Ever since Lenovo introduced its first Yoga convertible laptop, competing PC makers have been borrowing the idea and releasing their own touchscreen laptops with 360 degree hinges. The HP Pavilion x360 is Hewlett Packard’s most affordable Yoga-inspired computer.
Open the lid about 90 degrees and you’ve got a laptop with an 11.6 inch display. Keep pushing the screen back until it’s resting back-to-back with the keyboard and you’ve got a tablet.
The Pavilion x360 is a 2-in-1 device for folks that don’t want to buy two separate devices. It’s also affordable: Prices start at just $400.
But you get what you pay for. If you’re hoping for all the best features of a laptop and a tablet combined in one package… you’ll probably have to spend a lot more money on something like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 or the aforementioned Lenovo Yoga line of devices. The HP Pavilion x360 is an entry-level computer with a low-power processor, less-than-stellar battery life, limited screen viewing angles, and a few other quirks.
Given its low price tag, the HP Pavilion x360 might still be worth considering. But you’ll want to do your homework before buying this convertible notebook so that you know exactly what you’re getting.
HP loaned me a Pavilion x360 to test for a few weeks. Read on to find out what you can expect from this 2-in-1 computer.
The HP Pavilion x360 features an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel, 10-point touchscreen display, an Intel Pentium N3520 Bay Trail processor, at least 4GB of RAM and 500GB of storage.
HP loaned me a model with 8GB of RAM. This version sells for $475. You can also pay $50 extra for a model with a 500GB hybrid hard drive with solid state storage.
Each model includes 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth, Beats audio, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, HDMI and Ethernet jacks, and a headset jack. There’s a front-facing webcam.
The notebook measures 12.2″ x 8.5″ x 0.85″ and weighs just under 3.1 pounds. That makes it reasonably compact for a laptop, but rather thick and heavy for a tablet. It’s probably easier to think of the HP Pavilion x360 as a portable laptop that you can use as a tablet than the other way around.
At first glance, the HP Pavilion x360 looks like an average notebook. It has a full-sized QWERTY keyboard, a reasonably large touchpad, and an 11.6 inch glossy screen with a rather large bezel around the edges that makes the laptop a bit wider than other notebooks with similar screen sizes.
Look a little closer and you’ll notice a few things that have clearly been designed to make this computer easier to use when it’s in tablet mode. The power button is on the side of the device instead of above the keyboard, for example. There’s also a volume rocker next to the headset jack so you can adjust the audio level without using the keyboard or firing up an on-screen menu.
But the Pavilion x360 still looks kind of funny when you convert from notebook to tablet mode. That’s because the lid is curved around the edges so that when the notebook is closed the edges look a bit thinner than the center of the laptop… and when the screen is behind the keyboard you’ve got a tablet with big gaps between the display and the body of the computer.
Still, it’s nice to have a tablet mode when you’re running Windows 8.1. While you can use Microsoft’s latest operating system as a desktop/notebook style OS, there are a number of touch-friendly apps available in the Windows Store including games, eBook reading apps, and media apps. You can use any of those apps in notebook mode, but in tablet mode you can read Kindle eBooks, watch Netflix videos, or play Pinball FX2 using nothing but your fingers.
Like the Lenovo Yoga line of devices (and similar notebook/tablet hybrids from Asus, Dell, Toshiba, and others) you can also use the Pavilion x360 in tent or stand modes. Flip the screen to 270 degrees and the keyboard becomes a sort of kickstand. Try a 300 degree angle and you can prop up the system like a tent. Both of these modes could be handy for giving presentations, watching videos, reading recipes, or using an external keyboard or mouse while using the PC like a desktop.
Unfortunately if you just want to treat the HP Pavilion x360 like a notebook with a touchscreen display there’s a down side: The screen wobbles a bit when you touch it. In fact, it wobbles sometimes when I’m typing with the computer resting on a tabletop. Wobbly screens are bad enough in a standard laptop… they’re borderline unbearable in a touchscreen laptop. The HP Pavilion x360 display shakes enough that I find myself not even wanting to reach up and touch the screen at all unless the device is in tablet mode.
You’ll also need to make sure the screen is set to the right angle before you begin — if you tilt the screen back or forward too much colors will start to look washed out and photos and videos might look like photographic negatives.
