HP Chromebook x2 Review - Unrivaled Chrome OS Innovation

The near-perfection that HP has created with its Chromebook x2 leaves the company's' latest portable computer largely uncontested in its segment.

Both at its announcement and when pre-orders for the HP Chromebook x2, it generated a buzz in the Chrome OS community typically reserved for news about Google's own $1000+ Pixelbook. The device not only features specs to rival some variants of that other device but at just $599.99 it also represented the only detachable for the platform. That meant it could replace both a traditional laptop and an Android tablet for many.

The gadget's smooth curves, the promise of a full-sized pen stylus, and all-metal build only added to the initial hype and, at the time, some speculated that the Chromebook x2 would be followed by a wave of detachable competitors. More than six months later, Android Headlines has finally had an opportunity to take HP's anomalous Chromebook for a test drive and it quickly became apparent why there's still no competitors in that space.

Put simply, the HP Chromebook x2 competes with Chrome OS devices well above its price point and seems to accomplish that feat effortlessly compared to similarly priced devices. In fact, for a device in its price range, flaws with the Chromebook x2 are so few and so minuscule that it’s difficult not to be cliche and label HP’s innovative design “perfect.”

Specs

Looking solely at the internal specifications, there’s already a lot to love about the HP Chromebook x2.

As its model number (12-f015nr) implies, this detachable tablet takes a 12.3-inch format. The overall package measures 11.5 x 8.32-inches at a razor-thin 0.33-inches. For the tablet only, the Chromebook x2 tips the scales at just 1.62-lbs while the base adds an additional 1.44-lbs. The 2K WLED-backlit stylus-enabled screen has a resolution of 2400 x 1600 with a ratio of 3:2.

Driving the graphics for that panel is an integrated Intel HD Graphics 615 chip and processing is handled by an Intel Core m3-7Y30 dual-core processor. The base frequency for the primary chip is set at a clock of 1 GHz but Intel’s Turbo Boost can push things as high as 2.6 GHz when the need arises and the cores are supplied with 4MB of cache. 4GB LPDDR3-1600 onboard RAM and 32GB eMMC storage back up those components.

Each of the internal components drives the latest version of Chrome OS spectacularly but since the OS is heavily dependent on the cloud, HP has included an Intel combo chip for connectivity. That supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac protocol with 2x2 MIMO and Bluetooth 4.2 for more localized connections.

Google’s H1 secure microcontroller keeps the data moving through the above-listed components safe.

Powering all of that is a 48 Whr 4-cell battery that has a claimed life of up to twelve and a half hours thanks to the HP Chromebook x2’s ENERGY STAR and EPEAT Silver certifications. That’s chargeable by either of the two included USB 3.0 Type-C ports.

The silver-rimmed ceramic white cover frame also houses a micro SD card reader slot and a 3.5mm headphone combo jack. Two Bang & Olufsen Play-tuned forward firing speakers can be found on either side of the display. Just above the touchscreen, HP’s own wide-vision 5-megapixel camera and HP IR Camera with an integrated dual array mic can be found. A second HP-branded 13-megapixel camera is embedded on the opposing side for use in tablet mode.

Finally, the display attaches to the ‘oxford blue’ keyboard frame magnetically, with two wide prongs and POGO pins adding structural support and a strong connection. The keyboard is a soft-touch design and accompanied by a smooth touchpad that supports multi-finger gestures.

Hardware

Color choices and aesthetics tend to be very subjective and this HP Chromebook x2 will be no different on that front. From our perspective, the ceramic white top shell and nearly black oxford blue keyboard make for a stunning combination. The tones match well while also hinting at the fact that this device comes apart at the hinge.

There’s only very little by way of a gap between the main body and the attachment mechanism when the keyboard is slid into place. The hinge itself has a clean and solid look to it that adds a premium feel to the overall design. The magnets holding it in place are strong enough that this doesn’t feel like a detachable once it's firmly attached.

In fact, the magnets are strong enough that it took a few tries before we were able to attach the keyboard without accidentally pinching our fingers. The process didn’t really hurt but definitely caught us off guard until we worked out what we were doing incorrectly.

When in use as a laptop, the hinge is engineered to hold the back of the keyboard up ever so slightly for better ergonomics too. The keyboard can be attached with the display facing the opposite direction, disabling the keyboard without risking misplacing it, if a user wants to use the device in tablet, tent, or stand mode.

