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

Posted on March 31, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 16 Comments

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

Always-on connectivity is one the key stated advantages of Windows 10 on ARM and the Always Connected PC initiative. But in using the HP Envy x2 to switch semi-seamlessly between cellular data and Wi-Fi networks, I can see that nothing has really changed: This is how this type of connectivity has worked in Windows 10 for years.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been confused about how the HP Envy x2—and other Always Connected PCs—actually works. When the device arrived, I noted the absence of an eSIM (embedded SIM), which I was told was a requirement to qualify as an Always Connected PC. But HP told me that wasn’t the case. And the Envy x2 ships with a normal nano-SIM tray instead. Just like any other cellular-equipped PC.

Hm.

To try and read between the line here, I went back to Microsoft’s original Always Connected PC announcement and to the first few articles I wrote about this topic. But the title of Microsoft’s “Always Connected PCs” Initiative Brings eSIMs to PCs pretty much says it all about what I thought was the central point.

So what did Microsoft say about the seamless connectivity functionality when it first announced this initiative?

Well, for starters, eSIM is not a requirement. To be fair to myself, however, that fact was cleverly obfuscated. Read these few sentences carefully:

“Microsoft device partners ASUS, HP, Huawei, Lenovo, VAIO, and Xiaomi, are committed to this new category of Always Connected PCs using eSIM technology,” the Microsoft announcement from May 2017 explains. “In addition, Microsoft announced Always Connected devices will be coming from ASUS, HP, and Lenovo on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset. These new devices will feature Windows 10, always-on LTE connectivity and great battery life.”

HP, specifically, committed to delivering Always Connected PCs using eSIMs. And, separately, to delivering Always Connected PCs based on ARM, which will feature always-on LTE connectivity. But not necessarily using an eSIM.

Then, in December 2017, Terry Myerson appeared at the Qualcomm event at which the HP Envy x2 was first announced. Tellingly (in retrospect) the word “eSIM” does not appear in Microsoft’s write-up about this milestone. But here’s what it does say about connectivity.

The firm notes its “new vision for connected computing with built-in LTE connectivity, devices that are instantly on and battery life that went beyond hours into days and weeks.” Is some of that new? Perhaps. But the built-in LTE connectivity is not. In fact, this functionality hasn’t changed since Windows 8, from what I can tell. Aside from connection speeds, I guess.

That 4G/LTE connectivity is more pervasive and less expensive today is not related to Microsoft’s initiative. But modern, always-connected PCs are, of course, better positioned to take advantage of this capability. The HP, as currently configured, supports what’s called Category 9 LTE-Advanced, which provides up to 450 Mbps of download bandwidth. But the PC utilizes a Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 cellular modem that supports Category 16 LTE-Advanced at speeds of up 1 Gbps. This isn’t enabled in the HP right now—curiously, it is enabled in the ASUS NovaGo, the only other Qualcomm-based PC that is currently shipped—but the firm told me that it can and will ratchet up the speed of the X16 modem in the Envy x2 over time via firmware and software updates. This will happen in phases, and x2 owners can expect to see Category 9 speeds—about  450 Mbps—first.

I’ve done a bit of speed testing on the Envy x2, but performance will of course vary with the quality of the signal. I need to do more testing, but it appears that my Project Fi data SIM consistently delivers lower speeds than my phone’s Project Fi connection (which, by the way, uses an eSIM). Is this because of the PC or the SIM? There’s no easy way to know. But I hope to have more information in time for my final review of the Envy x2.

In any event, there’s very little to say because the HP Envy x2’s cellular connectivity functionality is literally identical to that of any Windows 10 PC that offers cellular connectivity. Which means that Windows 10 does its usual mixed job of handling the switch between Wi-Fi and cellular data.

Here’s a typical example. When you drop Wi-Fi, the PC switches to cellular and a notification fly-out appears, explaining that you are on a metered network. That’s good to know: People pay for this kind of connectivity and Windows is at least smart enough to not download massive software updates—and potentially incur huge costs for the user—while on such a network.

But Windows is also dumb enough not to include any way to automatically throttle other potential data hogs. So it literally recommends that you, the user, manually pause OneDrive syncing rather than offering a way to do this for you automatically.

