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HP Elite X2 (2016) Review

The 2-in-1 Laptop That Enterprise Dreams Are Made Of

The HP Elite X2 is one of the latest examples of a specific kind of 2-in-1 convertible laptop — a tablet in form with laptop hardware, a kickstand, and a detachable keyboard. Thanks to a touchscreen and styluses, these devices have become favorites of digital artists, but they’ve got the potential to be more. While the Elite X2 can be your digital sketchpad, HP’s device sets itself apart with hardware and software features tailor-made for the office. The result is something that could be the future go-to device for businesses large and small — one that can be used at home, in the office, or out in the field, all while giving IT staffs the control they need. Thanks to all that plus solid performance and a very comfortable keyboard, the Elite X2 is a surprisingly good productivity machine.

Build

Setting the detachable keyboard aside, the Elite X2 is a slate PC measuring 11.8″ x 8.4″ x 0.3″ with a 12″ display. If you’re a fan of thin bezels, this isn’t the place to look — they’re massive, and considering that the fingerprint scanner isn’t on the front, it looks like a lot of wasted space. The added bulk also makes the slate a lot heavier than similar machines, weighing 1.8 pounds without the keyboard (2.65 pounds with the keyboard).

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Despite the Elite X2 being one of the heavier detachable slate PC-style 2-in-1s we’ve seen, we think this trade-off was worth it. The weight difference is very slight everyday use — you can barely feel the Elite X2 in a bag or backpack, so it’s still a top-notch choice for workers frequently on the go. HP has been doing a great job lately of making their devices physically durable, and the Elite X2 is no different. It’s made of aluminum and feels very solid in the hand — we’ve used similar devices that we felt like we could snap in two. The Elite X2 is built to withstand drops, so for workers who need something to use in the field, it’s a good choice. Gorilla Glass helps ensure that the screen is just as well protected as the rest of the slate.

The ruggedness extends to the kickstand. Although it looks thin, it’s made of stainless steel and won’t bend or deform easily. The kickstand pops out from the bottom and sides of the frame, and it’s been very well designed. The kickstand is sturdy enough to hold itself in place, but can easily be adjusted with one hand by reaching around one side and pushing the kickstand in or out. It’s really intuitive, and is great if you happen to be working where the sun is at your back and need to frequently adjust for glare. The kickstand is also suitable if you want to use the X2 on your lap — it’s not as comfortable or stable as using a traditional clamshell laptop, but it’ll work. It does depend on where you’re using the device on your lap — it’s great if you’re sitting at home, but not so much if you’re on a rickety train or an airplane.

An unusual feature that really helps make the Elite X2 attractive (to everyone, but especially for small businesses) is that the case can be opened easily. Pop out the kickstand, and you’ll see a row of torx screws running along the bottom edge. Take those out, pop the back out with a suction cup, and components can be replaced or upgraded. We hardly ever see this in laptops anymore, let alone slate PCs, so credit to HP for making something that can be upgraded easily and used for a much longer time.

For its size, the Elite X2 has a good number of ports. There’s a headphone/mic combo port, a regular USB 3.0 port with pass-through charging, a USB Type-C 3.1 port with Thunderbolt support for docking (it can work with Thunderbolt peripherals, but don’t expect the faster transfer speeds), a SIM card slot (the Elite X2 has LTE connectivity), and a lock slot. There’s also a fingerprint scanner — it’s a small black bar on the back of the device that requires you to swipe your finger to activate it. There’s a 5 MP rear camera and a 2 MP front camera, both of which can take 1080p video.

Performance

The HP Elite X2 runs Windows 10 Home or Pro on a sixth generation Intel Core m processor and either 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM. SSD options range from 128 GB to 512 GB, with slower and faster drives available. No matter how you configure the Elite X2, you’re getting the same 1920 x 1080 resolution touchscreen display. Our review model ran Windows 10 Pro on a 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core m5 CPU with Intel HD Graphics 515 and 8 GB of RAM, plus a 256 GB SSD (219 GB usable).

Benchmark Test Score
PCMark 8 Work Conventional 2.0 2830
PCMark 8 Home Conventional 3.0 Battery 3 hours, 27 minutes
3DMark Sky Diver 1.0 3031
3DMark Cloud Gate 1.1 5024

The benchmarks look pretty good for HP here. Our review model came with a slightly less powerful Core m processor than some of the other devices we’ve reviewed lately, but managed to outscore them in both the utilitarian PCMark Work test and the graphics-intensive 3DMark tests (Sky Diver is more demanding than Cloud Gate). To give put those numbers into context, the Elite X2 fares much better than the run-of-the-mill office PCs running on Intel Celeron processors and the like. It gets much closer to notebook (Core i processor) levels than we’re used to seeing from slate PCs, although the graphics performance was much lower, which we anticipated.

In real world terms, it’s great for working, whether that require web browsing or word processing, but you won’t be playing games unless they’re on the lowest possible resolution and settings. We don’t think it’s the kind of mobile art studio that the Surface Pro is, but it’s a very good productivity machine, particularly when the enterprise-friendly features are added on. If you open up ten or more tabs in a browser, you’ll notice some slowdown, but it’s otherwise a really good work PC. It can overheat at times, but it stayed cool more days than not. One minor annoyance — images seemed to load a bit more slowly than expected.

