Yes, we’ve seen Windows PCs that use ARM (Advanced RISC (reduced instruction set computer) Machines) processors before and they didn’t really do too well, but now we have another generation with new ARM processors and a new Windows 10 operating system designed for ARM architectures. Back in the original Surface RT and Windows RT days, the big problem with Windows PCs running on ARM processors was that the version of Windows made for ARM looked like regular Windows, but you couldn’t install any regular Windows programs. You could only use the under-powered, poorly designed, apps that were in the Windows Store. Today, Microsoft has put a lot of work into the ARM version of Windows 10 so that it will behave as expected on ARM-based processors. That’s really good news! All of your programs will actually work (with some caveats we’ll talk about later).
Qualcomm also has been working on new processors made for Windows 10 as well as high-end Android phones. This HP Envy x2 convertible tablet/laptop computer is running off the same type of Qualcomm Snapdragon processor that you’ll see in smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Google Pixel 2, Razer phone, and lots of others.
Now, before we get started on this review, let’s clear something up. The HP Envy x2 isn’t really the model. It’s a family of 2-in-1 Windows 10 tablet PC convertibles. The one we’re reviewing here is the 12-e011nr but there is also a 12-g018nr model which is completely different.
This version of the HP Envy x2 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (2.2GHz, up to 2.6GHz, 8 cores) processor, with a Qualcomm Adreno 540 GPU. We’ve also got 4GB LPDDR4-3733 SDRAM, and a 128GB UFS solid state drive for storage. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE Modem built in so that you can get wireless internet by plugging in a SIM card and activating it with an LTE network provider. By the way, this comes with a Sprint LTE SIM card that includes free LTE data until 12/31/2018. After that you can cancel the plan or pay $15/mo with a $5/mo autopay discount. If you don’t want to pay for LTE data plans, you can also use the Qualcomm WCN3990 802.11ac (2×2) Dual-Phy and Bluetooth 5 Combo to connect to WiFi accesspoints.
The Envy x2 is powered by a 3-cell 49.33 Wh Li-ion battery which should get you up to 22 hours of battery life (19 hours of video playback) and that’s charged by a 45W AC adapter that uses USB-C. That USB-C port is the only one available for connecting peripherals as well. It’s too bad USB-C wasn’t designed to be as forward-thinking as it should have been and there are so many other compatibility issues with USB-C. Still that USB-C port is USB 3.1 Type-C™ Gen 1 with data transfer up to 5 Gb/s and support for DisplayPort 1.3™ Power Delivery. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack and a slot for a MicroSD card.
The specs for the screen are: 12.3-inch diagonal WUXGA+ IPS BrightView WLED-backlit multitouch-enabled edge-to-edge glass with Corning Gorilla Glass (1920 x 1280). There’s also a 5Mp “wide vision” front facing camera and a 13Mp rear camera along with 3 microphones and Bang & Olufsen dual speakers. The tablet’s dimensions are 11.53 x 8.28 x 0.27 in and it weighs 1.54lbs without the keyboard, or 2.67lbs with the keyboard.
The HP Envy x2 is absolutely a Windows 10 tablet, but it comes with a keyboard cover and N-Trig compatible stylus.
Be sure to look at the instructions for using the keyboard cover as a kickstand. They’re stuck to the inside of the keyboard cover.
The hinge on the back of the keyboard cover folds to make a kickstand. It’s sturdy enough, but if you’re an artist that puts a lot of pressure on the pen while digitally painting, it could cause the kickstand to move or collapse. This tablet isn’t great for running high-end digital art programs though, so that shouldn’t be an issue.
Of course, the kickstand can be adjusted to different angles as well. This keyboard cover design is very similar to the Huawei Matebook E.
They keyboard cover looks really nice. It’s a dark grey material with a big silver hinge down the middle.
There’s a highly-reflective abstract style HP logo on the cover as well and it looks very unique.
The power button is on the top right corner. It’s nicely labeled with a standard power button icon, but it is pretty close to the corner. We’ve had it accidentally power-on while transporting the device in the box. In real life, this shouldn’t be an issue since you will probably keep it on all the time. The battery won’t run out for days.
The metal body of the tablet is very nicely made. It feels quite solid. In the above photo, if you look closely, you can see where they Bang & Olufsen speakers are located in the edge of the bezel.
The side edge shows the “Bang & Olufsen” logo to make sure you know that’s the kind of audio in here. You can also see the volume keys here.
The SIM card slot is just next to the volume keys and you’ll need a usual SIM removal tool to open the tray. It’s not a button press that makes the tray pop out though. I pushed too hard and bent my SIM removal tool! Really, you have to insert the tool and then tilt it a little to generate some friction within the hole, then pull the tool to pull the tray out.
