HP Envy X2 Windows 8 hybrid tablet/notebook review
At first glance, HP’s Envy X2 looks like an ultraportable laptop. And with an 11.6 inch display and a QWERTY keyboard, it kind of is. But you can also eject the screen from the keyboard and use the X2 as a tablet.
While the X2 isn’t the first device to straddle the line between tablet and notebook by using this hybrid form factor, it’s one of the few that’s only sold with the keyboard. HP doesn’t position this computer as a tablet with an optional keyboard, but rather as a portable computer that can be used in either mode.
That means The Envy X2 is more expensive than some Windows 8 computers — it has a list price of $850 – although you can sometimes find it for as little as $750. But it also means you get a laptop that can get more than 12 hours of battery life and which can run full desktop-style apps as well as full-screen Windows 8 apps from the Windows Store.
Unfortunately there are some tradeoffs in this kind of computer. In order to get that kind of long battery life (and a quiet, fanless design), HP outfitted the X2 with a low-power Intel Atom Z2760 Clover Trail processor. It can handle certain high-performance tasks such as HD video playback without breaking a sweat, and most Windows 8-style apps run beautifully on this tablet.
But when you try running desktop apps, the HP Envy X2 often feels sluggish, whether you’re attempting heavy duty tasks such as transcoding video files or editing large spreadsheets, or more common tasks such as surfing the web with half a dozen or more browser tabs open.
Those limitations make the HP Envy X2 tough to recommend as a primary computer — and it’s kind of expensive to treat as a secondary device. But if you treat it as a device that can do anything a Microsoft Surface RT can do, and which can also run full desktop apps in a pinch, the Envy X2 starts to make a bit more sense.
After all, the computer doesn’t cost much more than a top-of-the-line iPad, and while there are more tablet-specific apps available for Apple’s tablet, you can’t run Office, Photoshop, Premier, QuickBooks, or other PC apps on an iPad.
HP loaned me an Envy X2 for the purposes of this review. The computer features an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, a 1.8 GHz Intel Z2760 dual core processor, 2GB of memory, and a 64GB solid state disk (with about 10GB reserved for a system recovery partition).
It has 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth, an 8MP rear camera and a front-facing HD webcam, and Beats audio with stereo speakers below the screen.
While there aren’t many ports on the tablet itself, the keyboard dock features 2 USB 2.0 ports and a full-sized HDMI port. There’s a 25Whr battery in the tablet and a second, 21Whr battery in the laptop dock.
When the tablet is connected to the keyboard, the dock battery will run down without draining the tablet battery at all, so when you pull the tablet away from the dock it’ll have at least as much power left as it did when you plugged it in.
In notebook mode, the computer measures 11.9″ x 8.1″ x 0.76″ and weighs less than 3.1 pounds. That’s not bad for an 11.6 inch notebook, whether the screen is detachable or not.
The tablet alone weighs 1.5 pounds — which is a little lighter than a first generation Apple iPad. It’s a bit heavy to hold in one hand — but if you grip the tablet in both hands and/or prop it on your lap, it’s comfortable to use for surfing the web, playing games, or watching videos.
The tablet portion of the Envy X2 looks a lot like every other tablet released in the past few years — which is to say that it’s a large piece of glass with a black border around the edges. You’d think that wouldn’t leave much more to say about the design of this tablet, but it does have a few defining characteristics.
First, it’s a bit bigger than an iPad or most Android tablets, thanks to a display area that measures 11.6 inches diagonally. Second, it has front-facing speakers, because the edge-to-edge glass which covers the display and screen bezel doesn’t actually stretch all the way across the device. It actually stops a fraction of an inch from the bottom of the tablet, allowing HP to place stereo speakers below the screen.
Unfortunately they’re still tiny tablet speakers which don’t offer much in the way of volume or frequency range. If you plan to spend a lot of time listening to music or watching videos, you’re going to want a set of headphones.
The 1366 x 768 pixel glossy display has wide viewing angles, which is even more important in a tablet than a laptop. You can place the Envy X2 flat on a tablet while reading or watch a video with the person next to you on the couch without any problems seeing the screen.
With a 16:9 pixel aspect ratio, the tablet is clearly designed to support video playback in landscape mode. When you tilt the screen into portrait orientation, the screen feels very long, doesn’t provide a lot of horizontal room for apps or web pages, and isn’t particularly comfortable to hold.
I also found that when using multiple apps in multiple windows in desktop mode, switching from landscape to portrait mode and back could cause some of the apps to move around on the screen. If you don’t use portrait mode often (and I wouldn’t recommend it), this isn’t much of a problem though.
The back of the tablet is covered in brushed aluminum. There’s an 8MP camera on the back, along with a power button and volume buttons.
On the front there’s an HD webcam. HP doesn’t bother putting many ports around the sides — on the bottom you’ll find a headphone jack and a docking port for the keyboard (which you can also plug the charger directly into if you want to charge the tablet but not the keyboard).
