HP Envy x2 (Intel) First Impressions

Posted on September 21, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 30 Comments

The ARM-based version of the HP Envy x2 suffers from poor performance and compatibility. How does using a more conventional Intel chipset change things?

Most are probably familiar with my disastrous turn with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835-based HP Envy x2. Despite its premium design and stellar battery life and standby times, it was simply let down by its wimpy and incompatible innards. It was, as I wrote at the time, a device that strikes all the wrong compromises.

“I believe that most potential customers would prefer and be much better served by a PC that offered normal performance and compatibility with half the battery life and standby time of the Envy x2,” I explained.

And I stand by that, still. That said, Microsoft’s more recent Surface Go makes a similar range of wrong compromises. Sure, it’s based on an Intel chipset, but it’s an anemic Pentium, and if you get the lower-end model, you’re likewise saddled with slow eMMC storage.

Put simply, Surface Go is not the answer either.

What I really want to see, what I believe the types of PC buyers interested in these devices want to see, is an Intel version of the HP Envy x2.

And that exists. In fact, it’s been available since May.

On the outside, the Intel-based version of the Envy x2 differs in many subtle ways from the Snapdragon-based version. Some of these were obvious immediately. Others required me to compare them side-by-side.

The Snapdragon-based Envy x2 (top) and the Intel-based one (bottom).

The most obvious external difference is that the keyboard cover on the Intel x2 is completely different from that on the other. And in a weird twist, I actually like the one of the Snapdragon x2 better.

Snapdragon (left) and Intel (right)

OK, I need a better way to refer to these PCs.

So let’s try this. In a fit of whimsy, I named the original Snapdragon-based HP Envy x2 as Armed because, well, you get it. So when the Intel version arrived, I thought about what I might call that version. And then the perfect name occurred.

Unarmed.

Let’s try those.

The type covers on both Envy x2s are unique. Both from each other and from other 2-in-1s like Surface Pro. Each is made of the same faux-leather polyurethane material, which I really like. And each appears to have the same keyboard. But the trackpads are different.

Armed’s touchpad and wrist rest area (left) are larger than those of Unarmed (right)

And the ways in which they connect to the respective PCs, and support different display and keyboard angles, are completely different.

The Envy x2’s connection with its type cover is awkward.

And the version on Armed is superior. This version supports a reasonable range of display view angles. And as is the case with Surface Pro and Surface Go, you can angle the keyboard by sticking it to the bottom bezel via magnets. Both of these features are very desirable.

And neither are available on Unarmed. Instead, Unarmed supports only two display view angles, and both require a bit of difficult origami because it takes a while to even figure out how it works. Worse, Unarmed doesn’t let you raise the keyboard. It’s always flat on the desk.

One of the two possible typing angles.

You’ll get used to any PC you use every day. But the difficulty of positioning Unarmed on the type cover makes no sense to me.

The other typing angle.

Beyond that obvious difference, there are some minor differences, and some are important.

Armed sports a single USB-C port, but Unarmed has two, one on each side of the tablet/display. Much better.

Because of the different type cover design, Unarmed has a smaller touchpad than Armed and a smaller wrist rest area. As noted, the keyboard on each is identical, and both are excellent.

Armed is bogged down by its compatibility issues, but the problem is exacerbated by Windows 10 S (now Windows 10 in S mode). At least you can upgrade to real Windows for free. With Unarmed, you get full Windows 10 Home. This is the better choice for everyone.

The speakers on Unarmed are noticeably louder, and since this is real Windows it supports a Bang & Olufsen Audio Control utility so you can customize the sound for movies, music, or speech. There’s no comparison: Unarmed is better in this regard.

And then there is much that is the same. The basic form factor. The micro-SD card slot. The SIM slot for LTE. (It is an Always Connected PC, of course.) The basic positioning of the power and volume buttons.

And the same bundled HP Pen.

The displays appear to be identical. Both are 3:2 1920 x 1280 panels with bright colors and deep blacks. The size and quality are both ideal, especially for a device that will potentially be used as a tablet.

From a performance and compatibility perspective, there is little comparison: Unarmed is superior in every way imaginable. Apps and utilities that Armed cannot run—like Photoshop Elements—work fine on Unarmed. And general system performance is notably better.

But there is one issue: The review unit came with just 4 GB of RAM, and I saw an out-of-memory error in Windows 10 for the first time ever as a result. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t care which PC you buy. But 8 GB is the minimum, period.

It is worth pointing out that the chipset in Unarmed is not the typical 15-watt U-series chips you’ll find in most modern laptops. Indeed, it’s not even an 8th-generation part. Instead, HP has chosen a 4.5-watt 7th-generation Intel Core i5-7Y54 processor. This makes sense, honestly, since it provides the fanless, silent design one would want in a tablet. And in just some short testing, I’ve found that performance—sans that memory issue—has been just fine for my standard productivity work. That Unarmed ships with a real SSD—compared to the slower UFS storage in Armed—helps too.

Looking ahead, I am curious to see how the always-on connectivity and battery life match up. I expect Unarmed to deliver about 15 to 16 hours of battery life on my standard HD streaming video test (vs. 20 hours for Armed), but I will also be looking at the real-world battery life report that Windows generates over time. Likewise, I will continue to monitor and test performance.

More soon.

 

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Comments (30)

30 responses to “HP Envy x2 (Intel) First Impressions”

  1. Avatar

    skborders

    I would love a chance to test the Arm version since I would use it primarily as a tablet, I would only use office and other store apps. Especially if there was a large difference in price. (I didn't see the price mentioned anywhere)

  2. Avatar

    jimchamplin

    Now if it were almost 3" thick, made of black plastic so durable you could bomb it, and had user serviceable everything I'd consider buying it! :D


    In all seriousness, this is a great review, Paul. I love that you compared the two versions and talked about the ups and downs of each.

