First Look: HP Envy x2 Detachable PC

Posted on January 18, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware with 0 Comments

As you may know, I’m heading to Redmond, WA this week for Microsoft’s Windows 10 media event. When possible, I field test new devices when traveling for work, and on this trip I’ll be bringing along HP’s Envy x2 Detachable PC to see how it handles the demands of the road. Here’s a quick overview of this intriguing new hybrid PC.

full-view

It’s impossible to look at the Envy x2 and not think it was inspired by Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, as it’s the same sort of PC-based tablet that can transform into a laptop. But this similarity is especially true of the magnetically connected keyboard cover, which looks like a Zune brown version of the Surface Type Cover. If you can get over this obvious bit of me-tooism, however, the Envy x2 offers a few improvements over Surface Pro 3, improvements that address some issues I have with Surface Pro 3.

kb

First, the screen is more comfortably-sized for my eyes at 13-inches, and it has a more reasonable resolution of 1920 x 1080, though like Surface it is auto-configured for a display scaling setting that many will not like. (You can change this.)

In tandem with this bigger screen, the keyboard cover is likewise bigger to fit the larger device, and it feels more accommodating and right-sized than the tight Surface Type Cover. Its trackpad is better, too, though it’s not particularly nice, and I’ll of course be traveling with a mouse as always. But the big innovation on the keyboard cover is that it’s Bluetooth-based, so you can actual detach it from the Envy x2 and position it comfortably, something that is impossible with Surface Type Cover. It charges when you attach it to the PC, of course.

kb-closeup

The Envy x2 also offers more modern parts too. Instead of jamming in a relatively inefficient full-powered Intel Core processor, as Microsoft did with Surface Pro 3, HP uses the efficient Intel Core M chip, which in the review unit is a 1.1 GHz part (with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.6 GHz). As important, this device is fanless and completely silent, a claim that no Surface Pro can make. Indeed, the constantly droning Surface Pro 3 fan is one of my biggest complaints about the device.

side

Expansion is also superior: Instead of one paltry USB port as on Surface Pro 3, HP offers 2 USB 3.0 ports, a standard, full-sized HDMI-out port (instead of a less common miniDisplayPort connector), and a microSD card slot (which is also available on the Surface).

ports

RAM and storage allocations vary, but the review unit has 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, both of which I consider ideal here in early 2015.

Not everything about the Envy x2 is superior to the Surface Pro 3, of course. Thanks in part to its bigger screen, the HP is of course bigger and heavier. But it’s also bulkier, more so than seems necessary, and it is not the ultra-thin device you may expect. As bad, the screen is surrounded by vast swathes of bezel, and while HP did add some large and nice Beats Audio front-facing speakers to the x2, it’s impossible to look at the front of this device and not wonder why the screen isn’t bigger. HP could have easily added a 14- or even 15-inch screen to this device given all the wasted space.

Surface Pro 3 (top) and HP Envy x2 (bottom)

Surface Pro 3 (top) and HP Envy x2 (bottom)

I’ve often noted that while Surface Pro 3 may very well be the “tablet that can replace your laptop,” as Microsoft puts it, it is ironically incapable of replacing your tablet because it’s just too big (and because the Windows mobile software ecosystem is still so lousy). But the HP is of course even better and less ideal as a tablet. Like Surface Pro 3, this device is laptop-first, tablet-a-distant-second. It’s there if you need it.

HP Envy x2 (back) compared to Surface Pro 3 (front)

HP Envy x2 (back) compared to Surface Pro 3 (front)

I have a hard time believing that the HP Envy x2’s active stylus will be as accurate and natural as the excellent Surface Pen, but I will of course test that. I do like that HP added a flat edge to the stylus so that it can lay flat, though.

pen

Outfitting this device for the trip—a time-consuming process that involves signing in with my Microsoft account, installing all the applications I need, and syncing some portion of my OneDrive-hosted documents and data—I was struck by how much unnecessary crapware HP loads on the x2. Removing these applications—I left most of the even sillier mobile apps there as it was just so pointless to spend time on this—took quite a while, and I’m pretty sure I counted 117 different Cyberlink applications alone. (Kidding. But seriously.)

configuring

During this time I also took a quick note of some device characteristics I’ll keep an eye on while traveling. The screen seems very reflective, which I don’t like. The keyboard typing quality is fine, but not spectacular, but I love the ability to detach it from the PC; I can’t imagine Microsoft doesn’t copy this for the generation 4 Surface devices. It’s a bit big and heavy, at over 4 pounds including the typing cover. Battery life is a mystery: the device never reported anything close to what I’d call acceptable battery life while prepping it, but that doesn’t represent normal conditions; and I’ve never seen an official estimate from HP.

You can purchase the HP Envy x2 from Amazon.com—through HP Direct—for $799 and up. That base model features a slightly slower processor, 4 GB of RAM, 128 SSD, and a 1366 x 768 screen, which would be perfectly acceptable for many users. Outfitted like the review unit, this device sells for about $1200. Another $200 will net you a 512 GB SSD, and you can add other accessories and software as you like.

I’m not as familiar yet with the Core M processor as I’d like, so I’m not sure what the sweet spot is here, but HP offers three choices of Core M processors. They range in clock speed from 800 MHz to 1.2 GHz, and looking at Intel’s product page for the processor line, I can see that those clock speeds do appear to be the big differentiator between each model.

More soon.