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Steve Seto Reviews the HP tx2051



hptx2000 The HP tx2051 Entertainment PC has captured quite a bit of attention because of its very good dual digitizer and its comparatively low price point. Steve Seto is evaluating the HP  tx2051 Entertainment Notebook as I am. He’s written up another very thorough user review of the device for GBM that covers quite a bit of territory. (Note: I’ll be shooting video of the HP tx2051 this weekend).

tx2000 / tx2051 Pavilion Notebook PC

A User Review

29 April 2008

Bottom line first: The tx2051 is a competent convertible tablet with many nice features including a pretty reasonable street price. Perhaps in line with this price, I find that this convertible delivers only a slightly-above average tablet experience to the user and that there are a few design choices that seemingly could have been better integrated together. Note that I’m not saying that the tx2051 is poorly done . I’m saying that it could have, and probably should have, been much better! The story here can’t be summarized in just a couple of sentences, so I invite you to read on

The Demo configuration: This review is based on a demonstration loaner provided to me by HP and the nice folks at Buzz Corps with the specific intention that I give it a good workout and report on it accordingly. Of course, like any true tablet aficionado, I’m more than happy to do this! And both HP and Buzz Corps deserve credit for being interested enough in developing good products to take this risk; God knows I’ve written my share OK, maybe more than my share of critical comments!

As provided, this convertible tablet came loaded:

  • AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-66 dual processor, 2.3 GHz
  • 64-Bit Vista Ultimate
  • 4 GB of RAM
  • 250 GB 5400 rpm SATA HD, Western Digital Scorpio WD2500BEVS
  • 12.1” WXGA (1280 x 800) BrightView screen
  • Nvidea GeForce Go6150 graphics
  • Wacom active pen digitizer and Synaptics PS/2 port touchpad
  • LightScribe SuperMulti 8X DVD +/-RW optical drive with double layer support
  • HP 802.11 a / b / g / draft-n WiFi
  • HP Bluetooth 2.0
  • HP webcam
  • AuthenTec biometrics
  • 6-Cell battery, HSTNN-OB37, 7.2 volts, 37 WHrs and
  • 8-Cell battery, HSTNN-UB76, 7.2 volts, 73 WHrs

Curiously, I couldn’t find this specific configuration listed at the HP web site, so I ended up configuring a base tx2000 with as many of the above features as I could find and making ““guesstimates” for the rest. Recognizing that this is just an estimate, the MSRP of this configuration worked out to be $1589. Note that HP runs discounts of one sort or another fairly frequently, so it’s entirely possible that you could get a machine like this for significantly less. (For the record, this tx2051 also costs less than half of the $3987 that I spent for my Dell Latitude XT!)

What’s In The Box: I’ve already done an ““Unboxing” article for GottaBeMobile which you can find here.

If you are curious, the best thing to do is to simply navigate to this article where you can see the contents of the box. However, in the interests of completeness, I’ll re-list the contents here:

  • AC adapter — 18.5V, 3.5A, 65W
  • AC cord — 6 ft., 3 conductor
  • Battery — Noted above. Note that more than one battery is an extra cost.
  • Pen, hard plastic nibs and nib puller — Pen is Wacom compatible and features eraser on opposite end.
  • Pen Lanyard
  • Remote Control — Works with Media Center and is sized to stow in the 34 mm ExpessCard slot when not in use. (No electrical connection to the ExpressCard port, however)
  • Plastic Filler for drive bay when optical drive is not installed
  • Small microfiber cleaning cloth
  • Earbuds

There is also a box of documents and literature that contains:

  • tx2051 Quick Reference Guide
  • Warranty booklet
  • World-wide Tech Support phone numbers!
  • ““Create Your Own Recovery Disk” instructions
  • Corel Painter 4 Essentials CD
  • A notepad of paper ???
  • Miscellaneous instructions (e.g., Parental Controls) and Ads (e.g., Get AOL!)

The Quick Reference Guide isn’t very much; it takes you through initial start up and also provides a range of troubleshooting tips, but that’s about all. There is an HP Help & Support icon on the desktop that leads you to a technical summary of the convertible’s features, but I haven’t found a real user’s guide. I’m still looking, though. Maybe something will turn up!

