HP Envy x2
WINDOWS 10 S 2-IN-1
One of the first Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered laptops showcases both its limitations and its potential
THIS IS NOT simply another laptop review.
It’s a review of what could represent a huge change in the direction of laptop and 2-in-1 design; a moment that, when we look back in years to come, we’ll be able to say, ‘That’s when everything changed’.
Not that you’d believe it just by looking at the HP Envy x2. Outwardly, it’s just another Windows 10 2-in-1 with a keyboard cover and stylus, just like all the others.
Except this is anything but. Instead of an Intel or AMD processor, the Envy x2 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the same chip as many of 2017’s flagship smartphones, such as the OnePlus 5, OnePlus 5T and Sony Xperia XZ Premium. In hardware terms, it’s essentially a huge smartphone with an attachable keyboard, right down to its built-in 4G capability. It even has a phone number people can call you on, and throws in a 4G EE SIM with 24GB of data per month for two years.
S MARKS THE SPOT
One further key fact is that, like Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, this laptop runs Windows 10 S out of the box, so unless you take advantage of the free upgrade to
Windows 10 Pro, you’ll be limited to installing apps and games from the Windows Store.
If you were hoping a Snapdragon chip would mean a lower price, you’re out of luck: the cheapest Envy x2, with a 128GB SSD. At least you get a lot for your money: the model we tested includes the keyboard and a stylus, which matches the total cost of a Core m3 Surface Pro, its Type Cover and a Surface Pen. It’s also around the same price as the basic 12.9in iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard, but no stylus.
At this price, the HP Envy x2 is better equipped than either the Surface Pro or the iPad. It comes with a 4G modem built in, plus an EE pay-as-you-go SIM with 24GB of data and a generous 128GB of UFS 2.1 flash storage.
That’s better than the basic iPad – which comes with 64GB storage and no 4G – and the Surface Pro, which has a 128GB SSD but no 4G. With the keyboard and stylus included in the box, the HP Envy x2 is a great deal on paper.
The x2 isn’t as physically attractive or elegant as the Surface Pro or the iPad Pro, but there isn’t anything wrong with the way it’s put together. Built around a 12.3in, 1,920×1,080 IPS display, the Envy x2 is a slim 7mm and weighs a manageable 1.2kg with the keyboard attached (or 720g without). You don’t get much in the way of connectivity – a single USB Type-C port and a microSD tray on the left, with a 3.5mm audio jack on the right – but this is designed as a mobile device, rather than a desktop replacement. If you need extra ports, a basic USB Type-C dock won’t cost a fortune.
The keyboard cover serves a triple purpose: to protect the tablet from damage in your bag; to prop up the screen at a comfortable angle when you’re working; and to be used as a keyboard in its own right. It does all three jobs well. The rear cover splits in two and folds back to act as a kickstand, and the hinge is just as adjustable as the Surface Pro’s kickstand.
The fact that the cover wraps around both sides of the tablet means added weight, but the upside is that it’s not just the front that’s protected in transit. The laptop also works well perched on your lap, thanks to the case’s grippy fake-leather material, and its Gorilla Glass display should resist shattering better than regular, non-strengthened glass.
The keyboard is an excellent example of the breed. Keys have plenty of travel and a good positive action, and the wide touchpad beneath is sensitive and reliable. It has a heavy click action, which takes a while to get used to, but the Envy x2 is largely an enjoyable device to use from an ergonomic standpoint.
The cameras are a step above those of most Windows tablets. The rear 13-megapixel snapper supports HDR and takes decent photos as a result, while the front-facing camera uses facial recognition via Windows Hello to sign you in without the need for a password or PIN.
In a world where edge-to-edge designs and 3:2 aspect ratio screens are common, the HP’s 16:9 wide-bordered display looks old-fashioned. It is, however, top notch when it comes to quality. Contrast is an excellent 1,377:1, and maximum brightness reaches a stunning 505cd/m2, so you can use the Envy in most conditions. It struggles in very bright direct sunlight, but if you find a shady spot in the garden, it’s perfectly usable.
Colour accuracy is excellent, too. The screen covers 96.1% of the sRGB colour gamut and delivered an average delta-E of 1.45 in our tests, both of which are excellent results. If you manage to get Photoshop running, you can be confident the Envy is producing accurate colours.