Yes, there’s a 3.5mm headset/microphone jack on this side as well. That’s always good to have.
On the other side, you’ve got a MicroSD card tray slot as well as the USB-C connector that you’ll use to charge the device or use peripherals. There’s only one USB-C port, so you’ll need some kind of hub adapter if you want to stay powered while also using other peripherals.
The USB-C port nicely has a little LED light next to it so that you can easily tell if it’s charging. That’s important since many USB-C chargers won’t work if you don’t have the right kind.
The bottom edge is inset a bit and that’s where the contacts for the keyboard cover are. The keyboard attachment is magnetic just like most other 2-in-1 tablet PCs with detachable keyboards are these days. Of course, there’s another nice HP logo in the bezel here as well.
In the top bezel there’s a front facing camera along with a few other sensors that are used for the Windows Hello 3D infrared facial recognition log-in. It works beautifully! If you’ve used a Surface Pro 4+, that’s exactly what it’s like and it’s flawless.
There’s another camera on the back along with another shiny HP logo. (Again, this looks great.) Both the front and rear cameras are not very good at all though. Don’t expect to use these for anything more than video calls. Even scanning a document, you’re better off using a smartphone.
The keyboard keys feel great. It’s very similar to the Surface Pro keyboards. There’s a lot of space between the keys so you can feel where they are, but the keys are still very flat which gives you less tactile information for identifying which key is which. The convex/concave shapes of other keyboards make touch typing much easier. Still that kind of thing increases thickness, and this is still a very nice keyboard. It does bounch a bit if you use the tilt-up magnetic fold that sticks to the bottom bezel option. Personally, I like to keep the keyboard flat to the desk.
Here’s a closer view of the keyboard so you can see the fake leather texture that it has. There’s some nice little “Envy” branding here as well.
The right side of the keyboard has a little flexible loop and that’s where you can keep the pen. Honestly, these pen loops feel kind of dodgey, like the pen could get caught on something and rip off. I miss the old tablets where you could keep the stylus in a silo on the edge and it was completely secure. Still, the pen loop works well enough as a place to keep the stylus from getting lost. There are no magnets along the edges or within the bezel to keep the pen stuck around, so in between using the pen and the keyboard you’ll want to make sure you set the pen down somewhere safe.
The pen/stylus itself feels a lot like the Surface Pro pens. It’s certainly different in that the metal body is completely round and the buttons are circular, but the pressure sensitivity feels exactly the same. That’s probably because the digitizer tech used on the HP Envy x2 is the same N-Trig technology that Microsoft uses (and creates since Microsoft bought N-Trig.) You can actually use a Surface pen with the HP Envy x2 if you’d like.
With the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Microsoft kind of screwed up the way the pen works. Now it works like a finger that scrolls content instead of the previous much-more-useful behavior that lets you select & interact with content. Thankfully, there is a registry edit where you can get the selection-behavior restored in Win32 programs (but not UWP programs). The pen interface is a real pain some of the other programs like Photos and Maps and OneNote, too. Microsoft thought it would be nice to have the pen automatically switch to inking tools instead of giving the user the choice to use the tool they actually want to use, so that means you can’t select text with the pen in OneNote, can’t pan the map in Maps, and can’t access navigation buttons in Photos.
Of course there’s a nice little HP logo on the pen, too. I really like the branding for the HP Envy x2 here.
Now how about that trackpad? It almost looks like a 2:1 wide aspect ratio. It’s totally fine that the trackpad dimensions ratio doesn’t match the screen ratio since trackpads never had a 1:1 relationship with screen sizes. You’re always swiping and scooting with those, so having an extra wide trackpad area is actually pretty nice. You get a lot more room for horizontal dragging.
That screen works well enough outdoors as well, though there is quite a lot of glare. This is probably best used as an indoor PC.
The HP Envy x2 (Qualcomm) comes with Windows 10 S preinstalled. We upgraded ours to Windows 10 Pro which is a free option included with the device. It’s not easy to go back to Windows 10 S, but there is a mode in Windows 10 Pro that will provide similar functionality, and in the future the “Windows 10 S” functionality will be a simple mode option in Windows 10 rather than a whole other operating system.
Windows 10 S is a version that behaves a lot more like the old Windows RT that was used on some of the original ARM-based Windows tablets. Its big difference is that you can’t install normal Win32 x86/x64 Windows programs. You can only install apps from the Microsoft Store app included on the device. That’s a good thing for a device like this since apps that are going to be in the Microsoft Store app are going to be made to work on the ARM processor architecture that the HP Envy x2 uses. The bad news is that you’re stuck with whatever is in the Microsoft Store, and you might not have the programs you really need built as UWP apps that fully support the ARM processor.
