HP Elite X2 is a well-made hybrid tablet with a difference – it's easy to repair.
A Windows tablet with a detachable keyboard, kickstand, stylus and a 12-inch display, HP’s Elite x2 is designed to take on the Microsoft Surface Pro at its own game.
It’s not the only Surface competitor, of course, but HP is hoping to distinguish its effort by offering something last seen in the 1990s: the ace up the Elite x2's sleeve is its repairability.
Unscrew the rear panel (via a series of Torx screws beneath the kickstand at the rear), and it's possible to remove and replace the screen, hard disk and memory, something that's impossible to do easily or quickly on a consumer device such as the Surface Pro.
This is a potential boon for businesses that buy such devices in bulk. Not having to replace a device or send it back to the manufacturer every time a single component goes pop could save hundreds or thousands of dollars over the lifecycle of a product such as this.
The big question is though: is the HP Elite x2 a decent Surface Pro 4 replacement? Or is it just another also-ran?
Tablet and specifications
Let's take a look at the design for a moment. Just like other Surface Pro 4 rivals before it, the Elite x2 consists of a tablet part, in which all the core components reside – the processor, RAM, storage and battery – and a keyboard cover that attaches to the spine of the tablet magnetically.
The tablet is nicely designed and has more than a few similarities with HP's consumer-grade HP Spectre x2 tablet.
The chassis is constructed from a robust-feeling matte-finish aluminium that feels silky under the finger. There's a glossy black strip running along the top edge at the rear that houses the rear camera module and flash, and the whole thing is pleasingly attractive.
It's slightly heavier and thicker than the Surface Pro 4, but it's close enough to hold its own and, if anything, build quality favours the HP device. The kickstand at the rear has a built-to-last feel to it, supporting the tablet at angles ranging from near-vertical to almost flat, and it feels more sturdy than the Surface Pro 4's flat blade.
Just like the Surface Pro 4, this HP has tough Gorilla Glass on the front: the top-spec 1,920 x 1,280 model I have here gets Gorilla Glass 4, while the cheaper 11.6in, 1,366 x 768 and 1,920 x 1080 options get Gorilla Glass 3.
Plus, being an HP business machine, the Elite x2 has been put through a battery of reliability torture tests. HP says the kickstand has been tested through 10,000 cycles, the unit has been drop-tested from a height of 91cm onto wood and 51cm onto concrete, and the keyboard has been designed to withstand ten million keystrokes.
The Elite x2 is also quite practical for a tablet-based 2-in-1, with both full-fat USB Type-C and standard USB 3 ports on the right edge, a 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD and micro-SIM trays. Stereo speakers sensibly adorn the top edge and there's a Kensington lock slot on the left edge, too. There's plenty to like here.
HP's detachable Travel Keyboard is also similar in many ways to Microsoft's Type Cover. It clamps to the bottom spine of the tablet firmly, and has a pleat along its top edge so you can prop it up at an angle when you're typing. And it's at least as good to type on as the Surface Pro 4, if not more so.
What HP has done here is to transplant the keyboard – key-tops, switches and all – directly from the Elitebook Folio 1020, backing it with a four-layer aluminium panel in the process. The result is typing ecstasy, with a key action that's softly cushioned and yet has plenty of positive feedback, while the metal support tray provides a good solid base even with the keyboard tilted up. True, there's still a touch of that shoebox feel, but it's nowhere near as pronounced as on the Surface Pro 4.
What isn't all that different is the lack of, for want of a better word, ‘lappability’. This is something that affects all 2-in-1 detachables to a greater or lesser extent, and the HP Elite x2 is similarly afflicted. It doesn't feel particularly stable on your lap, and those with short thighs won't get on with it at all. At least typing isn't too uncomfortable, though, aided by that thick aluminium keyboard base.
And then there's the active stylus that, as usual, the manufacturer has found no room for in the chassis. Instead, there's a small self-adhesive loop in the box that you can use to mount it to the chassis or keyboard. However, the pen itself is nicely weighted and built, and has a pleasantly pliant feel on the screen.
All of which makes it disappointing that HP hasn't managed to squeeze in a decent-quality screen. It's not the size or resolution of the screen that’s the problem. While it's true that the HP's 12-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 display is smaller than the Surface Pro 4's and considerably less sharp, for the most part, you're not going to notice these differences unless you look really, really close.
However, it’s not the best quality screen according to our testing. Brightness and contrast were decent enough, but colour accuracy and its range of sRGB colours were disappointing. Compared side by side with the Surface Pro 4, the Microsoft device is clearly superior. Colours pop off the screen with more vibrancy and liveliness and contrast is clearly better. On the HP, images take on a blue-ish green tinge.
Performance and battery life
That's not the only problem. The Elite x2 1012 isn't available with the same broad range of processors as Microsoft's hybrid. While the Surface Pro 4 starts with the lowly Intel Core m3, its higher end models feature Core i5 and i7 processors. The Elite x2’s top two models, however, include the slower Core m5 and m7 chips.
We tested the Core m7-6Y75 model with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB NVMe Samsung solid state drive, and for most tasks, this lineup is perfectly decent. It feels nippy and responsive, no doubt aided by the SSD which produced very quick sequential read and write speeds in our testing.
Push the performance with more demanding tasks, however, and it's clear which tablet comes out on top. In our 4K benchmarks – which included high-resolution image transcoding, 4K video encoding and both tasks running concurrently – the Elite x2 was 23% slower than the mid-range Surface Pro 4 with Core i5-6200U chip.
You don't even get the compensation of improved stamina. In our video-rundown battery test, the Elite x2 lasted 6 hours 14 minutes, while the Surface Pro 4 lasted 7 hours 40 minutes.
On the plus side, those Core m processors are all vPro models with hardware-enhanced security, which will please IT managers, as will Trusted Platform Module (TPM) support and the fingerprint reader at the rear of the tablet.
You can see where HP is coming from with the Elite x2. By offering a more robust, manageable and repairable hybrid, it's making both IT managers and end users happy. And, yes, the HP Elite x2 is a very usable 2-in-1 hybrid. If we were given one of these as work machines we'd be perfectly happy.
It's also competitively priced. Starting at $1,661, the Elite x2 includes the keyboard – unlike the Surface Pro. The model we tested comes in at $2,541, which is a little cheaper than the equivalent Core i7-powered Surface Pro 4 with Type Cover.
Ultimately, however, the Elite x2 isn't what we were hoping for: a better device than the Surface Pro 4. In some ways it's brilliant. The keyboard and build quality outdo its rival, and it's a touch more practical too.
Unfortunately, those advantages are undermined by the Elite x2’s subpar display and its slower top-end models.