Take a tablet; add a keyboard. Turn it into a laptop. Do it with full Windows 8. This is the dream of the HP Envy x2, and the dream, it seems, of Windows 8 in general. Break down the barrier between tablets and PCs. Create progressive computing. The future is now. Well, the future was also over four months ago, when HP first started showing off the Envy x2 in public, including at CNET.
We marveled then that the device was well-built, comfortable to hold, and, when you think about it, pretty shockingly practical. After all, theoretically, this is the best of both worlds: a laptop and a tablet in one. This is what I dreamed about going back to the teased-but-never-real Lenovo U1 Hybrid three years ago.
The Envy x2 is finally available, and we've got our review unit here at CNET. But, can it rise above our previous concerns? As Eric Franklin said back in August, "A lot of the Envy x2's success will rest on what Microsoft does with Surface, especially its price. Right now I can't see the Envy x2 costing less than $1,000, which would make it a direct competitor to the Macbook Air. From what I've seen it would be a worthy competitor, but is anyone ready to pay more than $1,000 for a tablet?"
Slide a little tab, and the whole upper lid does, indeed, undock and becomes its own multi-touch tablet. But, at $849, it's more expensive than most ultraportable laptops and tablets...and far more expensive than those little, non-touch, non-detachable-screened 11-inchers of old. You're paying for style, and also for that clever split-function feature. And the concern about the x2 versus the MacBook Air, or x2 versus the Surface Pro, still stands.
Style vs. substance
Depending on your perspective, you’ll either love what HP's trying to do with the Envy x2, or you'll hate it. But, it’s hardly the only innovator: detachable-screen laptop/tablet hybrids have been kicking around in a similar form across several manufacturers, including Acer, Lenovo, and Samsung. It's an official mini-trend in Windows 8 launch PCs.
This 11-inch ultraportable laptop is cute, well-constructed in largely brushed aluminum, and, yes, pretty sexy. It's got the style of HP’s little dm-series laptops, and a blend of small-business and personal going about it, much like Apple continually pulls off. It feels better-built than some competitors, and has a similar heft and discreet portability to the HP dm1z.
It also seems to have similar processing power, although stay tuned for our benchmarking tests to confirm that hypothesis. Yes, it runs full Windows 8 (not hobbled Windows RT), but its processor is an Atom: specifically, a 1.8 GHz dual-core Atom Z2760. This is a newer Atom processor than the older Netbook Atoms of yore, but it's nowhere near what an ultrabook-level Core processor would provide.
The Envy x2 11t-g000 comes standard with 2GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD. The 11.6-inch IPS screen has a 1,366x768 resolution, and looks sharp from all angles. The keyboard base has a secondary battery for extending battery life by nearly 2x (according to HP) and acting as a tablet recharge station, and comes with two USB ports, HDMI, and an SD card slot.
The x2 also has 802.11n, Bluetooth and NFC (Near-Field Communication), and dual speakers with Beats audio. The x2 weighs 3.1 pounds with keyboard, or 1.5 pounds in tablet mode, just a bit more than the larger Retina iPad.
Tablet mode: eject and enjoy
Pushing a little dock tab, situated right above the keyboard, to the left unlocks the top tablet. You need to pull it apart; it locks solidly. It detaches smoothly, too, but finding the connectors and lining them up to put the tablet back in can get pretty frustrating. Also, this laptop is top-heavy; the tablet/screen outweighs the lighter keyboard base, which isn't a problem in everyday use generally speaking, because of a hinge that projects a little lip at the back to elevate the keyboard and balance the whole package. It does, however, mean you can’t easily open the Envy x2 one-handed like a regular laptop.
The tablet's top half has its own power button in the back, a volume control, and both front and rear-facing cameras (8MP for the rear, HD Webcam quality for the front). It's comfortable to hold and a little larger than a Retina Display iPad, but still a well-designed tablet.
Are tablet hybrids necessary?
The question is, does the battery life hold up, and is a Windows 8 tablet worth the investment for a hybrid Windows 8 laptop? In other words, are you better off with a cheap laptop and cheap alternative Android/iOS tablet instead? I can’t tell yet, but the HP Envy x2 might be the best version of this hybrid-function type of device that I've seen. I just don't know if I truly need my laptop to be a tablet. You may indeed be thinking the same thing...and, as tablet prices continue to drop, that may be the biggest challenge of these hybridized Windows 8 devices: finding a purpose and avoiding redundancy.
I liked using the Envy x2 the most in traditional laptop form, and I found the keyboard (which is non-backlit, by the way) and trackpad to work quite well. Reaching the touch screen on a small 11-inch device like this is a snap and feels intuitive. I wonder if I'd forgo the splitting hybrid concept and pay less for just a snappy little touch laptop instead.
As CES looms, consider the Envy x2 a harbinger of Windows 8's presence at the show, and the challenge of Windows 8 over the next six months: selling relevancy, and making the myriad zoo of Windows 8 products clear and understandable. So far, it looks like the mission is far from done. Stay tuned for a full review after CES.