Hybrid laptops are good for work and play, but it's hard to find one with a great keyboard. The HP Elite x2 1011 is an exception, offering an 11.6-inch tablet that snaps onto a really nice keyboard dock. The dock provides a pleasant typing experience, and is sturdy enough that the Elite x2 won't tip over when you tilt the screen back. You also get good performance, long battery life and a top-notch Wacom stylus for taking notes right on the display.
On the other hand, the Elite x2 is pricey (starting at $1,219) and a bit on the heavy side, and its odd, clickless touchpad will take some getting used to. Can this tablet make up for those shortcomings with an otherwise well-rounded design?
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The Elite x2 looks and feels like it means business, with an extremely sturdy and rigid design. There's not a hint of flex in either the tablet or the keyboard. Both parts have a sturdy magnesium shell, with a matte-finish silver paint job that's easy on the eyes.
And it's as durable as it feels. The Elite x2 was designed to meet 12 MIL-SPEC 810G durability standards, so it should have no trouble withstanding short drops and dings, as well as dust, humidity, extreme temperatures and high altitudes. That's great for frequent travelers who need a notebook that can stand up to a bit of abuse.
On the other hand, road warriors might pass on the Elite x2 once they feel how hefty it is, especially for an 11.6-inch system. At 3.63 lbs., it far outweighs the Surface Pro 3 (2.4 lbs.) and Portege Z20t (3.2 lbs.), both of which have larger displays. It's not the heaviest 2-in-1 we've tested, though; Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix 2 tips the scales at 3.65 lbs. Some of the Elite x2's extra weight is justified, however, by an extra battery included in the keyboard dock, which gives the machine great battery life. The heavy keyboard dock also makes it more stable when used as a laptop than are some competing machines.
Without the keyboard dock, the Elite x2 weighs just 1.92 lbs., which is heftier than the 12.2-inch Surface Pro 3 without its keyboard (1.76 lbs.). For reference, that means the Elite x2 weighs nearly twice as much as the 0.96-lb. iPad Air 2, though that tablet has a smaller, 9.7-inch screen.
If you don't mind the extra weight, the Elite x2 has nice, rounded corners make it easy to hold when using the device as a tablet.
The Elite x2's 11.6-inch display comes in a couple of different resolutions, depending on which model you pick up. Our review unit's full-HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels is pretty much perfect for a screen this size. Text looked sharp, and colors were vibrant. And topping out at 386 nits of brightness, the Elite x2's LED display outshines the average laptop (277 nits). That makes it easier to see the display outdoors or in direct sunlight.
HP also sells a cheaper model that comes with a lower-res, 1,366 x 768-pixel display. I wouldn't recommend this model, though, since that resolution can feel cramped on a screen this compact.
Plenty of hybrids offer passable keyboard docks, but most have me wishing for a proper keyboard eventually. Not so with the Elite x2, which comes with a keyboard that's well above average.
The standard-size keyboard has well-spaced keys that feel snappy, offering a good amount of feedback. The keyboard is a bit shallower than I prefer, though, with just 1.2mm of travel (1.5mm is average for laptops.) But that didn't bother me much, and I enjoyed typing up this review on the Elite x2. Keyboard backlighting can also be toggled on and off for typing in low-light situations.
In addition to providing a good typing experience, the keyboard dock succeeds in one other key area: lapability.
Detachable hybrids look like laptops, but not all of them work very well in your lap. That's because most hybrids are top-heavy, and the Elite x2 is no exception, with the majority of the weight in the tablet. Thankfully, however, the weight distribution is even enough that the machine never really threatened to tip over, even when I had it balanced on my knees.
The lid can only be opened by about 35 degrees (based on my estimate), which keeps the Elite x2 balanced. That's a bit restrictive, but it's much more generous than devices like the Dell Venue 11 Pro, which has a display that can only be opened by about 15 degrees, making that device almost unusable in your lap. Kickstand-based devices such as the Surface Pro 3 don't make very good laptops, either, since it's tough to use a kickstand on your knees. The Elite x2 has none of those issues, making it a pretty good laptop overall.
The Elite x2's unusual, pressure-sensitive touchpad, dubbed the "ForcePad," could be a make-or-break feature for many users. Instead of physically depressing, the pad actually detects clicks by measuring how hard you're pressing down with your finger. When a click is registered, the computer's speakers emit a small click noise. It's similar to the Force Touch touchpad on Apple's new 12-inch MacBook, but I prefer that implementation since it uses small vibrations to let you know that a click has been registered. Without tactile feedback, I found myself pressing down harder than necessary on the Elite x2's pad to make sure a click was registered.
On the other hand, it's easy to get used to the ForcePad with a bit of practice. And ligh t taps still work for basic clicks, which is how I prefer to use a touchpad anyway.
The Elite x2 is a superb note-taking machine, thanks to the built-in Wacom stylus, which can detect up to 1,024 varying levels of pressure. In other words, it can tell how hard you're pressing down, enabling you to vary your line width and feather your strokes, just like you would with a real pen. Writing on this tablet just feels great. And it's a far more natural note-taking experience than you'd get on an iPad with a capacitive pen, which can't detect pressure at all.