  3. Avatar

    YouWereWarned

    Don't get it. I've an Asus Q324 w/i7-7500U, 512 SSD, 16GB, foldable touchscreen, that cost $999 USD. Why put up with floppy keyboards and lousy performance? I do not believe there is some alternate physical reality over at ARM that will let them get something for nothing out of their silicon. It will require advances beyond the CISC/RISC distinction.

  4. Avatar

    montyfowler

    I've been using the HP Envy X2 (ARM version) since its release back in March. It is my go-to walk around device for my days at our HQ or at trade shows, and for client meetings where guest WiFi can be dubious. The Envy X2 runs all the stuff I need to work (in Windows 10 Pro mode) just fine and I enjoy never having to hunt for WiFi or use my iPhone hotspot. The battery life is astounding and the form factor, portability, and build quality are excellent. If you use for what it was designed for, then it is a very capable device and meets the goals for the Always Connected PC category. I'll be buying the 2nd generation to get the performance bump and more RAM.

  5. Avatar

    PixyMisa

    I just picked up a couple of last year's Spectre x2 models in a clearance sale from HP Australia (about 60% off, though it was pretty expensive here to begin with).


    Your review sold me on it, and having used them for a couple of days I agree with everything you said. Thanks!

  6. Avatar

    SYNERDATA

    No. Both are inadequet due to the compromises of each. Unarmed is ridiculous despite the right CPU, but if it had a kickstand and a sensible type cover keyboard it would be considerable. I would prefer an authentic Surface over either of these experiments, even the Go.

  7. Avatar

    Daishi

    It amazes me that HP essentially made 3 versions of this device and they managed to make them all too flawed to buy in different ways. The first ruined by its specs. This one by its accessories. And the last ruined by its operating system.


    If they just took this tablet and added the Chromebook X2’s keyboard they could have just made one vastly superior product to any of the three things they’ve put out instead.

  8. Avatar

    brettscoast

    Good write-up Paul

    Your assessment re system memory is correct 4GB does not cut it these days. There are pro's and con's on both devices so well done for the comparisons there in your first impressions.

  9. Avatar

    straker135

    The kick stand style with Surface Pro type keyboard on the Armed version is a better design from my perspective: more flexible angles, more stable, more elegant. Perhaps the differences are in part intended to ensure there is less likelihood of confusion as to which device internals go with what formfactor? I have not used the ARM versions of Windows 10 but do not expect from a specification point of view that ARM will be comparable to Intel devices until at least the Snapdragon 1000 chip lands. Having said that I have seen some benchmarks that suggest that chip is not the advance over the 850 that we might have been expecting.


    I don't think ARM Windows will go away until Microsoft and manufacturers have had at least another 2 to 3 ( 850 -->1000--1050?) generations of hardware to test the market. Microsoft seems to get about every 3rd iteration of anything they do pretty right: XP (SP2)--> Vista--> Windows 7, 8-->8.1-->10, Surface Pro 3 was pretty good, mine is still excellent. Not a strong point but you get the drift. Of course Microsoft have to maintain focus to iterate to a reasonably optimal state, something Paul has called them out on many times as they often drift off before they get the job done.

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      In reply to straker135:

      I agree on the kickstand. But one thing Microsoft told me when they showed me the Surface Go is that they've effectively reached the end on how thin it can be between the USB-C port and the kickstand. You'll note that the port is not next to the kickstand: That's for thickness reasons. So there's a "price" to the kickstand, thinness-wise.


      But again, I prefer that style as well.

      • Avatar

        straker135

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        As to the kickstand it seems to be such a reasonable solution to the need that I wonder whether Apple engineers considered something similar for the iPad. Possibly more along the lines of the HP Elite Surface Pro style tablet with wireframe stand. I also imagine Steve Jobs giving them 'the look', it wouldn't have matched his minimalist ethic.

  10. Avatar

    locust infested orchard inc

    Quote by Paul Thurrott, "Put simply, Surface Go is not the answer either."


    Very true indeed. I have just the ticket to resolve this perennial dilemna – the Surface Foldable™ / Surface Go Pro.

  11. Avatar

    locust infested orchard inc

    Quote by Paul Thurrott, "What I really want to see, what I believe the types of PC buyers interested in these devices want to see, is an Intel version of the..."


    ...Surface Foldable™ (an unarmed version, as succinctly described by Paul).

  12. Avatar

    longhorn

    Since HP made both I wonder why they made poor design decisions on the Intel version. Kinda strange. It almost feels like companies make products they don't want to sell.


    "From a performance and compatibility perspective, there is little comparison: Unarmed is superior in every way imaginable. Apps and utilities that Armed cannot run—like Photoshop Elements—work fine on Unarmed. And general system performance is notably better."

    "I expect Unarmed to deliver about 15 to 16 hours of battery life on my standard HD streaming video test (vs. 20 hours for Armed)"


    If that's the case ARM is irrelevant in the PC space.


  13. Avatar

    jglathe

    You know what I still prefer? Thinkpad T500 from 2009, 1680x1050 screen, real keyboard, Trackpoint, a fan (but mostly silent enough), SATA SSD. Can run Windows 10 alright, better with Linux. If even the unarmed variant of the Envy wouldn't have so many shortcomings, a newer, silent and about a third weight device would be welcome. But it is *not* a full replacement for a T500 (now 9 years old). That in itself says a lot. Wrong direction, guys!

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