However, if you do the free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro like we did, then you’ll get a Win32 emulation layer that DOES let you install whatever Windows applications you want to!
We installed Microsoft Visual Studio and it’s functional, but the performance is pretty low so you’re not going to want to use this regularly as a developer device. You’re better off using it to remote access a much more powerful developer machine.
We also installed some Adobe programs like Photoshop. Again, they totally work, but the performance is not going to be tollerable if you’re used to more powerful Intel processors. Also note that a lot of Adobe’s high end programs are made only for 64-bit Intel architectures. Some are also made for 32 bit intel architectures. The problem is that Windows 10’s x86 ARM emulation layer only supports the 32-bit x86 Win32 applications. That means you can’t install things like Premiere Pro or AfterEffects unless you go back to an older version. By the way, if you do install something like Adobe CC, be aware that it will install some start-up programs and services that will slow the system down a bit. You can disable these using the Task Manager and the MSconfig.exe program.
Running high-end Win32 programs on the HP Envy x2 feels like running them on a low-end Intel Atom processor, but that’s okay… this is a new type of device that’s using a totally different processing architecture, so it’s kind of amazing that it runs professional grade x86 applications in an emulation layer at all.
Microsoft Office 2016 is pre-installed on the HP Envy X2, but you only get a 30 day free trial. You’ll have to sign in with a Microsoft ID that has an Office 365 active license, or you can buy an activation code. Also, you’ll want to avoid uninstalling this version as it was installed as an “infused app”. It is not an ARM-compatible version as we saw on the origintal Surface RT with Windows RT. It is a regular 32-bit x86 version of Office 2016 and does run in emulation.
HP has included some extra software like a link to Priceline, Netflix, some extra games, etc., but they’re easy to uninstall if you don’t want them and there isn’t any obtrusive always-on system tray software taking up resources. So that’s good.
By the way, you can install other web browsers besides the Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer 11 browsers that come pre-installed. However, Chrome seems to have an issue with logging into Google apps like Gmail. Other Chromium-based browsers like Vivaldi don’t have that issue, so you may have to switch browsers when using specific sites. Edge works really well with most sites these days, but on the ARM processor it seems to have some problems with the page editor in WordPress. So be prepared for some bugginess here and there.
Also note that many peripherals and printers that don’t have ARM drivers already built into the operating system probably won’t work. Again this is due to processor compatibility issues.
The thing about getting Windows to run and emulate other application subsystems on ARM processors is that usually when this happens, we’re moving to a processor architecture that’s more powerful. Windows NT used to have versions for all sorts of processor architectures like IBM PowerPC, DEC Alpha, Intel x86, etc. Mac OS X was originally built for IBM Power PCs and went through a number of architecture changes while doing similar emulation tricks to keep backwards compatibility working. Going from very powerful high-end 64bit intel processors to a tiny ARM-based power-efficient system-on-a-chip architecture used in pocket-sized smartphones is a little trickier.
Now this is the thing that you’re looking for if you’re in the market for a Qualcomm ARM-based Windows 10 HP Envy x2. This is the whole reason for making this tablet. Long battery life!
You might forget the last time you charged this device, that’s how long the battery lasts. If you only need to use it periodically during meetings or while commuting for example, you could probably go all week without plugging into a charger. If you’re using it constantly all day, then you’ll probably want to recharge on the second day. Still, that’s pretty excellent. If you do a lot of travelling and need to work on the plane or in coffee shops, the HP Envy x2 is going to have plenty of battery life to keep you going.
The HP Envy x2 12-e11nr is available from the HP online store for $949.99. The HP Envy x2 12-e091ms with the same specs is currently on Amazon for $521.28 and that’s a really good price for this kind of device. UPDATE: That sale on Amazon didn’t last long and the price is now in the $880 USD range.
If you hate having to carry a laptop charger around everywhere you go, but still really need a Windows PC with the ability to run full Windows programs, the HP Envy x2 with Qualcomm ARM system on a chip is the tablet PC that you should really look into. Having an LTE radio built in for a large wireless internet access coverage area, along with the battery life that can last a week could be extremely attractive to some users. Sorry you can’t have everything though. That great battery life and always-connected work-life that you get from the Qualcomm ARM processor in this tablet comes at the cost of performance when we’re talking about running the real programs that you might need while out and about. Still, the fact that you can even run those real programs on a processor that’s used in smartphones is a pretty big deal and certainly will help you out in a pinch.