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HP ZBook x2 G4 review: The perfect laptop for a cluster of creatives

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The Good The HP ZBook x2 G4's Adobe RGB-accurate DreamColor matte screen is far more usable than the typical glossy panel, and combined with Wacom EMR's 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity provides brushes that feel more natural than most to work with. It's also powerful for its size, relatively full-featured and the detachable Bluetooth keyboard is comfortable for typing.

The Bad You're limited to the one, single-button stylus, it's relatively heavy and while the battery life is good for its components, it won't get you through the day.

The Bottom Line As long as you aren't constrained by the stylus and are comfortable with the cost, the HP ZBook x2 G4 DreamColor delivers accurate color and smooth sketching with workstation credibility.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 8

If I had to describe the HP ZBook x2 G4 in one sentence, it would have to be "It's like a Microsoft Surface Pro and its competitors, but way better." 

The detachable mobile workstation doesn't excite me quite as much when I first saw it -- I really thought it had a 10-bit panel -- but it's still a great solution for a select group, especially heavy users of Adobe Creative Cloud applications. People who need a full Adobe RGB gamut coverage and hardware color profiling; who want excellent pressure sensitivity and feel for digital brushwork; and who need a workstation graphics processor to either run certified applications along with workstation-class security, or enable 10-bit color support in applications like Photoshop. And who can afford all of the above. Some limitations, though, may narrow that club a little further.

Now, your 1,500 words of why.

Adobe RGB FTW

The 14-inch 4K touch display comes in two versions: one with DreamColor, one without. The DreamColor versions are factory calibrated to accurate Adobe RGB, and for that, it's definitely great: out of the box, Delta E 2000 values repeatedly measured well under 2, white point averaging about 6,730K (a smidge high, but within 4 percent of D65), a peak brightness of 340 nits and black level of 0.23 nits (but that's at 100 percent screen brightness) with a 1,500:1 contrast and a clean 2.2 gamma curve. (We test using Calman 5 Ultimate and an X-Rite i1Display Pro.)

HP ZBook x2 G4

Price as reviewed $3,622.32
Display size/resolution 14-inch 3,840 x 2,160 DreamColor display
PC CPU 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-8650U
PC Memory 32GB DDR5 SDRAM 2,400MHz
Graphics 2GB Nvidia Quadro M620
Storage 512GB SSD, SD card slot
Ports 1x USB 3.0 Type-A, 2x USB-C/Thunderbolt, 1x HDMI 2.0
Networking 802.11ac 2x2, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Windows 10 Professional (64-bit)
Weight 4.9 lbs/2.2 kg

The DreamColor comes with profiles for sRGB/BT.709, DCI-P3, DICOM and native as well, but the display only covers about 90 percent of P3, and it's calibrated to DCI-P3 Theatre, not the D65 P3 display standard. Also, per HP, entering calibration targets beyond the panel gamut don't work at the moment, but it's working on a software fix for the issue. 

There are tablets that can surpass the color gamut, notably the P3-capable iPad Pro, but there's no systemwide color calibration, much less hardware calibration, available in any of them.

While it uses 10-bit color calculations and is pretty accurate, it's still an 8-bit IPS panel using frame-rate control to simulate 10 bits. (HP refers to IPS panels as "Ultra wide viewing angle" or UWVA.) You can connect it to a better external monitor through HDMI or Thunderbolt 3 when you need a larger gamut and more precise  beyond-Adobe RGB color. That's another reason why hardware profiles are so important. It's the only way to guarantee that the profiles for the built-in and external displays are using the correct profiles. As with most DreamColor solutions, though, hardware calibration profiling only works with X-Rite i1 units.

I've seen some complaints about backlight bleed, but it's no worse than any I've seen -- and given the built-in Wacom EMR layer, probably harder to manage than usual. I tested the uniformity in the corners and it wasn't that bad.

Smooth strokes

Another notable aspect of the x2 is the Wacom EMR support, along with a Wacom/HP custom-designed HP Pen, with 4,096 levels of pressure. One of the big benefits of EMR is that the stylus draws its power from the screen rather than a AAA battery. This isn't particularly novel; Samsung uses the technology, for example. 

But the HP's display is chemically etched, which serves two purposes: it adds a little more friction to the screen for a more natural, precise stroke feel, and vastly decreases glare. In a sea of glossy tablet screens, it's an oasis of visual sanity. Keep in mind that antiglare doesn't equal antireflective. While working in Starbucks with the tablet on my lap, the lights shining from above made it almost as hard to use as the typical glossy display.

And it does feel almost as responsive as its truest competitor, the Wacom MobileStudioPro, with its similarly matte display and Wacom's latest generation of technology for 8,192 levels of pressure. Some people feel that's too much, though, and requires too much customization of the pressure curves to respond to a light touch. Once you're up that high you're into personal preference territory, unless you need seriously granular control over strokes. Nib, screen friction and to a certain extent, latency, can impact your experience more.

As for latency, that's application dependent. It feels instantaneous in applications with fast brush algorithms. Then there's Photoshop, which has unusable lag on complex brushes, no matter what hardware you throw at it. The stylus responds to tilt well, too; I admit I never got to testing rotation, but it should work fine as well. 

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