HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Preview: Here Comes the Future

Posted on March 20, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile with 35 Comments

HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Preview: Here Comes the Future

UPDATE: A “shipping exception” has caused my Envy x2 to be delayed. FedEx now says that it will deliver it tomorrow (Wednesday, March 21) instead. But with yet another major nor’easter blizzard bearing down on us overnight, I’ll be surprised if that actually happens. So I may not be able to publish my First Impressions article until Thursday, sorry. We’ll see how this goes. –Paul

The HP Envy x2 is at the nexus of three major initiatives that will shape the future of Windows and the PC: Windows 10 S, soon to be recast as S mode, Microsoft’s Always Connected PC initiative, and Windows 10 on ARM, which brings the platform to mobile-focused Qualcomm chipsets. As such, the product is inherently interesting.

And boy, do I have questions.

Some of those questions can be answered in the short term, though of course things will evolve over time.

For example, what is the real-world battery life and “uptime,” what I think of as battery life plus standby time? What is the real-world performance of x86 desktop applications? (With the understanding that this will require switching to Windows 10 Pro.) And how seamlessly does Windows 10 handle the transition between Wi-Fi connectivity and cellular data?

Other, broader questions require context in the form of long-time experience. Do Microsoft’s interweaving strategies make sense for the platform and for the customers who will use these devices? Is there really a sizable market of users who will not deal with but will actually prefer Windows 10 in S mode? And how many of these people will further prefer the benefits of this system running on even more mobile ARM-based PCs?

For now, of course, I will focus on what’s in front of me. And over time, I will develop a better understanding. Not just of how this device works on this Snapdragon processor generation. But of how or whether this all makes sense at all. Of whether there is a future here.

There are measurements to be made. And some are fair, some are not.

For example, I routinely perform a streaming HD video test over Wi-Fi on the PCs that I review, and I believe that such a test is fair: The Movies & TV app that I use for this test runs natively on ARM, and will provide an apples-to-apples battery life comparison with other Windows 10 PCs. (That said, the other half of this equation is standby time. And that will require real-world experience over time.)

However, running performance benchmarks on this device is not fair at all: Those benchmarks are x86 desktop applications and will be emulated on the HP Envy x2, so their results are rendered moot. But it’s not just about emulation. Remember: Qualcomm’s ARM processors use a mobile-optimized design that includes both large (performance) and small (efficiency) cores. When you just run the PC continuously, as happens in a benchmark, it cannot take advantage of its own processor design. Benchmarks are always artificial, but this is even more so on ARM-based PCs.

On that note, you should not trust any website that seeks to demonstrate the real-world performance of a Snapdragon-based PC using such benchmarks. Here, I will instead do what I always do. I will actually use the PC, see how well it really works, and then report back to you what I’ve found.

To do that, of course, I will need to switch it over to Windows 10 Pro. That will compromise the experience that Microsoft—and, presumably HP—wishes for their customers. So I will need to test this device with both Windows 10 S and Windows 10 Pro for my final review. My rough plan is to perform the artificial battery life test first—I usually do this last—in Windows 10 S, and then switch it to Pro. Then, I can test Windows desktop application performance and repeat the battery life test to see whether there is any difference. (My biased expectation is that there will be no meaningful difference.) And then I’ll switch it back to Windows 10 S for some weeks-long testing.

Somehow, during all this, I will also need to test how well Windows 10 handles the transition between Wi-Fi and cellular data networks. And yes, I expect this to be identical between Windows 10 S and Pro.

To date, my experience with this type of thing has been mixed: Windows has long featured integrated support for cellular data, and it’s unclear whether the Always Connected PC initiative is just a public brand or whether it manifests in real-world improvements in the product. (My biased expectation: It will work like it always worked, with repeated “metered networking” warnings and lots of manual switching of networks.)

Sometime during the review process, Microsoft will ship the Spring Creators Update, which will upgrade Windows 10 to version 1803. Given the timing of this product’s release schedule, it obviously ships with Windows 10 version 1709. And given its life cycle, I think it’s fair to not conclude the review until it receives the upgrade: Everyone who buys this product will soon or immediately be upgrading anyway. So I will try and let that happen naturally. And I hope to make this upgrade while the device is running Windows 10 S. We’ll see how that bit goes.

Later today, I’ll provide a first impressions article that describes the device itself. Based on my initial hands-on experience with the Envy x2 from December, I can say that it is, by far, the nicest of the first three Qualcomm-based PCs to come to market. Even in the broader field of Always Connected PCs—remember, there will be many more Intel variants as well—the HP Envy x2 stands out from a design perspective. This is a premium PC with an attractive 2-in-1 design.

