HP designed its 12-inch Elite x2 convertible tablet with notebook-class ruggedness in mind, and it largely succeeds. But while it offers seriously solid competition for the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, a few features fall short of the bar.
Unlike Microsoft’s Surface Book, which emerged after several generations of Surface tablets, the Elite x2 evolved from HP’s notebook line as well as its more consumer-focused predecessor, last year’s Spectre x2 convertible tablet. Buy an Elite x2, and you’ll probably be pleased with the stability of the keyboard, the integrated Windows Hello fingerprint sensor, and the superb trackpad. Just be wary of using it on your lap: The magnets holding the tablet in place seem weaker than their competition, potentially allowing the x2 to tumble to the ground.
That’s OK, however, because HP says the Elite x2 can withstand a 36-inch drop onto a wooden floor. My wife accidentally tested that claim, knocking it off a low 24-inch table onto thin carpet without a scratch. Even a Wide World of Sports crash will just necessitate sending the x2 to your IT department. HP expressly designed the x2 to allow access to its innards for upgrades, or component replacement, including the screen.
The SUV of convertible tablets
Though Microsoft’s Surface series is often considered to be the premium, priciest tablet option, Microsoft’s Core m3 version of the Surface Pro 4 costs just $899, with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. (You’ll need to buy the $130 Type Cover, too.) HP, however, chose to architect what might be called a premium budget tablet: The $1,399 Elite x2 version we tested houses a 1.1GHz Core m5-6Y54 chip inside (with Core m3 and Core m7 options), a slightly less powerful alternative to the Core i3, i5, and i7 chips found in the upper-echelon Surface machines.
Still, the Elite x2 blows away the SP4 with low-power DDR3-1866 memory options up to 8GB, plus SSD storage up to 512GB using either a SATA or even a PCI Express interface. Furthermore, it supports Intel’s vPro technology, giving IT administrators access to a suite of manageability technologies and justifying that premium price to corporate bean-counters. The keyboard is included in the price of the tablet, too.
The Elite x2 measures 11.8 x 8.4 x 0.3 inches, widening to 0.6-inch thick with its keyboard connected. All that stability translates into more weight, however: With its keyboard, the Elite x2 tipped the scale at 2.64 pounds, slightly more than the Surface Pro 4 (2.4 pounds) and the Lenovo X1 Tablet (2.28 pounds). The charger adds another 0.56 pounds, for a total of 3.2 pounds.
Out of the box and ready to go…
Out of the box, the Elite x2 convinces you that it means business. The busy keyboard is covered with LEDs and multiple key functions, a visual break from the minimalistic Spectre x2. Unlike the Surface Pro 4 or Lenovo ThinkPad X1, HP coated the top of the keyboard in aluminum, though underneath lies the familiar quasi-fabric of the competition. Add to that the rugged metal kickstand, and the overall impression is that the tablet will hold up to repeated use.
One of the features that distinguishes the convertible tablet is the kickstand. The Elite x2’s metal kickstand swings out from the midpoint of the tablet on a hinge, freely reclining the entire tablet to a maximum of about 40 degrees. Resting the pointy end of a kickstand on your thighs still isn’t particularly comfortable, though the slightly chamfered edges are thick enough to avoid the picnic-knife edge of the Surface tablets.
Three features sell the Elite x2’s keyboard. First, a series of small rubber bumpers serve as resting points for the screen, protecting it when folded down. Second, the Elite x2’s trackpad is superb, providing both a glassy smooth surface and a satisfying click. Finally, HP slipped in a numeric keypad for data entry. You’ll need to turn on the Numlock key, though, which dedicates the existing “U I O” keys, as well as those above and below, for number-pad duty.
Tablets like the Elite x2, the Surface Pro 4, and others generally have two points of magnetic contact: a shorter strip that houses the electrical connections between the keyboard and the tablet, as well as a secondary magnetic hinge that folds back from the keyboard, against the tablet.
As I work, what usually happens is that I unconsciously inch the notebook or tablet farther and farther out, until it begins to teeter. If it falls, look out! But that’s how I tested the Elite x2 against the Surface Pro 4: I eased each back to the end of my legs, until they toppled over onto a pillow. (We hope to show this in a future video.)
The differences were clear: With the Surface Pro 4, the magnetic strip held just enough to prevent the tablet from falling. The Elite x2, on the other hand, plunged time after time. (Naturally, shoving the tablet harder added momentum, and the SP4 would fall as well.) To be fair, though, it looks like the Surface Pro 4 was simply built with this risk in mind. The Lenovo X1 Tablet flopped as easily as the HP Elite x2.
Fortunately, HP almost challenges you to test the Elite x2’s durability. The Elite x2 is rated to survive drops from as high as 36 inches onto a wooden floor, and 20 inches on concrete. Gorilla Glass 4 helps protect the 12-inch FHD LED-lit 1920×1280 screen. That’s a slightly smaller screen than the 2736×1824 Surface Pro 4, but it pushes fewer pixels than either the SP4 or the 2160×1440, 12-inch Lenovo X1 and Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S. The massive screen bezel helps, too.
Pen, peripherals, and connectivity
Though the Elite x2 lacks what many equate with Windows Hello—facial recognition—HP added a fingerprint reader on the rear of the tablet. Setting up and using fingerprint recognition mimics Hello’s facial identification: Pick a finger, swipe it over the reader several times to establish a good reference image, and you’re good to go. Though you can’t actually see the reader without peering behind the tablet, the sensor’s ridges are easy to detect. So far, the whole setup worked perfectly, except for one occasion where it simply could not read my fingerprint. I defaulted to my Windows password instead.
The other feature that distinguishes the convertible tablet from today’s notebooks is the pen or stylus, which the Elite x2 includes. But tablet makers treat the pen like a gawky teenager treats his hands: They’re never sure where to put them, exactly.
HP’s solution is to supply a user-installable string loop. which literally ties the pen to the tablet itself. That helps keep the pen from wandering off while in a briefcase. On a desk, though, it’s like the proverbial note pinned to a child’s shirt to ensure it doesn’t get lost.
Otherwise, the pen is fairly standard, with “select” and “erase” buttons as well as a “eraser” button that doesn’t actually erase; it just launches OneNote. Inside is a AAAA battery. If you’re a digital artist, you’ll like the fact that the Wacom digitizer boasts 2,048 levels of pressure, double that of the Surface Pro 4. To me and the average office user, however, that’s an abstract number with no real value.