HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) First Impressions

Posted on March 21, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 51 Comments

HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) First Impressions

Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the HP Envy x2 delivers about 20 hours of battery life and always-on connectivity.

As such, the device targets the same market as Apple’s iPad Pro, an audience that values content consumption over creation, but still has a need for the latter. This market is, by definition, a compromise. But HP’s hope is that the Envy x2’s compatibility with full-featured Windows desktop applications will put it over the top.

HP might be on to something. In my regular and ongoing investigations into whether the iPad Pro provides a compelling productivity experience and a viable alternative to Windows-based PCs and Chromebooks, I have been consistently underwhelmed. What the HP offers is another take on this compromise. One that combines the premium look and feel of the iPad Pro with the familiarity, compatibility, and capabilities of a real PC.

iPad Pro 10.5 (top), Envy x2 (bottom)

On that note, the Envy x2 is a gorgeous 2-in-1 PC with a premium look and feel that rivals HP’s more traditional premium PCs, such as those in its Spectre and Elite families. The Envy lineup comes in at the low-end of that continuum, if you will. It’s sort of a high-end Camry, to use a car metaphor, rather than a low-end Lexus.

That’s a nice space, and it’s one that I personally value very much: With such products, you get many of the benefits of more expensive variants, but without the resulting costs of the true luxury brand.

One might argue, however, that the HP Envy x2 is not particularly inexpensive. An entry-level model with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of UFS storage sits at $999, a price that many will find to be onerous. (The review unit features a more acceptable 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage.)

But this needs to be viewed in context. An iPad Pro with similar specs (including built-in cellular data support), a Smart Keyboard, and an Apple Pencil costs $1200 to $1350, depending on whether you opt for the 10.5- or 12.9-inch version. That is considerably more than the Envy x2, which includes its own versions of those accessories in its price tag. And it comes with far bigger compromises when it comes to productivity especially, not to mention far less battery life.

One might likewise compare the cost of the Envy x2 to other PCs. A comparable MacBook, which I feel hits at the same nexus of compromise, costs $1299 for a version with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. That’s comparable to the Envy x2, but it provides no touch, smart pen, or cellular data support. And HP and other PC makers all sell a wide range of Intel-type 2-in-1s and convertibles, not to mention traditional clamshell designs, at every price range imaginable.

But then, choice is the point of the PC market, isn’t it? The choice here is for those who value battery life and up-time over raw performance. The bet here, then, is that there is an audience of people who are mobile, and will do more consuming of content than creation, but still value the ability to at least run those full-featured apps that work (or life) requires.

Long story short, you are either intrigued by the HP Envy x2 or you are not. If you are, if you can sense that the nature of your PC experience is shifting with these modern times, if you value that connectivity and uptime, well. Then HP has a PC just for you.

Technically, the Envy x2 is a tablet. There’s no kickstand built-in to the device itself; instead, that capability comes from the wrap-around keyboard cover. And that keyboard cover works much like the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard, but with some major advantages over the lackluster Apple design, for which you must pay extra.

First, you get a real keyboard, with backlighting, and with a full 1.4 mm of key travel, much like a Surface Pro Type Cover. You also get a touchpad, which is completely missing on the iPad Pro, and a key reason why that device’s productivity experience is so frustratingly limited. As important, the Envy x2 keyboard cover’s kickstand provides a range of viewing angles, from 110 to 150 degrees, where the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard provides exactly one viewing angle.

You also get an HP smartpen. At first blush, this pen doesn’t look to be as nice as Microsoft’s Surface Pen or the Apple Pencil. But the pen is at least included with the Envy x2. And in my early testing, it provides reasonably accurate and lag-free writing and drawing capabilities. There’s even a pen loop built right into the keyboard cover, a major plus.

Looking at the aluminum body—the tablet bit—you’ll find a familiar HP 2-in-1 design that is elegant looking, thin, and light. HP describes the device’s 6.94 mm thickness as being a bit thinner than a standard number two pencil. But of course, adding the keyboard cover bulks it up a bit, to 15.29 mm. That’s just a tad thicker than the iPad Pro with Smart Cover, at 14.04 mm. But the HP’s keyboard cover design is much simpler to use and versatile than that of the iPad Pro. And it is still very, very portable. (I’ll compare this device to Surface Pro for my review.)

The display is appropriate for the product positioning: It’s a 3:2 IPS design, which I very much prefer over 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratios. But it runs at “just” 1280p—e.g. 1920 x 1280—which is quite a bit lower than the Retina- and PixelSense-class displays we see on truly premium PCs and devices. HP says this is by design: It feels that most customers will prefer the resulting battery life advantage and that the 1280p resolution works well for both streaming content (which, remember, will often come via paid cellular service) and productivity work.

On either side of the display in traditional landscape mode, you will find two Bang & Olufsen-tuned front-firing speakers with discrete amplifiers. These appear to work pretty well for video and music playback, and offer reasonable loud volume for those hotel nights on business trips.

And thanks to its 10 nm Snapdragon innards, the Envy x2 is a “real” tablet, with no fans and no resulting fan noise. It can be configured with up to 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, and my early feeling is that any prospective buyers should seriously consider those upgrades in order to future-proof this purchase as much as possible.

Regardless of the configuration, all HP Envy x2s include what is essentially three cameras, a front-mounted IR camera for Windows Hello sign-ins, a 13 MP front-facing camera, and a rear-facing 5 MP camera. Expansion is typical for the expected usage: A single USB-C port for both charging and expansion (but with no Thunderbolt 3 capabilities), a microSD card slot, a nano-SIM card slot, and a combo audio jack.

That nano-SIM slot is interesting: My understanding was that meeting the requirements of Microsoft’s Always Connected PC initiative meant that the device would have an internal E-SIM. But the HP does not. I’ve outfitted it with a Project Fi data SIM, which works just fine.

And connectivity is excellent. The Envy x2 ships with Qualcomm’s vaunted X16 LTE-Advanced modem, by which the device can provide download speeds of up 450 Mbps (CAT9) today. But the chipset can actually deliver even faster speeds, and as wireless carriers ramp up LTE in advance of 5G, HP says that it will ship firmware/software updates to enable even faster connectivity.

I will test the download speeds. But beyond cellular, the device provides the expected Wi-Fi ACN and Bluetooth connectivity as well.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the HP Envy x2 ships with Windows 10 S version 1709, though I bet that future editions of the product ship with the less expensive Windows 10 Home in S mode (once Windows 10 version 1803 is completed). You can “upgrade” (OK, switch) to full Windows 10 Pro for free, which you’ll need to do to run desktop applications using Microsoft’s emulation software. I will do so and report back on what that experience is like, but if you have any expectation of doing this, again, the upgrade to 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage is clearly a requirement and not just a recommendation.

In any event, Windows 10 S is a pretty good fit here, given the Envy x2’s mission, which is “mostly content consumption with some content creation.” For most people, the availability of full Microsoft Office on the product, plus reasonable web browsing capabilities from Microsoft Edge, will satisfy the latter need. And Windows 10 S’s unique combination of increased security, reliability, and consistent performance seems ideally suited for an ARM-based PC.

I have a lot of testing ahead of me, and as I noted in my HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Preview, I will be focusing on several key areas. Battery life, for both Windows 10 S and Windows 10 Pro. The performance of x86 desktop applications (which requires Windows 10 Pro). Connectivity, or more specifically, how seamless it is to move between cellular and Wi-fi data. And more.

I will be checking in again ahead of my final review in order to provide you with the answers to our many questions about this device and the platform on which it runs. More soon, starting with a peek at the software.


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