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HP Elite x2 (2016) review:A more sensible Surface

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The Good The updated HP Elite x2 has a slim, sturdy design, a more comfortable keyboard than Microsoft's Surface Pro and it includes that keyboard in the base price. With a fingerprint reader, replaceable components and docking options, it's suitable for both work and play.

The Bad The Elite's touchpad is easily confused, sometimes unresponsive, and the battery won't quite last a full day.

The Bottom Line HP's Elite x2 is a must-look for any buyer considering a Microsoft Surface-like computer, and the quality bundled keyboard means it effectively costs less, too.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 7

"The tablet that can replace your laptop." That's what they say in those Microsoft Surface ads. But the Microsoft Surface Pro doesn't come with a keyboard -- if you want to replace your laptop, you'll need to pay $130 extra for that in the US.

The HP Elite x2 is different. Starting at the same $899 as a Surface Pro 4 (£708 in the UK or AU$1661 in Australia), HP's 12-inch tablet includes the keyboard cover that Microsoft's slate lacks. And a fingerprint sensor. And a non-proprietary USB-C charger that can power other devices as well.

And -- get this -- a design where users can actually open up the case and replace the components, including the battery, storage module, Wi-Fi chip and the colorful display. As far as we're aware, it's the first ultrathin, fanless tablet to offer such easy access.

So last month, I tried to replace my laptop with an Elite x2. Here's what happened next.

hp-elite-x2-laptop-1640.jpg

HP's Elite x2 includes the keyboard that Microsoft's Surface Pro lacks.

James Martin/CNET

The commute

At just under two pounds and 13.45mm thick -- with the keyboard attached -- the Elite x2 is among the most portable computers I've ever carried. I love how the fabric-covered keyboard and shiny silver kickstand snap into place, how easily it slips into my messenger bag and that it barely seems to add any weight. Sometimes I walk out the door and wonder if I forgot to pack it.

On the train, things aren't quite as easy. I use the Elite x2 on my lap, adjusting that shiny silver kickstand again and again to find the best angle, its corners digging into my thighs. The Elite can't quite lean back far enough to align with my face unless I risk it tumbling backwards. A jolt as the train comes to a stop -- the tablet pops right off its magnetic hinges. Both pieces clatter to the floor.

This computer can survive a tumble.

GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

After the spill, the Elite x2 is perfectly fine -- no damage to the strong aluminum rim or shock-resistant Gorilla Glass 4-covered screen, which HP claims it tests to military durability standards. But every time it happens over the next few weeks, I can't help but think I'd be better off with a traditional clamshell PC.

The so-called "lapabilty" problem isn't unique to the Elite x2, by the way. It's simple geometry: a kickstand and detachable keyboard take up way more room than a standard laptop bottom.

Depending on your commute and the shape of your lap, it might not be an issue at all.

The desktop

While the Elite x2 only has three visible ports -- a full-size USB 3.0 port for thumbdrives and peripherals, a USB-C port for charging and a 3.5mm headset jack for audio -- you can buy one of three different docking stations (starting at US$150) to turn it into a fully-fledged multitasker.

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