Steve Moylan is a roof tiler by trade and also a pretty serious photographer: mainly landscapes, but he also does portrait shoots for family and friends. Steve is one of three winners in our recent HP Split x2 competition. He’s had his new Windows 8 detachable notebook for a week now and this is his road test experience…
I currently have a Sony NEX-5N for photography, Nokia Lumia 920 mobile and an ASUS touch screen laptop. At the time, I had also been looking with interest at the Surface Pro. I wanted a laptop that had all the power and usability of a normal PC/Laptop but in tablet form. The Surface was months away, so I went for something in between. But the Asus just wasn’t how I imagined it. In part, I’ve been disappointed in the quality of the display.
So I was quite excited to try the HP Split x2 because it’s that same concept I was originally after. I can shoot some photos and check them out before I get home, perhaps do a bit of editing and then detach the tablet and pass it around to show my photos to my wife or friends. It also has a couple of extra features that I thought would be a great addition, namely the inbuilt second battery in the keyboard dock, and also the 500GB storage in the same dock.
The features that are most important to me in a hybrid device are the display quality, battery life and performance. Other features would be nice additions but these are the particular things that I think of first.
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
Unboxing is one of my favourite parts of getting a new device. I love to unpack it and look at all the different things included like earphones (which I usually chuck away) and the manual and cords, etc. When I unpacked the HP Split x2, there was hardly anything included. Not to say it should have more, but there was just the Laptop, manual and the charger. I guess the thing is, it is a minimalist kind of device, it doesn’t need anything extra, just grab the device and plug it in.
Just going off size, the device feels heavy, which in turn does make it feel solidly built. Carrying it around with one hand and the lid open might be a bit difficult for some people. Being in a trade where I lift heavy things all the time though — I’m not worried about it at all.
Looking at the left side of the base, the HP split x2 has a USB port, SD Card slot and headphone jack. On the right side it has another USB port, HDMI and the power connector. The bottom of the tablet (usually hidden by the base) has a separate power connection, MicroSD and a separate headphone jack. The back side of the tablet has a volume control and power button, and a mesh strip along the top for thermal venting.
Upon powering up the HP Split x2, it took only moments to reach the windows set-up screen. I have Windows 8 on my laptop so it was not anything new for me, just put in my details and wait for it to configure the new install. Once configured I was met with the familiar start screen of Windows 8.
This model of the HP Split x2 has an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD in the tablet and 500GB in the base. It also has Bluetooth.
Waiting for anything to load is not something you need to do often. I have noticed in Task Manager the processor is listed with "Maximum Speed: 1.5GHz", but I have seen it hang regularly between 1.7-1.9GHz at 30-40% utilization. I’m not entirely sure of how that works; I know that some processors have ‘Turbo Mode’ but I always thought that was for short bursts of overclocking. Regardless, this machine is fast. I have a PC with an AMD X6 1090t and 16GB of RAM with a regular HDD and the Split x2 is faster at loading everything. It obviously doesn’t have the raw power of 6 cores for rendering or exporting loads of files, but what it lacks in that raw power -- it makes up for easily in being snappy. I did a little test on cold boot time. The moment I press the power button to the time I put in my passcode on the login screen is just 7 seconds. From sleeping state it wakes and is ready to use in less than a second.
Detaching and re-attaching the 13.3-inch screen is easy. The first time you do it, it warns you to never do it without first ejecting the storage in the taskbar. You can (as I did) check a box to have it never show you the warning again. Once you have detached it, the little capacitive Windows button in the bottom-middle lights up and you are able to use it to get back to the start screen. To reattach, you simply slide it back onto the two prongs and push it down while the magnetic hinge clamps back across to secure the screen once more. Sometimes if you only slowly push it in, the lever only goes across about 3/4 of the way, but if you give it a solid push it will click in and the lever will slide right across.
The display happens to be the same 1366x768 resolution as my other laptop. But the colours and viewing angle are much better on the HP Split x2. For a display this size, and given the better colours, I am not too disappointed with it. Sure, a 1920x1080 res. would be awesome, but then you would need to tack more money onto the price to be able to get something like that. For its price point, given the other components, I think the display is not bad but not special either. For my mind, the anti-glare screen is not really something I'd want to use outdoors very often as it suffers from major reflections. If it could go brighter, maybe it would pass but I won't be using it outdoors unless the sun was on its way down.
The touchscreen is responsive. I put the 5 fingers of one hand on the screen at once and it recognized them simultaneously. No lag. Accurate.
Importantly, the keyboard is quite easy to use. The keys press with a soft click. An interesting thing is that the ‘F-keys’ that have second functions actually work as the marked functions until you press the separate ‘fn’ key on the bottom left. For example, to rename a file you need to press fn + f2 otherwise you end up turning the brightness down. I’ve not decided whether I like it or not. Perhaps there is a way to switch back to the normal way but I haven’t been inconvenienced enough to care, as it's so easy to adjust brightness and volume how it is. The track pad feels nice to use, and buttons press with a pleasant click.
