HP ENVY X2: One Step Closer to the Hybrid Future

Patrick Moorhead / March 12th, 2013

As a technology analyst, I spend a lot time analyzing and keeping the pulse on the latest in inflection points, the ones that matter. Modularity is one of those factors and will be an specs_laptop_front_tcm_245_1287690important thing to keep an eye on for the next 5-10 years. In present day, modularity is important with the smartphone to the TV and the tablet to the keyboard, the latter the subject of this analysis.

The entire PC market is in a bit of a funk driven by the macro-economic environment, but primarily driven by consumer’s fascination with smartphones and tablets. Many consumers voted in 2012 to buy a new tablet, upgrade their phone rather than upgrade their PC.  Hybrids and convertibles over time will change this and I believe 2014 is the year where consumers will view PCs as perceptually cool again. The process will start this year, but end in 2013.

Tablet hybrids first came officially on the scene with the Asus Transformer, an Android-based tablet that fit into a keyboard. I have spent a lot of time with hybrids from the Transformer to the Samsung ATIV to the Surface RT and now after having spent a month with a new device, I will share my experiences with HP’s ENVY X2 latest consumer hybrid.  The X2 is very different from the predecessors I tested before it.

Design
The first thing that’s different about the X2 is its striking, all-brushed aluminum design. During my month with the X2, I visited three different countries and spent a lot of time in airports and trade shows floors where I took the X2. Many people would ask me what is was and comment on the design. In tablet mode, it is extremely thin and feels like an iPad but an 11.6″ one. In laptop mode, some people thought it was a MacBook Air until I popped off the tablet. When I pulled off the tablet, every single person said “wow”. The power and volume buttons are flush with the system and designed to be used without the user re-orienting the device which is a nice attention to detail.

Weight and Dimensions
The X2 weighs in at 3.11 lbs, which is a bit heavy for an 11.6″ notebook, but aluminum isn’t plastic, which is lighter. This is a design trade-off that consumers will usually always accept as long as it is near that 3 lb. mark.  As a tablet, I didn’t feel like I was straining, either.  My guess is that it is heavier than the MacBook Air because it needed counter-weight in the keyboard to keep the unit from tipping over, as all the major components are in the keyboard.

Keyboard and Trackpad
The hybrid comes with a full-sized keyboard with full-sized trackpad that is responsive to the full Windows 8 gesture set. Most hybrids cheap-out on the trackpad and I think the use of Synaptics is to be commended. I wrote everything including research papers on the keyboard which has function keys, delete keys and arrow keys and never felt cramped.

Multimedia
Thankfully, the product managers didn’t cheap out on the multimedia features. The X2’s rear camera is 8MP which is much appreciated at volleyball and basketball games. Yes, I am one of those annoying parents taking video with a tablet. My rationale is that it is better than on my phone which will suck the batteries dry. If you don’t understand this then you probably haven’t spent three, 10 hour days of club-level volleyball with your  kids.  The camera also has a very bright flash, unique in its class. The front facing camera supports 1080P video, much appreciated on Skype. In the follow on products, I would like to see some work done on the camera subsystem to take pictures as fast and as high quality as a phone.  This is primarily of the Intel Hive-acquired ISP.

At 11.6″, the display was large for a tablet and perfect for a highly mobile laptop. The 1366×768 resolution is perfectly fine for notebook mode and even watching movies. I love higher-res displays like Retina, but there are certain use cases a user must have them so they don’t see pixels or need the fidelity for photos. This isn’t one of them as an 11.6″ display tablet isn’t the one you will use in bed and read a book on. That’s better territory for the Nexus 7 or ipad mini. The closer the display is to the eyes, the higher the res should be so you don’t see pixels unless you must see original view of pictures.

Expandability
Compared to just a tablet, the X2 offers the full sized keyboard and trackpad that converts it into a small notebook. The tablet holds one microSD card slot for photo or data transfer. The keyboard dock has a much-appreciated full HDMI connector and a full-sized SD card slot for inexpensive mass storage. I really appreciate the full HDMI slot as I cannot tell you how many of the iPad HDMI adapters I have lost.  The dock also has two USB 2.0 slots and mini-connector for speaker and mic. After my long business trips, I appreciated coming home and connecting the X2 to my 32″ display extending my experience even further.

Durability
I dropped the X2 (unintentionally) twice on concrete floors and I can say the unit fared a lot better than I expected. Using many devices, I have broken many devices and I have broken three iPads. After my unexpected drop-test, the unit suffered only scrapes but no cracked display.