The pen itself is extremely small and thin, though, and its plastic design feels flimsy compared to the large, metal pen that's included with the Surface Pro 3. On the other hand, the small size of the stylus lets it fit into a silo on the bottom of the tablet, so you always have it when you need it. That's a feature that's becoming increasingly uncommon on pen-ready tablets.
Only other Wacom-equipped slates — as well as Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3, which have N-Trig styluses — offer an inking experience this good.
Ports and connectivity options on the Elite x2 tablet itself are limited to a micro SD card slot and a SIM card slot, both of which are hidden under a flap on the tablet's backside. That means the only way to charge the tablet is by docking it with the keyboard, which is a bit unusual but not a huge deal.
The keyboard dock includes a decent array of ports, including two USB 3.0 ports for connecting accessories, a full-size DisplayPort, and a smart-card reader. You also get a docking port on the left edge, which will let you link your notebook to desktop accessories with one connection.
Part of what makes the Elite x2 so hefty is the extra battery included in the keyboard dock. That helps it last a whopping 11 hours and 24 minutes on our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's a lot longer than the ultraportable notebook category average of 8 hours and 17 minutes, which is good news for business users who need a notebook that will last through the longest business flights. On the other hand, similar hybrids last even longer, including the Dell Venue 11 Pro (13:33) and the Toshiba Portege Z20t (14:37).
Like any good business notebook, the Elite x2 packs a slew of good security features. That starts with built-in hardware encryption, which ensures your work data stays secure if your device is lost or stolen.
Also included is a fingerprint scanner, located along the right edge of the keyboard deck. You can scan in up to 50 different prints using HP's Client Security app. Setup is easy, and the fingerprint scanner worked reliably during my testing time. Your prints can be used to unlock your computer and also log in to specified websites.
You also get a smart-card reader on the left edge of the keyboard dock, which lets verified users identify themselves with a physical key card.
Our Elite x2 review unit was powered by a 1.2-GHz Intel Core M-5Y71 processor with 8GB of RAM, which provided pretty good performance for daily business tasks. Apps felt zippy, and multitasking was smooth overall.
But the low-power Core M chip, which allows computers to run without a loud cooling fan, can't compete with the computing power of Intel's Core i-series processors. On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall system performance, the Elite x2 scores a middling 3,746, which falls far short of the Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 (5,665). Among other Core M systems, the Elite x2 is in the middle of the pack; the Helix 2 scored slightly worse (3,517), while the Portege Z20t did better (4,341).
The bottom line is that the Elite x2 provides adequate performance for basic activities, but it's not well-suited for processor-intensive tasks like photo or video editing.
HP sells the Elite x2 in a variety of different hardware configurations, including a $1,219 entry-level model with a 1.1-GHz Intel Core M-5Y11 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) and the keyboard dock. It doesn't include pen support, though.
That model is a decent option for users with very light workloads, but multitaskers will be better off with the $1,629 model, which is the model featured in this review. It comes with a slightly speedier 1.2-GHz Intel Core M5Y71 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, the digital pen, a full HD display and the keyboard dock. This model is the sweet spot for most business users, in my opinion.
The priciest model comes with those same specs, but doubles the storage capacity with a 512GB SSD, all for $1,729.
The Elite x2 comes with a relatively clean installation of Windows 8.1. A handful of useful applications do come pre-installed, though, including HP's PageLift app, which lets you scan paper documents by snapping a photo with the webcam. PageLift automatically straightens and cleans up your photo to make your page more readable. Meanwhile, YouCam is a decent app for basic videoconferencing.
Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 offers a larger, 12.2-inch display and better performance, but its keyboard isn't as good as the Elite x2's, and it lacks business-class security and durability.
Dell's Venue 11 Pro 7000 offers better performance and a lighter design than the Elite x2, but it has less-precise inking capabilities, and its restrictive hinge doesn't let you tip the screen back far enough to use the device in your lap. Like the Elite x2, it has an 11.6-inch display.
Toshiba's Portege Z20t is also lighter than the Eilte x2, and it has a bigger, 12.5-inch display. It lasts longer on a charge, too. On the other hand, it's a bit pricier than the Elite x2.
Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix 2 is even heavier than the Elite x2, but its keyboard is the best of the bunch and it lasts even longer on a charge. It has a similar, 11.6-inch display.
The HP Elite x2 1011 easily stands out over consumer-focused hybrids like the Surface Pro 3, thanks to its business-class security and durability. But it's just one among several similar hybrids, including a couple of excellent alternatives.
If a compact design isn't important to you, and if you don't mind paying a tiny bit more, the larger Portege Z20t might be a better option. Meanwhile, the ThinkPad Helix 2 offers an even better keyboard, but it's slightly heavier. Both those tablets also have pen integration that's as good as the Elite x2's.
Even though it feels pretty hefty compared to your average 11.6-inch notebook, the Elite x2 actually strikes a pretty good balance between portability and enterprise-grade features. It's a bit heavy, it doesn't offer the best performance, and its clickless touchpad will take some getting used to, but HP's hybrid would still make a fine travel companion on any business trip.
[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]