It has been a long time since an HP business device made me sit up and take notice, but the latest Elitebook x360 has changed that.
In a world where manufacturers continue to push tablets with keyboards as productivity devices, I’m increasingly convinced that convertible laptops are the superior option.
The Elitebook x360 1030 G2 is first and foremost a very good laptop, and the ability to become a decent hefty tablet or a drawing surface is really the cherry on top.
Crafted from aluminium, the physical design on the Elitebook is striking, and it has a slightly bigger 32x22cm footprint than last year’s G1 predecessor. At a thickness of 1.49cm, HP has managed to shave a couple millimetres off, but the new G2 tips the scales at the slightly heavier weight of 1.28 kilograms or more, depending on configuration.
Compared to the two-year-old Lenovo X1 Carbon that is my daily driver, for reasons best known to luck and circumstance, the G2 feels heavier even though the spec sheet says it isn’t, but your mileage may vary.
The Elitebook is currently shipping in Australia with a 13.3-inch 1,920×1,080 touchscreen, and while there are no issues with the display technically, it feels like it should have a higher-resolution panel in it. Relief is almost at hand on this front, with HP expecting to release a 3,840×2,160 panel, as well as a 1,920×1,080 panel that features HP’s Sure View privacy screen for protection against visual hacking come mid-May.
Where the Elitebook excels is in the sheer number of ways to interact with and use the device.
With a hinge that allows the screen to fold back on itself, HP touts this device as having five operation modes, which allows the device to work in laptop or tablet mode thanks to its standard touchscreen display. Some commentators may see a touchscreen as superfluous on a laptop, but when it is able to behave as a tablet, it is a necessity.
For more creative users, the addition of the Wacom-based Active Pen should be a boon. Rather than being stored inside the device, the pen fits inside a custom storage loop that uses the smart card reader slot. The pen is touted by HP as having over seven months of usage thanks to its replaceable AAAA battery.
In my time with the pen, I’ve found it a nice, responsive little addition to the package, but I would not use it enough to justify the additional cost — and having to jump through the hoops of needing to install the correct version of OneNote and add extra language packs to Windows 10 did not help.
HP decided in its wisdom that the business laptop would offer full-sized ports, and lots of them. The Elitebook arrives with one USB-C port, two USB 3.1 ports, a microSD, as well as a smart card reader, an HDMI port, and a physical security lock slot. It has a headphone/microphone jack, and a volume rocker that makes sense when the device behaves as a tablet.
Power-wise, the Elitebook handles the proprietary circular HP power connection, as well as charging over USB-C. Despite the theory with USB-C, we are not yet at the stage where it is possible to walk up to any old USB-C cable and plug it in to draw power.
In the case of this device, ZDNet was supplied with only the USB-C cable for charging, which works as you would expect, but the laptop will occasionally complain that the cable is not supported if the connection is not flush enough. If you think that because your phone has a USB-C connection you will be able to share cables between devices, then good luck to you — we were not able to have the laptop charge off any USB-C cable other than the one packaged with it.
Internally, the laptop packs either a Kaby Lake i5-7200U, i5-7300U, or i7-7600U processor, with the graphics driven by an Intel HD Graphics 620 system regardless of processor choice. If an i5 is chosen, memory options are 4GB or 8GB of DDR-4 2133Mhz RAM, while an i7 chip allows 8GB or 16GB of memory. Storage-wise, HP offers a selection of SSDs from 128GB up to 512GB, with a number of NVMe options.
As with some of its other products, HP uses Bang & Olufsen-branded audio. While the speakers are hardly going to be a replacement for stand-alone speakers, they do pack a better punch than typical laptop speakers.
Lastly on the hardware front is the keyboard, which I find to be on the loud side, and due to the laptop’s dimensions it is physically smaller than that offered on a Thinkpad. However, it scores points for having the Control key in its proper place on the lower left of the keyboard — but has the same points deducted for having the home, page up, page down, and end keys invoked from pressing the fn key with an arrow key. HP isn’t the only vendor to bury those keys behind the arrow keys, but I do wish it would end.
The trackpad is perfectly fine, which puts it in a class above some trackpads that register phantom touches or need to be negotiated with extensively to register a button press.
Brought together, the hardware on this laptop is very good indeed. A combination of the UHD panel with an NVMe drive and an i7 with 16GB of RAM would not be cheap, but it would be hard to top.
On the software side of the equation, the Elitebook is classically HP, which means it packs a lot of extra software. Being 2017, though, it is a contest between Microsoft and HP over who pre-packaged the most software you didn’t ask for. It’s easy to pick HP’s software out, because it is something a sysadmin might deploy across a fleet of computers.
One of the interesting features is its WorkWise tool, where a user can download the accompanying app to their phone and it will automatically unlock the laptop — anytime between 0 or 30 seconds, depending on when the device next polls — when the phone is in proximity. It will also report to the user via the app whenever the laptop is “tampered” with, which includes events such as powering off, lid lowering, laptop movement, and network changes.
There is also an option to force users to authenticate at boot, and then automatically use those credentials for subsequent login prompts. The end result is a user can scan a fingerprint when the laptop powers on, and be logged into their desktop without further interaction.
Meanwhile, Microsoft prefers to preload Facebook and attempts to cajole users into downloading Minecraft with ads in the Start menu. In the Windows 10 world, it is not OEMs that are pushing crapware.
If Windows is not your bag, HP is offering the device with FreeDOS or NeoKylin Linux preinstalled instead, either of which I find personally intriguing. In order to test Linux compatibility, I used a Fedora 24 Live distro and found the touchscreen, Active Pen, and everything else with the laptop worked as it should, which was a pleasant surprise.
The Elitebook x360 1030 G2 I tested had a i5-7300U processor with 8GB of memory and 256GB NVMe SSD, and if a bottleneck exists anywhere on this device, it is the on-board graphics.
While it was able to provide good battery life when restricted to the tasks of web browsing and email, pushing the device with a CPU-hungry workload saw the battery life quickly descend to a handful of hours, a far cry from the 16 and a half hours HP claims on its site.
Coming in at AU$2,350 + AU$89 for the Active Pen, the Elitebook is very competitively priced against its enterprise-targeting Dell and Lenovo brethren while offering the latest hardware and better options.
If you want to know which 13-inch business laptop you need for the first half of 2017, I’d look no further than the Elitebook x360 1030 G2; it has the lot.