Confession: I bought a fully loaded Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with the (optional) purple keyboard cover last year. But as much as I loved the idea of the 2-in-1 Surface Pro, I ultimately sent it back. Why? One of the biggest reasons was that I hated the keyboard.
It might have been less grating if the $130 keyboard had been included in the purchase price, and then I’d had the option of upgrading to something nicer. But that floppy toy of a keyboard with no backlight was the Microsoft-sanctioned optional purchase.
In the 2-in-1’s Pro column (no pun intended) was the fact that Microsoft Windows is finger and pen friendly operating system, and the Pro could serve as a full travel computer versus the diluted experience I get on my iPad Pro (which is as big as my MacBook 13). And honestly, the iPad Pro is in no way a true laptop replacement.
After one extremely frustrating day out and about with the Surface Pro, where I had been unable to comfortably use it in my lap — and after the keyboard had gone flying off while in tablet mode for no good reason — I decided that perhaps I needed to stick to true laptops.
Fast forward to this year, and the HP Elite x2.
I’ll have to admit that even after agreeing to be part of this review program, I had a bit of trepidation when I opened the x2’s box. Would the keyboard suck? Would using it in my lap be next to impossible?
Now that I’ve been using the HP Elite x2 for a few weeks, I can see that many of the things that turned me off about the Surface Pro are not an issue with the Elite x2. Not only is the (included) keyboard as nice as any laptop’s, it is a pleasure to use.
The HP Elite x2 is secure, extremely portable, and it is a very capable tablet computer. Let’s take a look at why I like it so much, and why I think it is a smarter purchase than the Microsoft Pro.
The HP Elite x2 1012 starts at $899, the same price as the newer Microsoft Surface Pro 4 base model, but the x2 includes a keyboard that is far superior to the optional Surface keyboards.
When you purchase a Surface Pro, you have the option of getting their $129.99 basic keyboard, buying their $159.99 Signature Type Keyboard, or their $159.99 keyboard with fingerprint ID. None of the Surface Pro keyboards have a metal palm surface, none of them have backlit keys, and to get biometric security you have to buy the optional fingerprint ID keyboard.
The HP Elite x2 has all three — a premium metal palm surface, a backlit keyboard, and built into the tablet biometrics — even on the base model. True, if you really want these options you could buy the Microsoft Surface Book, but the base model for that is $1499; no thanks.
Te HP Elite x2 has no thermal openings which means that it is dust resistant, but even more important, it is absolutely quiet at all times. If you have a Surface Pro, it has a fan, and it will kick on at times depending upon what you’re doing with it. Even with that fan, the Surface Pro will sometimes get hot to the touch when you’re using it; that simply doesn’t happen with the Elite x2.
For reference sake, I was sent the 1012 G1 model. My x2 has 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, but it also has a microSD slot, where I’ve installed a 200GB memory card. [In the Storage tab under System Settings, it is very easy to tell the x2 to save all new documents, music, pictures, and videos to the storage card.]
My x2 has an Intel Core m5-6Y54 CPU at 1.10GHz, it is running Windows 10 Pro 64, and is has a 12″ LED-backlit touch screen (1920 x 1280) made of Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The front-facing camera is 2-megapixels, and the rear-facing camera is 5-megapixels. The x2 has dual microphones and dual Bang & Olufsen stereo speakers. I should mention that while those speakers sound very good, they are not as loud as the speakers on my iPad Pro.
So let’s do a walk around of the HP Elite x2. It basically has a landscape orientation, so let’s look at it as if it were a laptop. Starting on the right side, you can see the hinge for the metal stand, a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt support (you can use it for docking, charging and USB 3.1). Next, there’s the microUSB slot (it requires a pin similar to the one needed to access a mobile phone’s SIM tray). There’s also a USB 3.0 Type-A port and a headphone/microphone port.
On the top, there are the dual microphones; the stereo speakers are on each end.
