This week both Apple and HP made new computing platforms available. Both the MacBook Air and the HP Slate had been the subject of months of rumors and speculation, and now they're both here. A business professional in the market for a portable computing device could conceivably consider either, so let's look at how they compare.
Size and Weight
The 11.6-inch MacBook Air is about the size of a sheet of paper at 11.8 inches by 7.56 inches, and it is .68 inches thick at its fattest point. It weighs in at 2.3 pounds. The HP Slate, on the other hand, is an actual tablet and comes in a little more svelte at 9.21 by 5.91 inches, .58 inches thick, and a lighter 1.5 pounds.
Edge: HP Slate 500
The HP Slate 500 gets up to five hours of battery life--which is low by tablet standards. In fact, the battery life of the HP Slate would great if was a notebook, but only be average if it were a netbook. By comparison, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air claims five hours of battery life as well (and up to 30 days in standby mode)--and it actually is a notebook.
Edge: Tie (with perhaps a slight advantage for the MacBook Air on principle)
The MacBook Air has a glass multi-touch trackpad that lets you interact with the system as if it were an iPhone or iPad. It supports inertial scrolling, pinch, rotate, swipe, and other touch gestures common to the Apple mobile devices. The HP Slate 500 has a multi-touch interface as well, but it can also accept input from the HP Slate digital pen, enabling the taking of notes or marking up documents right on the tablet display.
Edge: HP Slate 500 (they both do multi-touch gestures, but HP has the added flexibility of the pen input)
In Video: New MacBook Air and Graphics Card Overload on PCWorld Podcast #95
From a business perspective, the fact that the HP Slate 500 runs the full 32-bit Windows 7 Professional operating system has appeal for many users. Other tablets like the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab seem like capable devices, but they won't let mobile users install and use the software they need from their Windows desktop.
If you told me that you had a Windows 7 system with a 1.8GHz Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage space for $800 I would scoff. Those specs are anemic by Windows 7 standards and barely meet the minimum system requirements for the OS. For $50 less than that, I could get a notebook with a dual-core 2.4 GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Professional. Of course, it wouldn't be a tablet.
If we accept that it's OK to try to run the full Windows 7 operating system on these weak hardware specs, the MacBook Air is also capable--in fact, arguably more capable than the HP Slate 500. Both have 2GB of RAM, and 64GB of solid state flash storage, but the MacBook Air has a dual-core processor.
Edge: Tie (virtually equal--depends on whether a tablet form factor or a full physical keyboard are more important to you)
The HP Slate 500 is also $200 less than the base 64GB model of the 11.6-inch MacBook Air. It seems that the HP Slate 500 has a slight edge as a mobile business platform capable of running Windows 7.
There are a variety of other considerations to weigh between these two, as well as the fact that there are remote desktop solutions that enable other tablet platforms to work with Windows software as well. Ultimately, the decision is subjective and personal, so make up your own mind. As far as I am concerned, I love Windows 7, but it is not an OS I want on a tablet.