HP Envy x2 (Intel) Review

Posted on November 7, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 10 Comments

Yes, the Intel version of the HP Envy x2 is better, overall, than the Snapdragon 835 model. But it comes with its own unique compromises as well.

Design

At a high level, the Intel-based Envy x2 is much like its Snapdragon sibling: It’s an attractive and professional-looking detachable 2-in-1 PC—in other words, a tablet—that is thin, light, and eminently portable. It’s a bit thicker than the Snapdragon model, but you’d have to compare them side-by-side to even notice that.

The build quality is excellent and somewhat reminiscent of HP’s business-class EliteBook products with its solid and flex-free metal casing and lightly chamfered edges. While I don’t feel that Windows 10-based tablets are all that useful for mainstream users, this is a great one. That it is fanless, and thus silent, contributes to the cause nicely as well.

But the Intel-based Envy x2 falls apart ergonomically and aesthetically because its folio keyboard cover is a disaster. It looks a lot like that of its Snapdragon sibling but is much less useful and usable. Instead of a kickstand-type support in the back, you must awkwardly connect the keyboard cover so that the display is available in one of two angles (only one of which is useful).

And the fit is difficult, with a cutout for the back-mounted camera never quite positioned correctly. Worse, the keyboard itself doesn’t support two angles, like that of Surface Pro or the Snapdragon Envy x2; it only sits flat on the table.

See that gap? That’s the keyboard cover not fitting correctly around the rear-facing camera

The result is a tippy, top-heavy, and ill-constructed tandem that inspires no confidence at all and is decidedly non-lappable. Given how nice the Snapdragon Envy x2’s design is, and how well it works, this design just confuses me.

Display

The Envy x2’s display is gorgeous: It’s a 12.3-inch 3:2 IPS panel running at 1920 x 1280. That’s 188 pixels-per-inch (PPI), shy of Surface Pro’s 267 PPI. But it’s quite bright at 400 nits, and I find it to be nearly ideal for productivity work. And if you find yourself with some downtime, the display is vibrant and colorful in movies likeJ urassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

The only real downside is that the display could easily hit 13.3-inches given the huge bezels on all four of its sides. I suppose this is a concession to the tablet form factor that so few people will ever need. But even pure tablets like iPad are starting to get smaller bezels now. These seem excessive.

Components and ports

When you hear that HP makes an Intel version of its Envy x2, the natural assumption is that this PC will solve the performance and compatibility problems that dog the Snapdragon version. And that’s true, though I feel like the improvements could have been a bit more impressive.

A number of components are likely responsible for this PC’s middling performance, but the main culprit is almost certainly the Intel Core i5-7Y54 processor. It’s a dual-core 7th-generation part, for some reason, and not a more modern design. It’s a 4.5-watt Y-series processor, and not a 15-watt U-series part like that found in mainstream laptops. Clearly, it was chosen for its thermal benefits—the PC is fanless and thus silent—and not for its performance.

As bad, the Envy x2 is limited with just 4 GB of RAM: I feel like 8 GB would have helped a bit with the processor limitations and provided some future proofing. In the good news department, the storage is solid for this class, with a SATA-based 128 GB SSD drive.

The results are … interesting. I can’t recall the last time I received an “out of memory” error in Windows, but I got one with the Envy x2 when I tried to run Adobe Photoshop Elements alongside Google Chrome (with several open tabs), OneNote, and Skype.

To get a better handle of where this PC sits, performance-wise, I also ran my standard video encoding test, in which I convert the 4K version of Tears of Steel to 1080p. The HP delivered the worst-ever score I’ve seen of 2:52. That’s over an hour longer than a typical dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core-based laptop. And more modern 8th-generation designs can handle this conversion in about an hour.

That said, the Snapdragon-based Envy x2 can’t even complete this test. And it also can’t run Photoshop Elements, which is a 64-bit application. So slower is absolutely better than not at all. And I also really like that the Intel version is still silent and doesn’t seem to ever generate much in the way of heat.

Beyond the core components, the HP Envy x2 also offers excellent connectivity, with 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and cellular data connectivity. That’s right, this is an Always Connected PC and, as such, it can seamlessly switch between Wi-Fi and cellular as you move in and out of coverage areas. I find this capability to be crucial, and something that should be core to modern PCs moving forward.

Connectivity is forward-leaning: HP provides two USB-C ports, one better than with the Snapdragon version of this PC.

And there’s one on each side of the device, so you can put the power cord where it’s most convenient. There’s also a headphone jack and a microSD card slot, though the latter requires a SIM pin or paper clip to access.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

While the HP Envy x2’s folio keyboard cover can’t be angled like that of Surface Pro, HP did at least deliver an excellent keyboard. And the resulting typing experience is first class, with clicky, full-stroke keys. There’s backlighting, but it’s either on or off and is very bright, which makes it less desirable in very dark rooms.

The touchpad is wide but quite small overall, and nothing like the humongous touchpads that are becoming quite common these days. I’m OK with that, and while the small surface isn’t ideal for most gestures, I found it adequate for my needs.

The HP digital pen that accompanies the device is almost unusable, thanks, I think, to the poor system performance. I wasn’t able to get it to successfully complete most strokes, so it’s inadequate for note-taking, drawing, or any other use. The only good news here is that there’s a pen loop integrated into the keyboard cover, so you won’t lose it.

Portability

The HP Envy x2 is quite portable: The tablet weighs just 1.72 pounds, or 2.53 pounds with the folio keyboard cover. And it cuts a thin and dashing figure when folded up for travel.

The problem is the battery life. HP says that this PC should deliver up to 16.5 hours of battery life, and if it did we’d be having a very different kind of conversation here. But I was only able to obtain about 5.5 hours of life in my standard HD video streaming test over Wi-Fi. A score that was so low, I retested it twice. I obtained between 6:15 and 8 hours of battery life in real-world use.

That’s good, but not great. And it’s a far cry from the 20+ hours of battery life I see with the Snapdragon 835-based version of this PC.

Software

The HP Envy x2 comes with Windows 10 Home and all of the in-box crapware that this system burdens its users with. HP throws in some crapware of its own—including McAfee anti-virus, some games, and some curious utilities like HP ePrint—plus some legitimately useful software like HP Support Assistant, which keeps the PC up-to-date with the latest drivers.

Overall, I’m not happy with the software loadout here. If you examine the Start menu and the Programs and Features control panel, you’ll find way too much HP-branded or supplied software, and it won’t be clear to many which you can safely remove.

Pricing and configurations

The HP Envy x2 ain’t cheap, given its middling components. The review unit, which I believe is the only available configuration, sells for $1150. (Though it happens to be on sale for $200 less on HP.com as I write this.) That’s too much. A PC with a Y-series processor and only 4 GB of RAM should be closer to $500 than $1000. The premium design and LTE connectivity should add just a few hundred dollars more. Let’s say about $700.

Recommendations and conclusions

I previously described the Snapdragon-based HP Envy x2 as being all the wrong compromises. The Intel-based version is likewise compromised, but in different ways. If there were a version with 8 GB of RAM, I feel like I could recommend this PC more broadly for everyday use. But the performance, battery life, and awkward folio design make doing so difficult.

Put simply, it’s superior to the Snapdragon-based Envy x2. But that is a very low bar indeed.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Professional-looking design
  • Very portable
  • Gorgeous display
  • Compatible with “real” Windows software
  • Cellular data connectivity

Cons

  • Awkward folio keyboard cover
  • Middling performance
  • 4 GB of RAM is inadequate
  • Middling battery life
  • High price

 

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