There’s an expanse of laptop-tablet devices in recent months, to which HP adds its latest hand, the Split x2, to the ever-expanding stack. A stack that, with few exceptions, hasn't quite managed to wow us yet. It’s all Microsoft’s fault, really, given the introduction of touchscreen Windows 8 and 8.1, and its push of the half-tablet, half-laptop Surface.
HP has taken a different approach in the Split x2. It’s a true laptop experience from the off, complete with a quad core Intel i3 processor, and a paired keyboard that can be detached via the tug of a slider-switch to the device's centre.
It’s a more powerful offering than the previous Atom-based Envy x2, but it’s also larger, heavier, and arrives with the now previous generation of Intel architecture. Can it impress, or does it make us want to split?
READ: HP Envy x2 review
Split down the middle
There’s a curious thing about hybrid devices. They’re trying to be two things at once - both tablet and laptop - which is a tall order to ask of anything.
Whether you’re likely to want to use the Split x2 as a 13.3-inch tablet that tips that scales at a kilo is likely to divide the crowd. For us, we don’t see that as a portable tablet device. It’s a top-down touchscreen that you might lay on a tabletop, sure, but we’d not really classify that as a way in which most people will use a tablet, or desire one to be. So the HP Split x2 is going to divide the crowd. An apt name then.
However, use it as a standalone laptop rested on a desk - as we have been doing for a week - and our point of view changes. But also goes full circle. As a laptop the Split x2 is decent; we like the typing experience from those bouncey yet resistive keys, the viewing angles of the bright touchscreen - despite its so-so 1366 x 768 resolution - and the overall scale of it as a work-orientated device. It all figures out nicely.
But, the full circle part, we just rarely wanted to split it apart and use it as a so-called tablet. The process of dividing tablet from keyboard is easy - you just flip a centre-positioned slider-switch - but it’s a little bit fiddly to lock back together. Not rocket science, mind, but just not as considered as, say, the magnetised connection of the Asus T300 Transformer Book.
This tablet hiccup ultimately defies what the HP product is supposed to be about. We want a tablet that’s thin, light, portable - all difficult things when powering Intel architecture and requiring the necessary on-board power to keep things going. But why 13.3-inches, why not something smaller?
Of a generation
There’s a problem. Even though we found the HP Split x2’s battery - well, batteries, as there’s one in the tablet section and one in the keys section - to last out well, it would do better yet if it was based around Intel Haswell, rather than Ivy Bridge, architecture. This HP device arrives to market at the point when other manufacturers are pushing into the latest tech, which leaves it a step behind.
Even so, we can’t really moan about the battery life, like we say. We got just shy of six hours use with low-impact tasks such as browsing, word processing and some music playback. But if Haswell was on board then perhaps some of the total 2.4kg - yes, two point four kilograms - of weight could have been physically trimmed in the battery compartments. The Split x2 weighs 400g more than a MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display.
Fortunately, however, HP wins when it comes to price. Its £699 price point is £1,000 less than the aforementioned base-level Apple product. Not that we’re directly comparing the two models, that’d be plain silly. But it’s the price that will get eyes to focus on HP’s offering.
And when we do lock eyes with the Split x2 it looks good. This is a solid wedge of brushed aluminium construction, while the inside is a neat and tidy arrangement of full-size island keyboard and trackpad, without wasted space.
Laptop… not for laps
But with the lid - nay, tablet? - opened up it’s a really top-heavy device. So much so that it’s really hard to use it on your lap on the go. A moment of pause for contemplation and if your wrists aren’t rested on the product it might tilt up and fall over. We managed to catch it each time and, eventually, learnt about its precarious balance.
Secondly the underside has a sort of "foot" that sticks out more than with most laptops and, again, doesn’t make it too comfy on the lap as it digs into the legs a bit.
We resorted to desk-based use and, just like we’d touched upon earlier, all was forgotten. Here we had best access to the various ports and connections, including one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, an SD card reader and an HDMI port. There’s also two 3.5mm headphone jacks - one on the tablet side, one on the keyboard side, to ensure you can wire up cans to your ears however you choose to use the Split. ice touch.
There’s no duplication of other ports on the tablet side of the product, however, which once again makes us think that most people will use this HP as a laptop. That’s a key difference compared to something like the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, which includes full connectivity support from its tablet device screen - even if we don’t quite think of that as a true tablet device either.
On the power front the quad core Intel i3 processor is ample for most tasks, but not hardcore gaming or anything like that. It is a needed boost compared to where the previous Envy x2 was at though. We’ve found smooth operating throughout, aside from some irritating Norton "bloatware" popping up from time to time and some of HP’s own prompts here and there, for all of the usual tasks that you’ll need.
On board there’s a 64GB SSD drive which we found to be fast to load, or wake from sleep with a tap of the screen or rear-positioned on button. You can opt to buy a version with a second 500GB HDD based in the keyboard element of the product, at added cost, which is a good idea. If that's not for you then the microSD slot under the tablet - hidden out of view when in a laptop formation - means you can add up to an exra 64GB of removable storage for little additional cost.
There are some additional HP lures with the Split x2 too. HP Connected Music, the company's tie-in with Universal Music, offers a free one year subscription and things like competitions for HP users. It's a nice rewards idea, even if the Universal catalogue will always struggle to compete with the wider world of Spotify, which is open to anyone on any platform.
The music front is further supported by Beats Audio. That translates as two speakers on the tablet device, which sit at a sensible angle to project sound to your ears when in a laptop position. Don't expect earth-shattering bass or anything - not a possibility given the scale - but HP has got sound as right as it can be here. We popped on some headphones and streamed some sounds from Soundcloud that sounded sumptous, and the plus minus volume control on the rear of the device is well positioned for quick control. Good job on this front.
The HP Split x2 hasn’t split our verdict on where this product sits. Literally: it should sit on a desk. And that defies what the product is supposed to be about. For all its efforts at being a two-in-one device - well, physically at least, it succeeds in being that - it fails to deliver a truly portable tablet device; it’s just too large and heavy and, therefore, confused as to what it's meant to be. It’s bigger than the Envy x2 too and we’re not really sure why.
We can see why HP has pushed the concept of the Split. It’s where the market is, or trying to be. But for all its efforts the more exciting parts of the concept just don’t really take, while the position of last-generation Intel architecture keeps it behind the curve. Furthermore the Split x2 isn’t really comfortable to use on a lap.
Pop it on a desk, however, and it’s a laptop with ample power for its sub-£700 price point, the battery life is fair, and the typing experience is good. The screen, too, has a decent viewing angle, even if its low resolution isn’t going to cause much excitement.
So there we have it. As a laptop there’s some good here - hence the score being fair, it’d be lower if there wasn’t some success in its at-home laptop highs - but as a tablet-laptop device the Split x2 makes even the Surface Pro 2 look like a beanpole.