HP Envy x360 13 Review

Posted on July 21, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 24 Comments

With its great design and convertible form factor, the AMD Ryzen-based HP Envy x360 13 is the best portable PC you can buy for under $1000.

Anyone familiar with HP’s families of consumer portable PCs knows that the Envy lineup sits firmly in the middle between the high-end Spectres and the mainstream Pavilions. But with the 2020 Envy x360, HP is pushing this offering upwards in quality and performance while maintaining its affordability. Unless you have truly high-end needs—like Thunderbolt 3 docking capabilities—you’d be hard-pressed to justify the additional expense of the also-excellent Spectre x360 13.

Design

And it all starts with the design: I find the Envy x360 13’s all-aluminum chassis, decked out in a stunning Nightfall Black color, to be more attractive than the weirdly angular Spectre x360. It exudes quality with the display open or closed, and thanks to its convertible design it can be folded up like a tent, lay flat, or be used like a slightly thick tablet if you’re so inclined.

I know that design is subjective, but HP has been all over the map in recent years. For example, I happen to love the Elite Dragonfly and its unique magnesium design, but I recognize that the color isn’t for everyone. Likewise, the Spectre x360 13 is an incredible convertible PC, but its controversial angular design just isn’t my style. Somehow, the Envy x360 13, which costs far less than either of those premium offerings, manages to look more attractive and even seem more professional.

It’s hard to express why that’s so, but I believe it to be a combination of many little design touches, from the solid and sturdy hinges to the etched effect of the machine’s edges. Even the large and fun font used on the keyboard’s keys places a role here. Yes, it’s the same font used on the Spectre x360 13, but because its rendered on the much darker color of the Envy, it looks even better, especially when backlit. It’s just the total package.

Display

While HP’s more expensive portable PCs can be upgraded with 4K/UHD OLED displays, the more affordable Envy x360 13 lands exactly where it should with a small selection of 13.3-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) LCD panels. The base unit throws off 300 nits of light, which is fine for indoor use, while a version with a built-in privacy shield and a very bright 1000 nits of brightness can be had on an upgrade.

The review unit splits the difference with an upgraded 400 nit panel and no privacy shield. I find it to be plenty bright and glossy with rich, deep colors and perfect blacks. It is a 16:9 panel, unfortunately, but HP has significantly reduced the bezel sizes, especially on the top and sides, allowing it to make the surrounding PC about as small as is possible with a display this size. I’d prefer 16:10 just for normal laptop use, but this panel will be particularly awkward if you ever do use it as a tablet in portrait mode.

Internal components

My HP Envy x360 13 review unit is powered by a 6-core AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor with Radeon graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. I never tested a previous generation Ryzen processor, but I understand there have been big improvements in the 4000 series, and this system has never been anything but a delight to use from a performance perspective.

My guess is that most people wouldn’t notice a difference one way or the other—most modern PCs can handle standard productivity software just fine, but one of my more unusual workloads tells an interesting story: My recent UWP and Xamarin programming projects compile much more quickly on this system than they do on the Intel Core i7-based HP EliteBook 1040 I normally use. That’s interesting, in part because I assume that the 4500U roughly maps to an Intel Core i5.

The HP never got hot in my use, but a low fan noise has been fairly constant. This is where HP’s Command Center app comes in. By default, it’s set to the HP Recommended temperature and cooling profile. But if the fan noise bothers you—and I am sensitive to this kind of thing—you can switch to Comfort or Quiet. Likewise, those with more extreme needs can pump up the power by choosing the Performance mode. I left it on its default setting after experimenting with the choices a bit, but I am pleased to note that switching to Quiet immediately turned off the fans.

Connectivity

Connectivity is mostly modern, though there’s no cellular data even as an option. The review unit ships with 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 capabilities, though I’m told that the entry-level Ryzen 3 4300U-based model comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi instead.

Ports and expansion

Thanks in part to its thin body and to the harsh reality that AMD-based PCs are not Thunderbolt 3 compatible, the Envy x360 13 comes with a pleasant mixture of new and legacy ports. On the left, you’ll find a full-sized USB-A 3.1 port with a fun “drop-jaw” hinge to accommodate the machine’s sloping underside and a USB-C 3.2 port, in addition to a combo mic/headphone jack.

And on the right, you’ll see another USB-A 3.1 port (also with that same drop-jaw hinge) and a microSD card slot. There’s also a proprietary barrel-style HP power port, which is actually a reasonable addition since it frees up the single USB-C port for peripherals. And yes, I tested it: You can charge the Envy over USB-C if you have a spare power adapter.

Audio and video

The Envy x360 13 ships with downward-firing and Bang & Olufsen-enhanced stereo speakers that deliver surprisingly rich and separated sound, at least when the machine is used in laptop mode on a hard surface. I tested the speakers in a variety of ways, but it’s worth pointing out that I found myself getting lost in the movie Atomic Blonde again, in part because its 80’s soundtrack just sounds terrific on the HP. There’s no automatic software control, but a Bang & Olufsen Audio Control app lets you manually switch between music, movie, and voice sound profiles. And you can pump up the bass with its equalizer, if needed.

