PIREP HP Slate 500 Tablet PC

PIREP HP Slate 500 Tablet PC By Peter Cassidy
AirPlay Second Quarter 2011

I recently acquired an HP Slate 500 tablet PC to replace my aging laptop. I wanted something very compact for travelling that was Windows based. As a side benefit, until I can get XM satellite weather on the iPad, it replaces my Motion M1400 Tablet PC which I keep in my aircraft for this purpose. Here’s my experience using the Slate in the cockpit. For charts, I use an iPad running ForeFlight.

The HP Slate is a Windows-based tablet about the same size as the Apple iPad. It weighs 1.5 lbs., has an 8.9” screen, runs on Windows 7, and will run about 5 hours on its battery. It is both touch screen and stylus. My Motion tablet PC which I’ve been using for six years has a 12.1” display, runs on Windows XP, weights 4 lbs, and runs about 1.5 hrs on the battery. Motion tablets have a special glass covering the screen which reduces glare and improves sunlight readability. The iPad has a 9.7” display, weights 1.5 lbs, is touch screen only, and runs about 10 hours on battery. Thus we have two alternatives on which to compare the Slate.

The key application for comparison is WxWorx NexRad software which I particularly like and have been using successfully on the Motion M1400. For GPS I use a Garmin GPS-10. Bluetooth is used to connect to the WxWorx receiver and GPS. To get the GPS to connect reliably, I installed GpsGate, an application that splits a GPS data stream to serve more than one application.

Physically the Slate is significantly smaller than the M1400 and a major improvement. [Photo L-R M1400, iPad, HP Slate 500] While the general rule is that larger displays are better, there is a limit as to what is manageable in the cockpit. While the M1400 has worked well for me, the smaller Slate is more maneuverable in the confines of a cockpit. It could be yoke mounted, though I have no plans to do this. Compared to the iPad, the Slate display is noticeably smaller in the width dimension. The IPad is excellent for viewing approach plates and charts. The Slate would work for this, but not as well as the iPad.

Sunlight readability of the Slate is about the same as the M1400 but the iPad is better than both these. The Slate and iPad both have a glossy glass screen which is terrible for glare and reflections. You can easily get around this by repositioning the unit to avoid the glare. This is the main reason you won’t want to fix mount with the Slate or iPad. Visibility wise they are all OK, though not up to the gold standard of displays like the Garmin G1000.

The native resolution of the Slate screen is 1024 x 600 pix compared to 1024 x 768 pix for the M1400 and 1024 x 768 pix for the iPad. The WxWorx application has limited flexibility regarding the screen sizes it can accommodate. It cannot be run in landscape mode on the Slate. You have to use portrait which gives a working WxWorx window of 600 x800 pix. Portrait mode for the Slate turns out to be the preferred orientation in the cockpit and the weather display area, while quite a bit smaller than what I’m used to on my 12.1” M1400 is perfectly adequate. The resolution of the Slate screen is excellent.

Having two tablets in the cockpit is not twice the fun and my long-term goal is to get down to one, hopefully the iPad. For now, we’ll work with two. When using the iPad and M1400, I kept the M1400 on my lap and temporarily set the iPad on top. This stack is a bit high, and mainly I set the iPad to the side. With the iPad and Slate, they can quite comfortably set side-by-side on my lap.

I do not use external power for the iPad, but I do for the M1400 and Slate. The Slate will do a 3 hour flight fine, but that’s about as far as you want to push it. The display needs to be up full for daylight readability and this is a significant power drain. For external power I use a 28 VDC to 115 VAC converter I purchased from Aircraft Spruce. The Slate power connector is very rugged, and though it sticks out the side in portrait mode, this has not been a problem.

Since the Slate supports both touch screen and stylus it should satisfy everyone. Since this is basically a standard Windows operating system, it is not optimized for touch screen operation like the iPad. You need to stylus for navigating some menu items. Having both touch screen and stylus operational at the same time is tricky and not the best arrangement. With the Slate, I find touch screen to be more reliable than stylus operation. I’ve never had a problem with the stylus only M1400 or the touch screen only iPad. While WxWorx is not optimized for touch screen, it works fine and I use the stylus sparingly. The only real problem with touch screen is you have to be careful not to touch it accidentally. This happens often when it's on my lap. Touch screen products are best mounted and away from resting hands.  I may try disabling touch screen some day to see how that works.

As a laptop alternative, the Slate is not bad.  The 600 pix high screen makes for a lot of scrolling for things like web browsing, email and most all applications. As a presenter tool it works fine, though connecting the projector is not straight forward. There is an HDMI port on the docking unit, but no VGA port. Most projectors do not have HDMI ports and carrying the dock is a nuisance so you need a USB to VGA adapter. It connects to an HDMI monitor fine, but the processor seemed a little taxed and getting it to establish a Wifi connection at the same time is more difficult in this configuration for some reason. There is a USB-Ethernet adapter I plan to try which will likely fix this.

Overall I’m happy with the Slate in the cockpit. After 20 hours in the cockpit in real weather situations it has worked great. It will serve fine for in-flight weather and as my “laptop” when I travel and need a Windows-based PC that’s portable. Ultimately I’m still looking forward to getting in-flight weather on the iPad and it being my sole tablet in the cockpit. This should happen later in 2011.