When I say “Chromebook,” do you think of a plastic clamshell that costs $199? You couldn’t be further from the truth of today’s sophisticated Chrome OS laptops, and perhaps the one you’re furthest from is HP’s new Chromebook x2. For one thing, the x2 isn’t cheap at $599.99. For another, it’s aluminum rather than plastic, with the same swank faux-ceramic finish as HP’s Spectre 13. And instead of a conventional clamshell, it’s a 2-in-1—the first Chromebook to be a detachable rather than a convertible, so it’s much lighter and handier in tablet mode. If you’re torn between a Chromebook laptop and an Android tablet, HP just solved your problem.
Pricey But (Arguably) Worth It
The Chromebook x2 features a perky Intel Core m3-7Y30 processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of eMMC storage expandable via microSD card, front- and rear-facing cameras, and a 12.3-inch high-resolution (2,400 by 1,600) display. It’s priced $100 above the Editors’ Choice-winning Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, which HP would contend is heavier (2.43 versus 1.62 pounds) and more unwieldy when used as a tablet because you can’t jettison its keyboard. The keyboard cover and stylus come standard with the x2, while they’re options that bring the cost of Apple’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro to $1,067.
Decorated with HP and Chrome logos, the back of the display gains additional durability and scratch resistance from its white ceramic-like finish. The world-facing camera offers 13-megapixel (4,096 by 3,072) resolution. Thumb-sized black bezels surround the glossy screen, above which sits a 5-megapixel (2,560 by 1,920) webcam for video chats. Both cameras take fair images with the featureless Chrome OS camera app, better ones if tweaked with an Android app such as Camera FV-5.
The tablet measures 0.32 by 11.5 by 8.3 inches, increasing in thickness to 0.59 inch (and in weight to 3.07 pounds) with the keyboard cover. You’ll find two USB Type-C 3.0 ports, one on either side as you hold the tablet in landscape orientation, along with a microSD card slot on the left and a volume rocker on the right. The supplied AC adapter plugs into either USB Type-C port. The power button is on the top right corner, near a headphone jack. There’s 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless. A loop on the side of the keyboard holds the stylus pen.
A firm tug separates the slate from the imitation leather-textured keyboard cover; a little wiggling and a push onto the magnetic latch reunites them. Like other detachables, the HP is a little top-heavy (and the screen doesn’t tilt back very far in laptop mode), but the device is much more stable and comfortable in a lap than tablets that use a kickstand.
Surprisingly Nice Typing
Whether the Chromebook x2 is in your lap or on your desk, you should be able to type at a reasonably quick clip thanks to the keyboard cover’s pliant feel and crisp feedback. Travel is shallow, but response is snappy.
The keyboard follows the standard Chromebook layout—I was pleased to see the cursor arrows in the proper inverted-T layout rather than jammed into the single row common on HP’s Windows laptops—with browser and system control keys along the top. The keyboard is not backlit, ceding bragging rights to the Asus C302CA. A smallish but smooth touchpad provides an alternative to the touch screen.
The 3:2-aspect-ratio display is beautiful, with ample brightness to show off its pristine white backgrounds and inky blacks. Colors are rich and vivid, and the 235ppi pitch makes individual pixels invisible. My only peeve is that fine details are hampered slightly by the default scaling, which makes the 2,400-by-1,600-pixel screen look like 1,200 by 800. Text and icons will probably be too tiny to read if you use the Settings app to turn scaling off, but if you have sharp eyes you can choose a compromise resolution such as 1,714 by 1,143 to see more spreadsheet columns on screen and so forth.
The AAAA-battery-powered, buttonless pen is fine for jotting notes and casual sketches, though less suited for fine art than fancy styli such as the Microsoft Surface Pro‘s. There seemed to be a tiny bit of lag in my swoops and scribbles, but palm rejection was good.
What’s better than good is the experience of using the Chromebook x2 as a tablet. Four-fifths of a pound may not sound like a game-changer, but the lighter weight is immediately and pleasurably noticeable as you hold the unit minus keyboard, as is the feel of a smooth back instead of a keyboard beneath your fingers. Whether you’re tipping and tilting the slate to play Android games or enjoying Netflix, both enhanced by the front-firing speakers—there’s not a lot of bass and the highest notes sound a little tinny, but volume and stereo separation are surprisingly robust—the x2 is the best Android tablet I’ve used.
Punching Above Its Weight
The battery-sipping Core M processors have a reputation as the 98-pound weaklings of Intel’s lineup, which makes the HP’s performance a pleasant surprise: A dozen browser tabs open plus Outlook and YouTube or Netflix? Bring it on.
In everyday use, the system feels lively and slick, though its 8-second boot time when switched off is unexceptional. (Chromebook users usually just close and open the lid rather than turn off their machines, anyway.)
In our battery rundown test, the HP lasted for 11 hours when playing a locally stored video file…
That falls short of the record set by the low-res Lenovo 500e Chromebook but bests numerous competitors and shows more than enough stamina for a day’s work plus an evening’s entertainment.
This Landmark 2-in-1 Deserves Your Dollars
All told, from its seamless laptop/tablet switch to its seamless access to thousands of Google Play Store apps (though I still vote for Microsoft’s browser-based Office Online over Office for Android), it’s hard to find much fault with the HP Chromebook x2. I think HP missed a chance for a knockout blow by pricing it above the Asus Chromebook Flip and Samsung Chromebook Pro convertibles, but if you plan on spending any amount of time in tablet mode, it’s a landmark system that deserves to match the Flip’s Editors’ Choice.