The stylus works well, too. It supports both pressure and angle sensing, so it’s as functional as the Apple Pencil or the Surface Pen. The feel of the nib on the screen is a match for the Surface Pro as well, although by its nature it will never be able to match the sensation of writing with a real pen on paper or sketching with a pencil.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Good though the ergonomics, design and display are, however, the success of the HP Envy x2 hinges largely on how the Snapdragon chip performs in day-to-day use. And on that front, the situation is altogether more mixed.
Stick with Windows Store apps and you’ll be fine. Microsoft Edge works smoothly, as do basic tasks with Google Docs. Even when you load up Edge with tabs, the Envy x2 feels responsive.
It’s a different story when you switch to Windows 10 Pro and try to run full Windows applications on it. Since the Snapdragon hardware doesn’t run Windows code natively (and doesn’t run 64-bit apps at all), an extra bit of software converts the instructions of applications such as Chrome. This means that, although most things we tried to install worked, they didn’t run that quickly. Even basic apps such as Chrome run slowly, and they crashed regularly, too.
If you don’t need full Windows apps and the Windows Store is OK for you, that’s fine. But we suspect that most prospective owners will eventually want to run something this machine can’t currently fully cope with. Even something as simple as dialling into Google Hangouts doesn’t work on Edge, so don’t think you’ll be fine just because you don’t run big creative apps.
This also means there’s no sensible way of running our 4K application benchmarks. Instead, we ran a few cross-platform mobile tests to get a feel for raw performance. GFXBench reported an average frame rate of 28fps in the Manhattan 3 offscreen test, while Geekbench 4 delivered single- and multicore scores of 842 and 2,981.
These are far from stellar results: they’re not much better than those of the Asus Transformer Mini (Shopper 349), an Intel Atom-powered detachable from 2016, and even the £300 Asus Chromebook Flip C101PA (Shopper 368) managed a higher single-core score in Geekbench.
Storage performance is middling, too.
Running the AS SSD test gave sequential read and write speeds of 430MB/s and 212MB/s respectively. We’d expect more from a machine costing a thousand pounds.
The big attraction of the Envy x2 is not outright performance, however, but battery life and the integrated, Gigabit-class 4G. On both fronts, the HP Envy x2 delivers.
In our video rundown test, the Envy x2 didn’t reach Qualcomm’s claimed 20 hours of battery life, but its final result of 11h 48m is still longer than most Intel-powered laptops. And that’s just for constant video playback; during regular use, the Envy x2 displayed exceptional stamina. We used it for a full working day, and still had enough juice left over for an entire weekend’s worth of occasional browsing. Impressive stuff.
The 4G connectivity also provides great flexibility for working remotely. The 4G connection sits at the top of the Wi-Fi Connectivity menu in Windows 10, and switching connections takes only a couple of taps.
The Envy x2 is a fine hybrid and reasonably good value, too. You get 4G connectivity, a keyboard and stylus, plus 24GB of data included. That’s a better deal than the Core m3 Surface Pro or the 12.9in Apple iPad Pro. The trouble is that it isn’t as good as either.
While it dispatches basic tasks such as web browsing and online apps with relative ease, general performance simply isn’t up to scratch, especially with heavyweight x86-based Windows apps. You can’t run 64-bit apps at all, and general performance is very slow for a machine.
A HASTY ENTRANCE
That puts the HP Envy x2 in a tricky place. On the one hand, its performance is acceptable for lightweight tasks and its battery life is very good indeed; on the other, you can get more done without losing much stamina if you go for one of the better Intel-based machines, such as the Surface Pro. Or you could buy an iPad Pro 12.9in and get equally good battery life and more power, albeit for a heftier investment.
In the end, while the Envy x2 is likeable, it also feels like a product that’s ahead of its time. Perhaps when the next generation of Windows on Snapdragon products roll around, with the more powerful Snapdragon 850 onboard, they’ll be easier to recommend. For now, it’s better to stick with Intel-based devices or an iPad Pro.
PROCESSOR Quad-core 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 • RAM 4GB • DIMENSIONS 217x294x15.42mm (with keyboard) • WEIGHT 1.2kg (with keyboard) • SCREEN SIZE 12.3in • SCREEN RESOLUTION 1,920×1,080 • GRAPHICS ADAPTOR Adreno 540 • TOTAL STORAGE 128GB SSD • OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 10 S • WARRANTY One year RTB • DETAILS store.hp.com • PART CODE 12-e051na
Battery life 11h 48m