Viewing angles are even more important for tablets than notebooks, since you’ll probably find yourself constantly adjusting your grip on a tablet. So it’s kind of a shame that HP’s 2-in-1 tablet doesn’t look great from every angle.
The notebook features Beats Audio with stereo speakers hanging out on the bottom of the machine near the front. Since the bottom of the laptop features a curved design much like the lid, the speakers are pretty much never covered, so they sound a little cleaner than some notebook speakers whether you’re using the HP Pavilion x360 on your lap or at a desk.
As is often the case with laptop and tablet speakers though, the speakers feature decent highs and nearly non-existent lows — you won’t hear much bass unless you plug in some headphones or external speakers.
While the computer features a low-power 7.5 watt Intel Atom N3520 Bay Trail processor, there’s also a 500GB hard drive so the system generates a bit of heat.
Unlike some Intel Atom-powered computers, the HP Pavilion x360 uses active cooling to help dissipate heat: There’s a fan in the case and a vent on the left side which blows hot air away from the case and makes a quiet whirring noise from time to time.
The keyboard features full-sized, chiclet-style keys and surprisingly little flex when you push down in the center. There are dedicated keys above the number row for volume, brightness, and other functions — and by default you don’t need to hold down the Fn key to use them.
Instead you press Fn + F5 or F11 if you want to refresh or go full-screen in a web browser or perform another function which requires a function key.
The touchpad below the keyboard supports multi-touch gestures, edge swiping, and other features that make it easy to navigate Windows 8.1 whether you use the touchscreen display or not.
You can enable or disable touchpad features from the Synaptics ClickPad properties menu which lets you toggle features such as pinch zoom, multitouch rotation, or 3-finger flick. You can also set custom actions for 2-finger and 3-finger clicks.
Intel’s Bay Trail processors are inexpensive, low-power chips. The Pavilion x360 has a 7.5W Intel Pentium N3520 quad-core Bay Trail processor which offers better performance than the Intel Atom chips you’ll find in cheap Android and Windows tablets, but it’s based on the same basic architecture.
But the truth is, unless you want to run some seriously resource-intensive tasks, you might never know that you’re using a system with a low-power processor. The HP Pavilion x360 boots Windows 8.1 in seconds, loads apps quickly, and generally feels quite responsive.
It doesn’t do too poorly at tasks which can tax the CPU either. Using Handbrake, for instance, I was able to transcode a 4.5 minute video to H.264 in just 82 seconds and shrink the same file using the FFMPEG encoder in just over half the time.
The Pentium N3520 processor doesn’t support Intel’s QuickSync protocol, so under some conditions you might get better performance from a system with the newer Pentium N3530 chip like the Acer Aspire V11.
But generally the HP Pavilion x360 is pretty fast for a low-power laptop. It was competitive with other Bay Trail systems in my audio and video transcoding tests and came out ahead of Bay Trail tablets including the Acer Aspire Switch 10 and Dell Venue 11 Pro in my folder zip test even though both of those systems have solid state storage while the Pavilion x360 has a slower hard drive.
I had no problems watching HD videos from YouTube or Netflix and Google Chrome never slowed down while I was surfing the web with over a dozen browser tabs open. Keep in mind that the model HP sent me features 8GB of RAM while the $400 model has just 4GB… but that should be more than enough memory for basic computing tasks.
On the other hand it’s important to temper your expectations: the HP Pavilion x360 isn’t a high-end gaming rig and while it scores a little better than Atom-based systems like the Switch 10 in gaming benchmarks such as 3DMark, you’re probably not going to have a very good time playing Crysis or Borderlands on this system. Older games or casual games should be fine.
While I’m pretty impressed with the general CPU performance of this machine, there are a few physical limitations which can make the laptop less than fun to use.
First, it gets only about 4 hours of battery life from the built-in 29Whr battery and there’s no easy way to replace or upgrade the battery if you need more run time. So you might find yourself lugging around the power adapter. The Pavilion x360 power brick isn’t the largest laptop charger I’ve seen, but it’s not exactly pocket-sized either.
Second, as I mentioned above, the system makes a better laptop than a tablet — and even as a laptop it has some pain points. The display looks better from some angles than others. The screen wobbles when you touch it. And when you fold the machine into tablet mode it’s heavy, bulky, and has an odd shape that can make it awkward to hold the computer with one hand.