There’s also a Windows button below the screen which you can press to bring up the Windows 8 Start Screen at any time — but only when you’re using the Envy X2 in tablet mode. If the tablet is connected to the keyboard dock, the button is disabled.
There are no USB, HDMI, or SD card slots on the tablet. It’s pretty clear HP expects you to use the tablet dock if you want to plug in accessories.
When you do that, you get 2 USB 2.0 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, an SDHC card slot, and a charging port. You also get a full-sized keyboard and a touchpad.
Neither the tablet nor the keyboard dock have removable batteries, but given the fact that you can get 12 or more hours of run time out of the two batteries combined, I’m not inclined to complain.
You connect the tablet to the keyboard simply by sliding the bottom into a slot in the keyboard dock. The tablet will lock into place automatically, and the locking mechanism is strong enough that you can turn the laptop upside down without the screen falling out.
If you noticed that I called the device a laptop, that’s because it basically is a laptop when the screen is docked. You can use the mouse and keyboard or the touchscreen. But for the most part it’s easy to think of the Envy X2 as a portable notebook with a slow processor and long battery life.
When you close the lid of the Envy X2, it looks just like a laptop. Open the lid and it behaves a little oddly, because the back hinge moves down so that it’s lower than the rest of the keyboard dock. This pushes up the back of the computer so that the keyboard is positioned at a slight angle — but it also means that the back of the keyboard is actually lifted up into the air.
The keyboard feels a lot like the one HP uses for the Pavilion dm1 and other 11.6 inch notebooks, and the touchpad supports Windows 8 gestures such as edge swiping to switch apps or bring up the Charms menu.
Unfortunately the touchpad is a little over-sensitive. Since the touchpad is pretty close to the keyboard, it’s easy to accidentally swipe it with your palm while typing. That can lead the cursor to move unpredictably on the screen, and I regularly found myself deleting or inserting letters in the wrong line of text while typing this review.
You can adjust the touchpad sensitivity settings, and this helps a bit. But the only way I was able to get the cursor to stop jumping was to move the slider all the way to “heavy touch,” and then I had to press down very hard on the touchpad when I did want to move the cursor.
Typing on the keyboard is relatively easy, but the keys feel a little smaller on the Envy X2 than on some other laptops with similar-sized screens, which made typing feel like a little more than I’m used to. There’s also a bit of flex in the keyboard, which means that if you press down near the center the entire keyboard will move down a bit.
In order to release the tablet from the keyboard dock, just slide the switch in the hinge and lift the tablet. You may want to do this when using the touchscreen because tapping the display in laptop mode will make the screen wobble a bit.
Unfortunately since there are no ports in the tablet section, that means you’ll immediately lose your connection to anything plugged into the keyboard dock. If you were watching a video on an SD card, using a mouse, or connected to a wired printer, you’ll need to plug the tablet back into the keyboard to continue using those peripherals.
As a tablet, the HP Envy X2 works pretty well. While it has an x86 processor, it has all the hallmarks of an ARM-based device including long battery life, a thin, light case without a noisy fan, and the ability to resume from sleep instantly when you press the power button.
Windows 8 also has a touch-friendly user interface that allows you to navigate using touchscreen gestures and an excellent on-screen keyboard.
Things fall apart a bit when you try to use desktop-style apps in tablet mode. While you can certainly do it, the Envy X2 works best as a tablet when you’re running Metro-style apps which are designed for full screen use. These are the apps that are available for download from the Windows Store which comes preloaded on the tablet.
For instance, the full-screen weather, news, sports, and stocks apps that come preloaded on most Windows 8 devices look great. So do third party apps like Netflix.
There aren’t nearly as many tablet-friendly apps in the Windows Store as there are Android or iOS apps in the Play Store or App Store. But there are certainly a few gems including Kindle and NOOK eBook apps, Netflix and Hulu Plus video apps, a full-screen Skype app, and a TuneIn Radio app.
The Windows 8 apps I’ve tested have all loaded quickly and run well on the tablet. Many also support “snap” views, which let you pin an app to the side of the screen while using most of the display to show a different app. For instance you can see the currently playing song and media playback controls in the TuneIn app while surfing the web in Internet Explorer.
Intel’s Atom Z2760 Clover Trail processor isn’t much faster than earlier netbook chips in terms of raw processing power. But Windows 8 and Clover Trail play very well together, which makes the Envy X2 feel pretty zippy when you’re running tablet style apps.
Microsoft’s on-screen keyboard for Windows 8 is at least as easy to use as the tablet keyboards for Android and iOS. In fact, I’m using it to type this paragraph, and I can almost touch type… almost.
The keyboard pops up whenever you touch a text input area in a Metro-style app and disappears when you don’t need it.
Unfortunately when you open the “desktop” app from the Start Screen and enter the Windows desktop environment (which looks almost identical to Windows 8), the keyboard is a bit tougher to use. It won’t pop up automatically when you want to type a URL into a web browser, open a note in Notepad, or do just about anything else.
