Introduction, Design Features
So many consumer and business laptops nowadays look, in profile or general demeanor, like Apple’s iconic MacBook Air—tapered silver slices—that it has become cliche to call something a “MacBook Air clone.” And while HP’s new flagship business 2-in-1, the EliteBook x360 1030 G2, does share the same profile, size, and complexion as Apple’s long-running laptop icon, to call it that would sell this machine short.
Indeed, you might say that the comparison, were you to make it, might give more undue credit to the aging Air than to the EliteBook. Why? The EliteBook x360 is something of a showcase for 2017’s business laptops. It shows how slick and thoughtful hardware design, security-minded detail, and attention paid to how business users really work can merge into a machine that’s more than the sum of its parts.
The EliteBook line has long been HP’s showcase for its lean, purpose-built laptops for business productivity. The clamshell models typically offer lots of legacy ports, solid construction, and, in later years, slim-yet-rugged designs in the EliteBook Folios. (See, for example, our review of the EliteBook Folio 1040 G3HP Elite x2 G1 (1012)Lenovo ThinkPad X1 YogaLenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga (a 2-in-1 workstation model), and Dell in myriad Latitude 2-in-1 models.
What can the rotating EliteBook offer that these others cannot? Each has its strengths, many of them the same as the x360’s. But this model, in sum, offers a refined hardware design, ruthless trimming-down for lightness, pen-input support, great battery life and performance, and some advanced, thoughtful business security features. Let’s take a look.
HP claims that the 13.3-inch-screened EliteBook x360 is the thinnest business-centric 2-in-1 convertible on the market at the moment. Given that it’s 0.6 inch thick, and 2.8 pounds, if that isn’t true, it’s close.
It’s a very trim design, considering that the original Spectre x360, with a 13-inch screen, weighed in at 3.3 pounds. In a demo that HP hosted introducing the EliteBook x360, it likened the 14.95mm thickness of the laptop to that of an AA battery. That’s at the thickest point. It seems as apt a comparison as any, though it sells short just how light the EliteBook x360 feels in hand until you heft it.
The body is done up in a silver finish with diamond-cut accents. It’s a single-piece design of the much-flogged “unibody” kind, dominated by aluminum. This is the signature look of HP’s recent EliteBooks, like the matte-black materials that define Lenovo’s ThinkPad family. There’s a slight taper from the rear to the front that you can see in profile.
The lid is clean metal and ultramodern, with the now-familiar, modernized HP logo that makes us say, “Um, does that say ‘HP,’ or “Liji’?”…
The lid is quite rigid, thin but exhibiting almost no flex when torqued at the corners. Nice.
The screen on this unit did not benefit from the same extreme bezel-reduction effort that trimmed much of the fat off the edges of the 2017 version of the Spectre x360 13, or from competing machines such as the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. The bezel is 11mm wide on the sides and 18mm thick on the top edge, though one of the benefits is that the Webcam is in its proper location above the panel, not below (a much-maligned compromise in the recent Dell XPS 13 models). The wider bezel also affords a good-size no man’s land for your thumbs when gripping the EliteBook x360 in its tablet mode, without swiping or tapping the touch screen by mistake.
The panel itself is intriguing on a couple of fronts. HP notes that a 4K version will be available down the road, but for review we received a 1080p (full HD) version with a Corning Gorilla Glass top layer, covering the screen edge to edge. It’s a reflective, glossy screen with excellent viewing angles and reasonable color depth. We liked it better than the Sure View screen on the EliteBook 1040 G3 we tested last. This panel is what HP terms “UWVA” (for “ultra-wide viewing angle”), functionally equivalent to the wide-angle viewing we’ve seen from many IPS screens in laptops of its class. We can’t vouch for the same qualities in the eventual Sure View version, however.
As we wrote this in early April, the EliteBook x360 was available for sale with just this panel, but a version with HP’s optional Sure View integrated screen filter was just about to come onto market in mid-April. (The price premium for Sure View was not immediately available.) Sure View, which we first saw earlier this year in the EliteBook Folio 1040 G3 model we tested, is an HP-specific technology for deterring screen eavesdropping by the passenger in the airplane seat next to you, or your co-worker in your open-plan office. (HP uses the term “visual hacking” for this; to us, that sounds like it gives the spy or busybody too much credit, but hey.)
