Review: HP tx2000z Tablet PC

A second HP attempt at a home Tablet PC works well but with caveats. (February 22nd, 2008)

Electronista Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Hewlett-Packard

Price: $1,659 (2.4GHz, 4GB RAM, 250GB drive)

The Good

  • Excellent handwriting recognition.
  • Good touchscreen and active digitizer.
  • Unique trackpad.
  • Fast battery charging times.
  • DVD+RW DL drive in a small tablet.
  • Built-in 5-in-1 media reader.

The Bad

  • Short battery life.
  • Performance won't turn heads.
  • Slightly fuzzy screen image due to the touchscreen.
  • Tiny trackpad mouse buttons.
  • Can feel bulky to carry while writing.

Unlike most Tablet PCs, the HP Pavilion tx2000 also doubles up as an entertainment PC for playing CDs or watching DVDs. This curious combination of home and business applications means the tx2000 can effectively replace a separate desktop and laptop PC and work as your primary home and office computer.

The basic tx2000 unit offers low weight (4.53 pounds), a modest size display (12.1-inch diagonal), and diminutive length (8.82 inches), width (12.05 inches), and height (1.23 inches minimum/1.52 inches maximum) measurements. The various configurations can include up to a 2.4GHz AMD Turion 64 X2, Vista Ultimate, 4GB of RAM, and up to 250GB of storage.

The basic unit comes with 1Gb of RAM, 802.11b/g WiFi, 160Gb hard disk, and a 4-cell battery costs $1,149. For this review, I used the top of the line model with 4GB of RAM, 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, a LightScribe-capable DVD+RW DL drive, a 250GB hard drive, and both the 4-cell and 8-cell batteries.

the display

The most unique feature of any Tablet PC is its display, which can twist 180 degrees and lay flat over the keyboard. What gives a Tablet PC this flexibility is its hinge, located in the bottom center of the display. On the tx2000, the hinge snaps the display in place to hold it like a normal laptop screen or to keep it turned completely around. If you want to twist the screen at an odd angle, such as 45 degrees from the keyboard, you can do that too, which can be especially handy fro showing people images on the screen.

Because you can twist the screen on a Tablet PC, the plastic case holding the screen tends to get handled more often than the screen on an ordinary laptop. The tx2000 encloses its screen in a plastic case with an Imprint Finish (called Echo) etched on the top (the back of the display), but despite the black finish, you'll see fingerprints and smudges marring the outside after a while, which you can thankfully wipe away using the included cleaning cloth.

For controlling the computer while the screen lays over the keyboard, the tx2000 includes several buttons built-in around the edges of the screen. A fingerprint reader is embedded in the left side of the screen, which can restrict access of the computer to the matching fingerprint of specific users. The top of the screen includes a VGA resolution web cam and microphones for video conferencing. In case you want to take snapshots or movies of yourself from the web cam, you can use the included Cyberlink YouCam program. Although the resolution of the web cam is lower than those found in other laptops, the visual quality and frame rate are acceptable for normal video conferencing.

Since you can twist and flip the screen around, the bottom right corner of the screen displays a rotate button, which can rotate your screen image sideways or upside-down, which can be handy when using the screen as a tablet.

Another button in the bottom right corner toggles the Windows Mobility Center dialog box so you can adjust the screen brightness, check your battery power, and turn your wireless access on or off without needing access to the keyboard.

More annoying are the DVD player buttons for playing a DVD. When the screen is folded flat as a tablet, these buttons let you control a DVD. However, their location near the bottom right corner of the screen also means that if you twist the screen with your right hand, there's a good chance that you'll accidentally press the DVD button, launching the DVD player by mistake.