If you’re using a major wireless carrier, chances are good that the carrier will provide a Store application that helps you manage your account and your data usage. I’ve used the Verizon app in the past. But for this go-round, I’m on Project Fi, which of course offers no such app. And when I click the “Account Experience” link in the Network fly-out, I’m taken to T-Mobile, not Project Fi, because that’s the network I’m actually connected to. That’s not Windows 10’s fault, so no worries there.

Given the push to 5G connectivity, where access to cloud-based data will be just as fast as accessing data locally, Microsoft’s Always Connected PC initiative makes tons of sense, regardless of my own misunderstandings. And I think that the move to eSIM technology, on both Intel- and Qualcomm-based Always Connected PCs will happen over time as well and then become the norm. As Microsoft itself noted, “it is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and how fast all mobile PCs become Always Connected PCs.” This is absolutely correct.

I believe this will be my final check-in on the HP Envy x2 before the final review.

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Comments (16)

16 responses to “HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) Review Check-In: Connectivity”

  1. SvenJ

    Let me re-iterate a gripe that I have griped before in various places. If you are connected to a WiFi network, but that WiFi network is not connected to the internet, it appears the OS is not smart enough to use the cell connection. Give it a try. Connect WiFi and LTE and disconnect your modem/AP from the provider. See if you can get out on the web. Bet not. Your WiFi will say, 'No internet connection', so it knows, but the OS will not attempt to use the perfectly good LTE. Tap the WiFi button off and away you go. Tap it back on and you are dead in the water again.


    This has happened to me when my CenturyLink connection was down. (Comcast was the same when I used them) WiFi within the house was fine, but you couldn't get out. This isn't just Windows. My iOS and Android devices behave the same way. If they have a WiFi connection to the Access Point, they expect to use it. It also happens at public WiFi that requires you to accept a terms of use via browser, before it will forward your packets to the internet. If you don't, you get nowhere, even with perfectly good LTE available. That was the LTE Apple watches issue. They connected to public WiFi, but it is hard to accept the TOS, so no internet access via the solid WiFi, and LTE didn't 'bypass' that.


    I'm waiting for MS, etc. to fix this. If WiFi isn't getting to the internet, and you know that it isn't because you tell me so, use the frickin' LTE. This will piss people off when they expect their LTE connection to work even when they are in a 'free wifi zone'.



    • cheetahdriver

      In reply to SvenJ:


      To be fair, I have had the same thing happen on both Android, and iOS. The unit will connect with a hotel Wi-Fi I am not signed into, and will sit there waiting for data to come, while all it actually gets is the hotel sign in page. I suppose that is enough to spoof the phone.


      I use a USB modem while traveling and simply disconnect from everything. At home I have fallover from fiber to the backup DSL.

    • karlinhigh

      In reply to SvenJ:

      I operate a photo printing kiosk. It has features to transfer photos from phones via WiFi. And I am on the other end of this frustration about WiFi with no Internet. Certain Android devices connect to the machine's WiFi, look for Google, can't find it, and then drop the connection like a hot potato. In the worst cases, the device has no way to disable the behavior.

    • IanYates82

      In reply to SvenJ:

      In a pinch you can (not that you should have to)


      Open an admin command prompt


      route print


      You'll get a list of network routes. The first couple at the top will be for 0.0.0.0 - one per adapter in your system that has a default gateway set. The "metric" governs which gets precedence.


      You can then use `route delete` and `route add` to get a new route in. Looking at the docs for route in Windows 10 it also seems you can do a `route change` (I don't recall seeing it in the past)

      So


      route change 0.0.0.0 mask 0.0.0.0 [gatewayip] metric 1 if [xx]

      where [gatewayip] is the IP address of the gateway and [xx] is the interface number of the device listed in route print that you want to get the best possible metric.


      It may just be easier to delete the 0.0.0.0 routes that you don't want :) That's what I used to do.


      I agree though, it shouldn't be this hard to fix!

      My car's new little dashcam thing - a product from a crowdfunding effort my father purchased - has its own little WiFi hotspot that you use to get things from it. The annoying thing is that my S8 phone will connect to that WiFi but then not get Internet. So I have flagged the WiFi as not "auto reconnect" as the next best thing. It'd be nice to be able to set up the WiFi connection in Android (or Windows, etc) but be able to say "ignore the default gateway for this network" or "inflate the metric for this network by X" to at least make it not be considered as the best way of reaching the wider Internet.