Features: The tx2051 provides a nice set of features for its price. The overall dimensions are 12-1/16 inches by 8-13/16 inches by about 1-9/16 inches high (above table surface with 6-cell battery, which fits flush with the bottom surface). With the 8-cell battery installed, the rear edge of the convertible is raised to a height of ~2 inches high since this larger battery bulges out to the bottom and towards the rear. Thus, the tx2051 sits on a tabletop with a slight forward tilt which might improve the keyboard experience for some. The edges of the 8-cell battery are nicely rounded so that in portrait mode, the battery acts as a nice grip for your left hand (assuming that you are right-handed). With this battery installed, my scale says the weight is approximately 6 pounds.

Other features include:

  • A glossy, ““piano black” lid with a silver keyboard and deck. The lid has an attractive inlay pattern, called ““Echo,” printed on it and the deck also has a faint Echo pattern inlay, in silver, as well. Very attractive, but the lid is something of a fingerprint magnet.
  • Curiously, the HP logo on the lid strikes me as being upside down! When oriented in laptop mode with the lid closed, the logo is upside down when it seems to me that it should be right-side up (like every other laptop in the world)
  • The lid is held down (both screen down and in slate mode with screen up) by a clever set of latches that are raised from the deck by magnets in the lid! I’ve never seen anything quite like this before, but it seems to work flawlessly. I’ve also checked the pen behavior near this edge of the screen, and the magnets appear to have no effect on inking at all.
  • The rotating screen hinge is small, but looks and feels durable. The hinge only rotates in one direction.
  • The keyboard features full-sized keys except for the function keys and, maddeningly, the arrow keys. I regard this latter feature as a serious design shortcoming on HP’s part, especially because there is no obvious reason why the arrow keys couldn’t have been made full size, too. The key tops are a bit more sculpted (i.e., slightly ““dished”) than most and seem quite comfortable.
  • The tx2051 also features HP’s signature touchpad, which is simply a rectangular field of dimples in the deck, not a rubber pad. It seems to work perfectly. The touch pad incorporates a column along the right side that scrolls the screen up and down, a very nice convenience. There is also a small button that toggles the touchpad on and off, for those times when you might not want the pad to be active, such as when you are typing. (If you’re like me, I always have problems with my thumbs brushing the pad as I type, usually causing havoc!) The convertible does not feature a track-stick.
  • There are three small buttons on the upper left corner of the deck that control the speaker volume and mute.
  • The On / Off slide switch and the WiFi slide switch are on the front edge of the base.
  • The bezel surrounding the display has an impressive number of buttons on it! They include a screen rotation button (all 4 orientations), a ““Mobility Center” button that calls up the adjustments for various features like the display brightness, a ““QuickPlay” button that starts HP’s version of the Media Center, a ““DVD” button that boots you directly into play mode and, along the right edge of the lid, a complete set of Play / Pause / RW / FF / Stop buttons! All very impressive, but the placement of some of these buttons turns out to be a bit problematic as they are easy to press accidentally while you’re handling the convertible.
  • Essentially all of the buttons mentioned so far are back-lit in blue.
  • The bezel also houses the AuthenTec biometric fingerprint reader, an array of two microphones for sound recording, the usual indicator lights (On / Off, HD Activity, etc.), a small stereo pair of Altec Lansing speakers and a low-resolution (640 x 480) webcam.
  • As you would expect, the tx2051 has a reasonable complement of ports and as usual, I’m not going to laundry list them. Visit HP’s site if you are interested in these details. Included in the port count are 3 USB ports, an SD card slot and what looks like a 34 mm ExpessCard slot.
  • The DVD drive pops out of the front left side of the base.
  • The bottom of the convertible has 3 removable panels for access to the hard drive, the system RAM and the wireless radio card(s).
  • The pen garage is on the front right side of the base and uses the typical ““push to secure / push to release” mechanism.
  • The Wacom technology pen itself is short and thin, only 4-15/16 inches long and barely 3/8 inch in diameter. The right click button is well up on the barrel; actually too far up for my taste, and the button is faired smoothly with the surface of the barrel, so it is almost impossible to feel. This ““double whammy” of poor placement and indistinct feel make the button extremely difficult to use without looking at the pen first. There is an eraser on the opposite end of the pen.

