So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
HP Envy X2 hybrid PC
The Envy X2 is a two-in-one product: it can be used as a tablet or as a notebook thanks to the supplied dock
- Can be used as a tablet or as a notebook
- Runs Windows 8
- Battery life can be extended through the keyboard dock
- Performance was sometimes very sluggish
- Touchpad didn't always work properly
- Screen flickering issue
- Slow storage
HP's Envy X2 hybrid is decent if you are looking for a Windows 8 tablet that can also be used for long typing sessions. However, we experienced sluggish performance, a screen that flickered, and a touchpad that sometimes refused to work properly. These issues diminished our overall view of this product.
Price$ 999.00 (AUD)
The HP Envy X2 is a Windows 8-based hybrid device that relies on an Intel Atom Z2760 SoC (system on chip) as its power plant. It's a device that can be operated as a tablet or as a laptop (with the supplied keyboard dock), but it's primarily designed to work as a tablet. The beauty of the X2 is that you'll be able to install many of the same applications that you're already used to running on your Windows-based laptop or desktop PC, which makes it a versatile device. The downside is that the overall performance of the unit can, at times, be frustrating.
With a screen size of 11.6in and a weight of 700g, the Envy X2 offers excellent mobility when used primarily as a tablet. It's a device that tapers a little towards the edges, which makes it look thinner than it actually is, but it's about 8mm thick at its thickest point at the bottom. There aren't any USB 2.0 or video ports along the sides of the tablet, with the only port being an audio jack and the only slot being of the microSD variety (for extra storage). It has a sparse physical feature-set; it only includes a power button on the right side, volume buttons on the left, and a rear-facing camera with a flash. There is also a front-facing camera for video chatting and there is a capacitive Windows key on the bezel so that you can easily go back to the Start screen from wherever you are in the operating system.
If you want to make use of USB 2.0 or HDMI, then you will have to place the tablet in its supplied keyboard dock, which bumps the weight of the overall package to 1.4kg. It also supplies a full-sized SD card slot. One of the major benefits of the keyboard dock is that it also supplies more battery life, which, when used in conjunction with the fully charged tablet, can provide close to a full work day's worth of power (depending on how you use it). Unfortunately, the keyboard dock doesn't make the X2 as comfortable to use as a regular laptop.
The X2 feels too top-heavy when the tablet is sitting in the dock, which makes it awkward to rest in your lap. Furthermore, the dock's touchpad isn't one of the best we've ever used. In particular, we had problems with right-click operations, which were, at times, ignored. Single taps sometimes made the cursor move off the spot, and the tracking sometimes acted as if we clicked and dragged to select everything on the screen when we only wanted to move the pointer. We say "sometimes" because the pad did work properly most of the time, with clicking and tracking problems showing up after we had been using it for a while.
We do like the keyboard though, which has keys that feel just like the ones we've seen on other HP Envy laptop products. You can actually use this hybrid device for serious typing sessions when you need to respond to emails or create documents. The keys are well spaced and of a regular size apart from the up and down arrow keys, which are half-sized.
The tablet itself has a native resolution of 1366x768 and its screen is decent. It can be viewed the right way up, sideways or upside-down and we noticed only a slight loss of uniformity when we viewed it sideways (in portrait mode). It's a scratch-resistant touchscreen with five capacitive touch points, but it's also a very glossy screen that will noticeably reflect light sources, even if you use the maximum brightness setting. Something that we noticed on our test model's screen was a slight flickering. This was mostly noticeable at low-to-medium brightness levels and it got very annoying. We thought it might have something to do with dynamic illumination controls, but disabling Windows 8's adaptive brightness setting didn't fix it. Nor were we able to change the refresh rate.