  2. Harrymyhre

    WiFi is a mess.

    It worked well for 17 or so years but needs to go.

    Lte should be more secure.

  3. Ugur

    I find it a big positive if devices have a sim slot instead of only an esim.

    Esims are nice in theory but in reality, what one can read about the experiences of users on the few devices which already have them, it has been a mixed bag at best so far.

    With issues like having to call a phone nr when you want to use a different provider, which is like the last thing you want to do when you're in another country and want to use a different provider for a few days there for example.


    Regarding the topic overall that there are laptops/convertibles with sim/own data connection option, that's great of course and long overdue.


    Regarding the point that you don't get maximum throughput speed on the laptop, i wonder if that could maybe be due to some power system setting thing, if maybe it doesn't run it at max capacity to save on battery life, so i'd check on that.

    I don't think sim/esim should make any difference in speed there.

  4. IanYates82

    Hey Paul,

    Regarding..

    But Windows is also dumb enough not to include any way to automatically throttle other potential data hogs. So it literally recommends that you, the user, manually pause OneDrive syncing rather than offering a way to do this for you automatically.


    If I have a metered connection - mobile data, WiFi set as such or even, since 1709, Ethernet flagged as such - then Windows doesn't download updates. Other things - including OneDrive and Outlook 2016 - also pause automatically. What have you done to have that not be the case?


    btw, Ethernet being able to be set as metered is a massive benefit and one of my favourite 1709 features. When we're at a trade show we have a little router set up with a mobile data dongle attached to it. We have our laptops and other devices (scanner, printer, labeller, cameras, etc) also wired in via Ethernet to avoid grief with WiFi. I'd burnt through several GB of data by accident at a conference due to Windows not being able to treat the Ethernet connection as a metered connected. That's no longer an issue

    • IanYates82

      In reply to IanYates82:

      Also interesting to see that this mobile connectivity is really what's always been available in Windows 10 and even Windows 8. I figured as much but did wonder if there was some extra magic sauce. It's really just another leg on the stool of Ethernet, WiFi and now mobile data. Maybe they support more adapters out of the box without needing drivers? For S-mode to work you definitely need to avoid any crappy software from the carrier that comes along for the ride.

      • Polycrastinator

        In reply to IanYates82:

        You're incorrect. OneDrive does not pause automatically, and does pop up requesting that you manually pause it. Outlook and Updates pause, and Paul literally says in the article that updates pause.

        • IanYates82

          In reply to Polycrastinator:

          I don't know what to say. My OneDrive sync seems to have paused for me in the past without intervention. Given that my laptop has had this annoying habit of literally downloading 100GB+ of photos three days in a row until I deliberately broke the photos folder, I somehow have never had a mobile data bill incurred whilst tethering.


          I'm travelling this week so will have plenty of chances to try it again. Maybe I'm wrong on that front, and perhaps it was just the silly photos app somehow finally getting the message that I really didn't need it to download the photos locally to the PC (despite any setting I've given it)


          I obviously misread the bit about Windows updates and what Paul said. My sincere apologies :)

  5. Paul Avvento

    "But Windows is also dumb enough not to include any way to automatically throttle other potential data hogs. So it literally recommends that you, the user, manually pause OneDrive syncing rather than offering a way to do this for you automatically."


    I thought this was an option in settings - to state which specific apps can't run over a metered connection?

  6. Dick O'Rosary

    I'm afraid you may be missing the point of this connectivity. It isn't the connectivity itself that's novel in the always connected platform, but how the computer behaves. Its supposed to behave like a smartphone even in a connected state. That means, emails, news, PMs and other notifications, keep coming in even if the device is asleep and doesn't drain power even when connected. Did you notice anything different as regards to this?

  7. tboggs13

    I have the Surface Pro LTE and overall like it, but there is no way to tell the OS that you have "unlimited" data and to stop throttling Outlook and OneDrive. For me, OneDrive for Business pauses automatically and Outlook always puts up a yellow banner. I don't remember ever being asked to manually pause them.

  8. TechOCD

    Paul, is there a "final" wrap up article still coming on the HP X2 Snapdragon from you?


    Would love to hear your thoughts on its performance related specifically to:

    • Running Office 2016 apps (Including OneNote 2016)
    • The "Always Connected" feature - i.e., is it updating emails while sleeping like a mobile phone?


    Thanks!

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