Instead, you have to tap the keyboard icon in the system tray to bring up the keyboard and tap a close button to make it go away. This doesn’t sound like it would l take a lot of work, but given how effortlessly the keyboard appears and disappears in tablet-style apps, it’s kind of annoying how much manual action you have to take to use it with desktop apps.
But while it’s nice to be able to run desktop apps on the tablet, you’re much more likely to do that when the keyboard is connected.
There may not be as many tablet-friendly apps for Windows 8 as for other platforms, but the tablet runs existing apps about as well as any device with an ARM-based processor would, if not better.
When it comes to desktop performance, the situation is pretty much the reverse. There are millions of Windows apps that you can run on a device like the Envy X2, but many of them won’t run very well.
That’s because the computer is powered by an Intel Atom Z2760 Atom processor. It’s a 1.8 GHz dual-core chip with an x86 architecture that allows you to run the full Windows 8 operating system (as opposed to Windows RT, which runs on ARM devices and only supports third party apps from the Windows Store).
But while the Atom Z2760 may be the fastest Atom processor Intel has released to date, that’s kind of like saying your pet turtle is the fastest you’ve ever seen. It’s still no cheetah.
The system does manage a few tasks that would have been tough to do with a netbook-style device a few years ago. It can play HD videos, for instance. And thanks to Windows 8 and UEFI, the computer boots pretty quickly.
On the other hand, when surfing the web with more than 3 or browser tabs open, the entire system starts to feel sluggish. Serious gaming is pretty much out of the question. And CPU-intensive tasks will take a very long time to finish.
You certainly can use the HP Envy X2 to edit video, manage large spreadsheets, or create high quality graphics. But it’ll feel like you’re using a 10 year old computer when you do.
For instance, when I tried to transcode the same video file I’ve been using to benchmark computers for the past few years, I was able to complete the task in 5 minutes and 9 seconds. That’s a new record for a computer with an Intel Atom processor, but the Asus VivoBook X202e with an Intel Core i3 Ivy Bridge CPU performed the same task in just over a third the time.
That Asus laptop also runs Windows 8, has an 11.6 inch touchscreen display, and sells for $499 — but it doesn’t have a tablet mode and doesn’t get the same kind of battery life as the Envy X2.
Meanwhile the HP Pavilion dm1 with an AMD E2-1800 processor (priced at about $425) falls somewhere in between, taking just under 4 minutes to transcode the same video. That notebook doesn’t have a touchscreen or great battery life.
I wasn’t able to run the video transcoding test on the last Atom-powered netbook I reviewed, the Asus Eee PC X101CH, but in an audio transcode test and another test where I created a ZIP archive containing over 2000 individual files, the HP Envy X2 was a little faster than the Asus netbook and much slower than the HP Pavilion DM1 or Asus VivoBook X202E.
Likewise, the HP Envy X2 has a slightly higher Windows Experience Index than the Asus netbook, but a much lower score than most other portable notebooks.
Just for kicks I also ran a few gaming benchmarks just to prove what I already know — this machine is fine for casual games or Windows 8 games downloaded from the Play Store. but it doesn’t have the graphics horsepower to handle serious PC gaming.
It scored a measly 456 in 3DMark06 and achieved a letter grade of E in the Street Fighter IV benchmark (while hobbling through the test at under 5 frames per second).
In other words, you should expect very netbook-like performance if you plan to use the HP Envy X2 as a notebook. And that’s a bit disappointing for a computer with an ultrabook-like price tag.
If you ignore the $850 price tag, the HP Envy X2 makes sense as a sort of cross between a Windows RT tablet and an ultrabook. It’s a thin and light laptop that also functions as a tablet with long battery life.
But it’s hard to ignore that price tag. Basically if you plan to use the computer as a notebook, you’re paying 3 times the price of a netbook to get netbook-style performance (plus a touchscreen and extra-long battery life).
If you plan to use the X2 primarily as a tablet, you’re stuck with an operating system that has a well thought-out user interface, but not as many high quality apps as other platforms. You can also pick up an iPad or Android tablet for less than half the price of the X2.
So who exactly should this device appeal to? I guess it could be a good choice for customers who want a tablet which can run desktop apps in a pinch, but which doesn’t necessarily need to run them at blazing fast speeds. It’s a versatile machine that can run a wide range of software… you just need to manage your expectations for performance to enjoy your time with an Atom-powered Windows 8 notebook.
It could also be a good choice for folks looking for all-day battery life. While HP promises up to 19 hours of run time, in my tests 12 hours of mixed use seems to be a more reasonable goal. There are a couple of tablet/notebook hybrids out there that get even longer run time, but 12 hours is nothing to sneeze at.
But it would be a lot easier to recommend the HP Envy X2 if it had a starting price of $699 or lower. At $850, I keep finding myself wondering if it wouldn’t make more sense to buy a cheaper, more powerful Windows notebook and an Android or iOS tablet to truly get the best of both worlds.