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Review of the HP Elite x2, a Surface Pro competitor that holds its own


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Tetley

Tetley

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Review of the HP Elite x2, a Surface Pro competitor that holds its own

 

There's no question that there's been a lot of innovation in the laptop market over the last few years. Microsoft kicked things off with the Surface, and while some of the devices (ahem, Surface RT) flopped in the market, companies have kept coming back to improve the user experience, whether it be a traditional laptop without a bezel, or a combination laptop/tablet.

 

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Today I'm going to take a look at the latest 2-in-1 offered from HP, the Elite X2. Aimed at the business market, the device strives to be a solid performer in both the tablet and laptop realms, giving users the flexibility that a typical laptop lacks. How well does it measure up? Let's take a look.
 
Specifications
 
The HP Elite x2 comes in a number of different configurations. At the low end, you can order it with a dual core Intel M3-6Y30 running at 0.9Ghz and 4GB RAM, and at the high end it comes with an M7-6Y75 with 8GB RAM and supports vPro. The model I reviewed was in the middle, sporting an M5-6Y54 running at 1.1GHz and utilizing 8GB RAM without vPro.
 
The first thing you'll notice is that the device is small and light. It weighs just under two pounds and is only half an inch (13.5mm) thick with the keyboard attached, making it very portable in almost any situation.
 
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All models come with the same integrated Intel HD Graphics 515 chip, meaning you won't be playing any demanding video games on this machine but then again, that's not the target market either. Since the system is aimed at the enterprise, it comes standard with Microsoft Windows 10 Professional, but can be downgraded to Home (with a price break) if you want to.
 
There's only one screen option, and that's a 12" BrightView LED-backlit WUXGA + UWVA Ultra-slim touchscreen running at a slightly disappointing resolution of only 1920x1280. As expected, the screen is made out of Corning's Gorilla Glass 4 and there's a pair of stereo speakers by Bang and Olufsen at the top of the tablet, facing up.
 
All of the storage options are SATA-3 SSD drives, ranging from sizes between 128GB and 512GB, with the review model including a SanDisk 256GB drive.
 
Wireless connectivity is provided by an Intel 8260 Dual-Band adapter that also supports Bluetooth. If you want WiGig, you can upgrade to the Intel Tri-Band Wireless-AC 18260 adapter.
 
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As for ports, the Elite x2 has both a traditional Type-A USB 3.0 port and a USB 3.1 Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 on the right-hand side, with the latter being the sole method of charging the tablet. There's also a stereo jack at the top of the right-hand side, and a fingerprint reader on the back that can provide easy login abilities via Windows 10.
 
The price for the HP Elite x2 ranges from $899 to a little over $1,700, depending on the options you choose. I priced out the review model and the total came to $1,300.
 
Design
 
Upon first glance, the HP Elite x2 looks like any other hybrid tablet on the market. However, after spending a few minutes with the device, it's clear that HP put a lot of good design engineering into the product.
 
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The back of the tablet is a solid piece of aluminum that feels good in your hands. It's sturdy enough that the tablet doesn't flex or creak, but light enough that holding the Elite x2 isn't a chore.
 
There's also an embedded kickstand, something the Microsoft Surface made popular. Where the Surface uses a complete metal sheet for the stand, HP uses only a single bar. At first glance, you might think that this won't support the tablet, but in practice it works great. The bar clicks into place in a normal laptop position, but can be pulled further back as well, providing a wide range of viewing options.
 
The design isn't all good though. The HP Elite x2 has a very wide bezel compared to many similar products. While the bezel is important in a tablet since it gives the user something to hold onto without impacting the screen, this one seems just a little too large.
 
Inputs
 
The two main input methods are via the integrated touchscreen, and the detachable keyboard/touchpad, both of which work well.
 
Everyone's used to touchscreens nowadays, and as I've been saying for awhile, I don't think I could go back to using a laptop without one. Many have argued this point with me in the past, but in the very near touchscreens nowadays, and as I've been saying for awhile, I don't think I could go back to using a laptop without one. Many have argued this point with me in the past, but in the very near future you won't find a device without one.
 
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The detachable keyboard is a mixed bag. It has a very premium feel, sporting a fabric back and a metal top. The touchpad is mechanical in that it gives an audible click when pressed, something I find extremely useful. I never had any issues connecting the keyboard to the tablet, with the magnets clicking easily into place. The keys themselves also feel like a regular laptop.
 
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The best part about the keyboard is the ability to either lay it flat or to prop it up at an angle like a traditional keyboard. With the keyboard tilted up, typing was much easier than most detachable keyboards. This design was probably part of the reason for the large bezel: With the keyboard tilted up, it covers up the entire lower bezel.
 
The keyboard does have some issues though. The first is that it can frequently take several seconds before it's actually powered up and ready to use. It seems unpredictable in that sometimes it activates almost immediately, sometimes it takes a couple of seconds, and sometimes it feels like I'm waiting 15 seconds before I can use the keyboard.
 