The screen itself is flat and the edges of its housing -- which contains all internal components -- are rounded off smoothly. The vast majority of the other edges are smoothed off too and that, combined with relatively low weight in tablet-only mode, makes the whole device exceptionally comfortable to hold. The rear portion of the display has an almost imperceptible roundness to it as it approaches the edges.

Unfortunately, the one portion that breaks the consistency of that design language is the bottom of the hinge. When used in a tablet configuration, it’s no problem but held as a laptop, this isn’t a device one would want to rest on bare skin for an extended period of time. It isn’t necessarily a painful experience but will eventually become uncomfortable due to the weight of the device with the keyboard attached.

That problem doesn’t exist as long as there’s something -- anything, really -- providing a protective layer between skin and Chromebook but the weight in laptop mode or with the display flipped into the tablet, tent, or stand modes will become a problem if held too. It isn’t any heavier than other devices and won’t be a dealbreaker for most. But it can be unwieldy after a long period of time.

In terms of its actual build quality, HP has done something extraordinary with its Chromebook x2.

The keyboard hinge is solid enough that it isn’t possible to simply lift the screen to open up the device. It requires some leverage from a second hand, which is an attribute that isn’t even found in many of the best traditional two-in-one Chrome OS devices.

The keys laid out on the lower portion and the touchpad are snappy and accurate, with a satisfying click and near-perfect travel. The island-style arrangement is embedded in a material that’s textured and feels very leather-like, ensuring maximum comfort while typing.

Attached to the keyboard is a stylus loop, meant to house the included HP Wacom EMR pen stylus. The loop is made of a material with a similar feel, without the texture and somewhat stretchy.

The bottom of the keyboard is comprised of an oxford blue metal with elongated rubber feet for improved durability and stability. The only thing that could make the keyboard better would be the inclusion of a backlight.

The stylus is a full-size pen that ships with two separate nub types, one for smooth writing or sketching and another to provide for a more physical pen- or pencil-on-paper feel. A quadruple-A battery is packed in for the pen too, so there’s no need to rush out to the nearest Best Buy. A pen cap-like clip sits at the top.

Things only improve from there with regard to using the stylus but we’ll discuss that a bit later on.

The ports built into the frame of the HP Chromebook x2 are very snug and are positioned near the bottom of the device when it's in tablet mode. That means they should last for quite some time. It also means that using them doesn’t result in wires dangling all over the place or difficulty finding the plug in the first place.

The volume rocker is positioned along the right-hand edge while raised and beveled power button is placed at the top edge. Both are made of the same metal as the frame in a bright silver color and each is clicky. Those can be pressed more gently than most buttons we’ve found on electronics, at the same time, leading to a premium feel that’s present even while simply turning up or down the volume and powering on or off.

HP has embedded two stereo speakers under a metal grill along the left and right-hand side of the display panel in a perfectly blended color so that they all but disappear into the bezel area. Those get very loud. We were, in fact, able to fill an entire two-bedroom apartment with audio without losing the quality witnessed at lower volumes. But the speakers are very small and therefore aren’t perfect.

Designed in cooperation with Bang & Olufsen, as denoted by the emblem on the keyboard, they are more than adequate for a video or voice chat. They’re also well above acceptable for music. What the speakers won’t do is pump out a lot of bass intonation. Having said that, they sound well-balanced and couldn’t fairly be described as tinny. Bass audio is definitely there, it's simply doesn't have a lot of power behind it.

Display

The display panel on the HP Chromebook x2 is essentially the entire device, minus the keyboard and that’s motivated HP to pay a significant amount of attention to detail.

Its bezels are larger than many of the recently released two-in-one devices but solve a common problem with almost all of those other gadgets. On the Chromebook x2, the surround measures just wide enough that a finger can comfortably hold on without accidental presses. For users, that means that the device can quickly and effortlessly be picked up without closing windows or apps, or the hassle of launching new ones unintentionally.

While the back of the display is curved, the front is has a very light bevel along every edge. That doesn’t necessarily add a whole lot but it is a nice touch that matches up well with a similar bevel around the speakers that rest at the very edge of the display area.

As is to be expected from a premium HP product, hand inputs are responsive and don’t require much pressure in spite of the standard Gorilla Glass coating.

The responsiveness increases dramatically with the included HP Wacom pen stylus. Although Samsung used to be the only game in town for Google products with a pressure-sensitive stylus, HP has perfected that here. Input is intuitive and buttery, with no latency and high-precision, making art, taking notes, or just about any other task not just easy but enjoyable.

