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.


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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