HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Review Check-In: Performance

Posted on March 23, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 69 Comments

Leisurely. Is the only possible word one could use to describe the performance of Windows 10 on ARM today. That the HP Envy x2 user experience suffers as a result is undeniable. So the question is whether this problem is fatal, or whether the platform’s other benefits—stellar battery life and standby, plus seamless connectivity—are good enough to render the performance issues moot.

Complicating matters, the performance of this system varies depending on what you’re doing. And like Windows RT before it, Windows 10 on ARM seems to exhibit an interesting behavior where repeated tasks get progressively faster. For example, the first time I opened the Windows Features control panel, it took about 30 seconds for the window to draw the list of installable system features. But when I just opened this interface again, the list appeared in just a few seconds, in-line with what I see on my powerful desktop PC.

Apps are a mixed bag. For the most part, Store apps—by which I mean “real” Store apps, or Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps—tend to run pretty well. And desktop applications tend to run very slowly.

Sometimes the performance of desktop applications is slow, in fact, that it gets in the way.

For example, when I remove a song from a playlist in Google Play Music using Google Chrome, there is a slow process by which the main frame on the page refreshes and then redraws the list. This is something I never notice on x86/x64 PCs, but the visual flash, and the couple of seconds it takes to complete, are annoying on the Envy x2.

Writing this post in MarkdownPad is mostly OK from a performance perspective, and the HP’s Surface Pro-like keyboard cover is working well and offering a normal typing experience. But there is the slightest, almost not noticeable delay between the time I press a key and the letter appears on-screen. And when I opened the app’s Options dialog for the first time—which I do to adjust the font sizing—it took so long to appear that I thought I had mis-clicked in the menu. What’s “so long”? 3 or 4 seconds. That’s an infinity when you’re used to the normal instantaneous response time.

But at least these applications do run. The inability to run desktop applications was the primary complaint against the (also ARM-based) Windows RT. That said, in using Windows 10 on ARM, I am reminded that slow performance was a major issue with RT as well. And now that application compatibility has been solved, the ongoing performance ills stand out all the more.

Looking at Task Manager from time-to-time, I’m struck by the fact that CPU performance—rather than, say, memory usage—is the real issue when I’m heavily multitasking, with multiple applications and Chrome tabs open at once. Tasks I don’t usually consider all that much—like Windows Update—can consume an inordinate amount of resources. (In this case when downloading a big update; I was surprised to discover it downloading the Fall Creators Update! This thing was running 1703 when I got it. That’s nuts.) The Antimalware Service Executable is another weird CPU stealing culprit on this PC.

Anyway. Anyone who even briefly considered running a developer environment like Visual Studio or a professional creative application such as Photoshop Elements should move along, nothing to see here. Those experiences would either be horribly slow or would not work at all. And remember: Windows 10 on ARM can only run 32-bit apps.

Gaming is pretty much out of the question as well. Windows 10 for ARM ships with the same annoying light mobile games as any Windows 10 version (Candy Crush, etc.) and, yes, they probably run fine. (I uninstalled them immediately.) But even a mobile-oriented shooter like Modern Combat 5, which runs well on phones, is horribly slow. It posts sub-10 FPS speeds and is basically unplayable.

In a briefing with HP, the company presented this product as one that was for consumption first and productivity second, and you may recall my earlier conversation about the perceived competition, which is largely the iPad Pro. And consumption experiences like Groove Music, Movies & TV, Netflix (which is preinstalled on the HP), and reading in Microsoft Edge all do work really well, with no real performance lag. My only issue with this is that an iPad Pro offers an even better content consumption experience.

And my Windows Ink experience was very positive, with very little lag. I’m not sure yet about drawing or painting, where pen leg could be fatal. But for notes and writing, the performance is solid.

I’ll keep testing and using the Envy x2, and it’s possible that my impressions of the overall performance will evolve as that happens. For now, I’ll just say that the performance is very reminiscent of some Core M-based PCs I’ve used, which isn’t a compliment. And that those with power user needs will not be satisfied with this experience.

As for me, I’m right on the edge: The act of writing is acceptably fast, even in this desktop application. And the core tasks I need to perform on the web or with photo editing are, at least, workable too. There are a few apps I’ve not really spent time with yet, like Visual Studio Code. It’s only been a couple of days.


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