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.)
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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.
<blockquote><a href="#256559"><em>In reply to jaredthegeek:</em></a></blockquote><p>I agree, so get them a Chromebook or a iPad Pro. Both of those are supported by developers and have real app stores.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256621"><em>In reply to Irving Park:</em></a></blockquote><p>S mode doesn't change anything for Android or iOS developers.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256638"><em>In reply to Wizzwith:</em></a></blockquote><p>But it begs the question – If the average user considered S mode to be good enough, why didn't Windows 10 S PCs fly off the shelves? It's not enough that Microsoft or tech enthusiasts believe that it should be good enough, the buying public has to believe it too. The problem for Microsoft is that it's hard to push these PCs as a better alternative without suggesting that Windows on Intel sucks which wouldn't reflect well on their core customers.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256566"><em>In reply to kodos78:</em></a></blockquote><p>They sold they 15 they made to Microsoft fanboy review sites? Windows Central probably bought 10 of them.</p>
<p>"<span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Instead, Windows 10 on ARM should be viewed as the ultimate expression of S mode"</span></p><p><br></p><p>I have heard you state on Windows Weekly that NO ONE is selling Windows 10S computers. You said that no vendor has stated their sales too you and there was supposed to be mid range Windows 10S PC's released and they never were, because sales are just not there.</p><p><br></p><p>So the ultimate expression of Windows 10S is a more expensive computer that can't be turned into a regular Windows PC (x86) but upgrading to Pro….so NO ONE will buy these devices??????</p><p><br></p><p>"<span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">But Microsoft’s belief—Microsoft’s hope"</span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Microsoft's Hail Mary Pass with 5 seconds left on the clock?</span></p><p><br></p><p><br></p>
<p>This sounds more like "Wow, my review of this product is kind of negative, I'd better change my perspective so I can give it a more positive review." </p><p><br></p><p>If the purpose of this product didn't include running Win32 apps, than the upgrade to Pro shouldn't be part of it. Let's look at it logically. Does it make sense that Microsoft would spend a lot of time, effort, and money to get Win32 emulation to work on ARM (however slowly) just to put it on PCs without considering it a key feature? </p>
<blockquote><a href="#256630"><em>In reply to unkinected:</em></a></blockquote><p>I think the more plausible conclusion is that they didn't learn their lesson with WinRT. What they should have learned is that their users aren't interested in a limited version of Windows.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256615"><em>In reply to Daekar:</em></a></blockquote><p>But are most people going to have a "secondary machine"? IMO, most people are going to buy a single desktop PC and expect that it will do everything they want it to do.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256662"><em>In reply to Daekar:</em></a></blockquote><p>"Eh, I have no idea about other people."</p><p><br></p><p>Well, I assumed that you spoke about your personal experience because you thought it was relevant in a broader sense. </p>
<blockquote><a href="#256615"><em>In reply to Daekar:</em></a></blockquote><p>"Office/web are really the only things I would do on a mobile machine with any frequency anyway. "</p><p><br></p><p>You sir are a perfect iPad customer since both of those run great on the iPad. You will get the added benefit of a store full of a million (or more) apps and crazy 3rd party support for you device. (cases, covers, keyboards etc).</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256652"><em>In reply to RM:</em></a></blockquote><p>You're basically paying an extra $500-$600 just for the battery life, instant on, and connectivity (data charges not included). Everything else can be done on a $300 Windows 10 laptop that can run all the same Store apps and run Win32 programs faster. </p><p><br></p><p>It's funny how people around here talk about what "normal" users need but assume that they want to buy expensive PCs.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256709"><em>In reply to skane2600:</em></a></blockquote><p>No, you're paying $500-600 more for a nice-looking Full HD+ 12.3" tablet that comes with a detachable keyboard and stylus, accessories which don't come bundled with the comparable iPad Pro. Nobody is comparing this device to cheap, weak, $300 Windows laptops except for you, honestly a fairly brainless argument. If and when PC OEMs decide to release WoA devices at that lower price point, then yes, you'll be getting all of that at $300 or cheaper, so WoA would basically kill off that segment of the Wintel market, as nobody there really cares about win32 apps.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256844"><em>In reply to sprewell:</em></a></blockquote><p>Actually there's proof that I'm not the only one making the comparison. Sites have benchmarked this device against low-end Windows laptops and found that low-end Celeron-based PCs outperform it when running Win32 apps. </p><p><br></p><p>Of course people buying a device are going to consider what it costs and what value it provides for them. Personally I find 12.3" a bit small and I'd rather have a 15" screen with 1366 x 768 resolution than a smaller screen with 1080P, but that's me.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p>
<blockquote><a href="#256986"><em>In reply to skane2600:</em></a></blockquote><p>And what do those benchmarking sites have to do with the "normal users" you claimed to be talking about above? In my experience, those normal users don't care about win32 apps, mostly just surfing the web and writing email, which is why I bet the sales of those cheap laptops have been devastated by mobile sales already. The only ones left are probably those who prefer a full keyboard or a larger screen that they can set down in front of them, at a very low price. It is true that emulated win32 performance is not that great, but that only matters for power users like yourself and many others on this site.</p><p><br></p><p>As for what people value, that's precisely the point: nobody is buying this device for great win32 performance. They're buying it because they want a detachable like the Surface Pro or iPad Pro, but that can run most of the apps of the former with battery life apparently better than the latter. That's a higher-priced, ultra-mobile segment that you can't compare to those who want great win32 performance or the cheapest possible device that will get them by.</p><p><br></p><p>As for screen resolution, of those two options give me the smaller, higher-DPI one any day. I recently used a Macbook Air for the first time in six years, and I was shocked how bad its ~720p display looked, like someone had smeared grease all over my glasses after six years of using only higher-DPI displays. And I had been using similar LCD displays for a decade prior, staring at them for many hours a day, so it's not like I hadn't used them just fine before.</p><p><br></p><p>My eyes have adapted to sharper screens and can't take an older low-DPI screen anymore. It is amazing that Apple gets away with such shit displays for their sheeple, at those high prices.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#257145"><em>In reply to sprewell:</em></a></blockquote><p>You told me: "Nobody is comparing this device to cheap, weak, $300 Windows laptops except for you, "</p><p><br></p><p>I've proven that statement wrong and now your claim shifts to what you imagine normal users care about. Apparently you and I have very different opinions on who "normal" users are. </p>
<blockquote><a href="#256632"><em>In reply to unkinected:</em></a></blockquote><p>"You and most other reviewers are using this device in ways that MS doesn't believe they should be."</p><p><br></p><p>What??? </p><p><br></p><p>Ways that MS doesn't believe it should be used would include using it as a football or a doorstop. In terms of how it is used as a computer MS has set the boundaries. It doesn't do anything that MS hasn't enabled.</p><p><br></p><p>MS hasn't made any public statement describing uses they consider inappropriate. Some people just want to create excuses for MS. </p>
<blockquote><a href="#256650"><em>In reply to RM:</em></a></blockquote><p>Sure, MS added Win32 emulation because you're not supposed to use it. The denial is strong around here.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256679"><em>In reply to mikiem:</em></a></blockquote><p>Compatibility isn't a big issue for Android and iOS because they've made few if any breaking changes to their OS's. Drivers aren't an issue because you can't install anything inside a tablet and the demand for connecting tablets to other equipment is almost not existent beyond a few basics. It's really an Apple vs Oranges comparison.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#256818"><em>In reply to Purian23:</em></a></blockquote><p>I gave you a rare (for me) down-vote for the personal insult. I often disagree with Paul but I don't think insults are a productive way to discuss issues.</p>