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The second issue I ran into was that the keyboard stopped working completely. When powered on, the caps lock key would blink every 10 seconds but it would not communicate with the tablet at all. After looking online, I found a solution on HP's website that consisted of holding the power button down on the tablet for 30 seconds before reconnecting the keyboard and letting it re-initialize. The issue only occurred once in two months.
 
Battery
 
The battery life on the HP Elite x2 is good, but not great. Under normal use, which included watching movies, browsing the web, doing some light Photoshop work, and the like, I was seeing between six and seven hours of usage. While not as good as you'll see from many Ultrabooks, the performance is on par with the competition.
 
Screen
 
In today's day and age of UHD screens, it was a little disappointing to see the HP Elite x2 only support a resolution of 1920x1280. Although scaling issues frequently crop up on UHD screens, the ability to have more pixels on the screen is frequently very useful so HP should at least offer an option for a higher resolution screen.
 
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Other than the resolution limitations, the screen on the Elite x2 is very bright and the colors look good, whether watching a movie, editing a photo, or just browsing the web. For a daily work machine, the screen will serve you well.
 
Audio
 
Although the sound on laptops and tablets is usually bad, I had higher hopes for the audio on the Elite x2 due to the fact that HP partnered with Bang & Olufsen. Sadly, the brand name didn't pay off. Listening to YouTube videos, the midrange sounds tinny and there's no low-end bass to speak of. It sounds just as bad as every other laptop and tablet I've listened to. If you want to listen to music or watch movies on the Elite x2, do yourself a favor and buy a good set of headphones.
 
Performance
 
For most people, the devices are close enough to each other in terms of performance that there's not much noticeable difference in use. From a day-to-day usage perspective, the HP Elite x2 felt similar to other devices I've recently looked at. It always felt very responsive and never lagged. That's why I was surprised when I saw the benchmark results: Running through the standard 3DMark and PCMark benchmarks showed that the HP Elite x2 was quite a bit faster than previously reviewed devices.
 
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Running the Ice Storm test gave an impressive score of 37,623, edging out the Dell XPS 13. The results were similar in Cloud Gate and Firestrike, with the former clocking in a 4,899 and the latter providing results of 748.
 
We saw the same benefits in the PCMark benchmarks. The Home test came in at 2,987, the Work benchmark gave a result of 3,908, and the Creative test result was 3,470, all better than previous test results.
 
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What does all of this mean in the real world? While you won't be doing any hardcore gaming, you should be able to get decent performance on some older games as the performance is slightly below a typical gaming laptop from 2013. On the productivity side of things, the performance is actually quite a bit higher than a typical office computer from 2013, so the Elite x2 will fit into the enterprise very well from that perspective.
 
Tablet Use
 
I've already established that the HP Elite x2 works well as a laptop, offering good versatility and performance, but how does the device work when you want to use it as a plain tablet? I'm pleased to say that the Elite x2 delivers in that regard as well.
 
On a recent flight, I was able to launch a movie I had downloaded from the Microsoft store and, using the kickstand, set the tablet on the table. As mentioned previously, the flexibility of the kickstand lets you tilt the screen to an angle that works best for you. I had no issues during playback, and the angle of the screen made watching the movie an enjoyable experience.
 
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Another nice feature built into the HP Elite x2 is the ability to flip the keyboard around so that it's on the back of the tablet. When doing so, the keyboard automatically disengages so you won't have to worry about unwanted key presses. It makes the laptop a little heavier keeping the keyboard attached, but in cases where you want to quickly pick it up and start using it, then revert back to a laptop by setting the device down, it works well.
 
Lapability
 
One area where the 2-in-1 models lag behind a dedicated laptop is in the "lapability" of the device, being able to sit on a chair at a conference or on the sofa while watching TV and still use the keyboard. While hardly a scientific test, I found that the Elite x2 was relatively stable on my lap due mainly to the stiff aluminum keyboard.
 
Miscellaneous
 
As mentioned earlier, the Elite x2 has both a USB 3.0 Type-A port as well as a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3. With more and more devices dropping the standard USB form factor, it's nice to see the Elite x2 keep one around so that users can connect thumbdrives and the like.
 
In the workplace, connecting the HP Elite x2 to a docking station or port replicator would be a great way to use the device as both a portable machine as well as a desktop workstation.
 
Conclusion
 
HP has released a very nice product with the Elite x2. However, that doesn't mean this device is for everyone. If you don't intend to use it as a tablet, then you're probably better off buying a dedicated laptop and the Dell XPS 13 is still my favorite in that category. That's not a knock on the Elite x2 but rather on the category of product in general.
 
The fact that the display is only running at 1920x1280 is also a little disappointing although, on the bright side, you won't run into any scaling issues running Windows 10.
 
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Although HP has designed the Elite x2 for the enterprise, I can see it being successful at home and work. If you're looking for a device that can be used as both a laptop and a tablet, the HP Elite x2 is a great choice. The battery life is solid, the performance is great, and the embedded kickstand does a nice job of allowing you to use the device in a variety of locations. In addition, the keyboard is very good, allowing you to tilt it to improve typing as well as flip it around so that it's behind the tablet. There's no doubt that the HP Elite x2 would make a great productivity laptop for home or business.
 
 

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