HP Elite X2 1012 review: not just another Surface Pro clone

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HP Elite X2 1012 review: not just another Surface Pro clone
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This hybrid laptop hits the mark with business-friendly features.

Hybrid laptops have risen to become a popular fixture of the PC landscape, thanks in no small part to Microsoft's excellent Surface Pro range, which proved that 2-in-1s can be both portable and powerful.

You may be tempted to think that HP's Elite X2 1012 is just another Surface Pro knock-off, given the similarities between the two devices. Look under the surface, however, and you'll find a machine that's more than worthy of any professional's time.

Design

The design of Microsoft's Surface Pro range has inspired many copycat devices over the past few years, and HP's Elite X2 1012 is one of them. Like the Surface Pro, it has a detachable metal keyboard and a fold-out kickstand to turn it from a tablet to a laptop and back again.

Surface Pro clones don't always offer the same rewarding experience as Microsoft's original tablet, but thankfully one of the things that HP has borrowed from Microsoft is a sleek and professional design sensibility. It's built from aluminium with a matte finish, and shares the Surface Pro's attractive and streamlined look, with a casing that also promises sturdiness and reliability.

As with all of its enterprise-grade machines, HP has put those promises of build quality to the test. The Elite X2 has been put through a huge range of trials to ensure that it can withstand a creditable amount of punishment; the kickstand can be opened and shut ten thousand times, the keyboard has been rated for ten million keystrokes and the device itself has been drop-tested from a height of more than half a metre onto concrete.

At 820g heavy minus the keyboard, it's a touch bulkier than the most recent Surface Pro. However, it's still far from unwieldy, and it's absolutely no trouble to cart around for the duration of a working day. In fact, it's even a touch thinner, at 8.2mm.

The biggest aesthetic difference between the Elite X2 and the Surface Pro is that the X2 uses a cut-out frame for its kickstand, rather than the full plate version used by Microsoft. While this could be slightly more versatile than the Surface Pro, we'd worry that it doesn't offer the same stability and structural integrity as a full plate version, and that it'd break more easily.

HP does have an ace up its sleeve, though, and that's user upgradeability. Pop out a couple of screws and you can get at the internal hardware, allowing you to replace components like the RAM, storage and screen.

This is a real selling-point for more technical users or businesses with laptop fleets – many manufacturers don't make it easy to access the internal workings of their hardware, and if you need to send a machine back to the manufacturer every time an individual component fails, that can quickly become expensive. It's much cheaper to do simple component changes yourself – or have them done by your in-house IT team.

Display

Unsurprisingly, the Elite X2's 12.3in screen is another high point; HP generally has a good reputation with regards to its display technology, and that reputation is upheld here. The colour accuracy was very good indeed, covering a whopping 91.5% of the sRGB colour spectrum, and the maximum brightness of 388cd/m2 and 2736 x 1824-pixel display resolution are similarly hard to fault. It's made from Gorilla Glass 4 too, so you can be confident that it won't shatter easily.

If there's one fault with the screen, it's that it doesn't feature any form of matte anti-glare coating. This feature has been cropping up on more and more laptops, and it makes working under tricky lighting conditions much more manageable. However, given that we've yet to see an anti-glare coating combined with Corning's excellent Gorilla Glass, we're happy to make a minor compromise on convenience for the sake of strength and stability.

Keyboard

You'd be forgiven for thinking that HP would struggle to match up to the exceptionally high standards set by Microsoft's TypeCover keyboards, but you'd be wrong. The Elite X2's folio keyboard is an absolute delight to use.

The aluminium keyboard frame ensures that the keyboard is solid and stable while you're typing, with the added benefit that it adds an air of sophisticated professionalism that Microsoft's colourful keyboards sometimes lack.

The actual typing action is lovely too, offering crisp, defined feedback and an impressive travel depth, considering the relative slimness of the keyboard. Rattling off long passages of text using the X2's keyboard is an absolute breeze, and although we very slightly prefer the Surface Pro's keyboard, there really isn't that much in it.

It uses magnetic detachment, as is pretty much standard for this type of hybrid, and slots home with a satisfying thunk. The trackpad is nice too. It's not quite as large as we would have liked, but it's smooth, fluid and supports multitouch gestures.

In addition to the usual input methods, the X2 also supports HP's Active Pen, which costs $109 or is bundled with some models. It's not quite as polished an experience as rival styluses like Microsoft's Surface Pen or the Apple Pencil, but writing with it feels fluid and natural enough to cope with basic drawing or note-taking, if not detailed artistic tasks.

Next: performance, battery life, features, pricing and verdict

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