HP has had an iffy time of it, trying to make it in the tablet world. Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with technology knows the sordid tale. Boy meets girl, and after a whirlwind romance, girl acquires boy for $1.2 billion. Girl's father decides that boy is not quite the dashing young opportunity he thought, and casts the relationship aside in a fit of pique.
Metaphors aside, HP's squandering of Palm and webOS was, to put it bluntly, one of the biggest missteps the troubled company has made in recent years. The TouchPad was a curious experiment riddled with issues and one that many thought had steered the computer away from consumer tablets.
The ENVY x2 is not HP's first Windows-based tablet. That dubious honor goes to the Slate, a mediocre business-focused machine with middling battery and an OS with poor to no touch optimization.
The new product is more than that, in every measurable way.
First, I've been calling it a tablet - I should correct that. HP is firm that this isn't a tablet - or, rather, than this isn't just a tablet. The ENVY x2 is planted very firmly in the notebook camp. You'll never see this being sold as a Windows 8 slate only. Instead, every unit comes with both tablet portion and keyboard portion.
It was surprising, how polished and easy to use the product was. Windows 8 has been, thus far, a hard sell for many users, mostly enthusiasts. The new Start screen is definitely an adjustment over prior Windows' Start menus. On the ENVY x2, however, it was a joy to use, and I really mean it.
It's clear that some critics are right: Windows 8 just seems to come alive when you can interact with it directly via touch. That doesn't mean that using it on a desktop or non-touch laptop is bad, just that using it on a touchscreen is good. Really, really good.
The ENVY x2 is pretty thin. I don't have any hard specifications in terms of the unit's physicality, but in tablet mode, it felt no different to use than an iPad, though the 16:9 aspect ratio does make it a different experience. As a result, using it in horizontal mode is the way to go most of the time. Vertical orientations will still be great for reading webpages and books, but I suspect the very nature of Windows 8 applications will force the issue most of the time.
The majority of devices that have Windows 8 installed, such as laptops and desktops, will not have users tilting things to new orientations (barring the occasional edge case), so most applications will likely look best in that mode.
HP really worked hard to make a device that put a premium on design while remaining uniquely their own - and it shows. The back is clad in silvery aluminum, with a black front bezel and metal surround. A volume toggle is embedded into the rear left of the device, while the device sleep/wake/power button is on the rear right.
The screen itself was nice, though not amazingly so; I feel that contrast levels could be a bit higher. Still, the 11.6-inch display, with its 1366x768 resolution, had great viewing angles and exceptional brightness. HP tells me that the IPS panel is backed by up to 400 nits of brightness. As a result, using the device outside shouldn't be much of a problem.
At the top front, you'll find an HD webcam, while the reverse offers up an 8MP camera and LED flash. We weren't given an opportunity to test out the quality of these cameras, so how useful they'll be is up in the air. There's also an NFC chip built in, but who knows what sort of things HP might include (via software) that take advantage of such capabilties.
On the bottom, you'll find the ENVY x2's speakers - there aren't any in the keyboard dock. Additionally, on the tablet portion itself, you'll find a micro-SD card slot: you won't be limited to the device's built-in flash storage (there's also a full-sized SD card slot in the keyboard portion, and you could theoretically put a card into both slots at the same time).
All told, it's pretty light. Together, the unit weighs around 3.1 pounds; of that, the tablet half weighs 1.5 pounds, while the keyboard adds another 1.6.
Speaking of the keyboard portion, there's not much to it. The USB ports, SD card slot, power adapter, keyboard, trackpad, and battery are all that sit inside of the metal frame. A bit of clever engineering went into that battery, by the way - by default, the ENVY x2 will drain the keyboard battery first, when docked - only then will it touch the one built into the slate. As a result, when you're finished working with the keyboard, you can pop the tablet part off and have a fully charged internal battery.
HP was leery about discussing battery life, but suspects that it'll be competitive, with a reasonable working day's use. Of course, that means that HP is talking about using both batteries in conjunction - meaning that tablet only battery life will probably not measure up to the competition. Part of that is down to the fact that inside of the unit is an x86 chip from Intel - part of the chipmaker's new x86 SoC (System-on-Chip) efforts to push their influence into the smartphone/tablet space. The ENVY x2 will run all of your favorite Windows applications, but it probably won't get the same battery life as, say, the ASUS Transformer.
To swap between the two form factors, there's a switch at the top of the keyboard that customers can slide over. I found it difficult to manage; enough so that a third hand would have been helpful. I can't be too difficult on some of the hardware details, however, because this is still pre-final hardware and if the problem persists through to release, you can be sure we'll mention it in the final review.
Overall, the HP ENVY x2 is a really exciting product, and I can't wait to spend an extended time with it as we pull closer to release. There are certainly some issues to overcome, but the thoughtfulness of design and functionality that HP has built into the notebook really shows, and it gives us hope that Windows 8 might yet take off.
Be sure to check out the rest of our hands-on photos, as well as HP's ENVY x2 press photos, in our image gallery.
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