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

Posted on March 28, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 13 Comments

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

One of the advantages of the HP Envy x2 is that it comes with a smartpen. How does it compare to Surface Pen and Apple Pencil?


This contest is important because all of these firms are pushing towards a PC future that is more mobile, more connected, and involves more natural interactions. Like touch, of course. But also pen. And understanding how these things compare is very important for those who want or even need such a peripheral.

And the smartpen wars have been heating up since last year, when Microsoft responded to Apple’s iPad Pro and Apple Pencil by releasing a new Surface Pro and Surface Pen that together (and uniquely) offer a faster inking experience thanks to custom Microsoft-designed componentry in the Surface Pro. Microsoft’s claim, at the time, was that this combination was “twice as responsive as the Apple Pencil.”

True or not, Microsoft’s time in the sun was brief: Just weeks later, Apple responded by introducing new iPad Pros that cut the latency of Apple Pencil down to 20 ms. The latency of Surface Pen when used with the new Surface Pro is 21 ms. (And it must be higher on other Surface devices that don’t have the new Pro’s custom circuitry.)

To discover the truth of the matter, I tested the new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil against the new Surface Pro and new Surface Pen a few weeks after Apple’s announcement. And what I found … drum roll, please … was that the two smartpens offered roughly equivalent performance and functionality.

“And the experiences are very similar,” I wrote at the time. “Almost identical, really, excluding that initial hard tap you get with the Apple Pencil. Both devices glide across their respective glass displays, and both offer a fluid, natural experience with no noticeable lag or performance issues.”

But now it’s 2018 and HP has delivered the first Qualcomm Snapdragon-based Windows 10 2-in-1 PC, the Envy x2. And it even comes with its own smartpen, the cunningly-named HP Pen. Given the Envy x2’s positioning as an iPad Pro replacement, it’s reasonable to wonder how the Envy x2 and HP Pen compare to Apple’s entry. And, of course, to Microsoft’s.

In the pro column, the Envy x2 does provide a loop to hold the Pen. This is more important than you might think, as these smartpens are very easy to lose. Surface Pro and iPad do not include any such protection, so HP wins this round.

The HP Pen, unique among these entries, also includes a clip to prevent the pen from rolling off the desk. The Surface Pen is flat on one side for the same reason, where the Apple Pencil is a perfect storm of “fall on the floor, eject cap from end of Pencil, frantically try to find lost cap.” Winner: HP.

Like Surface Pen, the HP Pen offers a few buttons, in this case on the barrel, which let you more easily perform tasks like right-clicking. I very much prefer the faux eraser on Surface Pen, however. Winner? Surface Pen.

Like Surface Pen, the HP Pen is powered by a AAA battery. The Apple Pencil has no removable battery, but instead lets you remove the (non-eraser) tip and plug the hidden Lighting connector into your iPad Pro to charge it. This looks goofy, and has been the subject of ridicule. But it works quickly: You can plug the Pencil in for just a few seconds and then get right back to work. Advantage: Apple.

The HP Pen is the smallest smartpen of the group, and while some may find the large Apple Pencil to be, well, large, I think it feels great in the hand. More important, it feels the most natural. Winner? Apple.

And then there’s performance.

Sorry, Windows fans. This is where the HP limps into last place. Where Apple Pencil and Surface Pen offer silky smooth performance—a fact I reminded myself of this morning by using Apple Pencil again—the HP offers lag and slow performance.

It’s most noticeable if you want to draw. My attempts at drawing with the HP Pen were frustrating, and I was unable to achieve the same straight lines, shading, and other effects that were so easy—so noticeably smooth—on the iPad Pro.

The HP Pen always seems a bit ahead of the ink hitting the screen

Given this sad showing, I’ll go so far as to say that artists will need to ignore this device entirely. If your primary goal with a smartpen is creative work, consider the Apple or Microsoft solutions. It’s night and day.

For writing, however, the HP is at least usable. It’s still in last place from a lag/performance perspective, but it is workable. And if your goal is note-taking, perhaps in an educational or corporate environment, the HP offers a reasonable solution. The size and weight of the device itself, and the way in which one might hold it, it all seems to work pretty well.

(Note, however, that Surface Pro, unique among these entries, offers the ability to angle the screen back quite far while writing, which is useful. With the iPad Pro and HP, you have to remove or fold back the keyboard cover to write. But some iPad Pro users might have a non-keyboard cover that would achieve a good writing angle; I don’t have such a cover.