The bottom of the screen contains two Altec Lansing speakers. The sound quality is more than adequate and should satisfy all but dedicated audio purists. Three buttons, located above the left corner of the keyboard, allow you to adjust the volume or mute it altogether. Unfortunately when the screen is folded flat over the keyboard as a tablet, these three volume control buttons get covered up and remain inaccessible until you lift the screen up. You can still modify the volume by pressing the button to toggle the Windows Mobility Center, but this means going through a two-step process of opening the Windows Mobility Center dialog box and then adjusting the volume. A simpler solution would be to embed the three volume control buttons along the edge of the screen case like the DVD control buttons on the opposite side.

the touchscreen

The focus of any Tablet PC is its screen. The tx2000 12.1-inch screen is comfortable for everyday use with a 1280 by 800 resolution. Unfortunately, the touch-screen tends to make the screen image appear slightly fuzzy, as if you're looking at the actual screen through a thick layer of glass. This slight visual effect mars the sharpness of the image, so if you intend on using the tx2000 primarily as an ordinary laptop, you may be disappointed at the screen quality.

As a Tablet PC, the tx2000 shines. Whether you have the screen flipped upside down as a tablet or angled as an ordinary laptop screen, you can choose commands by touching them with your fingertip. By using the included stylus, you can point and click on commands instead. Constantly touching the screen with your fingertip tends to smudge the screen, though, so it's generally best to use the stylus most of the time.

The tx2000 is an active digitizer, which means that you only need to hold the stylus near the surface of the screen for the screen for the screen to recognize the stylus position. However, you still need to physically touch the screen with the stylus to choose commands or drag the mouse to select items on the screen. The touchscreen is even smart enough to turn off its touch feature when you're using the stylus. This prevents the touchscreen from misinterpreting your hand, resting on the touchscreen surface, for a command.

As an alternative to the mouse or the trackpad, the touchscreen, stylus lets you choose items more naturally. The stylus works with the included Paint program, allowing you to draw on the surface of the screen as easily as scribbling on a piece of paper. More importantly, the stylus also lets you write directly on the screen and have the computer translate your handwriting into text to type in any application such as a word processor or database.

The handwriting recognition feature offers three ways to input text using the stylus. First, a yellow window appears where you can write naturally and the computer does its best to translate your writing into text. Second, the yellow window displays spaces for holding a single letter. This allows you to accurately position letters and space them apart. Third, you can use an onscreen keyboard and simply touch the letters you want to type including non-writing characters such as a space, the Tab, or Backspace keys. With three different ways to input text, you can choose the way you find most comfortable.

Although this handwriting recognition feature is meant more for block letters rather than cursive writing, it managed well over 90 percent accuracy in recognizing upper and lower case block letters, and mustered surprisingly good recognition with cursive writing as well. (Your results may vary depending on how sloppy or neat your cursive writing may be.)

If you need to input text into a Tablet PC but find the keyboard too awkward, using the stylus with the Tablet PC's handwriting recognition software makes writing as easy as jotting text on a notepad. The only drawback of this handwriting recognition feature is the bulk of the tx2000 unit itself. While no bigger than a typical yellow notepad, the tx2000 is obviously much chunkier and heavier. Given that most people's strongest hand is their writing hand, carrying and writing on the 4.3-pound tx2000 means cradling the unit with your weakest hand while trying to balance it as you write. It's much easier to write on the tx2000 by leaning it on a flat surface, but this partially negates the mobility of the unit in the first place.

Lugging a 4.3-pound unit around is tolerable, but ultimately annoying. If you need to write while carrying a Tablet PC, the tx2000 may be too heavy and thick for more than occasional use. However, if you only need to carry the unit to different locations, but have a flat surface where you can place it while you write, such as a classroom, then the tx2000 is extremely mobile.

keyboard and trackpad

When not using the unit as a Tablet PC, you can use the tx2000 like a normal laptop computer. The tx2000 keys are large enough to type on comfortably and have a gray steel appearance, although the keyboard itself has a cheap, plastic feel to it. On my unit, the up arrow key kept getting stuck, which required pressing a few times to free it. Like most laptop keyboards, the tx2000 function keys serve as general purpose function keys and as special keys for controlling various features such as the screen brightness or printing a document.