On the left side, you’ll find the power button, a volume rocker, a lock slot, and at the end two little holes that you can use to attach a lanyard for your (included) HP Active Pen.
On the back, you can see the metal kickstand and the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. On the upper right, there is a built-in fingerprint reader.
The kickstand is extremely sturdy, and you can adjust it up to 150º for your best viewing angle. The keyboard is held in place magnetically, but it is very secure. I have yet to accidentally fling it off, and yes — I can comfortably use the x2 in laptop mode on my lap. Yay!
And the keyboard … ah, the glorious keyboard. This backlit keyboard is as nice as any premium laptop’s; it has no flex, and typing on it is a pleasure — it is quiet, and the keys have as much travel as my MacBook’s.
The ClickPad is large, glossy, and my fingers glide smoothly over it. It “supports 2-way scroll, taps and gestures enabled by default, two-finger scrolling, two finger zoom (pinch).”
The backlighting makes the keyboard easy to use in any room; it’s one of those things that you don’t necessarily think you’ve got to have until you realize that you don’t have it. I don’t like keyboards without backlight; to me, that’s like peanut butter without the jelly.
The HP Elite x2 has a self-healing BIOS; it uses multi-factor authentication, and it has Enterprise Data Protection. It also capable of multi-user authentication in shared environments
The x2 boots quickly, and with a swipe of your finger on the back, you’re in. Of course, once in, you’ve got full use of Cortana, which is like Siri for your 2-in-1. The x2 has WiGig technology, which “allows you to wirelessly dock your compatible HP notebook or tablet to a power source, and wirelessly connect to monitors, keyboards, mice, and more.”
If I’m looking for something nit-picky to mention as a con, I’d have to admit that I wish the bezel around the screen was a bit smaller. even so, it’s about the same as the bezel on my iPad Pro — I told you I was being nit-picky!
Battery life is supposed to be over 10 hours (under perfect conditions), but I’m averaging about 5; I’m going to keep tweaking the settings to see if I can do better.
I’m having fun with the HP Active Pen; when you click the top OneNote immediately opens, and you can start jotting away. It’s the little things, right?
If you (or your company) are concerned about security, there are a couple of things that set the HP Elite x2 apart from other two-in-ones. I’ve already mentioned the built-in fingerprint reader, but HP Sure Start technology is also present. It loads before the operating system does so that “bad guys” aren’t able to get into the Bios. Sure Start monitors the BIOS continuously throughout the day; it is self-healing, and it will override any changes found for security.
At its heart, the HP Elite x2 is a business device made to be deployed by companies. To that end, HP offers migration assistance. They know that rolling out a brand new OS can be a logistical nightmare for company IT departments, so they have readiness workshops to help businesses understand Windows 10, their security needs, and to help gauge how ready the company is to migrate to Windows 10. HP offers free help to migrate, and they can “assist users in upgrading to Windows 10 from most Windows 7 Pro, Window 8 Pro and Windows 8.1 Pro devices in just a few hours.”
If you are a government worker dealing with security clearances, then you know that servicing your laptop or 2-in-1 can be a huge PITA because you can’t send your unit out with data on it. So here’s the thing, the x2 doesn’t use any glue, and all the components are held together with screws so that you can remove the component for repair without your computer ever leaving the premises. Serviceable components include the WLAN, WAN storage, the system board, the battery, the LCD/touch module, the kickstand, chassis and other components.
I should mention that the Elite x2 is very durable. It passes all MIL-STD tests for humidity, high temp, low temp, altitude, temperature shock, dust, sand, freeze/thaw, explosive atmosphere (wait, what?), drops, vibrations, and mechanical shocks. In other words, it is ready to travel with you.
Speaking of which, I’ll be traveling to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China for the next week and the Elite x2 will be coming along. I’m looking forward to carrying such a light, adaptable, and capable 2-in-one computer, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
The model I’m testing retails for $1349, but as I mentioned before, you can get into an x2 for as little as $899. Are you interested in learning more about this 2-in-1? Check out their microsite.