above) that I have yet to resolve on the 2740p:

  • I cannot figure out how to make it use the fingerprint scanner for Windows logon. It is using it for BIOS-level authentication, and I can make it work for logons once I am inside Windows, but not for the actual Windows logon.
  • I cannot make the screen rotate automatically when I rotate the computer in tablet mode. It switches when I go from laptop to tablet mode or back. But when in table mode, when I rotate the machine, the display does not rotate.
  • I have had a lot of difficulties with BlueTooth. I have a BlueTooth mouse that pairs quite nicely with all the other computers I use, but the 2740p does not even see it (BlueTooth is working however, as I have successfully used it to connect to my phone).
  • Power cord: ok, this is a bit picky, but it has also been a problem on every tablet I have every used. The power cords are not designed to work well in tablet mode, they stick out way to far, and they put unnecessary stress on the connector. Seriously, is this the best they can design?

Summary

Overall, it is a nice laptop. Performance is good, battery life is good (and there is the option to add more), and the machine seems very solid and well made. I am still disappointed in both the handwriting and multi-touch capabilities, but maybe I will get used to them (though I should not have to get used to them, they should wow me out of the box!)

RIP to my favourite computer

Well, it has finally happened. My favourite computer (the best I have ever used, actually) has finally died. As I have noted before, for many years now my Motion Computing LE1600 slate has been the centre of my computing toolkit. About the only thing I do not use it for is programming – pretty much everything else I do (or did) on my tablet.

Sadly, after 5 years, the batteries have all died. While I will try to get new batteries, I am not hopeful that I can get them at a reasonable cost.

What is really disappointing to me is that there is nothing out there which which to replace it. Motion Computing has discontinued the LE1600/LE1700, and the only similar product is the J3400 which is overkill for my needs. The offerings from Fujitsu and others in the slate space are all several years old, and far over priced for what they now offer.

And then there are the many new and pending products in the slate space – the iPad, as well as offerings from HP and many others. As slick as some of these new devices look, and as attractive as the pricing is on them, it appears that my worst fears have been realized and most of the new generation of slates are dumbed-down consumer devices, with no real support for ink input which is, as I have said before, crucial to my use of the platform.

Ah well – time to search for batteries.