I’m really looking forward to this one, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Sure, I don’t personally gravitate to 2-in-1 PCs, and I do prefer larger displays. But this isn’t about me. It’s about the future, of Windows, and of the entire PC platform. This is about Microsoft finding a foothold in a world that has gone mad with mobile devices and cloud services. And doing so in a mainstream way, and not just with niche sub-categories of expensive PCs. For the Envy x2 to succeed, in particular in Qualcomm form, it has to address real needs, and it has to do so for a large audience.

It’s all very exciting. And not knowing the outcome, not knowing how this will play out over time, is part of the thrill.

I’ll check back in later today, and then I’ll start chipping away at some of those questions.

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Comments (35)

35 responses to “HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Preview: Here Comes the Future”

  1. tommorton14

    If Microsoft is betting on this as the future of the PC. The PC may be in more trouble than we think. Based on Laptop mag review it looks like all Apple would need to do is add mouse support and and a usb-c port to the Ipad Pro and it will be light years ahead of this thing!

  2. TravisGreuel

    If this has been addressed somewhere else, I apologize. Always connected PC initiative; does this require an additional data plan?

  3. Ensign Eddie

    Although not as important as performance, I hope you also cover "lapability". It looks like this is as annoying to use in the lap with the keyboard as my Surface Pro. I imagine tablet mode would be okay.


    I would also be interested in how well it works in a docking situation.

  4. Otto Gunter

    10" form factor please, preferably a Surface. I want a tablet with these benefits, rather than a pc.

  5. jaredthegeek

    I would like to see a test using all cellular if you can, that tends to be the drag on the current machines.

  6. mebby

    Looking forward to the review as well. My everyday-use computers include a desktop PC and a 2-in-1 (first SP4 now an Eve V). Well, and a work Dell laptop. I find a 2-in-1 very useful, though at this point I would want an Always Connected PC to be running Win 10 Pro.

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  8. skane2600

    Paul on the Premium side said that the fact that laptop magazine ran an X86 benchmark shows that they don't know what they are doing. Sure, running an X86 benchmark on a PC that claims it can run X86 programs makes no sense at all. /s


    The very fact that X86 emulation is a feature of these ARM PCs is an implicit admission by Microsoft that x86 compatibility is a key feature of these devices. The success or failure of these PCs in the market will be directly tied to the X86 emulator's efficacy and performance.

  9. dontbe evil

    good start, I’ll wait for next generation with SD845/855 :)

  10. Waethorn

    Will Microsoft offer vanilla installation images for Windows on Snapdragon devices via their software download page?

  11. matsan

    Please add a review of sleep/wake reliability of this device. Specially interested to hear if it is better than Intel/Windows machines, especially when disconnecting things like monitors or USB-devices.

    • redstar92

      In reply to matsan: Second this. this would make it a must buy if it had phone-like wake capability. Even a SP Pro 2017 is a bit weak in this area


      • matsan

        In reply to redstar92:

        Yeah, it's amazing that after 30 years of personal computers most of the manufacturers struggle here. A PC with iPad sleep/wake/battery performance and reliability cannot be impossible. Even Microsoft fails with their own devices so it must be a hard nut to crack.

        Every single Windows-based laptop I have had during the years have been buggy in this respect and it amazes me.


        Makes me wonder how Apple does it with their devices. I have a Macbook Pro that I use like once a week, but the device wakes up in less than a second, with not battery drain and restored connectivity. Same with the iPad.

        Now we'll get the answer to the question - is it Windows (and drivers) or the CPU architecture?

  12. Daekar

    This is the most interesting technology story to me this year. Everyone is going into transports of ecstasy over AI this year, but with the exception of Google Photos being able to, with mediocre accuracy, pick out pictures of my family and cats from my library, AI has pretty much made zero visible impact on my life so far. It's not going to benefit me, it's going to benefit the corporations that build the platforms I use.


    This, though... this is a big deal. As long as they let me keep my desktop with full Win32 for a good while, I can see myself literally never running anything except an S-mode Qualcomm laptop from here on out if the performance is adequate for Mary-Jo to use.


    Paul,

    I am eagerly awaiting your evaluation on this machine, and especially your thoughts on the potential for a good experience at a sub-$500 price point.

  13. JerryH

    It will be interesting to hear about this on Windows Weekly. Leo already mentioned Sunday that it is super slow with Chrome in emulation, but seems OK with native Edge.

  14. BigM72

    Paul,

    You should be able to test x86 apps that are available in the store such as Office, Spotify and Photoshop Elements without switching out of S mode?


    Therefore, switching out of S mode to test x86 performance in general is not needed, just to test performance of apps specifically not available in S mode (like Chrome, Firefox, Photoshop etc).


    Is my understanding correct?

  15. Tony Barrett

    Way too expensive, and too crippled. It may be Microsoft's future, but it isn't anyone elses.

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