HP Pavilion x2 (2015) review: More tablet than notebook with this 2-in-1
By Keith Liu November 5, 2015
HP made big news this week thanks to its split into Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc, so it’s also quite timely that we review the HP Pavilion x2, which can basically er… split in two, since it’s one of those new-fangled 2-in-1s which many people are interested in these days.
This model shouldn’t be confused with the previous HP Pavilion x2 (10-inch) which Digital News Asia covered here. This new unit went on sale online in July and the one we’re testing is specifically the 10-n013TU white-coloured version. It is also available in a 'Sunset Red' variant.
The product was launched in July, but with the impending Windows 10 transition, it wasn’t the best time to invest in one. With the new Microsoft operating system now fully baked in and all the required drivers on board, it’s a much better time to get this unit now without the hassle of having to upgrade from Windows 8.1.
Would you like that in red or white?
Depending on your personality, you may prefer the understated white model but for our money, we would have to go for the red. The colour choice here is significant because the white model really reminded us of using a netbook (remember those?).
And we really don’t wish to be reminded about netbooks. They were cheap and cheerful but underpowered and frustrating to use due to the small keyboard. They were also the reason why the Intel Atom brand still suffers from the consumer perception that Atom means low-performance computers, since the majority of netbooks were powered by this chip.
The Pavilion x2 is not a netbook, and quite far from being one. But the white plastic enclosure of this model would easily end up looking dirty in the long run, if it doesn’t turn yellowish first, like many white plastic products we’ve had in the past.
Build quality-wise, the casing on the x2 has a matte, smooth finish and the plastic feels solid. Fingerprints don’t show up easily on the cover, although they do invariably on the touchscreen since it’s made of glass.
Tablet or notebook?
The main reason why anyone would purchase the Pavilion x2 is because it offers a decent Windows 10 tablet experience at an affordable price, and comes with the flexibility of a keyboard and touchpad setup.
We are hesitant to say this product can be equivalent to a notebook PC, because like its rivals in this space, the Asus Transformer Book T100, Acer’s Switch 10 and Lenovo’s Miix 3, the Pavilion x2 has the performance chops to be a good media consumption device, but not the size nor the speed to be a full-blown laptop.
If you’re looking for a notebook PC replacement – there are other options out there such as the Surface Pro 3, although those machines are far more costly.
We liked using the x2 as a tablet, simply because a 10.1-inch display works much better as a device for catching up on the news, watching YouTube videos or reading e-books. If you’re doing some online shopping in bed, this would be ideal too.
It worked really well as a car (and flight) entertainment system and also using it as a kitchen helper to show baking recipes and videos. The smaller size simply fits these different scenarios when space is tight, and the weight is light enough to be carried around everywhere.
At 586 grams without the keyboard (1.1 kg with keyboard), it’s just slightly heavier than the competition mentioned above, but also thicker when compared to say, the Asus Transformer Book T100.
Still, the unit is generally very portable and you’ll have no problem carrying it around for a whole day, which we often did. The other nice thing is that both the keyboard and tablet are almost the same weight, so it doesn’t feel top-heavy when connected to the dock and used like a tiny laptop.
We’re not enthusiastic about the keyboard however, but that’s more because of its overall size than the quality of the keys. For long bouts of typing, the keyboard is just a tad too small. This is something that any user will have to adapt to, since the length of the keyboard is limited by the size of the tablet display.
The trackpad is equally squeezed, although we feel that HP did a good job including it in for the space it’s being afforded.
It works fine, with support for multi-touch and gestures as well, though more often than not, our thumbs or palms would accidentally hit the touchpad, and we’d end up typing somewhere else on the screen, or deleting whole paragraphs completely after inadvertently selecting them with the touchpad.
If like us, you depend a lot on a comfortable keyboard to get your job done, this isn’t the one for you. However if you need something to shoot off quick emails or need to fill up online forms or excel sheets, this is a far better option than typing directly on the screen.
HP has made it really simple to switch the Pavilion x2 between a keyboard-toting laptop or full-blown tablet, thanks to two strong magnets placed on its half cylindrical hinge.
The way the tablet can attach to and detach from the keyboard dock is indeed delightful. It’s really neat to be able just pull the screen out with a slight tug and attach it back without any fuss.
There’s no need to press any unlocking mechanism or fiddle with latches. Yes, you do have to align the two magnets on the hinge with the slots on the tablet but it’s really easy to do.
Additionally, you can also slot in the tablet with the screen turned the other way round (pic above), as we have often done for our Skype video calls, using the tablet in what HP calls ‘Stand mode’, where the dock acts as a stand.
When we used it in this mode, the screen hardly wobbled or bounced with our taps as the hinge held the screen steady. But if you want the screen to remain completely still, then we suggest turning the whole thing upside down and use it in ‘Tent mode’ (pic below).
You can also fold the screen all the way down against the keyboard and use it like a (heavier) tablet, but we didn’t see any practical reason to do that.
When used in a notebook form factor, the dock’s hinge does not go all the way down, but you won’t need to worry about pushing the screen too far back because it will automatically detach itself, should it be pushed beyond the accepted angle.
However, do avoid just holding the keyboard with the screen opened and facing downwards, because gravity will still win over and the tablet will likely detach itself and head towards the floor.