Configuration and performance
Inside the tablet there is an Intel Atom Z2760 CPU, 2GB of RAM and a 64GB solid state drive. You also get dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC. The Atom CPU has a frequency of 1.8GHz and it features two cores plus Hyper-Threading. Don't get too excited though; it's only a little faster in a straight line than the last Intel Atom-based netbook that we saw back in 2010, the Acer Aspire Happy. For example, in our Blender 3D rendering test, the X2 recorded a time of 3min 20sec, while the Acer Aspire Happy, with its Intel Atom N550 CPU, recorded 4min. The newer Atom is based on a smaller manufacturing process of 32nm, which makes it more power-efficient, and it's also passively cooled — the X2 doesn't make a peep and barely gets warm (unless you have it plugged in and on charge).
The overall performance did feel sluggish at certain points throughout our test period. Browsing Web pages was a task that we could perform adequately for the most part, but pages with lots of coding (and especially ones with Flash elements) tended to slow the system down to a crawl. It didn't matter whether we used a Desktop Web browser, such as Firefox, or a Windows 8 full-screen browser such as Chrome or Internet Explorer 10; there were many sites that didn't give a smooth browsing experience. For example, the Sydney Morning Herald, which is a site that we visit daily, was, at times, unresponsive until it loaded and it was jerky as we scrolled up and down. Running the Task Manager, we could see that the site demanded well over half of the CPU's processing power when we scrolled. Handwriting and painting was also processed slowly and there was a delay before the results were drawn on the screen.
We didn't have any problems using native Windows 8 apps that we downloaded from the Microsoft Store, and most games that we tried ran smoothly. In particular, we got hooked on a game called Blocked In while testing this unit — it isn't graphically demanding, but it is addictive. The touchscreen performance of the Envy X2 was decent. We were able to easily navigate the Windows 8 environment and it was fun to switch between open apps by flicking in from the left side of the screen. However, there were times when our touches didn't register properly while clicking Web links (especially small ones, such as the comments links on Reddit). We also had some problems closing windows and pressing on options within Desktop applications.
Streaming video from the Internet was also hit and miss. YouTube was fine for the most part, but paid services that we use, such as the Flash-based NBA LeaguePass, which allows for the streaming of basketball games at a quality level up to 3000Kbps, did not run smoothly. Even when we dropped the quality to 800Kbps, the tablet didn't process the moving pictures quickly enough and there were noticeable dropped frames. Other paid services that use lower quality video, such as NBL.TV, performed a little smoother, although some stuttering in the picture was still evident. On the bright side, regular video files off our local network and off the hard drive didn't suffer from stuttering or quality issues.
There isn't a whole lot of space on the internal solid state drive of the tablet, which has a formatted capacity of 57MB — over 11GB of this is taken up by the Windows folder alone. This means that you can't store a large selection of video and music on it without sacrificing space for apps and other data. However, the microSD card slot in the tablet can come in handy if you want to add a few more gigabytes of storage. It's worth nothing that the SSD is a slow one, too. It recorded a read rate of 80 megabytes per second (MBps) in CrystalDiskMark, and a write rate of only 35MBps. These results would be slow even for a mechanical drive.
The battery life of the Envy X2 will vary depending on whether you use the supplied dock. On its own, the tablet lasted 4hr 27min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management (in this case telling the system not to switch off the screen), enabling Wi-Fi, maximising screen brightness and looping an Xvid-encoded video. The dock has its own battery. It can give the tablet an extra 4hr 10min of life away from an outlet, effectively allowing it to last for an entire work day. However, how long it lasts will depend on what tasks you perform (how much CPU they use), how you manage the screen brightness, and powering off the screen during idle times. The dock is also bulky and not always practical to take on the road with you, especially.
We like the concept of HP's Envy X2, as well as its battery life, but the thing about this hybrid device is that it doesn't always offer a smooth user experience. It's great to have a full-blown version of Windows 8 on a passively-cooled tablet that feels light and sturdy, but our experience while testing the X2 leads us to believe that it will be hit and miss. At times, it can be downright frustrating to use. The issues we noticed with the dock's touchpad, the flickering screen, and the overall Web browsing performance, which got very slow, mean that this is a tough product to recommend. We'd wait to see what else HP can come up with in this category, or check out offerings from other vendors.
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