At the press of a button, Sure View makes the screen look essentially blank unless you’re sitting in a narrow field of view in front of it, of about 35 degrees on either side of the centerline. (Per HP, it suppresses 95 percent of the visible light coming from the panel if you are outside the privacy cone.) It’s an effective feature and perhaps a game-changer for frequent travelers who deal with sensitive medical, corporate, personnel, or financial data.
Note that use of the SureView feature will levy a slight battery-drain penalty. (HP claims 16.5 hours of runtime on the EliteBook x360, but 13 with SureView enabled.) And we weren’t as keen on the quality of the screen on the Sure View EliteBook we reviewed as we are of the more ordinary panel on this one. So be sure you’ll use it before you opt for it.
Apple’s 2016 (non-Air) MacBook. It’s actually a rather good board for a laptop this thin.
The thing is, Lenovo’s ThinkPad 2-in-1s have it beat, to our fingers, on overall feel. Also, it lacks the ThinkPad Yoga X1’s ability to have the keyboard recess when rotated into tablet mode, leaving the back of the “tablet” a more or less smooth expanse. Here, like on most 2-in-1s, you have a keyboard on the back of your tablet in that mode.
Still, if you want to go this trim on your laptop or 2-in-1, something has to give, and an engineer can allow for only so much key travel before adding thickness. HP’s is one of the best designs in a laptop or 2-in-1 this thin that we’ve tried, but it’s still a product of its natural constraints.
The overall layout of the EliteBook x360 keyboard is smart and conforms to norms, though we’ll quibble about HP’s half-size up/down arrow keys nested between the two full-size left/right arrows until eternity ends or a design change happens, whichever comes first. As this is a 13.3-inch-screen laptop, the layout lacks a number pad, as you’d expect. But HP made intelligent choices here in its layout. (Also, in our test unit, an NFC hotspot was embedded in the touch pad.)
Also on the keyboard deck is the fingerprint reader, in a recessed square below the right-arrow key. In the case of this hardware, the fingerprint matching is done on the sensor itself. This biometric data is encrypted on that hardware, using keys specific to that individual sensor. Setting it was easy, and it worked well. The Webcam, meanwhile, adds another biometric layer by working with Windows Hello for face-recognition logins.
HP dubs the keyboard in the EliteBook x360 a “premium collaboration keyboard,” and we have to give the company credit for a distinct focus on business communication in the design here. In the upper right portion is a set of dedicated keys geared toward using the EliteBook x360 as a speakerphone or Skype station. (They comprise buttons for mute/unmute mic, share screen, answer call, and hang up call.) These buttons debuted in the EliteBook Folio.
These buttons are paired with four speakers tuned for business communications and spoken-word applications. The speakers vent out the underside, as you can see below. We tried them with some loud rock, soul, and ambient, and were underwhelmed by the music performance. The speakers are ostensibly tuned by Bang Olufsen for spoken-word applications. But the audio impression with music was not a bang, but a whimper. The maximum volume level seemed too soft with most kinds of media, and music sounded generally hollow and tinny. Voices, however, were unerringly clear.
Also on the (literal) flip side, the mics internal to the chassis are designed for clear conference calling. If you open the EliteBook x360 180 degrees (i.e., flat) and position it at the center of your conference area, the mics will optimize for that mode and work as well as any speakerphone. This functionality is optimized for use with Skype for Business.
The mix of connectivity on a machine this lean is surprisingly good, with HP balancing legacy and forward-looking ports in what, to our eyes, seems just the right mix. On the left edge, you get an always-on USB/charging port, the single audio output jack (headphone/mic), a SmartCard slot, the volume rocker, and a power button…
On the right edge is a MicroSD card slot, a USB Type-C/Thunderbolt port, a security-cable lockdown notch, and full-size HDMI and USB 3.0 ports (plus the power jack)…
On its consumer devices, HP noted to us that it didn’t see the need for full-size video output, which could be handled via dongle when needed. But the full-size HDMI here is an elegant solution for presentations, carrying both audio and video over one wire without a dongle or a mini-to-big-port adapter.
