HP Elite X2 review (hands on): HP’s homage to the Surface Pro 4 gets it bang on

HP takes on Microsoft with its take on the Surface Pro 4, creating a practical, desirable hybrid in the process

19 Nov 2015

Microsoft’s Surface Pro range of tablets has been so successful recently that even Apple has attempted to copy the recipe. The most successful alternative, however, might well come from a completely different quarter: HP and its newly announced Elite X2.

Now, HP may not have the brand cachet of Apple or Microsoft, but it has recently upped its game when it come to producing desirable laptops. Our very own Sasha Muller was quite taken with the HP EliteBook 1020 when he reviewed it earlier in the year. He said it was “as refined and desirable as a MacBook”; the Elite X2 applies the same design nous to a Surface Pro-style “detachable”.


HP Elite X2 review: Design

I say Surface Pro-style; in fact, I should probably say Surface Pro-copy, because there’s more than a passing resemblance between the two.

Just like the Surface Pro 4, the HP Elite X2 is made up of two parts: tablet and slimline detachable keyboard. The tablet is slim and light, measuring 8mm from glass to rear (that’s slimmer than the Surface Pro 4, incidentally); it weighs 840g, and has, just like Microsoft’s hybrid, a hinged kickstand built into the rear of the tablet.

The X2 has a keyboard that attaches magnetically to a docking port on the bottom edge of the tablet, and (you guessed it) just like the Surface Pro, this can be tilted up for a more comfortable typing angle by folding it along a seam near its top edge and snapping it magnetically to the X2’s lower bezel.

The similarities to Microsoft’s hybrid are uncanny, even down to the X2’s angled bottom edge. Fortunately for HP, the X2 isn’t entirely identical to the Surface Pro 4. Indeed, in some respects, it’s better. You’ll already have seen that it’s both slimmer and lighter - at least the tablet part is - but there are other ways in which the X2 is superior.

A close look at the edges of the tablet reveal, for instance, a greater array of connections. There’s a full-sized USB 3 socket on the right edge, accompanied by a USB Type-C (primarily intended for docking station connection). On the left below the power and volume buttons, you’ll find a SIM card slot, betraying the presence of an integrated 4G modem, and there’s even a Kensington lock slot.

Yes, I know, the latter isn’t strictly speaking part of the device’s connectivity, but it is nonetheless important for those who leave their laptops on their desks overnight. And it’s another feature the Surface Pro 4 doesn’t have.


HP Elite X2 review: Keyboard

The other thing Microsoft’s hybrid doesn’t have is a keyboard as good as the HP’s.

Yep, you read that right.

Although the Type Cover is vastly improved this year, HP has really pushed the boat out with the Elite X2’s, backing the keys with a sturdy aluminium plate and borrowing the mechanics, lock stock and two smoking barrels, from the firm’s flagship ultraportable laptop - the HP EliteBook 1020.

And it’s absolutely brilliant. The key action is crisp, the keys are well spaced and backlit, and - most importantly - it doesn’t feel like you’re typing on a shoebox when the keyboard is tilted up at an angle. This is a keyboard you’ll be able to comfortably tap away at all day; it’s a remarkable achievement by HP’s engineers.

Fortunately, the X2 hasn’t borrowed the EliteBook’s weird haptic touchpad, instead preferring a mechanical clicker. This is surprisingly large and when I used it (all too briefly at the demo) it seemed to work well. Prolonged use might raise some niggles but, ergonomically speaking, it looks as if the HP Elite X2 has it nailed here.


HP Elite X2 review: Business-friendly features

Since this is a Surface killer aimed at high-flying executives, the Elite X2 has its share of business features, too.

There’s a fingerprint reader mounted on the rear of the tablet and WiGig inside for wireless docking. HP includes its BIOSphere and SureStart features, technologies that deliver greater boot-time security than standard, off-the-shelf BIOSes, plus control over security-sensitive features such as the ability to lock down the tablet’s USB ports.

And, when things go wrong, it’s also possible for IT staff to open up the tablet and replace key components. The screen and hard disk can be swapped out in this way, potentially saving on the cost of replacing the whole unit.


HP Elite X2 review: Display and pen

The one big disappointment with the HP Elite X2 is the 12in touchscreen display. I can’t yet vouch for its quality, since I’ve not tested it or sat it right next to a Surface Pro 4, but it certainly can’t compete with the Surface on pixel count: it’s only a 1,920 x 1,280 compared with the Surface Pro 4’s 2,736 x 1,824.

It is, however, topped with tough Gorilla Glass 4, and it also has an integrated digitiser, just like the Surface, with a pressure-sensitive, Wacom-developed stylus bundled along with the tablet. This has a similar look and feel to Microsoft’s Surface Pen (there’s a shock), boasts two buttons on the barrel and has a shortcut button on the top that’s customisable, so you can launch whichever app you fancy.

 

HP Elite X2 review: Verdict

It may be a slightly shameless copy, but so far I rather like what I’ve seen of the HP Elite X2. It takes the Microsoft Surface recipe, refines it with an even better keyboard, and adds in some truly useful business features such as in-house repairability, improved security features and a Kensington lock slot.

It isn’t even more expensive than the Surface Pro 4, with the entry-level Core m3 version (it also comes in m5 and m7 variants) costing £749 inc VAT and the keyboard a £109 extra.

Alas, the Elite X2 won’t be available in the UK until the new year, but when it does arrive, rest assured we’ll be calling one in for review. The battle for best detachable hybrid is really hotting up.

See also: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

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