The 1920 x 1080 touchscreen is about as good as it needs to be. It’s not spectacular, but the touchscreen is very responsive. I did have some issues with glare when working with the sun to my back, so keep in mind what sort of environments you usually work in when considering the Elite X2. It doesn’t have that wide of a color gamut, though, reinforcing our opinion that digital artists should look elsewhere.

If there’s a weakness here, it’s probably battery life. The benchmark score wasn’t great, and real world use wasn’t that much better. On a normal day of work (seven or eight tabs open on Chrome, including YouTube playing music in the background), I usually got four to five hours of battery life, which isn’t bad for a slate PC, but it’s not all-day battery life, either. You’ll probably want to keep the power adapter with you.

HP has a long-term deal with Bang & Olufsen to supply audio components and processing. The Elite X2 has two speakers facing the top of the tablet when used as a laptop. The speakers get very loud, although the sound can be somewhat tinny. It’s not so great for music, but it’s ideal for conference calls, especially if the Elite X2 might need to compete with background noise. On the flip side, the device has two microphones that can cancel out background noise and echoes — I tried voice chatting with a few people, and we all agreed that we could understand each other better than when I’ve used other laptops.

The cameras are fine enough for what they’ll most likely be used for. Because the front facing camera is capable of 1080p video, it works well for video calls, while the 5 MP rear camera is good enough to scan documents, which is what I imagine it’ll mostly be used for. But, it’s worth mentioning that the 5 MP camera can also be used for conference video calls, and is even more well-suited to the task than the front camera.

The fingerprint scanner works with Windows Hello as a way to sign into the PC. It works, but using a scanner that requires a finger swipe instead of a press never seems to work as consistently. I had to re-swipe my finger several times to get it to recognize me, although the scanner seemed to get more accurate over time.

That leads us into the strength of the Elite X2 — enterprise features. Windows 10 Pro is standard, and the tablet features options like Intel vPro, a Trusted Platform Module, WiGig connectivity for wireless connections to external monitors, and a self-encrypting drive. Getting the full suite of enterprise feature gives you a device that can handle virtualization, power a multi-display setup, and is well-suited for conference calls, all while giving the IT staff the controls they need. Helpful extras like self-healing BIOS are also welcome.

That all dovetails nicely with the Enterprise Data Protection feature in Windows 10. That allows users and IT staffs to manage work-specific files and apps, encrypting those by default. That means the IT staff can control work files only, leaving personal files and apps to the user.

Authentication is also important, and that goes beyond just the fingerprint sensor and Windows Hello. Even in a worst-case scenario of a stolen device and a compromised PIN or password, HP Touchpoint Manager can be used to lock down devices remotely, and can even help the user to find lost or stolen devices, including the Elite X2.

There’s even a layer of physical data protection from damage. The Elite X2 works with HP’s optional Detective Media Retention service, a subscription that can allow you to summon data recovery specialists to your office in the event of a hard drive failure, saving everyone countless hours and preventing the security risk of having to send the device off through the mail.

Accessories

We’ll discuss the keyboard and stylus as accessories, but one thing we do want to note is that both are included in the price, and you can take the stylus off to make the device cheaper when configuring it. We see these as extras more often than not on similarly priced devices, so credit to HP here.

The base travel keyboard has a six-row keyboard with function keys and a trackpad. It’s thin but sturdy, made of metal with comfortable palm rests. There’s a bit of fanciness with the diamond cut edges on the trackpad and a fabric back cover that feels nice. I found myself typing accurately, with pretty good key travel for such a thin keyboard. Same can’t be said for the trackpad — Windows 10 gestures didn’t always register, and dragging can be difficult and frustrating. It’s OK in a pinch, but I generally preferred to either use a mouse or at least use the touchscreen to scroll. For $200, you can upgrade to the advanced keyboard, which adds a smart card slot and NFC, but we didn’t test it.

The keyboard attaches to the tablet using magnetic connectors, which proved to be a strong enough connection. I never experienced any interruptions, although it does take the keyboard a few seconds to activate after the tablet has been turned on. There’s also a magnetic bar inside the fabric that can connect to the bottom of the tablet to raise the keyboard up at a fixed angle, making typing a lot more comfortable.

The included stylus is a Wacom digitizer pen that requires a Bluetooth connection. Get past that minor annoyance, and you get a great, sensitive stylus with a few convenient buttons. Pressing the top button once will launch OneNote, while clicking twice will take a screenshot. There are two buttons near the nib — one is to highlight or capture a part of the screen, the other to erase. It’s a larger pen, and while that makes it comfortable to hold, it makes storage a little trickier. If the Elite X2 is staying put, there’s a tether that can connect pen to tablet, and there’s also the option to stick it magnetically to the underside of the keyboard. Neither are great options, especially because part of the Elite X2’s appeal is mobility. The best way to go is the loop that can be stuck on the tablet using an included adhesive pad. HP also sells a host of productivity docks, but we didn’t test any of those ourselves.

Read on for the verdict…

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