Peter Coffey is a primary school teacher in a rural Victorian town, switching to the classroom after 20 years as an IT/telecommunications specialist. He's also one of three winners in our recent HP Split x2 competition. Steve has had his new Windows 8 detachable notebook for a week now and this is his road test experience...
Being in the classroom, I'm seeing the rapid adoption of touch technologies; students use iPads and iPods to create videos, play educational games and record narrations. Schools are also full of desktop computers running Windows XP and 7.
How would a merger of touch and raw computing work? I certainly have use-cases for a hybrid system: present content on the electronic whiteboard to the whole class, then use in tablet form for one-to-one instruction.
I was excited to try out the Split x2 and see if it met my needs.
The HP Split x2 has a detachable 13.3-inch touchscreen so it's ideal for work as a notebook or kicking back on the couch as a tablet.
The big news: The Windows 8 install is powered by third-gen Intel® Core™ processors equipped coupled with 8GB of RAM. The tablet features a 128GB solid state drive and there's a further 500GB storage in the keyboard base. In this same way, you also get dual batteries.
HP Split x2: Getting Started
With the box delivered to work, I am immediately impressed with the size and lightness of the packaging. Thumbs-up to HP for minimising bulk and waste. The contents are minimal: laptop, AC power adapter and a couple of thin manuals.
First impressions are of a high quality build and understated elegance. The external case is brushed metal with a large “HP” logo and small lettering. Opened up, the screen has a black bevel with a small “Beats Audio” lettering on the top right. The keyboard is black chiclet-style with white lettering. This is a dark and serious looking laptop/tablet hybrid.
The Split x2 is a heavier than I expected. This is probably due to the inclusion of a mechanical 500GB HDD and second battery in the keyboard base.
I expected a hefty lever to dock and undock the screen from the keyboard; instead there is a small switch near the hinge. Slide the switch and the screen can be lifted up and separated from the keyboard. Two struts on the keyboard ensure a secure fit. I feel that this docking mechanism would provide excellent durability with a snug fit. It is very easy to dock and re-dock.
The power switch is on the outside top of the case, the laptop springs to life and I sign on and connect to the wireless at home. Setup only takes about 15 minutes and Windows Update goes to work in the background.
I have used Windows 8 only briefly on occasion, and never on a touch laptop. It is frankly confusing at first; a split personality melding of colourful icons and traditional windows. I struggle with simple tasks such as changing the time and setting up a secondary screen. I sure miss the old Control Panel!
My next task is to set up the utilities and applications that I use regularly. I manually download Dropbox, Evernote, Lightroom and Wunderlist and run the installers. Everything is good so far, a very traditional experience.
Next is Microsoft Office. The installation is surprisingly quick, completing in about 10 minutes. No more swapping of disks and watching the progress bar creep along.
Over the next day I quickly get the hang of what can be done in the new touch UI and what requires the legacy Windows UI. Microsoft Office 2013 is very similar to the earlier releases I use regularly. One nice feature is the ability to optimise the menus for touch; more white space between the ribbon icons and menu selections. The frustration comes from issues with Windows 8 rather than the laptop. One application will run in the modern interface, another will be selected from the tiles then pop to life in the classic interface.
Using The HP Split x2 During Travel
During my time to review the HP Split x2, we are having a holiday in Perth. Flying Qantas economy on an Airbus A330-200, there is plenty of room on the tray table to use the laptop effectively. Having flown regularly in my previous IT roles, a smaller 13-inch system is in my opinion the sweet-spot size for use in-flight. There is no cramping and I feel the Split x2 is an excellent option for the air warrior. One minor irritation: when typing, the tray table bounces slightly and this movement is exaggerated by the hinge and screen support. The screen wobbles a little but you get used to this after a short while.
Folding up the tray and using as a laptop in your lap, the screen can be adjusted back to about 45 degrees, sufficient for use in most locations. Because of the hinge design I immediately notice the rear support resting on my legs. It would not be comfortable to type like this for extended periods.