Like too many portable PCs today, the Envy x360 13 ships with a lackluster and grainy 720p webcam. And it doesn’t support Windows Hello facial recognition either.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

As many readers know, I pay particularly close attention to the keyboard experience on every portable PC I review, and I’m generally comfortable with recent trends in which key travel has been reduced dramatically compared to the loosey-goosey throws of yesteryear. With that in mind, the Envy’s backlit keyboard finds me in an awkward position because I feel that HP has, once again, raised the bar. This could very well be the single best keyboard I’ve ever used.

I know. I’ve said that before, and while my EliteBook 1040 will always hold a special place in my heart, if not on my fingertips, this one is almost certainly superior. It’s reminiscent in many ways of the so-called Magic Keyboard that Apple uses in my 2020 MacBook Air, with its comfortable feel and sportscar-like short throws. But thanks to a superior layout and some useful additional keys, it’s even better.

I also appreciate that HP is experimenting a bit with the keyboard, first by integrating a fingerprint reader into the space that is normally occupied by a superfluous right Ctrl key; given the space restrictions here—the thin bezels make using a Windows Hello-compatible IR camera impossible and the short wrist rest likewise makes a more conventionally-placed fingerprint reader a non-starter—this makes tons of sense.

Second, HP has placed HP Command Center (F12) and webcam privacy shutter keys in the top row of the keyboard, and they sit right next to a power button key. And the F8 key provides a microphone mute switch. Those are unusual options, but quite useful. (And I like that the power, um, key I guess we’ll call it, is to the left of the Delete key, which is correctly in its default position at the upper right of the keyboard.)

I also like the column of keys—Home, Pg Up, Pg Dn, and End—on the far right of the keyboard. I use these keys a lot, and when they’re buried behind function key shortcuts (like Fn + Up Arrow for Home), they’re much harder to use.

Put simply, this is an excellent keyboard.

The glass precision touchpad is just as good. Thanks to the short wrist rest, it has a curiously elongated shape, but I never found it to be anything other than accurate and reliable, with little in the way of mis-taps. Unlike many touchpads, the surface of this one is a bit tacky and resistive, and not glassy and smooth. And while I could see some disliking that, I grew to really prefer it.

The HP Envy x360 13 supports HP’s lineup of smartpens, but one is not included in the box and the machine is too thin to provide any kind of pen docking or garage. I didn’t test a smartpen.

Portability

While I prefer the design of the Envy x360 13 to that of the Spectre x360 13, the two machines are about the same size, thickness, and weight, and should thus offer similar portability experiences. Not that I’m going anywhere these days. I’d like to tell you that I dusted off my laptop bag and walked around the house for hours carrying both machines to see which took the bigger toll on my shoulder, but I cannot. They feel almost identical to me.

So here are the numbers. The Envy weighs 2.91 pounds, a hair over the 2.88-pound curb weight of the Spectre; those are good weights for convertibles, as what I’m looking for in this class is a weight under 3 pounds. According to HP, the chassis is 14.09 x 9.06 inches, compared to 12.08 x 7.66 for the Spectre, but I’ve stacked them side-by-side and they are almost literally identical in size, so I’m not sure what to say there. The Envy is .74 inches thin and its thickest point compared to .68 inches for the Spectre; here again, they appear to be virtually identical to my eyes.

With its smaller 3-cell, 51 watt-hour battery, one might expect the Envy x360 13 to underperform the Spectre x360 13 with its larger 4-cell, 60 watt-hour battery. And it does, at least in my limited testing. Where I was able to obtain over 9 hours of real-world battery life while traveling with the Spectre x360 13 before COVID-19 shut down the world, I’ve been stuck at home with the Envy x360 13 and trying to make the best of things. And what I’ve seen, on average, is about 7:20 of battery life. Not bad at all. But maybe not quite accurate, it’s hard to say.

Software

The HP Envy x360 13 ships with Windows 10 Home version 2004, which comes with its own crapware, advertising, and telemetry, plus Microsoft 365.

But HP pads it on with a weird number of superfluous apps for Amazon, Booking.com, a Dropbox promotion, ExpressVPN, McAfee LiveSafe, McAfee Personal Security, Netflix, and even Simple Solitaire, despite the fact that Windows already comes with a Solitaire game.

Too much crap

And then it piles things on further with a painfully long list of HP utilities that includes such things as HP Audio Switch, HP Command Center, HP Connection Optimizer, HP Documentation, HP PC Hardware Diagnostics Windows, HP Privacy Settings, HP Support Assistant, and HP System Event Utility.

And then there are other apps related to the hardware, like Bang & Olufsen Audio Control, AMD Radeon Settings Lite, and whatever the hell the Energy Star app is or does.

Seriously.

Pricing and configurations

With a starting price of just $680, the HP Envy x360 13 is an incredible value. The entry-level model features an AMD Ryzen 3 4300U processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of SSD storage. The review unit bumps the specs to a Ryzen 5 4500U processor and 256 GB of storage for just $770. And at the high-end, you’ll find a Ryzen 7 4700U model for just $870.

Recommendations and conclusions

The HP Envy x360 13 hits the sweet spot on quality, performance, and price and is highly recommended. This is a PC on which I’d spend my own money. There are no real deal-breakers, and the high points—from the beautiful and versatile design to the excellent performance, superior keyboard, and amazingly affordable prices—are just too good to pass over.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Tremendous performance
  • Beautiful, versatile design
  • Superb keyboard and touchpad
  • Sweet spot pricing

Cons

  • Far too much crapware and superfluous HP utilities
  • No Thunderbolt 3 support

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