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.
Performance and Benchmarks
The HP ENVY x2 comes with an Intel Atom Z2760 1.80GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD. At the time of this writing there are no upgrade options available, just one fixed configuration with the following specs:
Essentially what you get with the Envy x2 is netbook like performance, the Cedar Trail family Atom processor from Intel is new but rather unexciting performance wise -- though it does do well on the power consumption front (see the battery life section). When playing a YouTube 1080p video of Michelle Obama reading "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" the processor utilization was up near 100% with just a couple of other idling applications open. Video stuttering occurred that was unrelated to bandwidth issues and that is frankly unacceptable for a modern tablet or PC. You can see the screenshot below for evidence of the high CPU utilization:
YouTube 1080p video can be more demanding as the processor has to work with the wireless card to receive data and then decode and playback the video. Still, if you were planning on being able to play 1080p video on a larger screen Full HD monitor attached via HDMI you might take pause for concern. The same 1080p YouTube video being played on my Intel Core i5-3210m equipped ThinkPad X230 took up only about 40% processor utilization with no stutter. In another comparison to the Intel Core i5-3210m, the Atom Z2760 was almost three times slower when running the wPrime benchmark to 32 million. It took the Intel Core i5-3210m 21.5 seconds to do this math while it took the Atom Z2760 61.4 seconds.
The bottom line here is that the Intel Atom processor in the ENVY x2 will not allow you do multi-tasking with several heavy duty applications running at once and for any processor intensive tasks such as encoding video or crunching several million numbers you're going to have to wait and watch. If you're just doing one thing at a time and are only interested in basic computing tasks then the Atom will be just fine.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
Overall system performance is best measured using FutureMark's PCMark 7 benchmark that stresses out all performance related components of a notebook. Running this benchmark on the ENVY x2 yielded a score of 1,432. Compare that to the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 PCMark 7 score of 4,274 and Dell XPS 12 score of 4,711 and you can really see why the HP ENVY x2 is in a lower league of performance due to its more tablet oriented design and component architecture.
PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark that measures overall system performance in Windows 7(higher scores mean better performance):
One saving grace for performance might have been a fast SSD, but instead with the ENVY x2 you get not a true SSD but rather eMMC flash memory inside. The read and write performance of the flash memory inside was far slower than a high quality mini SSD such as the Crucial m4. Worse still is the fact the capacity is only 64GB and 10GB of that is already taken up as a recovery partition. After discounting for the OS and other installed programs you only have about 40GB of capacity remaining out of the box. To get an idea of how the flash memory storage inside the ENVY x2 stacks up to the Crucial m4 mSSD we ran the CrystalDisk benchmark, clearly the eMMC style flash storage isn't in the same performance league as a true SSD:
For those interested in further disk analysis we also ran the Atto benchmark to get an idea of read/write speeds for the storage built into the ENVY x2:
Heat and Noise
Temperature management is where the ENVY x2 really stands out, it's very cool running and due to its fanless design (by necessity) and the non mechanical SSD is of course quiet. There is no CPU whine or otherwise unexpected component noise. The Intel Atom Z2760 has a rather astounding 1.7 Watt total TDP (Thermal Power Design) so while we knocked it for unimpressive performance, it's extremely efficient and has a low power draw and thereby low heat generation.
If you're looking for long lasting battery life you've come to the right place. The ENVY x2 actually has two batteries, one inside the tablet (screen) and another inside the keyboard dock. This means when you are in laptop mode you get longer battery life due to the additional battery there. We ran FutureMark's PowerMark benchmark that tests battery run down by placing the screen at medium brightness and then looping through video, opening browser windows, opening office documents and typing -- in other words, real world usage. Under this realistic scenario the HP ENVY x2 in laptop mode provided an astounding 11 hours and 30 minutes of battery life.
Powermark battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
If you're more conservative with your usage, you can get much longer battery life. When idling the ENVY x2 in laptop mode with the screen brightness at half, the machine stayed on for over 15 hours and still showed 10% battery life left.
The larger battery is found inside the tablet, so when in tablet mode you still can get decent battery life. While the Intel Atom failed to impress much with performance, it did impress us with its incredibly low power draw and ability to extend battery life.
One important item of note is that the Windows 8 you get with the ENVY x2 is the real deal, no Windows RT in which you can only run Windows apps. You're able to run any Windows program you can run on a desktop PC and of course have multiple programs and windows open at the same time. This is an important factor when you compare the ENVY x2 to devices such as the Apple iPad, Microsoft Surface or any Android tablet. While the ENVY x2 may cost more, it's more functional and flexible in terms of OS and software. The Windows 8 version you get is just the 32-bit version, that means the max memory the system could support is 4GB of RAM -- but since it's non-upgradeable that's a moot point anyway.
HP does provide a few pre-loaded software applications outside of the standard Windows 8 apps. The Fresh Paint app from Microsoft is definitely worth checking out. HP MyRoom offers video conferencing, but given the myriad of other choices such as Skype, Google Hangout, Facebook Video Calling or FaceTime over on the Mac OS you'll probably already have your own favorite video chat service. HP also provides a Netflix app, eBay app and iHeartRadio pre-installed. Obviously they're getting a kickback from those companies to install the software, but if you happen to use those services it might be handy to have it pre-loaded. One useful thing HP provides is a Getting Started Windows 8 tutorial. This is a tutorial HP put together themselves, not Microsoft, and it's actually a great intro to Windows 8 offering lessons on how to use the Start Screen, Charms menu and how to get around the UI.
Mentioned before is the fact you get a limited amount of space to install programs and applications. The initial SSD space provided is 64GB, and then you back out the 10GB used for a recovery partition and factor in the size of the OS and other pre-installed software and you're down to just 40GB or so of space for files and other programs. You can somewhat get around this by using the micro SD slot for a 64GB micro SD card and even larger 128GB SD card in the full sized slot on the keyboard as a means of storage.
If you want both a tablet and laptop, the HP ENVY x2 is a compelling offering. It has a premium look and build quality, the dock and latch mechanism are awesome. It's just so easy to put the tablet portion into the keyboard dock, and once there it really does look and feel like a pure laptop, the screen is held in tight and there's zero wobble. You get the full Windows 8 experience, allowing you to install any typical Windows desktop program and run multiple programs at once, this is not a watered down Windows RT or similar mobile OS you're getting. The battery life including the dock is simply incredible, at 11 hours and 30 minutes under strenuous usage we'd be willing to bet you can fly from North America to Asia on one charge and not run out of battery.
Downsides to the ENVY x2 include the unimpressive performance from the Intel Atom processor. Despite being from the latest generation of Intel's Atom Cedar Trail family, the Atom Z2760 on board showed its shortcomings and would not suffice for power users wanting to do modern 3D gaming, lots of multi-tasking or other intensive tasks. The keyboard dock is innovative in its design, but the keyboard itself suffers from flat keys with short travel typical of many other Ultrabooks. The screen offers nice viewing angles and color accuracy, but the 1366 x 768 resolution is far short of the higher resolutions offered by other notebook convertibles on the market or the Apple iPad with Retina display.
Though the ENVY x2 isn't perfect on every front, it's still a solid offering at $849 and does provide both a true laptop and tablet experience in one package. While we would have liked to have seen better performance, it's just not possible to cram a powerful Core i5 inside a slate tablet device, so you have to understand you can't have it all. Compromises have to be made to achieve this highly versatile form factor of a 2-in-1 tablet and laptop, and HP has struck a nice balance and done a good job with the design and engineering and so the ENVY x2 warrants a recommendation to anyone looking for a hybrid notebook convertible.