The battery in the didn’t feel like it even began to fail during our weeks-long testing period either, and the two included nib styles allow for a completely different experience. The pen is, in fact, a definite highlight of this product thanks to its comfortable, familiar weight and size and its versatility.

The optimization here is extremely well done.

The brightness of the display will not disappoint users regardless of where they plan to use the HP Chromebook x2. The company hasn’t offered exact specifications for how bright it is but we were able to use it without ever needing to lean in or squint in a well-lit indoors environment at around 25-percent. Even outdoors, the setting was never pushed above half.

At 2K resolution, there are no stray pixels to be found anywhere either and all images, video, or apps that are appropriately formatted show up crystal clear event at some distance. That remains the case even at viewing angles of almost 170-degrees.

Summarily, every aspect of this display works in such a way that the battery life should, by all accounts, be truly awful. But as we’ll see momentarily, that isn’t the case either.

Software

News about lag and other issues in tablet mode with Chrome OS is fairly widespread in the current version but HP’s Chromebook x2 feels surprisingly unaffected. That’s not to say that there’s a whole lot to differentiate the device from other Chromebooks on the software front. Chrome OS is based on open-source Chromium but is still relatively universal.

For those who haven’t used the operating system before, that means that the device relies heavily on the cloud for storage and applications. Web apps are approaching the same level of performance as native software over the most recent releases but users do have access to Android apps and Linux software can be used as well. HP includes all of the standard features from quick links to Google’s office suite to Play-branded entertainment, YouTube, Gmail, a camera app, and more.

Android users can sync up their phone for access to SMS messaging and other features.

Battery Life and Performance

Battery Life from HP’s Chromebook x2 is staggering by comparison to other computers and other Chromebooks. The company claims that up to 12.5-hours of use can be had between charges. The detachable was used throughout the writing of this review, including in photo editing, for extra research, and other work-related tasks. Despite that and the use of more entertainment-driven apps in between, the company’s claimed longevity doesn’t feel like a stretch like it often is with other devices.

Looking down at the device after an hour or two of use and seeing that the battery estimate, at 80-percent remaining capacity, is sitting at around ten hours is astounding. Now, that battery estimate is only an estimate but after using the Chromebook x2 as a work device for several days, it seems to be fairly accurate here.

Battery life is going to vary from user to user but under strenuous use, there’s simply not a whole lot that the average user is going to be doing that will drain the battery before the day is out. The Chromebook x2 represents the longest-lasting Chrome OS device we’ve tested to date.

Charging up the battery with the included 45 W AC power adapter is an entirely different story. We noted that charging from completely drained to completely full took around an hour and a half.

Charging tends to slow down as the battery fills so it fills up fairly quickly for the first 50-percent. That means that even if the battery life out-of-the-box isn’t a perfect match for the work being done, it won’t take long to top off enough to finish out the day.

One interesting note with the HP Chromebook x2's charging arrangement that isn't found in many Chrome OS gadgets is its LED system. Rather than having a dedicated charging port and a single LED on that side to show that it's charging and when it is fully charged, HP has included two. The fact that there's an LED by both ports is a small inclusion but makes a huge difference when it comes to convenience in charging.

On the performance side of the equation, there doesn’t seem to be much if anything that will bog this detachable laptop down either. The dual-core Intel Core m3 processor performed and just kept on performing regardless of whether we had eight or twenty tabs open even after opening up apps.

It was particularly noteworthy that happened even when opening up intensive applications alongside those tabs, such as Photoshop for Android. No noticeable lag was present throughout, regardless of the file size being worked with. That hasn’t always been the case with other Chromebooks and remained true even with entertainment apps running in the background simultaneously.

None of the games we ran on the device, including more intensive ones like Into the Dead 2 or Need for Speed: No Limits showed any indication that they might be overworking the hardware either.

Perhaps even more impressive, there was only the tiniest amount of latency in tablet mode. That was true even with notoriously poorly optimized sections of the OS such as the app switcher view. That made the device not only a breeze to work with but better than most competitors when it comes to using it as a tablet.

While heat isn’t generally a problem with Chromebooks, we did notice one more characteristic with the HP Chromebook x2. Ironically, that's something we didn't notice at all. Heat. The entire time we were testing this particular Chrome OS device it didn't even seem to begin approaching warm, let alone getting hot and that's not something every OEM can claim.