User Comments: Before we dive into this, we need to review a little history because HP isn’t just any old computer manufacturer. In fact, for a great many years, starting sometime in the early 60’s and up until at least the late 80’s, the company that William Hewlett and David Packard founded, and that was named by the flip of a coin, was a shining symbol of engineering innovation and accomplishment, the very image of US technical prowess in the latter half of the 20th Century. For those of us who began our technical careers during that time, HP products represented the pinnacle of design and performance excellence. HP’s RF and microwave signal generators and analyzers were a joy to behold. It was well known that HP customers always smiled with satisfaction and that HP’s competitors were reduced to tears, like little girls, in envy and frustration. An electrical engineer friend of mine once told me that “…for every electronic function, there is a ‘best’ circuit, and whenever I look at an HP schematic, that’s the circuit that I see…”

But HP’s expertise extended into another realm, as well… computing. Beginning with the HP 9100A desktop RPN calculator (circa 1968), and extending through the late 80’s with the HP-42S (circa 1988), HP dominated the personal computing space with a line of products so daring and so unprecedented, that HP actually dominated personal mobile computing before mobile computing existed! The introduction of the HP-35 in 1972 literally ended the reign of the slide rule and provided users with the first portable computing device that rivaled math reference tables for accuracy. And as amazing as that seemed at the time, HP issued the HP-65 only two years later, in 1974! With full programmability and a tiny mag card reader, crammed into a package that was essentially the same size as the HP-35, the HP-65 provided users with the equivalent of a small, portable computer the ““laptop” of its era. Competitors like Texas Instruments, CalComp and Wang could only play catch-up to the overwhelming wave of technical innovation that HP created during those heady years

But by then, the rise of personal computers and notebooks / laptops was already well underway, and the market for pure calculators was diminishing accordingly. When HP merged with Compaq (circa 2002), they inherited a novel Compaq design for a hybrid tablet, the TC1000. The TC1000 suffered from some performance shortcomings, primarily due to its Transmeta Crusoe processor, but HP and Compaq reengineered the design into the TC1100, which proved to be both greatly improved and was destined to become yet another iconic design, this time in the tablet world

So this is the heritage of HP. And this is why I am somewhat conflicted about the tx2051. By rights, this should be a wonderful machine, because HP certainly tried hard enough. Teaming with Buzz Corps, HP commissioned a feedback web site and invited commentary from mobile users of all stripes and many responded with suggestions and comments both modest and ambitious. HP apparently took the comments that they could, and used them to update and refine the tx1000 resulting in the tx2000 / tx2051. And for what it is, the tx2051 is certainly a reasonable product; I’m just disappointed that it isn’t more.

Let me quickly summarize my impressions to date. The tx2051 is nicely sized and though a bit heavy, the 8-cell battery provides good operating life. I haven’t done any specific tests, but the battery provides at least 4 hours of continuous use with a fairly bright display setting. As noted above, the external shaping of the battery looks kind of odd but forms a nice hand-hold when in slate mode and portrait orientation. Because the screen rotation provides all 4 orientations, the tx2051 is ambidextrous, so the hand-hold works for righty’s and lefty’s alike. In landscape mode, the balance of the convertible seems more comfortable (to me) with the battery at the top rather than at the bottom.

By contrast, the flush-fitting 6-cell battery provides a more ordinary operating life of about two hours or so. With this battery installed, the convertible is, of course, lighter and it also looks better, for whatever that’s worth.

While we’re on the subject of up and about usage, the shaping of the undersurface (which would be the part that would rest against your cradling forearm) has no adverse impact on comfort as this convertible is held. The tx2051 cradles nicely and seemed quite satisfactory in this regard. The edges of the convertible are curved and, except for the corners which I thought were a trifle sharp, there is nothing else to poke or prod a user.

The convertible comes with a standard 65 Watt HP AC power adapter. I have to say that I am not particularly a fan of HP’s three-conductor power cords, which I find both space-consuming to store and clunky to use. When operated on AC, and particularly when also charging the battery, the AC adapter gets very hot. However, as worrisome as that may appear, many consumers don’t seem to be aware that most consumer electronics can actually run reliably (and with reasonable operating lifetimes) at much hotter temperatures than most of us are normally comfortable with. Unfortunately, it’s only human nature to become concerned when an electronic device gets much hotter than about 110 or 120 degrees F

And speaking about temperature, the tx2051 uses the usual variable-speed fan for active cooling. Early on, I thought that the fan was rather noisy when it cranked up to full speed, but more recently (after about three weeks of use), I don’t seem to notice the fan as much. Maybe I’m just getting used to it, but prospective buyers should listen carefully to decide if this is something that concerns them.

