Windows on a tablet. Does it work? After years of the iPad and of some excellent Androids, it's difficult to accept that Windows -- software made for proper laptops and desktops -- actually works (mostly) on a small, light, portable handheld touchscreen. It's not perfect, but there's not too much to complain about with HP's new Omni 10 tablet.
What Is It?
The HP Omni 10 is a 10-inch tablet running Windows 8.1 through an Intel Atom Z3770 system-on-chip processor, with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It's a reasonably cheap tablet at $399, but doesn't make significant sacrifices in its performance or screen or design. In other words, it's a Windows tablet that is built to compete with the iPad and Samsung's Galaxy tablets.
With a 31Wh battery, HP claims the Omni 10 is capable of 8 and a half hours of operation. Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, microHDMI output, a microUSB charging and data port, built-in stereo speakers; this is a tablet that doesn't skimp on the little things. There's nothing on the surface that it's missing, which is a good thing for anyone who wants a reasonably versatile device for a variety of tasks.
What Is It Good At?
The 1920x1200 resolution and 16:10 ratio of the HP Omni 10's 10-inch screen mean that it's impressively detailed, and more than sharp enough to make Web video and webpages look good. If you don't mind working with the glossy finish of the screen -- it can be a bit of a pain in bright sunlight or direct office lighting -- you'll get an LCD that is bright, reasonably colourful and looks equally good displaying text as it does streaming video or displaying static photos.
Battery life, as rated by HP, is 8 and a half hours. In reality, with a moderate workload -- watching 720p video at half of the Omni 10's maximum luminance -- I clocked just over a full 9 hours, and I'm sure that you could stretch it further with a lower brightness level and basic Web browsing or word processing. This is a good result for the Omni 10 and puts it well in the league of the iPads and Galaxy NotePROs of this world.
For all the things you usually use a tablet for -- browsing the 'net, reading and answering emails, checking out YouTube videos, and a limited amount of word processing -- the Omni 10 does a great job. The Windows modern interface is skewed towards easy navigation -- buttons in the modern Internet Explorer are big, and the address bar falls away when you don't need it, for example. It's not so great for actually creating -- that needs a good keyboard, and the Windows keyboard can be more trouble than it's worth sometimes. I'd recommend you pick up a Bluetooth external keyboard for any typing task longer than a few paragraphs.
What Is It Not Good At?
The small screen size of the Omni 10 makes the on-screen keyboard a bit of a pain to use; this isn't unique to the Omni 10, since there are plenty of 10-inch and smaller Windows tablets out there, but there's just something unsatisfying about typing anything longer than a Web address using the default Windows layout. This is much less of an issue on Android, for example, where you can install a swipe-friendly keyboard or a customised autocorrecting app like SwiftKey.
Not having an integrated active stylus or digitiser means that finer control is more difficult -- you can't use the Omni 10's high resolution screen to its fullest, for example, and you're stuck using a fingertip or rubber-tipped stylus. On a tablet like this that is ostensibly meant for consuming rather than producing content, it's not a huge impediment, but it is a slight disappointment.
While the screen is colourful and bright, it can't match up to Samsung's best AMOLED tablet displays or the Retina screen of the iPad Mini or Air. If you only want to watch movies, and don't particularly care about browsing the Web or answering emails or typing up the occasional document (presumably with that external Bluetooth keyboard you'll buy), there are better 10-inch tablets out there. And, as is hardly a surprise, the front and rear cameras on the Omni 10 aren't great -- they're acceptable for videoconferencing but fall far short of taking decent photos.
There's a more overarching concern I have about Windows 8.1 on a tablet, though, and that's the dearth of apps designed specifically for the touch interface. While there's no doubt that having a full Chrome or Internet Explorer browser gives you unfettered access to a lot of the services you need an app for on Android or iOS, there are plenty of games and video players that you miss out on with Windows that are designed specifically for the other two main operating systems.
Should You Buy It?
It's not exactly going to set the world on fire with its specifications and its ability to run demanding applications, but for everyday use -- checking your email, browsing the 'net, watching downloaded or online videos -- the Omni 10 is a surprisingly good piece of kit. The screen is capable enough for its small size -- and it's this caveat that means the on-screen keyboard isn't especially useful -- and battery life from the up-to-date Atom Z3770 processor and 9-hour cell is entirely up to spec.
If you can cope with the 2GB of RAM and maximum of 32GB internal storage (before adding microSD for another 32GB, although larger cards should work too), living within the limits of the HP Omni 10's design gives you a tablet that is almost as capable as anything Android or Apple you can buy -- as long as you don't need any specific apps.