HP’s hybrid Envy x2 tablet is a punchy, hybrid Windows 8 tablet that combines style and functionality (4 out of 5 stars).
One of the early, full Windows 8 systems, the Envy x2 sports an impressive array of specs. There’s an 11.6-inch LED-backlit 1366 x 768 resolution IPS display, a dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 processor, 2GB of RAM and full-fat Windows 8.
It comes with a dock-able QWERTY keyboard, up to 64GB of SSD storage and boasts dual-speakers with Beats audio. The tablet also has dual-facing cameras (front-facing 1080p HD camera, 8MP camera on the rear), WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth connectivity and outputs for USB 2.0, HDMI and an SD card.
First impressions: This is a premium product
HP has been advertising the Envy x2 as “100% tablet, 100% laptop” and it’s hard to argue with that sentiment; this is a quality product in both categories. Road warriors who sometimes have to choose whether to take either a notebook or tablet with them, would be well-advised to consider the Envy x2 as that one device that can do it all in a portable system.
On opening the packaging, the tablet is protected by a polystyrene cover, protective cardboard and is separated by the charger. There is a screen overlay to protect the display as well as information on how to use the touchscreen and dock the tablet.
When you first pick up the Envy x2 you quickly realize that while it is slim (19mm), it is also not the lightest thing in the world. The tablet part by itself weights about a pound and a half or 690g, slightly more than the fourth-generation iPad at 652 grams).
Ironically, the tablet, which has a magnesium alloy chassis, does bear a passing resemblance to HP’s now discontinued TouchPad.
The Envy's neat trick is the ability to remove the display and use it as a full tablet with its own battery. Docking the tablet is relatively easy by lining up the magnetic docks with the inputs and removing is as simple as switching the slider from right to left at the top of the keyboard.
There are connections for USB, HDMI and an SD card and the accompanying keyboard also has USB, HDMI plus the expected Function keys, Windows shortcut and home button.
Performance: Everything runs smoothly on Windows 8
Having used Windows 8 consistently since the turn of the year on desktop and now a tablet, I’ve come to the conclusion that the OS is more intuitive and generally better suited to the smaller form factor, or at least touch devices.
Windows 8 runs great on the Envy x2, and general tasks zip along thanks to the punchy dual-core Atom processor.
The search and share charm bars to the right of the screen are easy to use, while Microsoft’s Bing browser underpins a lot of the great content on the tablet, especially with the Bing news app for news, sports and finance.
Browsing is fluid. You can pin pages to the home page, get apps for linked websites and find details on a page. You can easily add new tabs, quickly return to frequently-used websites and even flip between YouTube videos, as you would with Flipboard on iPad.
The OS is very intuitive and most actions require one or two touches, from tweeting directly to Twitter from the People app to pulling up your recent apps in dual-screen mode.
Returning to the home screen is as easy as touching the Windows home button, although you can press it twice to stay with what you’re doing.
On the negative side, the Envy x2 fell a bit short in a few areas. I found that the IPS display and aluminium casing were very susceptible to picking up small scratches and an even bigger disappointment was that we couldn’t test the Beats audio (the sound was muted for some reason and we never figured out how to fix it).
Windows 8 offers good choice when it comes to apps
A true Windows 8 system (unlike Windows RT), the Envy x2 can run the full range of Windows software and popular apps like Microsoft Office (trial version), SkyDrive, Bing, Internet Explorer, eBay and Skype come pre-loaded.
Office is easy to use on the tablet and editing documents on Word or Excel was painless using both the virtual or physical keyboard.
Touch is at the very heart of Windows 8 and that is evident in the People and Photos apps, while Messenger leans heavily on social networks for cross-platform messaging.
You can upload photos to Photos from linked devices, Flickr, Facebook or SkyDrive and then search share with the Fresh Paint app, HP Pagelift, Mail or SkyDrive. And while I had trouble playing Mp4 videos from SkyDrive, there is no doubt that the ‘Shuffle’ feature is a beautiful way of showing snaps to family and friends.
(Photo: Shown above, the Envy x2 (top) is much more portable than a 15.6-inch display laptop)
The physical and virtual keyboards are impressive
I came away after using the Envy x2 impressed with both the physical and virtual keyboard.
The former is a magnesium alloy design with chiclet keys offering the traditional QWERTY layout, a textured trackpad, Windows shortcuts and a home button. It has some useful connections too with USB and HDMI, and two magnetic prongs and a dock at the top of the device for plugging straight into the tablet.
But then there is a problem. Because of the weight disparity between the tablet and the keyboard, tilting the screen at any greater than a 90 degree angle saw it topple over. That is a real shame because otherwise this is a high quality keyboard.
If you can get round this, you are onto a winner – the Envy x2 offers around 10 hours of battery life on its own, and up to an incredible 20 hours when connected to the keyboard.
The virtual keyboard is nicely laid out, the keys are well spaced and large.
You can split the keyboard into two or three sections for easier two-hand typing and there’s another bonus with the addition of handwriting recognition. This was also excellent, responsive and served up the correct results when two letters were mistakenly joined together.
Envy x2 is a fantastic hybrid tablet
In summary, the HP Envy x2 is a seriously powerful and good-looking computing device that should appeal to business and professional users. Starting at $899, it's more expensive than either a standard tablet or notebook, but you get both of those in one package. Bargain hunters, like ZDNet's James Kendrick, have found some models for under $600).
The large screen, accompanying keyboard and Windows 8 makes it closer to a laptop replacement, but that’s not to say you can’t use it a standalone tablet. The tablet operates fine on its own, but the screen, the keyboard and Microsoft Office make it powerful enough to do a lot more.