The screen is bright and crisp. Like all modern laptops, it has a glossy reflective finish. There is sufficient brightness control from the backlighting to overcome the glare from the window. The screen is very readable.
The chiclet keyboard and track pad are excellent. There doesn’t feel like any compromise of quality or fit here, other than the column of “page/up/home/end” buttons to the left of the enter key that leads to some mistyping. The track pad is good, once I get used to the new edge-swipe feature that switches between open applications.
Removing the screen from the keyboard dock, I am greeted with a warning message “Unsafe disconnect from Docking Station”. Hopefully this is a minor warning rather than a sign of future catastrophic failure.
Using the Split x2 in tablet form, the on-screen keyboard is very responsive and registered all touches. With a keyboard spacing similar to a physical keyboard it didn’t take long to become accustomed to the key layout. Being an intermediate touch-typist, I found I was able to type reasonably quickly. In your lap, it would benefit from a shallow stand to raise the screen 15-20 degrees or so.
In tablet mode, I try a few games to fill the time on the 4-hour flight. The “Microsoft windows” icon on the bottom of the screen glows and transforms in to a “home” button. The screen is very responsive to swipes and gestures, certainly the equivalent of all the other touch devices in vogue.
Now here is a standout use of the Split x2: two-player Monopoly on the plane. With more screen real estate than an iPad, it is a natural fit for tabletop gaming. My wife and I are soon swiping and tapping, engrossed in buying and selling properties.
Travelling on public transport, I use just the tablet to read a book with the Kindle app. In portrait mode it is longer than an iPad and a fair bit heftier. Two hands are needed to hold and use the touchscreen. If feels unwieldy as a portable device after using smartphones and an iPad.
There are few interface options when used solo. No USB, just a headphone jack, micro-SD slot and charging socket along the bottom edge. I am not sure how useable this would be for long trips without its keyboard dock.
Outdoors, the reflective screen is practically unreadable in strong light. I compared it to an iPad 2 and both were similar in performance. Find some shade if you want to use it outside.
In The Classroom
With school holidays in full swing, I do not have the opportunity to use the Split x2 in the classroom. As a close facsimile, I set up the laptop with an external monitor via HDMI. I am interested in how the laptop will handle a rapid to-and-fro between desktop and tablet mode. This is a fantastic experience!
Just undock and walk around with the tablet, re-dock and within about 5 seconds the external screen syncs back and is working perfectly. I am impressed. This would be perfect for a roaming teacher to switch between whole-class and personalised teaching.
Sound And Battery Life
Battery life is about 4 hours usage with just the tablet. A second battery in the keyboard doubles this time to around 7-8 hours use. I didn’t find I had to charge the laptop during day-to-day use. It would last the average user a full day of consistent work.
I have loaded a couple of movies on to the internal SSD and can watch then in full-screen glory with headphones. Sound is pretty good; I can’t really tell if the Beats Audio collaboration adds any special quality to the sound. Visually, colours appear bright but accurate. The wide screen fits the movies nicely.
Should You Buy It?
My final thoughts are that this is a quality laptop/tablet hybrid that in certain use-cases would be an ideal all-in-one. The key point for this device seems to be that it is a fully-fledged computer running Windows 8 and capable of power use, not a cut-down Windows RT or tablet that is your secondary device.
I would be very confident in using the Split x2 as my only computer. I quickly adapted to switching between tablet and laptop modes, it ended up feeling very natural to choose the form factor that suited the task at hand. At no time did it feel like I lacked power or performance.
For travel and lightweight use an iPad and Bluetooth keyboard may be more appropriate if you can sacrifice performance. For static use a lighter laptop may save you 500 grams in weight. But if you want both tablet and laptop then the HP Split x2 would serve you admirably.
The killer use-case in my mind is any collaborative work where you need to switch quickly between tablet and laptop modes. I can see that this would be fantastic for education, documentation and tech demos.
I will certainly be considering using it within the classroom.