Software and Hardware
The HP hybrid runs all Metro-based apps as well as Windows desktop style apps. This is great and I really appreciated using Outlook with Google Sync plug-ins, fully-synced Google Drive, Google Chrome and Evernote. While I consider myself a sophisticated user and know the limits of the system, I can see how a general consumer could easily overload the system. While the dual core, four thread Intel Z2760 (aka Clover Trail) is good in its class, it’s not the processor you can do everything a Core i Processor is designed to do. On occasion, I had too many Google Chrome windows open and the system came to a crawl. I also found myself running out of storage space due to my own fault of putting my Google drive and Outlook .OST on the C drive. I didn’t feel comfortable putting it on the SD cards because I have sensitive and confidential information there. I am very much looking forward to Intel’s next generation Bay Trail in this form factor.

As with full Windows 8 and X86 processor, I can connect just about every hardware peripheral I have and it just works. I connected all my mice, cameras, printers and they just worked.

Battery Life
The X2’s battery life was the biggest shocker. In tablet mode, I got around nine hours with the tablet and with the keyboard, I got around 14 hours. I didn’t do official benchmarking, but I did test while on many transcontinental trips where I was writing research papers.

Price
Price is a challenge to place a verdict on because the X2 is just so versatile. Launch pricing was set at $849 for the 64GB-WiFi edition but right now, the unit is selling for $599 on sale, which is an absolute steal. At $849 one must compare it to the MacBook Air which starts at $999 and apply value to touch, convertible design, and battery life and deduct for Core i5 performance. At $599, the X2 with keyboard is a no-brainer as compared to the 64GB iPad 4 at $599.

Conclusion
The HP ENVY X2 shows that hybrid designs are evolving to a point where in late 2013, early 2014, consumers will need to find some other justification to pay $499 for a tablet-only design that doesn’t elegantly dock in a very integrated fashion. By elegant and integrated, I’m not talking just about adding a Bluetooth keyboard, but deeper integration like that of the X2 and beyond. By 2014, no premium-priced (499+) tablets will sell well that cannot do this and OEMs and ODMs will need to address this and invest in better modular capabilities.  And as Apple scorned video on the iPod and 7″ tablets, I am sure they have a few prototypes of a few “fridge-toasters” in test which would make for a very interesting 2014.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • jfutral

    I know all you tech writer guys and lots of other geeks are all excited about convertibles. I’m unimpressed with the notion and realities of the convertible/hybrid. I’ve not really seen any industry where such a beast has done well. The general perception (usually grounded in actual experience) is hybrid anything is usually less of either version. This is pretty true even before Tim Cook’s comments about hybrids/convertibles.

    Now this may not be the reality of this particular device or similar devices from other vendors, but I don’t see this connotation being easily or even patiently overcome in broader markets. I mean, at least this has a better shot of being used/thought of as a laptop than the Surface. But there is going to be much time and money spent on changing people’s perception, much like McDonald’s had to do with fast-food breakfast. Do these guys have that kind of time even if they have the money?

    Even smartphones are beginning to transform primary purpose. Before the iPhone transformed the market _after_ it came out, the idea of a smartphone was still primarily as a phone that did other things. Now the phone part of Jobs’ iPhone description (cell phone, internet device, music player) is no longer as important as the other two, Consumer Reports wasted testing not-withstanding.

    I could be wrong and these things will win over masses by the droves, but I think people will settle in on what they actually need of a device-a laptop or a tablet and that is being driven by the software, not the device itself. Developers are making the iPad more useful than as just an internet consumption device.

    I just don’t see people clamoring for a single device to do everything. I see more people wanting what they do to not be tied to a single device.

    But my vision is limited compared to yours.

    Joe

    • Tim

      Not really. If anything, the general consensus among tech reviewers lately seem to be convertibles suck ipad rules. This article is a fluke, nothing more.

  • capnbob67

    The lack of commentary on this review says it all. No-one cares.

    When the next iPad comes out and probably offers retina display and A7 power all for a little over 1lb in weight (assuming they put it on the iPad mini diet), this is going to look even more like the clunker it is. It is an almost 2lb tablet with a 1lb keyboard battery pack. It leverages the awesome (not) Metro App library for tablet apps or the horror show that is desktop apps on a low-res 11.6″ touch screen. The fact that it is a crappy laptop (Atom) as well is just frosting on the turd if you wanted to do any heavy lifting on it. Compromise, compromise, compromise. Basically, all you can say it is sturdy and cheap. Congrats HP.

    People pay for the right tools for the right job. That is why professional tradesmen/craftsmen don’t carry a swiss army knife as their primary tool.

  • Rich

    Patrick, you’re making two assumptions here: (1) that a company whose behavior over the last few years would’ve been good material for the soaps “All My Children” or “Days of our Lives” will still be a functioning entity through 2014, (2) that hybrid portable computers, which haven’t been greatly popular, will become a lot more popular by the end of next year. 2014 will be very interesting? Maybe so, or maybe in a different way from your prediction.

  • Tim

    Hi, capnbob67

    I’m a civil engineer working for a consulting firm that manages construction projects throughout the country. Locally, we have several projects in place and several more being planned for the incoming months. Guys like me do not have the luxury of playing games and watching movies all day on the ipad. We have to be on the constant move on a moment’s notice to different towns for evaluations. And each of us have to carry around very large manuals (several thousand pages long each) for references in regard to standardized construction practices, regulations, local ordinances, etc.