In laptop mode, pretty much everything is as you would expect it to be. The base sits at a reasonable height above the desk or tabletop and the keyboard has a more than acceptable feel from the standpoint of keystroke and tactile feedback. Only the half-sized arrow keys and the even smaller function buttons (including Delete) are bothersome. As noted previously, the touchpad is slightly recessed into the center of the deck and features a really convenient On / Off button for those times when you’d rather not be bothered by errant touchpad inputs.

One area of concern regarding laptop mode is the placement of some of the buttons on the screen bezel and the deck. The placement of the Mobility Center and the QuickPlay buttons, in particular, simply invite accidental activation because they lie at the lower right corner of the display, just where you might grab the convertible if you wanted to move it. I suffered several such accidents over the last few weeks and the count is still running! Similarly, the speaker buttons on the top left part of the deck pose a similar problem, but hitting one of them accidentally isn’t nearly as disruptive!

Another concern is the sliding Power switch, located on the front left edge of the base. I find the switch hard to slide (maybe that’s actually an advantage ) but I also think that the switch feels sort of cheap; flimsy and loose. I hope that’s not a correct assessment, because breaking the power switch would obviously be a big downer!

The built-in webcam, located on the upper edge of the display bezel, works in conjunction with an application called Cyberlink YouCam. As you might expect with a limited resolution of only 640 x 480 pixels, the images look a bit rough and splotchy and the color fidelity isn’t much to write home about, but the camera is undoubtedly good enough for its intended purpose of supporting webchats and such. Sound from the small stereo speakers is actually pretty good, but they occasionally sound a bit tinny playing some types of music.

The biometric fingerprint reader, on the left edge of the bezel, can apparently accommodate finger swipes with your finger oriented in either upright or sideways. However, because this machine is only a loaner, I didn’t attempt to fire up any of the TPM or security applications. I also didn’t try the mike array. My experience is that few of these bezel mounted mike arrays perform very well; if you’re interested in sound recording, you owe it to yourself to invest in a USB mike or some other external type of mike

Which leaves us to comment on the display. In laptop or slate mode, I find the display and its integral Synaptics touchpad a major disappointment, and I think this is the single aspect of the tx2051 that most prospective owners will also find most troubling. The WXGA LCD screen appears to have a max radiance of about 200 nits, or so, which makes it about average among mobile laptops. Although some bloggers have complained about image granularity, I haven’t seen this except possibly in one case where I was staring at a tiny section of the screen. For some reason, the Synaptics touchpad, which is an overlay on the screen, has a glossy smooth surface, which (to me) results in an unacceptable level of reflections. Combining this with the lackluster radiance of the screen means that the tx2051 is easily compromised by almost any reasonable level of ambient light. As I sit here writing this review, the convertible is sitting on my desk which is against a window. The late afternoon light is enough to make me turn the screen brightness up to full, and I can still see my face reflected in the screen. Not great.

Of course, you don’t live in the mobility world for long without learning a few tricks, so practically the first thing I tried was some 3M Vikuiti to see if it would tame these pesky reflections. The screen is a little better but in my opinion, it still falls short.

This, by itself, might be excusable, but I have also encountered problems with the Synaptics touchpad and its integration with the pen. I’m not overly familiar with Synaptics, but it appears to be a fairly light-touch, resistive design. In the past, I’ve found the touch experience somewhat compromised by the need to touch with even fairly light pressures, and I found this same issue with the Synaptics touchpad. (By contrast, I have now had this verified to me in spades by the no-pressure N-trig DuoSense digitizer; it represents the best touch experience currently available!) Well, OK, maybe we just chalk this one up as a personal preference.

But I’ve also been experiencing many spurious touch inputs while trying to ink on the screen. I think what’s happening is this: When the pen is close to the screen, the screen switches to active digitizing and gives the pen precedence. As I rest my hand on the screen and ink, I will sometimes pause and lift the pen in thought Maybe I’m lifting the pen too much, because I think the screen is switching back to the touchpad and misinterpreting my resting palm as an input! Suffice to say that unexpected events follow and nine times out of ten the results are again not great.

