HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Review Check-In: Taking Stock

Posted on March 26, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 75 Comments

HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Review Check-In: Taking Stock

After using the HP Envy x2 in a variety of situations over the past week, I’ve decided to hit refresh on this experiment. Oh, I’m going to keep using the PC, of course. But now I’m going to use it for the tasks for which it was designed.

My initial couple of experiments with this first Windows 10 on ARM PC were done solely to answer some burning questions. Are the battery life claims accurate? (Yes.) Can it really run Windows desktop applications? (Mostly yes.) Do those desktop applications run well? (Mostly no.)

But in the course of this usage, I realized something. I’m using it wrong. On purpose, for sure. But to review this PC properly, I will need to change my approach.

The need for this change occurred over time. But as I was waiting for MarkdownPad, a relatively lightweight desktop application, to open, I realized that I was asking the wrong questions. That the slowness of this kind of legacy application should be viewed not as a negative per se, but rather as the miracle that it is. We can run x86 desktop applications on ARM. This is impressive.

Some readers get this, of course. Others, however, have been rather disparaging of this system because of this real-world performance.

I see both sides of the debate. But then I also had what has ultimately been exposed as a rather naive hope that this thing could somehow work well as a standard Windows 10 laptop/2-in-1 replacement. That’s where I was wrong.

Instead, Windows 10 on ARM should be viewed as the ultimate expression of S mode, of Microsoft’s vision for the future. Yes, you can fall back to x86 application compatibility as needed. But Microsoft’s belief—Microsoft’s hope, really—is that the instances in which you have to do that will go down dramatically over time. Will, in fact, disappear.

My central complaint about Windows 10 S, and now S mode, is that it’s a one-way street. You can’t install a handful of desktop applications and then put it back in S mode. Windows 10 on ARM is configured the same way, of course. But it’s still a bit different than S mode on x86/x64. For example, you cannot install standard Intel-type drivers, something I experience with Microsoft’s mouse and keyboard software. So even when S mode is disabled, it’s a bit like S mode.

So we have to wrap our heads around what the market really is for this device, what the customer looks like. I mean, what is the point of this thing?

Here, again, all you need to do is look at Microsoft’s rationale for Windows 10 S/S mode. The potential here is for a vast audience of users—not just education customers, as many claimed last year—that value the streamlined nature of S mode, with its purported improvements in performance, security, and reliability. And Windows 10 on ARM delivers on all that, plus it provides seamless connectivity, which I’ll be writing about soon, and stellar battery life and uptime. It really does work like a mobile device, something that’s just not possible on real x86/x64.

But that statement comes with a caveat: Windows 10 on ARM does deliver on the promises of S mode, even when you disable S mode, assuming that you mostly stick to Store apps.

That’s a big assumption in some ways. But as I’ve reported in my Living in S Mode series, the bar is lowering. There are more and better apps in the Store these days, thanks largely to desktop and web applications, and most of them run just fine on ARM.

In fact, I did a bit of a testing to examine a theory I had about performance. As part of this testing, I pitted MarkdownPad vs. both Word Mobile and the Store version of Word 2016 to see which performed better. My guess was that Word Mobile would be faster—in launching and in use—than Word 2016, and that MarkdownPad would come in dead last. To my surprise, Word 2016 appears to work just as well as Word Mobile. And because it is a more full-featured application, that is both desirable and surprising. (And, yes, MarkdownPad came in last.)

Then I wrote this past weekend’s Microsoft Edge commentary using Word 2016 on the Envy x2 and experienced absolutely no slowdowns or laggy performance. It worked normally, like it would on any PC. Now that is a miracle. (I also wrote part of my UWP editorial on this PC.) I had also used OneNote (mobile, the version that comes with Windows 10) on Friday to take notes. No performance issues at all.

These experiences have helped to trigger the reset. I’ll soon do another battery life test to see if disabling S mode changes anything. And of course, I have that connectivity follow-up to post as well. But as I head into my review for this PC, I’m resolved to use it in the way that makes the most sense. And I’m coming around to the notion that, desktop application performance notwithstanding, this platform could, in fact, make tons of sense.


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