The other key input factor here that we haven’t yet discussed is the addition of pen input to the EliteBook with this model. Our test configuration included HP’s Wacom-based active pen in the box. (Some x360 configurations, such as ours, include it; it’s a $59.99 option if not in the box.) The pen itself has more substance than many we’ve used, and because HP does not provide for a niche inside the laptop to store it, the pen can be thicker and more grippable. It’s more in line with Microsoft’s active pen for its Surface Pro 2-in-1s than the passive sticks we’ve seen on some other models.
Lack of an internal storage slot does mean the pen is more likely to get lost, so HP provides a flexible loop you can stick on the edge of EliteBook x360 (a ghastly violation of its clean lines, if you ask us), or a flexi-insert that slides inside the Smart Card reader slot (not ideal, but better, as you can remove it when you’re leaving the pen behind). The pen has a good handfeel and glides well over the screen. It works with various apps with pen support, along with those on a Windows Ink submenu you can pop up from the taskbar for basic sketching, handwritten digital sticky notes, and the like.
As befits a fleet-style laptop like this for business, HP covers it with a three-year commercial warranty. A host of warranty upgrades and damage-insurance plans are available.
Components Core Software
We received for testing an $1,899 version of the EliteBook x360. This unit had the full-HD (1,920×1,080) “EWVA” display panel we mentioned earlier, with HP’s active pen included in the box and in the price. Note that in many SKUs of the EliteBook x360, the pen is included, but not all; you’ll want to check that detail if you’re considering one of these units.
The CPU choice was a leading-edge Intel “Kaby Lake”/7th Generation chip, the Core i7-7600U, levying a bit of a premium for its support for vPro. This is the maxed-out chip choice for this model; HP offers units starting with Core i5 Kaby Lake chips. Likewise, the main system memory is filled to the brim; the CPU was backed by 16GB of DDR4 memory.
These prime parts were complemented by a nicely apportioned 512GB PCI Express SSD as the boot drive for the included Pro version of Windows 10. The storage choices on the EliteBook x360 are strictly SSD, and strictly M.2. (This 2-in-1 is far too trim for a hard drive.) All of the configurations, as you’d expect, are reliant on Intel HD Graphics from the CPU; discrete graphics is not an option.
HP outfits its EliteBooks with a load of business-collaboration and security-minded software. It’s impossible for us to go into depth on all of the angles, but some are too intriguing not to dig into. One is HP WorkWise Office, a utility that covers a host of disparate but useful things. Via a related WorkWise iOS or Android smartphone app, you can add a proximity logon/lock to your x360, with the EliteBook automatically going into a locked state when you wander a certain, customizable distance away from the machine with your smartphone. The app unlocks the EliteBook when you get back into range.
We found it easy to set up in Android; phone and laptop link via Bluetooth and a short wizard process. That said, the app repeatedly disconnected from the laptop and had to be re-paired each time, until we realized we had to tweak the app’s settings, telling it to stay connected whenever our Huawei Mate smartphone took a nap. That setting ought to have been on by default.
This WorkWise feature can also incorporate tamper detection, alerting you if the machine was moved or opened while you were away. (Big-brother-flavored hint to HP: In version 2.0, how about snapping a pic of the transgressor with the Webcam when this happens, and zapping it over to the phone app?) WorkWise also incorporates a PC dashboard for monitoring internal temperatures, as well as an automatic printer-driver install function, logical given HP’s primacy in printers. (You scan a QR code on an HP printer using the app in your phone to trigger easy driver setup.)
Another security-minded feature included is HP’s third-generation version of its SureStart technology, which affords protection at a BIOS level against rootkit attacks. It reverts your BIOS to an earlier safe state if changes to it look inappropriate and would lead to a no-start condition.
Two other onboard services are worth noting. One is HP SureConnect, which acts as a self-healing feature to diagnose Wi-Fi problems beyond the abilities of the Windows network troubleshooter. The other is HP’s Velocity software, which acts as a sort of quality-of-service layer for video/audio, specifically for Skype for Business (optimized for that), prioritizing packets of that traffic for the best-possible A/V experience.