HP's Elite x2 is even better than Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 for work. The 2-in-1 system includes a 12-inch tablet that snaps on to a detachable keyboard. Like the Surface Pro 4, it comes with an active stylus, making the Elite x2 an excellent note-taking tool. Plus, it packs better security and durability credentials than Microsoft's tablet. I wish it lasted longer on a charge, but overall, this is the best hybrid detachable 2-in-1 you can buy for work.
Like Microsoft's Surface Pro 4, HP's Elite x2 features a handy flip-out kickstand that props up the tablet while you type. That's also useful for positioning the device at a comfortable angle when you're writing on the screen with the included stylus — but more on that later. The aluminum kickstand folds out easily and provides a sturdy base for the tablet on just about any surface.
As with the Surface, the downside is that balancing a kickstand on your knees can feel awkward when you want to use the Elite x2 on your lap. Workers who plan to do a lot of lap typing might be better off with a more traditional laptop.
On the other hand, not many traditional laptops can match the Elite x2's portable design. The system measures 11.8 x 8.4 x 0.5 inches and weighs just 2.65 lbs. with the keyboard attached. On the other hand, that's actually slightly larger and heftier than the Surface Pro 4 (11.5 x 7.93 x 0.43 inches and 2.37 lbs.), and about on a par with Dell's XPS 13 (12 x 7.9 x 0.33-0.6 inches and 2.7 lbs.).
Given the Elite x2's svelte profile, it's no surprise that the laptop provides only the bare minimum for ports. Those ports include a microSD card slot for expanding the system's 256GB of internal storage and one USB 3.0 port for plugging in peripherals. You also get a USB Type-C port, which comes in handy for transferring data quickly and attaching newer accessories. The inclusion of the USB Type-C port is a nice perk; you won't find it on many rival systems, such as the Surface Pro 4.
Durability and security
The Elite x2 may look a lot like the Surface, but it's actually a lot tougher than Microsoft's slate. HP says the Elite x2 was built to MIL-STD-810G standards, which means it was tested to withstand dings, extreme temperatures, dust, humidity and even short drops. That's a plus for workers who need to lug it back and forth between home and the office.
The x2's excellent security credentials will please independent workers and IT departments alike. Security features include a rear-mounted fingerprint reader that lets you access your desktop without fussing with a password screen every time you turn on the system. The Surface Pro 4, in comparison, only has a fingerprint reader if you shell out for the optional Fingerprint ID keyboard, which costs a steep $160 — $30 more than the standard keyboard. Having a reader built into the Elite x2's hardware is much more convenient, not to mention more affordable.
You also get Trusted Platform Module-based hardware encryption to keep your private work files safe — a feature that's also on the Surface Pro 4. But unlike the Surface, the Elite x2 comes with Intel vPro functionality, which allows the system to be managed remotely in a secure fashion.
The Elite x2's 12-inch, full-HD display produces crisp text and colorful images, but it feels cramped. The 1920 x 1080-pixel panel is both smaller and less pixel dense than the Surface Pro 4's display (2736 x 1824 pixels and 12.3 inches). That means screen-intensive tasks, like viewing large spreadsheets, aren't as comfortable on HP's system. Split-screen multitasking on the Elite x2 also feels a bit constricted.
Most snap-on keyboards trade comfort for versatility. That's not the case with the Elite x2, which comes with a very comfortable detachable keyboard. The accessory offers about 1.35 millimeters of key travel, which is, admittedly, a little shallower than we look for on a work laptop. But the keys feel snappy enough — with plenty of tactile feedback on each stroke — that I never found myself pining for my desktop keyboard while typing up this review on the Elite x2.
The keyboard is a bit thicker and more rigid than the Surface Pro 4's keyboard, which helps it feel a bit more stable. Otherwise, the accessories are very similar. As previously mentioned, neither feels great while balanced on your lap; compared to a traditional laptop, the detachable keyboards tend to bounce around a bit while you're typing.
Avid note-takers will love the Elite x2's excellent stylus support. Like the Surface Pro 4, HP's system comes with an active stylus. It offers 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity; that's technically twice what you get with the Surface, but you're not likely to notice much of a difference in practice.
Writing with HP's active pen feels very natural. I was able to taper my lines and vary my line width, just as I would with a real ink pen. The pen has two side buttons that default to Select and Erase in most pen-friendly apps. The top button is programmed to launch OneNote, Microsoft's excellent note-taking application.
Although the Elite x2's battery life didn't exactly impress us, it did outlast its closest rivals. The system ran for 6 hours and 54 minutes on our battery-life test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That time is shorter than the laptop average of 8 hours and 10 minutes, but it beats detachable competitors such as the Surface Pro 4 (6:05) and the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S (6:46).
The Elite x2 handles typical productivity tasks without a hitch. My review unit — equipped with an Intel Core m5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage — zipped along nicely as I typed up and researched my review on the system. There's no denying that the Core i5-powered Surface Pro 4 is significantly more powerful, though.
The disparity showed up pretty clearly on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. The Elite x2 scored 5,769, which is solid but far behind the Surface Pro 4's score of 6,811. It easily beat Dell's Core m7-powered Latitude 12 7000 2-in-1, though, which scored just 4,829 on the same test.
The Elite x2's file handling also lagged behind that on the Surface Pro 4. HP's system managed to copy 4.97GB of files at a rate of just 147.89 MBps during our test, which is about half the rate produced by the Surface Pro 4.
Business buyers will appreciate the Elite x2's customizability. The system comes in a wide array of hardware configurations, which can be customized to fit your company's needs.
Among the preconfigured models, the base model of the Elite x2 provides an Intel Core m3 processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage for an affordable $899.
The unit featured in this review is a better sweet spot for most workers, though. It comes with a speedier Core m5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage, and costs $1,349.
Finally, the top-end model packs a Core m7 processor with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, and costs $1,899.
HP's Elite x2 edges out Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 as our favorite 2-in-1 for work – but just barely. The systems are very similar, with excellent pen support, nice snap-on keyboards and relatively zippy real-world performance. The Elite x2 beats the Surface in three key areas, though, with superior security, including secure manageability; stronger durability credentials; and better connectivity thanks to its USB Type-C port.
On the other hand, Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 has a much nicer display that is both larger and more pixel-dense than the Elite x2's, making the Surface Pro 4 better for serious multitasking. And when equipped with a Core i5 processor, it's also more powerful. But considering that the Surface Pro 4 costs $80 more than the Elite x2 when similarly equipped, HP's slate remains the better option for most business users.