Yet another issue that I’ve been having with Synaptics is a subtle lack of accuracy (as compared to, for example, N-trig). Since I don’t particularly like, or use, Vista’s virtual mouse, I’m prepared to accept a certain amount of inaccuracy when I poke the screen with my fingertip. But whereas I can almost always hit the intended target on my XT / N-trig screen, my hit ““average” on the Synaptics touchpad isn’t nearly so good. I wonder if part of this might not be due to Synaptic’s calibration approach, which looks exactly like the pen calibration approach: touch the screen in each of its four corners. TabletKiosk’s i440D, which uses a Panjit touch driver, allows user calibration over 9, 16 or even 25 points distributed over the screen, and I don’t recall having quite this type of trouble with that slate. (However, in retrospect, I will also admit that I wasn’t overly taken by the i440D touch experience, either )

And Microsoft has a certain amount of responsibility here, too. The virtual mouse isn’t a very attractive concept, and Vista offers no other alternatives. Why couldn’t we have a cross-hair-like cursor, large enough to see under your fingertip, to help you accurately hit screen targets? Is that too much to ask?

Turning to inking, I found the supplied stick pen to be less than stellar because of the way the ““right-click” button is integrated into the barrel. For some inexplicable reason, HP seems to think that the button should be smoothly and nearly seamlessly faired into the side of the pen. This means that you can’t readily feel it with your fingertip, so you always have to look for it in order to press it! Fortunately, I prefer to use the ““press-and-hold” form of right-clicking, so this particular design blunder isn’t terribly disturbing to me. Long-time readers probably also know that I don’t like stick pens in general, so this part of my evaluation was probably doomed from the start anyway!

Others have commented that they particularly like the inking experience on the tx2051, but I found nothing special about it, either positive or negative. It worked as I expected it to, and that’s not a bad thing, but it’s nothing extraordinary, either.

Finally, I’d like to comment on a particular aspect of the tx2051’s architectural design; the 64-bit processors and OS. Theoretically, I suppose that a 64-bit architecture ought to be regarded as a good thing for performance and an advantage in the marketplace except I’m not so sure.

I have nothing against the AMD processors; in fact, I wish AMD well in its perennial battles with Intel. Competition is a good thing. No, my unease is with the 64-bit Vista OS. As someone else recently pointed out in the blogosphere, however poor the driver situation is with 32-bit Vista, the situation is just that much worse with 64-bit Vista. And I believe I have encountered several compatibility issues between various applications that I’ve wanted to experiment with on the tx2051 and its 64-bit OS. Two such examples are the Inscribe virtual keyboard and the DialKeys Gen 2 virtual keyboard. The Inscribe keyboard installed and will start, but hangs after a keystroke or two. The DialKeys keyboard installed with a bit of difficulty, but will not run. Neither of these apps gave me any trouble on 32-bit Vista. So I wonder if, in an attempt answer the calls for more performance at their web site and to better the competition, HP has made a mistake by choosing an architecture that actually offers the user less compatibility with the existing body of software, most all of which is tailored, more or less, for 32-bit systems?

Perhaps this would be a minimal issue if the basic performance was better than average, but, again, I find it to be only so-so. Times to cold start (~120 seconds, 83 processes running) and shut down (~30 seconds) are noticeably slower than my dated TC1100 (cold start ~80 seconds, 56 processes running), and times to perform other tasks, such as start apps or process an Excel spreadsheet don’t seem dramatically snappier, either. However, this can’t all be hung on Vista. The large number of running processes is directly related to the moderately large amount of crapware that HP still insists on including in their basic software load. This includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • eBay
  • Norton Internet Security
  • My HP Games
  • SlingBox
  • MSN (Well, OK, that one’s probably Microsoft)
  • Internet & Digital Services (Whatever that is )
  • Pandora Internet Radio
  • Yahoo Toolbar
  • MS Works

One of the clearer messages on HP’s web site was that users don’t want this stuff, so it’s disheartening to see that it’s still being included.

So to wrap this up, the tx2051 is a noble attempt by HP to honor mobile users. It simply falls a bit short because of a few significant design integration issues. Put another way, it’s not that the tx2051 was poorly done; it’s that with a few slightly different design choices, the tx2051 might have been significantly better! Despite this, I find the tx2051 to be a reasonable purchase choice given its likely street price, and a somewhat better-than-average convertible tablet.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. A.J.

    11/03/2008 at 9:21 am

    But what about the price? How much does it cost?

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