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HP Envy x2 Detachable PC 13 First Impressions

HP Envy x2 Detachable PC 13 First Impressions

A better, less expensive alternative to Surface Pro 3

While it's impossible to look at the new HP Envy x2 and not see the obvious Surface Pro 3 influences, it's equally fair to say that, with this device, HP has fixed some of the biggest issues with Microsoft's detachable PC. If you were pining away for a Surface Pro 3 with a bigger screen, a better keyboard, and better battery life, HP may have just answered your prayers.

Count me among this list. While I really like Surface Pro 3, its 12.5-inch form factor and tight Type Cover are still a bit small for me. And when I saw that HP was potentially one-upping Surface with larger detachables—there's a 15-inch version, too, if you can believe that—I just had to take a look.

HP, it should be noted, has been a tear lately in the PC space. Its HP Stream 11 and HP Stream 13 laptops were, in my humble opinion, the best personal tech deals of 2014. And the firm's recently announced HP Stream Mini Desktop and HP Pavilion Mini Desktop take that same value equation and apply it to the desktop PC market.

And then there's the detachable market, or what I think of as hybrid or transforming PCs. These are the laptop/Ultrabook-type PCs where the guts of the machine are in the screen, and you can detach that screen from a keyboard base and use it like a tablet. HP offers a number of detachable PC product lines, from the $480 HP SlateBook x2 to the $600 Pavilion 11 x2 and x3 to the $750 Split x2 to the $880 Split x2 Ultrabook and $1100 Spectre x2. OK, maybe they have too many of these things.

With the HP Envy x2 Detachable PC 13—a terrible name, so let's just go with Envy x2 from here on out—HP is gunning directly for Surface Pro 3. The device starts at $699 currently, though it's worth noting that that price includes the keyboard, so it's a much better deal than Surface Pro 3 (which starts at $929 when you factor in the price of Type Cover).

But there are differences.

Where Surface Pro 3 provides previous generation Intel Core processors—with i3, i5 and i7 models—the Envy x2 goes with three different versions of the Broadwell-based Core M processor. Some may quibble about the tradeoffs between performance and battery life there, but I think Core M is the right processor for this product and would be surprised if there wasn't a Core M-based Surface in 2015. I will of course test both performance and battery life, but here's the important bit: The Envy x2 is completely fanless. So unlike Surface Pro 3, it won't sound like jet turbine when you use it. Cue contented sigh.

Surface Pro 3 (top), HP Envy x2 (bottom)

The Envy x2 features a larger 13.3-inch IPS panel, compared to 12.5-inches for the Surface Pro 3, and it's a more traditional widescreen form factor than the Surface's odd (but nice) 3:2 display. This means that the Envy x2 is Ultrabook first, tablet second, and that it will not be ideal in tablet mode. The widescreen effect is further exaggerated, too, by the prominent front-facing BeatsAudio speakers on the Envy x2.

Speaking of screen, one thing I really like about the Envy x2 is that you can get it in normal (non-high DPI) screen resolutions: It comes in both 1366 x 768 and 1920 x 1080 variants, and if you're a desktop user you'll appreciate that. I understand why Microsoft is pushing insanely high DPI with Surface Pro 3, but it just doesn't work well on the Windows desktop.

RAM is 4 or 8 GB, depending on model. Storage is 128, 256 or 512 GB of SSD; the review unit has 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, just like my Surface Pro 3. It features 802.11ac, and unlike Surface Pro 3 it has a reasonable complement of ports: two full-sized USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, and microSD.

The Envy x2 doesn't have Surface Pro 3's complex-looking kickstand, but it does instead have a perfectly serviceable and fully adjustable stand, which I consider a necessity on this kind of device. It works exactly as you'd want.

And then there's that keyboard. The Envy x2's Zune-brown keyboard looks and works like an oversized Type Cover, and like the Microsoft variant it is backlit and connects magnetically to the bottom of the tablet/body.

It lacks the height adjustment found in Type Cover, but comes with a superior feature that is so obvious you'll laugh when you hear about it: The x2's keyboard uses Bluetooth. This means you can detach it from the Envy x2 and key using it. That is ... wonderful. So smart.

Finally, HP includes (or at least provides) a nice stylus for the Envy x2. And just like Surface, there's a loop on the keyboard for keeping it handy. But HP one-ups Microsoft here by making one edge of the pen flat, so it won't roll around on the desk. It reminds me the heavy drafting pencils I used to use in art school and it feels nice in the hand. I'll see how it actually works in the real world when I review this device.

Overall, this appears to be an impressive package. Yes, it is bigger and heavier than Surface Pro 3, but not uncomfortably so: It weighs just over 4 pounds with the keyboard, compared to 2.5 pounds or so for Surface Pro 3 plus Type Cover. But while it is bigger (and, in a bag, taller), it doesn't appear to be any thicker than Surface Pro 3. I think the size/weight differences are worth it, but then I find Surface Pro 3 to be a bit too small. You may feel otherwise.

Surface Pro 3 (front), HP Envy x2 (rear)

As reviewed, the HP Envy x2 Detachable PC 13 is just $999 on Amazon right now. That's for the version with a 1.1 GHz Intel Core M processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, and Full HD (1920 x 1080) display. A comparable Surface Pro 3 would set you back $1430, which sort of emphasizes the value here.

More soon.

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