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HP Envy x2 (Snapdragon) review: The power of a smartphone in a laptop

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
999

The HP Envy x2 is a great laptop with impressive battery life but it can’t serve as your only work tool

Pros 
Great battery life
Superb display and keyboard
4G connectivity
Cons 
Below average performance for the money
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This is not just another laptop review. It’s a review of what could very well represent a huge change in the direction of the technology industry; a moment that, when we look back on it in years to come, we’ll be able to point at it and say: “That’s when everything changed.”

Not that you’d think that to look at the HP Envy x2. On the face of it, it’s just another 2-in-1 laptop. Another Windows 10 tablet with a keyboard cover and stylus, just like all the others. Another Surface Pro copy.

READ NEXT: 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro review (2017)

HP Envy x2 (Snapdragon) review: What you need to know

Except, of course, it’s anything but. Instead of an Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 inside, the Envy x2 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the same chip you’ll find in many of 2017’s flagship smartphones – such as the OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T, the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and the US versions of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus.

In essence, it’s a huge smartphone with a keyboard attached and, just like a Snapdragon-based phone, the Envy x2 has 4G capability built in. It even has a phone number people can call you on and throws in a 4G EE SIM with 24GB of data per month for two years as well.

One further key fact is that, like the Surface Laptop, this machine runs Windows 10 in S mode out of the box (the operating system formerly known as Windows 10 S, or TOSFKW10S for short), so unless you take advantage of the free “upgrade” to Windows 10 Pro, you’ll be limited to installing apps and games from the Windows Store.

Otherwise, the HP Envy x2 looks and behaves just like any other Windows 10 2-in-1 detachable.

HP Envy x2 (Snapdragon) review: Price and competition

If you were hoping a Snapdragon chip would mean a low price, you’re out of luck. But you do get quite a lot for your money compared with big rivals. The HP Envy x2 is £999, a price that includes the keyboard and active stylus. This matches a Microsoft Surface Pro (Core m3) with the Type Cover and Surface Pen included, and is around the same price as the most basic Apple iPad Pro 12.9in with the Smart Keyboard but no stylus.

At this price, though, the HP Envy x2 is better equipped than either the Surface Pro or the iPad. It comes with a 4G modem built in, plus an EE pay as you go SIM with 24GB of data included and a generous 128GB of UFS 2.1 flash storage. That’s better than both the basic iPad – which comes with 64GB storage and no 4G – and the Surface Pro, which has a 128GB SSD but no 4G. With the keyboard and the stylus included in the box, the HP Envy x2 is a great deal.

Buy the HP Envy x2 from Currys

HP Envy x2 (Snapdragon) review: Design

The HP Envy x2 isn’t as physically attractive or elegant as either the Surface Pro or the iPad Pro, but there isn’t anything significantly wrong with the way it’s put together. The Envy x2 is built around a 12.3in, 1,920 x 1,080, Full HD IPS display and it’s incredibly well made.

It’s slim, at 7mm, and weighs only 720g – and 1.22kg with the keyboard folio case attached – and everything seems to work as advertised. You don’t get much in the way of connectivity – there’s a single USB Type-C port and a pin-eject microSD tray on the left, and a 3.5mm audio jack on the right – but his is primarily designed as a mobile device rather than a desktop replacement. And if you do need extra ports, a basic USB Type-C dock won't cost a fortune.

As with the Surface Pro, the case serves a triple purpose: to protect the tablet from damage in your bag; to prop up the screen at a comfortable angle when you’re working on it; and to be used as a keyboard in its own right. It does all three jobs admirably well. The rear cover splits in two and folds back to act as a kickstand, and the hinge is just as adjustable as on the Surface Pro.

It’s a touch on the heavy side, since it wraps around both the front and rear of the tablet. However, the flipside is that it provides protection for both the front and rear of the tablet, where the Surface Pro and iPad’s keyboard covers protect only the front. It also works reasonably well perched on your lap, because of the slightly grippy fake-leather material the case is constructed from and, if you drop it, its Gorilla Glass display should resist shattering better than regular, non-strengthened glass.

The keyboard itself is an excellent example of the breed. The keys have plenty of travel and a good positive action, and the wide touchpad beneath is both sensitive and reliable. It has a heavy click action, which takes a while to get used to, but the HP Envy x2 is largely an enjoyable device to use from an ergonomic standpoint.

Other things worth noting are that the cameras are better quality than you get on most Windows machines. There’s a 13-megapixel rear snapper with HDR that takes decent photos and a front-facing, 5-megapixel Windows Hello camera that’s also very good. There’s no fingerprint reader but the front camera works well in most conditions, allowing you to unlock the tablet without typing in a PIN or password.

