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HP Envy x2 review: Half-tablet, half-laptop, all Atom

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The Good The HP Envy x2 has a clean, comfortable design and feels lightweight in tablet form. It has excellent battery life, and works just as well as a laptop as it does as a tablet.

The Bad The laptop mode is top-heavy, and the awkward tablet detachment mechanism isn’t perfect; it has limited ports; and a slower Atom processor means in performance it's far behind most ultrabooks, even though it’s priced like one.

The Bottom Line The HP Envy x2’s capacity to be a full Windows 8 tablet or dock with a keyboard works as well as advertised, provided you’re willing to live with slower performance at a high price. You’re paying for style.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Battery 9
  • Support 7

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 four months ago, when Hewlett-Packard first started showing off the Envy x2 in public.

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 all the way back to the teased-but-never-real Lenovo U1 Hybrid three years ago.

Slide a little tab, and the whole upper lid undocks and becomes its own multitouch tablet. But, at $849, the Envy x2 is more expensive than most ultraportable laptops and tablets...and far more expensive than those little, non-touch-screened, non-detachable-screened 11-inchers of old. It's also Intel Atom-powered, as opposed to having a far faster ultrabook-level processor. You're paying for style, and also for that clever split-function feature.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are other devices in this landscape, too, with nearly identical specs: the Acer Iconia W510-1422 costs less and showed better battery life in our tests. You could also put that $850 toward a thin laptop like a MacBook Air, or the upcoming, more powerful Microsoft Surface Pro tablet. Options abound.

This particular HP Envy x2 is a good device, but it's not an excellent one.

Price as reviewed $849
Processor 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760
Memory 2GB, 1,066MHz DDR2
Hard drive 64GB SSD
Graphics Intel GMA
Operating system Windows 8
Dimensions (WD) 11.9x8.1 inches
Height 0.6-0.7 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.1 pounds / 3.6 pounds (tablet + keyboard)
Category Ultraportable hybrid
Sarah Tew/CNET

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 HP is hardly the only innovator: detachable-screen laptop/tablet hybrids have been kicking around in a similar form coming from several manufacturers, including Acer, Lenovo, and Samsung. It's an official mini trend in Windows 8 PCs.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 small dm-series laptops, and a blend of a small-business and a personal feel about it, much like Apple continually pulls off. It feels better-built than some competing models, and has a similar heft and discreet portability to the HP dm1z.

The x2 weighs 3.1 pounds with keyboard, or 1.5 pounds in tablet mode, just a bit more than the Retina Display iPad.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 part outweighs the lighter keyboard base, which isn't generally a problem in everyday use 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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. On a train commute, it felt like a wide-screen iPad, minus the Retina Display.

The 16:9, 11.6-inch glossy glass-covered IPS screen has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, and looks sharp from all angles. It isn't impressive in the face of Retina Display, 1080p, and other higher-pixel-density displays, but it matches the basic resolution of a small laptop. Picture quality is crisper than on the average laptop thanks to IPS, and wide viewing angles are no problem. That glossy screen will need frequent wipedowns, though, just like on any tablet.

The tablet top of the Envy has its own stereo speakers with Beats branding, but it's hard to hear what if anything that branding imparts. The wide-set speakers on the bottom front of the display do offer some better-than-average virtual surround effects, though sound leans to the tinny. A headphone jack on the bottom is your better bet.

A power button and dedicated volume rocker lie along the back side edges: you just have to feel for them. A rear-facing 8-megapixel camera (with flash) along with a front-facing 1080p camera offer some video recording/picture capture options, but if you ever found taking pictures with an iPad embarrassing, imagine what would happen with this.

Keep in mind the tablet half has no ports whatsoever: you'll need the keyboard base to take advantage of USB, SD card input, or HDMI out.

HP Envy x2 Average for category [ultraportable]
Video HDMI HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/mic jack Stereo speakers, headphone/mic jacks
Data Two USB 2.0 (base), SD card reader (base), Micro SD card reader (in tablet) Two USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None None
Sarah Tew/CNET

Connections and configurations
Speaking of ports: there aren't that many, and none in the tablet itself except for a tiny Micro SD card slot on the bottom left edge that I didn't even know was there. The keyboard base has a secondary battery that nearly doubles the overall battery life according to HP, and that acts as a tablet recharge station, with two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, and a regular SD card slot. Sure, there's also support for Bluetooth, 802.11n, and even NFC (should you ever figure out a purpose for it), but dedicated Ethernet isn't here. Get ready to pack a dongle.

The Envy x2 11t-g000 we reviewed comes in only one configuration, with 2GB of RAM and a 64GB solid-state drive (SSD). That 64GB of storage can fill up fast: over 20GB was already filled right out of the box with basic Windows 8 software and applications.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Windows 8 tablet-style convertibles and hybrids seem to be taking one of two paths: using a lower-powered Atom processor, or a faster Intel Core i-series CPU. The HP Envy x2 falls into the former category. It's basically the same computer as the Acer Iconia W510-1422, in the sense that both have a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Atom Z2760.

The next-gen Atom (also known by the code name Clover Trail) is better than your typical old-school Netbook Atom, but don't expect this processor to perform anywhere near even a low-end Intel Core i3. Our benchmark tests show how very slow the Atom is, relatively speaking: the Core i3 processor in the budget Asus VivoBook X202E laptop is easily three to four times faster in just about any metric.

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