In desperation over our inability to tell University employees what they should be looking for in a Windows 8 tablet, I asked the boss if we could get our hands on one of the new Intel “Atom” processor-based Windows 8 tablets (these are the “Clover Trail” Atom processors, designed to compete with ARM-based devices). I had been wanting to eval a Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T, but these have been hard to get locally. Instead, I bought a hot-off-the-shelf HP Envy X2. This device boasts a well-engineered all-metal shell, full size keyboard dock with full-sized HDMI and SD card readers, and an extra battery in the dock for a claimed 15-hour run life. It also claims to support an optional digitizer stylus.
I only have just started putting the machine though its paces. My first impression is that it performs surprisingly well as a standard notebook, but that there will be significant challenges in supporting these types of devices at the same level as our existing business-model Dell systems. I am not going to bother “reviewing” this tablet… others in the trade can handle that. Rather, this blog post is going to address the challenges of supporting a consumer tablet in a business environment.
- Processor: The new “Clover Trail” Atom processors are 32-bit only. Surprise! I though the industry was leaving 32-bt behind, but it appears to be alive and well. We had made the initial decision to support only 64-bit Windows 8, and have developed only 64-bit baseline images. I see that this choice will need to be reconsidered.
- EFI/UEFI: These new systems boot using EFI, with emulated BIOS, with the “SafeBoot” option enabled. Out of the box, you cannot boot to USB because the SafeBoot prohibits this. You need to load your OS to change EFI options. EFI is not identical between systems, so navigating the process of booting to deployment/maintenance media will be a tough challenge for technicians to work through. I actually was completely unable to boot the Envy X2 to an USB flash drive, running either WinPE (MDT boot media) or the FreeDOS-based(?) CloneZilla live CD. Bummer.
- Drivers: Most new tablets are aimed at the consumer market. As a result, the vendors make little effort to package drivers in a way that is convenient for local IT staff to integrate into on-premise Windows deployment tools. The Envy X2 is no exception. A small handful of one-off driver installers are available, including a big bundle of Intel Chipset drivers. The chipset drivers were critical in getting a freshly installed Windows 8 Enterprise OS working with the hardware.
- Windows Editions: This tablet shipped with “Windows 8″. Not “Home”, not “Professional”, not “Ultimate”. I tried performing an in-place SKU upgrade to Windows 8 Enterprise, but setup.exe said that this was not supported, so I needed to do a full OS install. This process worked, but it was seriously aggravating to have to boot to the OEM OS, start the Enterprise OS install, re-install all of the required drivers, then clean up the original OS install. Our users will not want to have to deal with this, and it will make our IT support staff very tired.
- Hardware: No Ethernet. Unfortunately, our MDT/LTI deployment tools are designed to run over Ethernet, not Wi-Fi. The LTI scripts actually will terminate if a Wi-Fi connection is detected. Of course, application-only LTI task sequences really should run just fine over wireless, but the scripts still will not run over wireless. We either will have to comment out the Wi-Fi checks, or require that the person launching LTI have a USB Ethernet dongle handy.
So… a lot of challenges. More details as time permits.
Oh, one small “review style” note. I decided to evaluate this tablet because HP claims that it supports an optional stylus. However, the stylus for this device is not actually available for sale at this time. Further, the device does not use the common Wacom or N-Trig digitizers, so buying a spare “Bamboo” stylus will not help you here. HP has chosen to use the new “Atmel” integrated touch/pen sensors, and as such an Atmel-compatible stylus is required. I cannot find these on the market anywhere. As a result I cannot make any recommendation for or against the purchase of this device for Tablet PC enthusiasts. I don’t even know if the stylus will be available for sale before the return period for this device expires.
I returned this tablet. Why? It was not the screen resolution, which I though would be a problem but was not. There were three primary reasons:
- It was not possible to determine the quality of the digitizer within the return period of the tablet. I was unwilling to accept the risk of having a low-quality stylus for note taking.
- Keyboard dock quality was low. The keyboard itself was reasonably good, but the trackpad was very annoying. The texture was awful, and it was overly sensitive to the slightest palm brushes. Given the small size of the keyboard deck, it was impossible to avoid brushing the trackpad, too. Also, the screen did not tip back far enough for comfort when used on a countertop or other waist-height surface.
- Business deployment essentially was unsupportable. HP support could not assist me with initialization of the TPM chip for BitLocker. It appeared that a TPM was present, but there was no option in BIOS to reset the TPM, and the OS could not get ownership of the chip. Also, the total lack of driver bundles would make deployment using MDT very difficult.
- The graphics card could not drive my external display at native resolution. It maxed out at 1080p.
I did quite like this tablet, though. Consumers seeking an additional computer for the road may really enjoy using it. For fussy power users like me, it was close butnot quite there.