Where the tx2000 keyboard may be average for a laptop, its trackpad is more unusual. Instead of an ordinary trackpad, the tx2000 provides an indented surface defined by circular indentations in the plastic. Rubbing your fingers along this indented surface moves the mouse pointer like an ordinary trackpad, but without the disadvantage of dirt collecting along the edges or visible surfaces of wear on the trackpad.

To the right of the trackpad, the tx2000 provides a separate vertical strip of circular indentations that allows you to scroll windows vertically by rubbing your finger up and down. However, the trackpad doesn't include a similar horizontal strip for scrolling windows side to side. In case you connect a mouse to the tx2000 and don't want or need the trackpad, you can press a button to toggle the trackpad on and off.

The major weakness of the trackpad are its two small rectangular left and right mouse buttons. Unlike most laptops where these left and right mouse buttons are large and appear flush against the bottom of the trackpad, the tx2000 separates these buttons from the bottom of the trackpad with a tiny ridge -- which can be too easily mistaken for the tiny left and right mouse buttons themselves.

ports and connectivity

The tx2000 offers plenty of ports for connecting to other devices. The front of the unit contains two headphone plugs and one microphone plug. Further to the right is a button for toggling WiFi access on and off. The two headphone plugs let two people listen to music or watch a DVD at the same time using separate headphones while the WiFi button lets you shut off WiFi access to conserve battery power.

The right side of the tx2000 contains a single USB 2.0 port, a 10/100/1000 gigabit Ethernet port, a proprietary Hewlett-Packard expansion port (called an expansion port 3), a 15-pin VGA port for connecting an external monitor, and an S-video TV-Out port for playing video on an external device. The expansion port 3 can be used to connect an optional xb3000 Notebook Expansion Base, which costs $249.99. You can plug an external monitor, speakers, and a printer to this expansion base to use the tx2000 as a desktop PC. When you need mobility, just disconnect the expansion base and hit the road with the tx2000 as a laptop.

Two additional USB 2.0 ports appear in the back of the unit, giving a total of three USB 2.0 ports. The side USB port is especially convenient for plugging in USB flash drives while the two USB ports in back are more convenient for plugging in external devices, such as printers or hard drives, when using the laptop at your desk. Next to these two USB 2.0 ports in back is a 56K modem port for connecting the tx2000 to a telephone line and a Kensington security slot for locking down your laptop. Also in the back are two fans that blow heat out of the unit out the right and back. Although the right corner of the tx2000 gets much warmer than the rest of the unit, the heat is a minor nuisance so you don't have to worry about the tx2000 burning your right knee over time.

The left side of the tx2000 contains a LightScribe DVD+RW DL drive that's capable of reading and writing CDs, DVDs, and dual-layer discs capable of holding 8.5GB. The most unique feature of the LightScribe drive is that you can burn text and images directly on LightScribe compatible CD/DVDs so you don't need to print separate labels or else scrawl directly either on the discs themselves -- handy if you want to provide a professional look to your discs.

Next to the DVD drive is a 5-in-1 media card reader that can recognize Secure Digital (SD), Memory Stick (MS), Memory Stick Pro, Multimedia Card (MMC), and xD cards. If you rely on Compact Flash (CF) cards for a pro camera, however, you'll need to get a separate Compact Flash card reader. A separate opening underneath the media card reader allows you to store the remote control, which is so tiny that you'll likely lose it otherwise.