    For the last two years, myself and several other people I know have been trying out new mobile devices to make our jobs easier. And trust me, I’ve tried the ipad for months. I’ve also tried android tablets, laptops, MacBook air, etc. Keep in mind of the following things that I must be able to do with a single device.

    -battery life that can last me the whole day without having to look for an outlet.

    -can open very large pdf files and easily walk around the job site with it like a book.

    -quickly type reports and email them to clients.

    -run calculation programs to crank out some estimates.

    -excel spread sheet.

    -scan documents, quickly convert them into pdf to email.

    -read and reply to emails.

    -quickly plug in hdmi cable to the projector to show people images of job sites.

    -quickly transfer important documents to other people via usb jump drives.

    -etc.

    When I was using the ipad and other tablets, I kept finding myself lugging around both the tablet and the laptop to be able to do all the things above plus more. I know of no one who have been able to incorporate work in with their ipads.

    About a month ago, I bought the hp envy x2. I’ve been using this device for everything ever since. I absolutely love it. This single device has allowed me to do everything, and I literally mean everything, that I need to do on a daily basis plus more. It’s my companion that I keep with me all the time. A single device that does everything, literally.

    I’ve no doubt that the ipad is perfect for you. Lots of games. Retina display for movies. Status symbol among your peers. Etc. But it’s got little practical use in the real world. And again, trust me myself along with many others have tried.

    The point is HP did not make the envy x2 with gamers and media consumers in mind. I’m convinced they made this device for real honest to god work to get done. And I think they’ve succeeded in that.

    The writer of this article took this device on his month long business trip, and it gave him a good impression. That’s pretty much how a professional would feel about this device if they take it to work with them.

    • jfutral

      Let me ask you as I try to figure this one out. Is your list of functionality necessary across both device types—tablet and laptop? Or do you do some of that list as a tablet and others as a laptop?

      As a CAD user myself, I am most intrigued by what software you are using that handles both keyboard/trackpad input AND touch input. As yet I haven’t found any that do both, much less do both effectively.

      I use Vectorworks and they have a dedicated “members” cloud service that automatically translates uploaded files into either flat PDFs and now also 3d forms for viewing with an iPad on the go (and iPhone, but I find that more humorous than useful). Doesn’t really help me without at least giving me some minor editing capability, but I haven’t seen any CAD vendor that handles editing and creating on both devices, either. If you have, I’d love to hear about it.

      What little spreadsheet stuff I do I don’t need Excel, but I use it and Numbers on the iPad easily handles what little work I do in Excel. Mostly I use a proprietary piece of software that ultimately is a fancy, dedicated spreadsheet that dynamically communicates exceptionally well with Vectorworks. It works on both iPad and pc.

      I can easily share documents through any number of cross platform solutions, like Dropbox, Google Drive, WeTransfer, etc. I don’t really need to keep up with a USB jump drive anymore. I actually can’t remember the last time I took mine out of my case. There are just too many other ways to do that now.

      The iPad is pretty ubiquitous in my industry and people keep wanting to find ways to use it more for their work instead of needing to tote the laptop around.

      Joe

  • Bob

    It’s nice to be able take notes using a one-piece laptop, and then read those notes in bed on a tablet. It’s nice to be able to write and edit music using a mouse(pad) and keyboard, and then to simply take off the screen and put it on a music stand. It’s nice to be able to use all the mainstream programs that I’ve grown used to on other versions of Windows.

    The only gripe I have with the Envy x2 is with the lack of processing power, and even then, that compromise is not because of the device being a convertible. It’s because this particular convertible has an *extreme* battery life. The same compromise would exist on other devices – generally, the more powerful, the shorter the battery life.

    I personally don’t mind if convertibles don’t really catch on (in fact I’d rather it didn’t – then I’d have a rare and unique device), but for those saying that convertibles are simply the worst of both the laptop and tablet world, they’re forgetting that touchscreen keyboards usually cover at least a good quarter of the screen, and they aren’t exactly satisfying to type on. As for conventional clam shell laptops, they simply don’t offer the convenience and flexibility of tablets. In other words, you can say that laptops and tablets both have compromises when compared to convertibles.

    In the end though, it all comes down to what the consumer wants or needs. Of course people are going to bash the notion of convertibles, and of course it might not be successful, but just look what happened with the iPad and the notion of taking videos and pictures with it….

  • Mike

    I bought two of these for kids school work, and they are perfect for that function – especially at a little less than $500 each. I’m pleasantly surprised at their performance.

  • Jane

    I’ve been contemplating whether to buy the Envy x2 or not. i read on the HP forum that lots of user complain about low wifi sevice. can anyone tell me if the experience the same problem? a tablet is useless if it can’t be connected online..

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