Like every self-respecting company releasing new Windows 8 devices, HP has refreshed its existing laptops with touch-optimized features ready to handle the new OS’ gestures. But also like any self-respecting PC maker, HP is outing a device with a more adventurous form factor. The Envy x2 stands out among other hybrids running the same 1.8GHz Atom processor for its more attractive design, IPS display and nice-to-have features like NFC and pen input. At $850 with the included keyboard dock, though, it’s a hair more expensive than comparable products such as the Acer Iconia W510. So is the x2 a solid machine — both as a laptop and as a standalone tablet? You know where to meet us if you want to find out.
The x2 looks like a clamshell netbook — and an attractive one, at that. The silver, brushed-aluminum chassis is sleek but not slippery to the touch, and the reflective HP logo on the back doesn’t strike us as too obtrusive (you won’t see it most of the time, anyway). Compared to other laptop / tablet hybrids like the plastic-clad Acer Iconia W510, this system feels elegant and well made. The x2’s aluminum build is sturdy, but if you hold the device by the keyboard base, the screen wobbles a bit in its hinge. We don’t think you’ll be holding the device this way too often, though, so it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.
At 1.5 pounds and 0.3 inch thick as a standalone tablet, the Envy x2 feels very light; the LTE version of the Samsung ATIV Smart PC is a slightly bulkier 1.65 pounds and 0.39 inch thick in slate form, though the 10.1-inch Acer Iconia W510 is a bit more featherweight at 1.27 pounds. The x2’s rounded edges and lightly textured backing make for a comfortable grip. With the keyboard dock attached, the machine weighs 3.1 pounds, and it’s quite manageable, even for carrying one-handed.
We questioned our sanity for a moment when feeling around for this hybrid’s power button. It’s located on the back of the tablet — along with the volume rocker — which just doesn’t feel intuitive. Most slates have these buttons on the sides, and we definitely prefer that setup. Once you get over the initial confusion, you’ll still have to feel around a bit if you’re viewing the screen from the front. Other ports are more conventionally located: along the left edge of the dock are HDMI and USB 2.0, while the right hosts the power connector, another USB 2.0 connection and an SD card slot. Detach the tablet from the dock, and you’ll find the slate includes a microSD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a docking port that connects to the keyboard or the charging cable.
Connecting the tablet to the keyboard dock feels satisfying, but it can take a few moments to line up the connectors correctly. Once you’ve managed that, slide the release latch and the device snaps into place. When it’s secured into laptop mode, the device feels very secure. It won’t fall out of place until you pull the latch in the opposite direction to release the slate.
Keyboard and touchpad
At first glance, the Envy x2’s keyboard looks pretty nice. The black, island-style chiclets are well-spaced, and the layout doesn’t feel cramped. (This is one advantage that laptop / tablet hybrids have over sliders; the slate doesn’t infringe upon the keyboard deck.) There’s ample space for your wrists, too. Get ready for the “but”: the keys themselves feel mushy; they don’t offer the springy, satisfying feedback we crave. On a typing test we notched a lower wpm score — and a higher error rate — than we typically muster. We wouldn’t classify this keyboard as horrible, but it’s less comfortable than its looks would suggest.
We would use stronger language to describe the Synaptics touchpad. On the plus side, it’s very responsive; we had no issue executing Windows 8 gestures like swiping in from the right to reveal the Charms bar, for example. But the fact is this clicker is too sensitive. Almost every time we accidentally grazed the touchpad with our finger, it was interpreted as a click or swipe. You’ll find this issue especially irksome when you’re writing emails or working in a document, as the cursor often moves to an earlier point in the text.
Display and audio
Though the Envy x2’s 11.6-inch display has a standard 1,366 x 768 resolution — this pixel count is especially prevalent among hybrids running Atom processors — IPS technology makes for better-than-average viewing angles. We were able to view content on-screen when we moved to the far right and left, but tipping the panel forward more than a bit causes images to wash out. This issue aside, though, colors look accurate, and text is crisp.
Evaluating the touch display as an input method, we don’t have any complaints. Executing Win 8-specific gestures is seamless and easy. At the same time, the screen offers enough traction that you won’t accidentally be clicking on items constantly. Incidentally, the Envy x2 also supports pen input, though we weren’t able to test this functionality with our review unit.
HP includes Beats Audio on the x2, but it doesn’t pack as much of a punch here as it does on full-fledged laptops. Sound is very muffled and tinny — both for music and dialogue — and even at max volume audio isn’t very loud.
The x2’s 8-megapixel rear-facing camera snaps decent shots with accurate colors. When we took it for a spin outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, images were bright and the shooter did an okay — though not great — job at focusing. Shooting indoors yields more blurry, out-of-focus images, especially if the atmosphere isn’t well lit. The rear camera can also capture 1080p video. Our test footage didn’t exhibit any jerkiness, but colors were quite muted. The x2’s front-facing cam delivered very dark and pixelated self portraits; we’d recommend finding a brightly lit spot before you start video chatting.
HP did hit some high notes with the Envy x2, especially with the attractive and lightweight design. Battery life in laptop mode is also nothing to sniff at, but there are several things that hold the x2 back from being a truly comfortable device. The mushy keyboard is a huge downside, and the Atom chip’s meager performance isn’t encouraging for shoppers who want this to be their one and only computing device. We’d say your $850 is better spent elsewhere, but if you’re dead-set on a device in this category, you could do a lot worse than HP’s option.