When it comes to the overall selection of tablet apps, Windows 8.1 is still playing catch-up with Android and iOS. There’s no official Google Play music app, for instance. Nor is there a YouTube app for videos or a Marvel Unlimited app for comics. But many popular cross-platform apps such as Netflix, Kindle, and Comixology are available.
HP also loads the Pavilion x360 with unnecessary bloatware. It comes with a boatload of CyberLink digital media software, a bunch of HP utilities, a text messaging app called Pinger, and McAfee anti-virus software. The good news is that unlike Android tablets it’s easy to uninstall any of the programs that come pre-loaded on a Windows machine like this.
It might be possible to overlook some of those things if you don’t need super-long battery life or plan to use the tablet mode very often. After all, this is one of the cheapest Yoga-style convertible tablets on the market. But some folks might prefer to spend a bit more money on a system which doesn’t make quite so many compromises.
Notes for advanced users
Want to run Linux on the HP Pavilion x360? No problem. Just hit F10 when the computer is booting and you’ll get into a system configuration menu where you can enable Legacy Boot mode.
This makes it possible to boot Ubuntu or another operating system from a USB device. I plugged in a USB disc drive and had no problems booting an Ubuntu 14.04 LiveDVD. The keyboard, touchpad, and WiFi all worked without any modifications — although touch input didn’t work out of the box.
It might be possible to configure Ubuntu or other operating systems to recognize the touch panel, but it didn’t work automatically during my tests.
Interestingly, you can use the touchscreen in the UEFI/System settings screen. There’s a little touch-sensitive area on the right side of the screen with arrow keys and Fn keys which you can tap to navigate without using the keyboard.
Switching to Legacy Boot mode doesn’t prevent you from booting Windows 8.1, so it should be possible to install Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, or another Linux-based operating system alongside Windows and create a multi-boot system. I didn’t try this, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could still boot Windows with Legacy boot enabled. That’s something I’ve been unable to do on some other recent Windows laptops and tablets.
You can also get to a boot device menu by pressing F9 when the computer is starting up.
Want to upgrade the hardware? That’s less easy to do.
I attempted to pry open the case, but wasn’t easily able to get it all the way open. Since HP loaned me a laptop for this review and I’d like to return it in one piece, I stopped before I broke anything. But I was able to make out that the notebook is powered by a 29Whr battery and has a slim 2.5 inch hard drive.
If you’re a bit more ambitious than me you might be able to pull out these parts and replace them, but it’s pretty clear the HP Pavilion x360 wasn’t designed with easy upgrades in mind.
That said — if you’re cool with potentially voiding your warranty, HP does provide a guide for upgrading the RAM… so if you buy a 4GB model and want to upgrade to 8GB, it is possible. Intel says the Pentium N3520 processor only supports up to 8GB of memory so there’s not much point in trying to add more than that to the laptop.
There are a few ways to think about the HP Pavilion x360. If you think of it as a cheap Windows notebook with decent performance and the added bonus of a tablet mode which you might use from time to time, it’s a pretty good machine… although not necessarily the cheapest or most compact option for folks looking for a Windows notebook.
But if you think of this as a touchscreen laptop, the wobbly screen can make it frustrating to use. And if you think of it as a tablet which you can also use as a laptop… well, then what you’re looking at is a thick and heavy tablet with restricted viewing angles and sub-par battery life.
In that case, you might be better off buying a tablet with a detachable keyboard like the Acer Aspire Switch 10 or Asus Transformer Book T100. Neither of those systems is quite as fast as the HP Pavilion x360, but they each have better displays and longer battery life. They’re also both cheaper than HP’s Pavilion x360.
It’s exciting to see affordable laptops and tablets coming in a range of shapes and sizes. These days we can choose from high-priced ultrabooks, low-cost mini-notebooks (some might call them netbooks), 2-in-1 systems with detachable keyboards and Yoga-style devices like, well… the Lenovo Yoga line of products.
The HP Pavilion x360 is a relatively inexpensive example of the latter group. It’s cheaper than Lenovo’s 11.6 inch Yoga 2 11 and it has a faster processor than the similarly-priced entry-level Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series 2-in-1. I haven’t spent enough time with either of those convertibles to say how they really compare with the HP Pavilion x360, but while I enjoyed testing this laptop over the past few weeks I’d have enjoyed them even more if I didn’t have to to pack the power cable before heading to a coffee shop.
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