There has recently been a slew of notebook to tablet convertibles hitting the market since the release of Windows 8, and though late, HP has entered the fray with their ENVY x2 model. The ENVY x2, is as its "x2" name tries to convey, a 2-in-1 type of device. You get the easy to carry and read benefits of a slate tablet and more functional for work purposes laptop form factor rolled into one purchase. While some manufacturers have come up with clever screen hinges to allow for the acrobatics of laying a screen flat into tablet mode, HP has gone one step further by making the tablet portion screen detachable. The keyboard itself is really just a glorified dock with some extra ports and a battery. The ENVY x2 uses a rather ingenious magnetic connector that firmly holds the screen in place, to remove the screen you simply slide a latch and out it pops. Needless to say, the gee whiz factor is high with the x2, but what are the trade-offs and how does it stack up when compared to other competing notebook convertibles? Read on to find out!
Build and Design
The ENVY x2 looks more like HP's EliteBook business lineup than it does its other consumer models. This is a good thing, like the EliteBook the ENVY x2 exudes a sense of premium design with its brush metal silver finish and attractively emblazoned HP logo on the lid. The silver color finish is carried throughout the design body and is somewhat offset by the black bezel around the screen (or tablet if you will) and black keys of the keyboard. The overall look is simple and clean, there's not much to complain about here.
The most interesting thing we can talk about in regards to the build quality of the ENVY x2 is the docking connector mechanism for the tablet. When the screen is in place it truly looks like any other laptop, if you didn't know otherwise you'd guess it's just a pure laptop device. The hinge and docking mechanism are both firm and secure, the tablet is held so tightly in place that it's hard to even forcibly generate screen wobble, you will not have any screen shake problems on a bumpy plane or train ride.
Here's the kicker though, the tablet is actually very easy to remove by simply sliding the latch at the top center of the keyboard and then lifting with one hand. Reseating the tablet to the keyboard dock is just as simple, just center up the Windows logo with the latch and gently slide it onto the magnetic guided docking connectors and it'll go on smooth and easy. There's some seriously good mechanical engineering at work here with the Envy x2, we take our hats of to the designers of this latch and connector mechanism.
When the occasion calls for a tablet to be used, the 11.6-inch screen ENVY x2 won't weigh you down much. It tips the scales at 1.5lbs, which is comparable to the current Apple iPad that weighs 1.44lbs but has a smaller 9.7" screen. Add in the keyboard dock and the total weight only goes up to 3.1lbs and it stays a thin 0.76" thick so this is definitely an Ultrabook style of device.
Ports and Features
Given that the Envy x2 is an Ultrabook, you're probably expecting it has a limited number of ports, and you'd be right. HP can't defy physics, there's only so much space on a super thin design and so compromises on what ports make the cut have to be made. On the keyboard dock area left side there are two USB 2.0 ports, a full size HDMI port and a headphone jack. On the right side there's a full sized SD card reader, USB 2.0 port and the power connector. Unfortunately there is no USB 3.0 port or other type of fast transfer option.
The tablet itself has a couple of ports, on the bottom you'll find a micro-SD card slot, headphone jack and then the three docking connector jacks.
Left: HDMI, USB 2.0, headset jack
Right: SD card slot, USB 2.0 port, AC power jack
The tablet portion of the ENVY x2 has both a front facing and rear facing camera. The front camera can go up to 2.1MP max resolution and the rear camera has a much higher 8MP. The rear camera is of better quality, it offers not only higher resolution but also better low light performance and more accurate colors. Check out the picture of our (handy at the time of writing this review) coffee mug taken with each camera:
The display on the ENVY x2 doubles as a tablet, it's easily removable by simply sliding the latch release to the left. Putting the tablet back on the dock is simple, it does not require dexterity, the magnets really help to guide the display back into position and no force is needed. I cannot emphasize enough how well the docking solution has been designed, it's stunningly easy and smooth to use.
The display size is 11.6-inch diagonal and it sports a 1366 x 768 resolution. Other Windows 8 hybrid laptops such as the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 and Dell XPS 12 offer a 1600 x 900 HD+ and 1920 x 1080 Full HD resolution respectively so it's a little disappointing to be stuck with the lower resolution HD screen on the Envy x2. That said, the detachable screen and Intel Atom processor make the x2 a somewhat different beast.
One thing to be praised is the fact HP went with an IPS screen, meaning viewing angles are very wide and you see the same color no matter how you tilt the screen. The colors are very rich and accurate, which is again typical of an IPS display. The brightness level is so-so, you certainly won't be able to use this outdoors in the full sun, the screen just isn't bright enough for that. The screen is however bright enough for any type of indoor usage. Like every other tablet, the display also has a glossy finish, this helps to make colors pop more that are on the screen but it has the side affect of picking up fingerprints easily and reflecting any strong light coming from behind you.
Not to be overlooked is the fact the screen acts as a touchscreen still when you're in laptop mode. This makes gestures such as scrolling, zooming, rotating and pinch to zoom easy to do just by touching the screen. The screen can detect multiple fingers, not just two, so you can go crazy in art applications such as Microsoft Paint and let your creativity free. From a more practical standpoint, I found myself scrolling through documents and app screens by using the touchscreen rather than the mouse or touchpad, it's really a nice bonus.
HP labels the speakers on the ENVY x2 as being "Beats Audio". You have to be a little skeptical when a manufacturer claims to have superior audio in an Ultrabook or tablet. While there's no extra bass via a subwoofer that you get on the likes of the ENVY dv6t and ENVY dv7t laptops, the audio is serviceable and does sound better than what you get with other slate tablets. The speakers themselves are in the tablet portion, the dock does not offer any extra speaker output. The sound emanates from the recessed dock connectors. The audio, as you would expect, sounds somewhat like it's being transmitted via a tin can and has little bass. It does get up to a loud enough volume to fill a small room, but the louder it gets the more exaggerated the tininess will be so it's highly recommended that you switch to headphones if you want to crank the volume up. Speaking of cranking the volume up, the volume control rocker is located on the back of the tablet portion of the Envy x2, which is not exactly the most obvious place.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the ENVY x2 only works when you have the screen docked and attached, it does not work via wireless communication or provide the ability to type with the screen detached. The typing experience is pretty typical of Ultrabooks, the key travel distance is very shallow, meaning the key soon hits the "bottom" and registers a keystroke with just a slight touch. For those that are accurate and fast typists with a light touch, you'll adjust to this keyboard just fine and may even like it. For this reviewer, used to a ThinkPad keyboard with stiff keys and long travel distance, it really takes some adjusting to. With practice I was able to get up to 63 wpm typing on the ENVY x2, but the flat keys and short travel didn't provide a very pleasing typing experience. Another disappointment with the keyboard is a lack of having a backlight for work in dimly lit rooms.
The touchpad is nicely recessed and has a width of 3.5" and is 2.5" deep. It's technically a clickpad, meaning you can push down anywhere to register a left click but you have to push down on the lower right side for a right click. It's more intuitive to use the screen for things such as scrolling and zooming, but the Synaptics powered touchpad still offers these multi-touch gesture features of course. You can easily enable or disable the various touchpad gestures using the Synaptics driver software provided. The physical touchpad itself is rather slippery, which makes it easy to glide your finger across but doesn't offer as much control accuracy as a more textured touchpad. We also found the touchpad to be intermittently unresponsive, with the cursor either jumping unexpectedly or not reacting at all when touched. A couple of times after docking the ENVY x2 the touchpad failed to work at all and a reboot was necessary.
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