Sound And Camera
I often hear about Beats Audio. People wearing the headphones and thinking they are awesome and other companies like HTC and HP incorporating it into their devices. I had listened to some music with a pair of headphones from a friend when they had newly come out and just wasn't impressed at all. Flat and over the top bass; I never liked them from then on. I was wanting and hoping for my opinion to be swayed when I plugged my Klipsch Image S4’s into the headphone jack of the Split x2 and put on Dream Theater’s new album to put it through its paces. Sound quality was actually a lot worse than I expected. There’s a little Beats control panel where you can change settings. I messed with the Graphic EQ and come to a compromise, but was still unimpressed. I usually listen to music on my phone so it’s not a major issue for me. The sound quality will pass if I ever want to watch a movie or something on it but if you are planning on using your hybrid device to listen to music a lot, you may be disappointed.
The speakers aren’t a whole lot better, but I haven’t ever heard a good set of speakers on a laptop or tablet. The sound that they produce is fairly tinny but then while attached to the keyboard dock the mid-range is over the top. When detached and in tablet form, it loses that over-the-top mid-range and sounds reasonably good for a portable device. The speakers do not get a lot of volume on them, in fact my phone’s speakers are louder. I think if there is one thing HP needs to seriously take a look at on this device -- it is at the sound.
The front facing camera does its job, not really good for anything but webcam chats -- as expected.
Battery Life And Performance
Battery life is excellent, especially when the blazing performance is taken into account, under constant use it easily lasted me 5-6 hours. As a comparison, it's been lasting me roughly twice as long as my laptop, and is more snappy in performance, so I think they have done very well with the dual batteries.
Out of curiosity, I did a quick little test of ‘raw power’ and converted a video file on my 6 Core CPU PC and then the same file with same application and settings on the HP Split x2. It was a 133Mb H.264 File. Converting to the same format but from 1080p down to 720p. On My PC it took 1m17s while on the HP it took 4m31s. It's not surprising at all that my PC was faster; the PC has an extra 4 cores and quite a higher clock rate. However, the X6 1090t has a TDP rating of 125W and the processor in the HP Split X2 has a TDP rating of 13W. So when looking at the performance compared to power and heat exertion, the Intel Core i5 CPU in the HP is excellent. I will put it through its paces as a mobile photo editing machine a bit later.
I wanted to see how the device performed under a bit of heavy use. I had previously recoded some video and wanted to put it together and match up recorded audio, etc. So I opened up Sony Vegas 12 and put it all together. When I had finished, I rendered the file. I had taken 2 hours and 11 minutes in total, while 1 hour and 3 minutes was spent rendering. In this time (and rendering isn’t just heavy it is extreme heavy use) it used exactly half the battery. While rendering, I was still able to do bits and pieces but did notice that it wasn’t quite as responsive. It wasn’t a surprise that it had slowed but it was still entirely useable. The device was OK for putting the footage together but it isn’t something you really want to use for rendering. Just a bit too slow.
Using it for editing photos is OK. As mentioned, I'd like a higher resolution to see more of the photo while still having all the tools around it. As is, it's definitely useable, though, especially if you just want to do a few touch-ups. The Split x2 has plenty of RAM to have Photoshop and Lightroom open at the same time if needed.
Should You Buy It?
There are a few hybrid devices out there but the HP Split x2 seems, to me, to have the best concept. It just works so seamlessly. It isn’t designed for heavy editing purposes so it doesn’t have raw computational power, but it does have all the performance you would ever need in the target audience.
It would be perfect for a student or business professional -- fast to start up, fast at loading applications; doesn’t interfere with your workflow. Detach it into tablet form and sit around on your couch for study, play a casual game, check the news, watch YouTube, check Gizmodo.
Excellent for basically anyone that would want a laptop for anything but rendering or gaming. It’s just a really good idea. The fact too that when it is a tablet, it isn’t just the lame Windows RT, it has the fully fledged Windows 8 OS.
My wish list of changes to be made (at a cost I’m sure): 1920x1080 IPS Display, better sound, Core i7, and maybe an upgrade from the Intel HD4000 graphics chip. With these additions, this would be such an amazing device. Absolutely perfect for editing photos and video.
Pros: Excellent snappy performance and short boot/wake times, exceptional battery life, doubling as a tablet is very handy and works seamlessly, small and portable.
Cons: Audio is average, display could be better, would be nice if the hinge opened with one hand.
All said and done, if I had paid for this device, I would be completely happy that my money had been well spent. I’m so glad I won this prize and it will get plenty of use!