The post-PC era is upon us and we're in a period of transition. There are tablets, there are laptops and there are devices that want to do more than the two combined. Take the HP Pavilion x360, a touchscreen device that outwardly looks like a laptop but has a nifty hinge mechanism to flip its screen all the way around and transform its uses.
It's not the first time we've seen such a concept, however, with the Lenovo Yoga doing a fine job of the multi-positional screen concept over the last couple of years. Use it as a laptop, as a tablet-esque device, as a stand to watch or form an upright "tent" for play. Yeah, we know the fourth one is a bit of a reach.
What is it about the HP that separates it from the crowd? In a word: price. At just £349 this 11.6-inch touchscreen is an affordable way into the Windows 8.1 operating system. But at such an apparently bargain price point how many corners have had to be cut and, therefore, does it suffer as a result?
We've scrutinised the design of various HP laptops in recent times but, on initial inspection, the Pavilion x360 looks like a rather nifty device.
At £349 there are no plush materials or shiny metals, but that's a given. And we don't mind: the lipstick-cherry-red finish is eye-catching without being overbearing and the subtle rounded edges make for a visually pleasing form.
The hinge that sits between the screen and keyboard sections is larger than a normal laptop would offer, but that's down to the nature of its special trick to get that screen into any given position. Although the hinge is large it's not imposing, and there is no exposed elements that need to be clipped in to one another like some of the two-part competitor devices.
However, the overall device is somewhat large considering it offers just an 11.6-inch screen. The black bezel surrounding the display seems to excess to us and is further extended by a secondary grey plastic surround. If a dedicated tablet had a similar bezel size we'd make a fuss. Cue Sony Xperia Tablet Z2, then.
To its sides the HP x360 comes equipped with one USB 3 socket, a pair of USB 2 sockets, an SD card slot, Ethernet port and HDMI C-type output. Also on board is 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. It's got pretty much everything you could want at this level and feels somewhat on par with a Chromebook.
The "Chromebook" sentiment continues, but we don't mean that in a positive light. One of our biggest bugbears with the budget laptop sector is their woeful screens, which is the x360's single biggest issue.
As the x360 does not use an IPS panel the viewing angles are poor. Without looking directly at the screen there's a falloff in colour and contrast that is frustrating and the glossy finish means there are reflections to contend with too. We don't expect you'll often want to be looking at the screen from some obtuse angle, mind, but even just slightly out of direct line of sight and things further lack intensity. Not that colours and contrast are intense to begin with.
That's the main issue with the screen. It's not even the 1366 x 768 pixel resolution which bothers us as that's enough to cater for 720p movie clips no problems.
A £349 machine is unlikely to have an exceptional screen, but when even a 7-inch tablet such as the Nexus 7 can offer a Full HD (1920 x 1080) panel for roughly half the price, it doesn't sound so great on paper. Even the 10-inch Nexus 10, which is a couple of years old, far outshines what HP has to offer here.
The x360 needed to buck the trend here, but fails to do so. And when the Lenovo Yoga has set a much better - although, we must admitted, more expensive - benchmark, the budget approach simply falls short.
The x360's distinctive feature is that adjustable screen. We like the concept of laptop, tablet, stand and tent positions, but have mixed feelings about the end results.
On the one hand the unobtrusive design of the hinge works well. The keyboard has subtle "feet" to prevent the keys from being pressed when that side of the device is facing table-side down too. Small details score points.
It's more that once in the tablet position the x360 is simply huge by tablet standards. The 1.4kg mass and 22mm thickness are too large in tablet world. Not in budget laptop world, but that's almost besides the point.
The stand mode works well as the hinge has just the right amount of rigidity to hold the device into place at whichever angle you choose. The concept for watching movies here is great, but as the screen's viewing angle is so limited the mode has limited application in reality.
The most successful of all positions is the standard laptop one. The interior section has a silver-colour finish, complete with an edge that won't dig into the wrists when typing. A large keyboard makes light work of typing thanks to decent sized keys and sensible spacing, while an ample trackpad provided generally good feedback with the occasional bit of finger latency due to the surface material.
A budget buy isn't going to deliver the most powerful specification. The x360's 2.13GHz Intel Celeron N2820 processor and 4GB RAM may sound beefier than even the Asus Transformer Book T100, but the HP doesn't offer a quad-core solution, instead relying on a dual-core system.
In use we found that meant the x360 was a bit of a mixed bag. Simple tasks were slow: from setting up, to logging in, through to browsing and opening windows. It's all too sluggish, partly down to a 500GB HDD that, while ample in amount of storage, isn't swift like an SSD would have been.
However, with full Windows 8.1 on board there are few limitations to what you can do, if waiting around more than a premium setup sometimes isn't a problem. Install software as you please, from word processing to picture editing even through to gaming.
After loading up Windows Store and downloading Lego Hero Factory: Invasion From Below there was no difficulty in running the game smoothly. Granted it's not the most demanding of titles out there, nor does it run at high resolution, but for some casual gaming there's nothing stopping you from using the HP x360 just like you would a mid-level tablet.
It's a generally quiet system too, with only a little fan noise apparent on occasion. We never found a moment when that became a jet engine sound like some other laptop setups we've used. Heat wasn't a problem either, with only a little warmth on the underside towards the left hand side.
But the system draws on the power strings and was a bit of a surprise. As the HP operates on Intel's Bay Trail architecture we anticipated it to be better than it lasted out for. Two two-hour car journeys doing some work and an extra hour of play in-between was all the HP could muster. Which is around half of what the smaller, slimmer, lighter Asus T100 saw us through.
Conceptually the HP Pavilion x360 gets a lot right. It's got full Windows 8.1, it's affordable, has plenty of physical connection ports, makes light work of typing, and the multi-positional screen idea is integrated well, even if it's not an entirely original concept.
It's the delivery where issues arise. The problem with the x360 are its poor screen viewing angles, limited battery life and the size and weight when being used outside of its laptop formation. And when the Lenovo Yoga betters by design and the same-price Asus T100 is slimmer, lighter and a stronger performer it's the surrounding market that closes in on the HP and trails a question mark over its worth.
There's a saying that you get what you pay for, but with so many solid tablet offerings and keyboard docks available at incredible prices that can deliver plenty, the x360 struggles to stand up to them. Its screen and battery offerings see this it fall short, which is a shame as as we rather like that cherry red and silver combination finish. But appearances really aren't everything.
We're in the post-PC era, but in this period of transition the Pavilion x360 fails to enhance what is already on offer in the market. It just seems to just dilute it.