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HP Envy x2 mobile PC: A mixed bag but a worthwhile travel companion
Battery life | Connectivity | Lightweight form factor
General performance | Pricey
When you are on the road as a business user, there are some core, critical requirements for an accompanying laptop -- battery life and connectivity.
Once, you would be forced to find a public Wi-Fi hotspot or piggyback on your smartphone's mobile hotspot, but now, lightweight, mobile laptops and hybrids have begun to enter the market which are capable of LTE connectivity.
Enter the HP Envy x2, a hybrid laptop with Windows 10 on ARM. Powered by the Qualcomm 835 Snapdragon processor, the hybrid is an "Always Connected" PC marketed for those who need a device which is able to remain connected via Gigabit LTE and does not slow down productivity.
For the first time in years, I was planning to return to backpacking and make my way across Japan.
As the promise of ramen beckoned, I considered my tech gear which I usually take along with me for the ride -- my powerhouse Anker 20,000mAh power bank, a portable games console, my Samsung tablet and smartphone, as well as my MacBook Air and a slew of cables and chargers.
This time, however, I swapped my elderly MacBook Air for the 12.3-inch HP Envy x2 to see how it would perform when truly on the road.
The product is not a rugged device aimed towards backpackers, but if it could stand the plane, road, rail, and treks over a number of weeks, it could prove a worthwhile investment for business users who are often on the move that will last them a long time to come.
Design and form factor
The HP Envy x2 looks professional and I am a fan of the clean, crisp look of the device. I personally like elegant lines rather than bells, whistles, and lights when it comes to the design elements of laptops -- and the simple, glossy silver of the HP Envy x2 won me over.
My test product came with a cover and stand, of which the texture reminded me of snakeskin. The cover clips in magnetically at the back and it took me a while to get used to the middle clasp which has to be pushed to create the laptop's stand, but once I got the hang of it, I found myself using it unconsciously.
When it comes to travel, this cover also had another advantage -- a quick brush of the hand is enough to wipe away any dirt or fluff which may accumulate in your bag (or in my case, backpack.)
The keyboard I found had a slightly plastic feel and the thinness -- albeit a requirement to keep the device as light and portable as possible -- and took some time to use effectively. However, once I had used the keyboard for a few hours, I did enjoy the level of response and the very light touch required for both the keyboard and touchpad.
Using the device on your lap is not the easiest thing to do. As the keyboard is very light and the rest is top-heavy, it can become awkward unless you position your knees to support the stand. However, on trains, planes, and wherever there may be somewhere to support the stand, it is easy to use.
The touchscreen laptop's accompanying stylus was fine and was most effective when used on a stable surface rather than your lap, but nothing outstanding.
Another point to note is that there is only one USB port, type C, which is used for charging. When I realized that meant I would not be able to use a plug-and-play external hard drive with an older USB port for media or storage, I purchased an adaptor. However, this does mean you cannot use the port for another purpose and charge at the same time.
It has been a long time since I used a mobile PC based on the Microsoft Windows operating system -- and the first time I have tried out Windows 10 on ARM.
The version of the product I tested came equipped with Windows 10 S, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, Qualcomm Adreno 540 GPU, 4 GB RAM and 128 GB UFS storage. However, there are options to upgrade.
Once I had begun the setup process of the HP Envy x2, I ran into what became the major barrier to my workflow.
The machine ships with Windows S.
The problem is, in order to install unverified apps, you have to make the switch from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro.
Microsoft says that if peace of mind is your top priority, you should stick to Windows 10 S -- as every app downloaded and installed will have been verified by the Microsoft Store.
This means that malicious executables will have a tough time executing on your machine and compromising your accounts or data.
The reasoning behind such restrictions is understandable, and for many users, will likely be acceptable for general use. However, I came across the same problem as my colleague, Mary Jo Foley, who also found that being restricted to the Microsoft Edge web browser to be a nuisance.
I don't mind admitting that I found this single issue to be enough to make the upgrade.
I find the Edge browser to be unresponsive and slow at best -- even on my Windows tower PC at home -- and if I was going to use the laptop for on-the-go Web browsing, email, and social media, I was not prepared to be forced to use Edge.
As Windows 10 Pro users are able to download and install unverified apps, including Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, I made the upgrade.
However, a word of warning: even after you make the switch, some apps out there, including antivirus programs and accessibility applications, may not work on products utilizing a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
I did not personally find any apps in my daily usage which were not compatible or experienced any performance drops, but the warning has been issued by the vendors.
In addition, should you wish to revert back to Windows 10 S, there is no clear-cut way to do so.
After making the switch, I was able to install a number of apps which I require in my day-to-day workflow -- such as Gmail and Google Chrome. Once this was complete, I felt far more comfortable managing work while I was on the road.
Starting up the laptop was lightning-fast. However, the general performance afterward can only be described as average. The device was slower to initiate and complete tasks such as loading apps than what I am used to -- on both Windows S and Pro -- and it did not blow me away.
Always On connectivity
The ease of connecting and switching between Wi-Fi and LTE is an achievement for the HP Envy x2. Once a SIM is installed, you can easily switch between the two, and should you prefer one connection over the other, it is a matter of moments to turn off one connection point. Otherwise, switching between the two is seamless.
In this case, the vendor's claims are true -- from the moment you turn on the device or take it out of standby, the connection is there, a feature likely to be appreciated by business users.
The battery life is a key business advantage of the HP Envy x2. Most of the time, when vendors tout 20+ hours of battery life or similar on a single charge, changing the figure to half in your head is likely to be closer to the true statistic.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by just how far the battery went.
While traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto on the Shinkansen bullet train, for example, I used the laptop for writing and watching media over three and a half hours. I then used the HP Envy x2 again a day after for a similar amount of time, and the battery had not fallen below 70 -- 75 percent.
After leaving it on standby for a day without charge, I then checked up on email and social media, and the laptop had no need for a boost.
It also seemed to improve a little over time. As I was using it in stops and starts rather than for hard, solid usage over a day, my experience was positive -- although as my colleague points out, it may be better for on-the-go use than as a steady workhorse stationed at your desk.
All in all, over the course of two weeks, I only needed to charge the laptop once, and that was in order for there to be fully charged for the flight home.
I clocked roughly 1.5 percent per minute of the battery being charged when you are actively using the device and it is plugged into an outlet via the included USB-C cable. When I turned the HP Envy x2 off and left it charging, the battery reached 100 percent in less than two hours.
As a side note, I once left the laptop on standby by accident for roughly three weeks. When I did so, it held roughly 80 percent of its battery life left. When I once again picked it up, there was still nine percent left.
So, how did the HP Envy x2 measure up?
The HP Envy x2 makes a good case for itself as an on-the-go device. For travelers and business users who need a laptop which is portable, light, and can be accessed quickly, it is a good option.
Those who need immediate connectivity whilst on the road will like it, but when it comes to the general speed and performance, I don't think it is worth the price tag and it is not a device which is enticing enough for me to replace my current, occasional-use travel PCs. However, that is not to say the LTE connectivity is not a temptation.
The HP Envy x2 at the lowest specs available is priced at $999.99 -- albeit on sale at the time of writing for $899.99 with a Sprint data deal thrown in -- but I think, based on performance alone, the price point is still a bit too high even at the sales price.
If you are happy with the restrictions of Windows 10 S and only need a laptop for occasional or travel use, this may be a worthwhile investment -- especially if battery life is a top priority.
However, if you have need to use apps outside of the Windows Store and expect levels of high performance, it may be worth waiting for the Snapdragon 850 Always Connected PC range which is just around the corner.