For wireless connectivity, the tx2000 offers Bluetooth 2.0, WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n), and infrared (IR) capability. The IR feature works with the included remote control for starting up or shutting down the computer and accessing the Windows Media Center program for playing an audio CD, watching a DVD, or connecting to an Internet TV show. The remote control works whether the screen is folded up like a normal laptop or twisted completely around to face in the other direction, which makes it easy to use the tx2000 as a portable DVD player. Although Hewlett-Packard promotes the tx2000 as an entertainment PC, however, it lacks a FireWire port for connecting video camcorders. Video is strictly a one-way affair for this system.

battery life

As with any laptop computer, the crucial feature is its battery life. The tx2000 accepts a 4-cell Lithium-Ion battery or a larger and bulkier 8-cell Lithium-Ion battery. The 8-cell battery adds extra weight and props the unit up in back, which can make the tx2000 easier to use as an ordinary laptop, but harder to carry comfortably. Using HP's recommended power settings with WiFi turned on and using the Microsoft Works word processor continuously, the 4-cell battery lasted approximately 2 hours while the 8-cell battery lasted approximately 3.5 hours.

If you plan on using the tx2000 on a long airplane trip, the smaller and lighter 4-cell battery probably won't last long enough, and the heavier 8-cell battery may barely make it through a cross-country flight. If you switch to the Power Saver settings, you may extend battery life slightly, but at the cost of performance which is already so valuable on such a small system. For simple word processing, this performance hit won't likely be noticeable, but if you need heavy-duty number crunching power for manipulating spreadsheets or databases, you may notice a more meaningful impact.

Although you can extend battery life by turning off Wi-Fi or changing the Power Saver settings, you'll probably be better off always carrying around a spare battery with the tx2000 to insure that it won't run out of power at the most inopportune moment. Fortunately, recharging the batteries is fairly quick, taking approximately 2 to 3 hours to fully charge each battery. If you travel a lot, you might want to buy the optional 90W Air/Auto/AC Combo Adapter for $129.99. That way you can recharge the batteries while driving.

hard disk and restore

The tx2000 comes with a 160GB or 250GB (5400 rpm) SATA hard disk, which should provide ample storage and speed for most users. No matter which hard disk you choose, approximately 12GB is set aside to store HP's system recovery feature, which lets you recover your original factory settings in case your system gets fouled up beyond repair.

Unfortunately, if the hard disk completely fails, it could potentially wipe out this special system recovery partition as well. To protect against this disaster, Hewlett-Packard includes a special Recovery Manager program, which allows you to burn a disc image of your system on to CDs or DVDs. Forcing you to burn your own system recovery discs rather than include any system recovery discs seems like a minor cost-saving measure that results in greater inconvenience for customers. Obviously, if you fail to burn your own system recovery discs and your hard drive fails for any reason, you can't restore your computer. Hewlett-Packard sells optional system recovery discs for $19, which seems like a worthwhile (if unnecessarily optional) investment for anyone uncomfortable with burning discs by themselves.

performance, wrap up, and recommendations

For a general purpose Tablet PC, the performance of the tx2000 is acceptable. Microsoft's own Windows Experience Index gives the tx2000 a 3.0 rating, due to the merely basic graphics capability of the NVidia GeForce Go 6150 video chipset. Despite this average score and corresponding results in PCMark Vantage, you probably won't notice its minimal graphics capabilities unless you try playing recent 3D video games, none of which are the real focus of the system. For ordinary use, the tx2000's graphics capabilities should be sufficient for most people.

PCMark rated the tx2000 on the slow end of the spectrum at 2,391 PCMarks where the fastest system rated a 15,029 PCMarks rating. As the following table shows, the tx2000 is far from being even somewhat competitive with these systems, so power users may find the tx2000 too sluggish. Again, performance isn't its focus -- some of these tests are hindered by the need to use notebook hard drives to begin with -- but is something to watch out for before you expect even a high-end tx2000 such as the test system to provide solid results.

The tx2000 is a fine Tablet PC for those who absolutely need handwriting and portable Tablet PC capabilities. If you use the keyboard more often than the stylus, the system is unlikely to shake your need for a traditional laptop computer, but if you need (or simply have a clear desire for) a Tablet PC, the tx2000 should be near the top of your list.

by Wallace Wang


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