Long story short, the HP Envy x2’s smartpen experience is undercut by the laggy performance of the device. No one should purchase this PC for the smartpen functionality. But it’s a nice perk for occasional note-taking and other writing only.

More soon.

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Comments (13)

13 responses to “HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Review Check-In: Pen”

  1. dontbe evil

    mmm this is a really bad point

  2. pbeiler1

    Fyi ... The surface pen is a quad A battery (AAAA) not a triple A battery.

  3. lvthunder

    Is it the same pen that comes with the HP Spectre's?

    • Simard57

      In reply to lvthunder:

      Paul - you compared the pen to the SP3 and the iPad Pencil. Can you compare to another HP model - perhaps the Spectre 360 if you still have that review unit. If the pens from both HP products provide similar performances, then it is not a Qualcomm issue, it is an HP one!

  4. jaredthegeek

    This is its core functionality and it faltered. I wonder if its more software or hardware, meaning will it improve with updates on this device? I really want these devices to be successful as they are ideal my my usage case and many other peoples usage who spend more time in the field than they do at the office but don't require a lot of computing power or that power can be augmented through Citrix.

  5. Watney

    Paul, it would be helpful if you explained which Apps you tested the pen with. My experience is that some Apps deliver much better performance than others. More importantly, Apps differentiate the use case, something you hinted at in the article.

    Here's a suggestion: record pen lag across the devices in slow motion video in a couple of different Apps, such as Edge, OneNote, and Drawboard. All will perform differently.

  6. crmguru

    I have used the Bamboo pen on my Surface pro. It has the pocket clip, eraser, and works like a pro.

  7. mrdrwest

    It's off my shopping list...on to the next...

  8. drawnbydonn

    Well, thanks for the warning. From an illustrator’s POV, the Surface Pen and Apple Pencil are definitely not equals. The IAF (Initial Activation Force) of the Surface Pen is about 9 grams. The IAF of Apple Pencil is only about 1 gram. This means that the Surface artist has to press a lot harder to start inking. If you are a light sketcher, your lightest strokes will be missed.

    FWIW I use a Windows 10 desktop machine, but have given up on the tablet PC dream for now, and prefer iPad Pro for mobile use.

  9. John Craig

    Hi Paul, do you think the writing/drawing issues are something that can and will be fixed with driver/software updates over the next few weeks or is it more likely hardware related problems that won't be resolved until the next generation of arm machines?

  10. bluvg

    The Surface Pen requires a AAAA battery rather than AAA. AAAA can be difficult to find.

  11. mlpa

    I'm usually neutral on IT but I have to come to the defence of this device given that the comments above don't reflect my experiences. I have one in front of me now and have spent many hours using the pen. Paul's comments above are not entirely wrong but they have entirely the wrong emphasis and create an overall negative impression which I believe is unwarranted. IMO the pen is just fine. If you are a typical user and want to sign documents, use MS inking, mark up content and do the occasional sketch, the average user won't find this pen any different to any other digital pens they have used. It is brilliant to even have a pen on this device. The Surface pen also works on this device by the way. Further this HP pen works on a full windows OS and nobody is helped when HP or Paul or others try to compare this device to devices running a mobile OS in another ecosystem. If you want the windows experience then this device is a windows device and can access all that windows offers. It compares closely and in many ways favorably to Surface. I concede that a 'hard core' artist could possibly find some fault with the HP pen but I only guessing about that. In fact, I defy any 'typical' user to get too caught up on milli-second response times and engineering latency. Most of the current digital pens on the market work as expected and they are basically as useful as each other for typical administrative tasks. The technology is adequate on all of them. For me the pen works no differently in the tasks that I do daily to the MS pen that I use on Surface Pro and Surface Book. This HP device is not specifically aimed at 'artists' and if you spend your day drawing then obviously you should buy and use a device that is specifically designed for your niche work but for any other general category of user, you can enjoy this pen with complete confidence and frankly you can largely ignore the negativity in the above article. If you accept the limitations of what is a prototype ARM computer then the device is a landmark 'new paradigm' device and the pen is a welcome inclusion and it works well for typical daiily tasks. If you plan to buy this device and you are typical user, then you can expect to use the device and its pen with confidence.

    • mlpa

      In reply to mlpa:

      PS in relation to the photo above captioned 'The HP Pen always seems a bit ahead of the ink hitting the screen' - this is NOT my experience.

      I'm using windows insider build 1803 17686.1003 with all windows and firmwre updates applied as of 7 June 2018 and I confirm that there is no noticeable pen lag when drawing with the HP pen in, say, OneNote app etc. Writes and draws as expected.