Hearing and seeing but not quite believing
The Pavilion x2’s multimedia slant is emphasised further with the inclusion of two front-facing speakers, endorsed by audio experts Bang & Olufsen (B&O), and aimed at providing better stereo sound quality.
This doesn’t necessarily mean B&O made and supplied the x2’s speakers. Rather this high-end audio brand has tested the sound quality of the speakers and approved them as meeting its own (presumably high) internal quality standards.
Those standards must be pretty low, going by the quality of the sound we experienced, since the speakers are in no way exceptional, and in fact in many cases awful. The bass is almost non-existent, and the sound gets distorted quite easily when we brought up the volume, since it’s not very loud in the first place.
In other words, HP should just ask for B&O’s licensing fee back because the audio quality is simply disappointing.
The microphone is even worse, and poor Cortana struggled to understand what we were saying to her. More often than not, everything we said ended up being misheard by Microsoft’s voice-activated virtual assistant.
Design-wise, it completely makes sense to position the speakers on both ends of the display but it lengthens the tablet slightly. We did wish HP’s engineers had reduced the thickness of the bezels to counter that, but unfortunately these are the typical, average thickness bezels you find on mid-range tablets.
Here’s hoping HP switches out the speaker components completely or enhances the software algorithms of the speaker audio playback. But until then, we would recommend to rely on headphones because the sound coming from that is far, far better.
Listening to our streaming music tracks and even watching movies with headphones on was immersive and satisfying.
What was less satisfying is the display. While the brightness, colours and contrast were generally very good, the resolution of 1280 x 800 is lower than we would have liked, and this resolution limit also affected some games which we installed.
Games like Disney Infinity 3.0 and Sonic Dash ended up being unplayable since they didn’t scale properly to fit the display – and these were downloaded from the Windows 10 store, which is puzzling. Why list the game for this device, when it clearly won’t work is our question.
Thankfully, all of the desktop apps we installed including Microsoft Office worked fine, and websites were rendered properly. For games, we believe it will be a hit and miss affair, so make sure to install a trial version first before plonking down cash for any games.
As for connectivity, HP has you covered with a USB Type-C port (which doubles as a power supply port) and a full-sized USB 2.0 connector. This means that while it supports all your USB-based peripherals today, it’s also ready for new accessories that take advantage of the higher transfer speeds of USB Type-C. Also included is a micro HDMI port and an SD card reader.
The grunt and longevity
Powered by Intel’s aging Bay Trail processor, specifically the Atom Z3736F chip running at 1.33GHz, along with 2GB of memory and 64GB of storage, the Pavilion x2 isn’t fitted with the latest and fastest brains, but to be fair most users won’t really feel the difference.
Going by the fact that this device is more an entertainment device rather than a powerful workhorse, the x2 performed well with multimedia, online services, Windows 10 apps and some games supported by the display.
The only exception was with unzipping large files, as that is a more resource-hungry activity.
In fact, the Atom processor here performs far better than most people give it credit for (thanks to netbooks), and our apps and documents all booted up in a heartbeat. Copying and pasting files was lag-free and surprisingly nippy.
Web browsing was speedy and only started to slow down when we opened up more than 20 tabs, along with 10 or so apps running in the background, though this is more of a memory issue than Atom’s performance.
We wholeheartedly believe Windows 10 devices should have at least 4GB of DRAM as a standard in order to actually run smoothly and do all the multi-tasking work that we end up giving it. At least the x2 comes with an adequate 64GB of storage, which is better than some other vendors offering 2GB of RAM and only 32GB of storage.
But make no mistake – this is not a competitor to the Surface 3 Pro or even the Intel Core M-powered Surface 3. Firstly, it’s a lot cheaper than Microsoft’s tablet/notebook hybrids, and secondly the chip that powers the Pavilion x2 are not in the same performance or price class.
HP claims 10 hours 45 minutes based on using the device without wireless turned on and watching videos played from local storage.
As such, using it for a whole day is quite possible as long as you’re willing to turn off wireless connectivity at certain points of the day, and not using the screen at maximum brightness.
At S$549 (US$299), this tablet/notebook hybrid is among the most competitively priced 2-in-1 products you’ll find in the market from a traditional PC maker.
Certainly there are lower-priced models (with the same or slightly better specs) from Chinese vendors like Chuwi or Teclast – but after-sales service is questionable with those brands, especially if they’re not officially sold locally.
The other option would be the Transformer Book T100 from Asus which sports a newer Intel chip based on the Cherry Trail platform at a similar price.
But the latch-less magnetic hinge and funky red plastic design (exclusively from HP’s online store) are features found only on the new HP Pavilion x2, and would likely be a more interesting conversation piece among you and your friends.
If HP utilised a similar design but upgraded the processor, ditched the current speakers for a pair of new better sounding ones, increase the resolution of the display and bump up the memory to 4GB, we would wholeheartedly recommend that product, even if it comes at a slightly higher price.
With the current Pavilion x2 offering, we can only say get it if you’re tempted by an affordable and snazzy looking 2-in-1. Or if you’re a fan of the new HP Inc. Others ought to wait out a while longer for an upgraded model (which will surely come), or dig deeper into your pockets and get a Surface Pro hybrid.
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