Camera

The camera software with HP’s detachable Chromebook is very minimal. There’s a grid for aligning shots, a timer, and an image reverser. A video button is present here too but the biggest difference between this camera and other Chromebooks is the presence of a camera switcher for going back and forth between the selfie and main camera.

That means there aren't any special filters, stickers, HDR mode, or similar features to be found here at all. The lack of specialized software can mostly be chalked up to Chrome OS’s more closed-off nature and a lack of specialized features having been implemented by Google. Users who really want those may want to check out Chromebook compatible Android apps such as Pixlr, Snapseed, or Adobe's Photoshop Express for more creative photo-taking experiences.

The HD selfie camera is a fairly standard webcam that neither disappoints or impresses beyond what can typically be expected from the hardware.

The rear-facing primary camera, on the other hand, is exceptional among Chromebooks. Not only does it focus more quickly than the average Chrome OS gadget, but the pictures turn out better too, as long as the lighting isn’t too low. The camera shutter speed and autofocus aren't the fastest but are more than quick enough and blurring only becomes a problem if a user's hands get too shaky from holding the device out for too long.

In good lighting, pictures are crisp and detail is great. They turn out comparable to high-quality 8-megapixel smartphone shot. That gets somewhat lost outdoors under bright lighting or with heavy backlighting. In spite of the loss of detail and some washout under the latter circumstances, it’s still safe to say the HP Chromebook x2’s main snapper will outperform many handsets in the mid-range and lower price brackets.

Things hold together through most reasonably well-lit shots but start to fall apart quite a bit under low-lighting. Under the worst conditions, images degrade to a pixelated mess. That’s not unexpected and not many smartphones hold up a whole lot better. For the most part, it feels as though the software is the primary source of the small problems with the cameras and that’s more on Google’s shoulders than HP’s.

Color capture with the cameras is vibrant but leans more heavily toward accuracy than anything overly artificial. Regardless of how pixelated things become under extreme low-lighting, colors captured remain almost entirely accurate.

The Good

Thoughtful, well-balanced hardware design

All day battery works as advertised

Charging is extremely quick

The primary camera is almost as good as a smartphone

Lightweight and thin but with a sturdy construction

All aluminum build

Gorilla Glass touch display

The ultra-bright display panel is usable at a low setting

Wacom EMR pen stylus is included

Comfortable, ergonomically aware keyboard

Futureproof components

Priced below its performance and quality

Speakers are loud and well balanced

The Bad

The camera falls apart under poor lighting

Although already very light, weight can still be a problem for snapping images or long periods of use

Slightly sharper than some might like on the bottom corners of the hinge itself

Bass tones from the speakers are not quite punchy enough

Wrap Up

There may be more powerful Chrome OS devices on the market but that doesn't make HP's Chromebook x2 seem any less perfect. For a device in its price range, there are comparatively very few complaints and quite a lot to love.

From its design and build quality to the speakers, full-size pen stylus for drawing or taking notes, and its attention to detail, it quickly became very obvious why the Chromebook x2 remains the only detachable Chromebook. Summarily, HP's Chromebook x2 really does seem as though it may simply have been built too well to directly compete with for the time being.

Should you buy the HP Chromebook x2?

The HP Chromebook x2 genuinely resides in a class that's all its own, irrespective of whether it is or isn't the only detachable Chromebook. For anybody that is looking it its price-range, buying the device is almost a no-brainer. The biggest concern will be entirely subjective, based on whether or not an ultra-bright 2K resolution 12.3-inch display is large enough.

For those who might be looking at a more expensive price bracket or who might genuinely need an Intel Core "i" series processor, the question becomes somewhat more complicated. There really aren't many users who would fall into that category, pertaining mostly to software or app developers. Even then, the HP Chromebook x2 should be more than enough to handle the tasks it needs to and it will continue to do so for years to come.

For the overwhelming majority of users looking to get into Chrome OS or upgrade their current device, it would be a difficult task to find something that actually looks, feels, and performs better for the money.

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About the Author
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Daniel Golightly

Senior Staff Writer
Daniel has been writing for AndroidHeadlines since 2016. As a Senior Staff Writer for the site, Daniel specializes in reviewing a diverse range of technology products and covering topics related to Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Daniel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering and has a background in Writing and Graphics Design that drives his passion for Android, Google products, the science behind the technology, and the direction it's heading. Contact him at [email protected]