HP Envy x2 (Snapdragon) review: Display

In a world where edge-to-edge designs and 3:2 aspect ratio screens have become common, the HP's 16:9 wide-bordered display looks a touch old-fashioned. It is, however, top notch when it comes to quality. Contrast is an excellent 1,377:1, and maximum brightness reaches a stunning 505cd/m2, which is enough that you can use the Envy in most conditions. It struggles in very bright direct sunlight, but if you find a shady spot in the garden, it's perfectly usable.

Colour accuracy is excellent, too. The screen covers 96.1% of the sRGB colour gamut and delivered an average Delta E of 1.45 in our tests, both of which are excellent results. If you manage to get Photoshop running, you can be confident the Envy is producing accurate colours out of the box.

There’s absolutely no problem with stylus sensitivity, either, and since the stylus supports both pressure and angle sensing, it’s as fully functional as the Apple Pencil or the Surface Pen. The feel of the nib on the screen is a match for the Surface Pro as well, although by the nature of the thing it’ll never be able to match the sensation of writing with a real pen on paper or sketching with a pencil.

HP Envy x2 (Snapdragon) review: Performance

Good though the ergonomics, design and display are, however, the success of the HP Envy x2 hinges almost entirely on how the Snapdragon chip performs in day-to-day use. And on that front, the situation is altogether more mixed.

Stick with Windows Store apps and you’ll largely be fine. Microsoft Edge works smoothly, as do basic tasks with Google Docs. Even when you load Edge up with tabs, the Envy x2 feels largely snappy and responsive.

It’s a different story when you switch to Windows 10 Pro and try to run full Windows applications on it, though. Since the Snapdragon hardware doesn’t run Windows code natively (it doesn’t run 64-bit apps at all), there’s an extra bit of software translating the instructions of applications such as Chrome. This means that, although most things I tried to install worked, they didn’t run particularly quickly. Even basic apps like Chrome run slowly, and I also found they crashed regularly, too.

If you don’t need full Windows apps and the Windows Store is okay for you, that’s fine. But I can guarantee that, at some point, you’ll want to run something this machine can’t cope with and, at that point, you’ll be stuck. Even something as simple as dialling into Google Hangouts doesn’t work on Edge, so don’t think you’ll be okay just because you don’t run the big creative apps.

This also means there’s no sensible way of running our 4K media benchmarks. Instead, I ran a few cross-platform mobile tests to get a feel for raw performance. GFXBench DirectX reported an average frame rate of 24fps in the Manhattan 3 test at native resolution, while Geekbench 4 delivered single- and multi-core scores of 842 and 2,981.

These are far from stellar results, as you can see from the comparative graphs below, and they’re not an awful lot better than the Asus Transformer Mini, a relatively underpowered (Intel Atom x5-Z8350) Windows detachable from 2016.

Storage performance is middling, too. Running the AS SSD test gave sequential read and write speeds of 430MB/sec and 212MB/sec respectively. I’d expect more from a machine costing a thousand pounds.

The big attraction of the Envy x2 is not outright performance, however, but battery life and the integrated, Gigabit-class 4G. On both fronts, the HP Envy x2 delivers. The battery life is quite simply brilliant. In our video-rundown test, we couldn’t quite reach Qualcomm’s claimed battery life of more than 20 hours, with the x2 lasting 11hrs 48mins in flight mode with the screen set to a brightness of 170cd/m2. That’s still much better than most Windows laptops, however.

And this translates into phenomenal stamina in regular day-to-day use. When I first got it home, I worked on it for a full day – emailing, messaging, writing and browsing the web for research – it still had enough juice left to last a weekend of occasional browsing and online shopping. Impressive stuff.

The 4G connectivity works well, too, giving great flexibility for working remotely. The 4G connection sits at the top of the Wi-Fi Connectivity menu in Windows 10, and switching connections takes only a couple of taps.

HP Envy x2 (Snapdragon) review: Verdict

The HP Envy x2 is a fine laptop and a good-value one, too. For £999 you’re getting 4G connectivity, a keyboard and stylus, plus 24GB of data included in the box. That’s a better deal than the Core m3 Surface Pro or the 12.9in Apple iPad Pro. The trouble is, though, it isn’t as good as either.

While it dispatches basic tasks such as web browsing and online apps with relative ease, general performance simply isn’t up to scratch, especially with heavyweight x86-based Windows apps. You can’t run 64-bit apps at all, and general performance is very slow for a machine with a £1,000 price tag.

That puts the HP Envy x2 in a tricky place. On the one hand, its performance is acceptable for lightweight tasks and its battery life is exceptional; on the other, you can get more done without losing much stamina if you go for one of the better Intel-based machines. Or you could buy an iPad Pro 12.9in and get equally good battery life and more power, albeit for a heftier investment.

In the end, while I like the HP Envy x2, it feels like a product that’s ahead of its time. Perhaps when the next generation of Windows on Snapdragon products roll around, with the more powerful Snapdragon 850 onboard, they’ll be better able to justify the price. For now, though, I’d advise you stick with a regular laptop or an iPad Pro.

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