Introduction, Design, Features
For several years now, Intel’s processors have dominated the laptop and convertible world, with AMD-powered alternatives mostly relegated to low-end systems and the occasional business machine. But Intel’s command of the consumer PC space is being tested here at the tail end of 2017. Qualcomm and Microsoft recently announced ARM-powered “Always Connected” devices like the HP Envy x2. And AMD’s successful Ryzen architecture, which made huge waves in the desktop sphere in 2017 (we named Ryzen Product of the Year for good reason), began making its way into laptops and 2-in-1s in the form of Ryzen 5 2500U and Ryzen 5 2700U chips.
The first Ryzen Mobile laptop to land on our test bench is the subject of this review. To be clear, the Asus RoG Strix GL702ZC arrived first. But that gaming laptop packs a full-power eight-core, 65-watt Ryzen 7 1700 desktop processor. The Ryzen 5 2500U in the HP Envy x360 15z that we’re looking at here is specifically tooled for use in reasonably slim and portable PCs. It’s rated at 15 watts—the same as Intel’s latest competing 8th Generation Core (“Kaby Lake R”) U-series CPUs.
Can AMD’s new mobile chips deliver the goods (and the battery life) to compete with Intel’s latest? That’s—at least in part—what we’re here to find out. First, though, let’s take a closer look at HP’s latest 15-inch convertible.
15-inch HP Envy x360 earlier in 2017, when the company promised it would appear in both Intel and AMD-based varieties. The Intel model, we were told, would be outfitted with a silver shell, while the AMD variant would be clad in black. Fast forward seven months or so, and that’s exactly what we have. The HP Envy x360 15z that we’re looking at here lists for a starting price of $749 with an AMD Ryzen 5 2500U processor, 8GB of memory, and on-chip AMD Radeon Vega graphics (which, as we’ll see later in testing, significantly outpace Intel’s integrated graphics silicon).
A 1TB hard drive comes standard, which is a shame (though it is a 7,200rpm model). For as little as $130 more if you buy direct from HP, you can switch to a 256GB M.2 solid-state drive, with options for up to a 1TB SSD (for a steep $580 extra). The 1TB SSD model is actually the version we’re testing. Our review unit came direct from AMD, so it’s not exactly surprising that the company would want a version with solid-state storage to show off its new silicon in the best light. But the resulting $1,329 price for that configuration is a much tougher sell for a system like this than the $749 starting price. Personally, we’d probably go for the version with a 256GB SSD for $879, and maybe remove the three screws on the bottom of the laptop and add a 2.5-inch hard drive for extra storage space.
For the record, the Intel variant (model 15t), starts at a higher $869 list price, with an 8th Generation Core (Kaby Lake R) i5-8250U processor, and the same 8GB of RAM and 1TB hard drive that ships with the entry-model 15z. The Intel version has more configuration options, though, including dedicated Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics ($100 extra), or the GTX 1050 graphics and a Core i7-8550U processor ($270 over the base price). Storage is similarly configurable (and similarly expensive in the higher SSD capacities) to the AMD-based version.
All that said, it’s a bit tough as we write this to get a solid sense of real-world pricing going forward. As we stated earlier, the entry model AMD-based HP Envy x360 15z lists for $749, but was selling for $574 on HP’s U.S. site just before Christmas 2017, and the Intel model x360 15t, listing for $869, was selling for $699. After the holiday, the AMD model was back to selling for $749, while the Intel-based 15t was still selling for $699. If you happen to be considering both models, be sure to keep a close eye on price changes before buying. We will say that, while the HP Envy x360 is an attractive laptop—and we prefer the darker AMD-based design we’re looking at here—we think the sale prices on both machines (which amount to about $170 to $175 off list) are much more reasonable for what you get. With that, let’s look at the HP Envy x360 15z in closer detail.
Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5-1570 weighs in a bit less at 4.4 pounds. It’s safe to say that any 2-in-1 with a 15-inch screen is going to be the type you’ll most likely be using in your lap on the couch or at a table, not while on the go.
The all-metal shell does give the x360 15z a premium look and feel. But that’s marred somewhat by the fact that, at least in our review unit, the bottom edges on each side of the laptop felt a little sharp, digging uncomfortably into our fingers and palms when picking up the unit or moving it around on our test bench. And the hinge mechanism, while it feels plenty sturdy, creates quite a bit of screen bounce or wobble when you’re tapping at the touch screen. We don’t consider either one of these issues a major problem, particularly at the sub-$800 price point of the entry-level options. But if you add roomier storage and kick the price up close to or above $1,000, you’re getting into the range of more premium hardware—like HP’s own Spectre x360, which starts at $1,299 for the 15-inch model.
Port selection is pretty good, although we did find the button layout a bit confusing initially. On the left edge you’ll find a full-sized HDMI port, a USB 3.1 (Gen 1) port, the headset jack, and power button.
It took us a few days to get used to the location of the small power button on the left (in laptop mode). But if this becomes your primary PC, you’ll probably adapt quickly.
The right edge houses a full-sized SD card reader (which happily accepts the full length of the card, rather than leaving half of it sticking out of the side of the laptop), a Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port, volume rocker, and a power jack.
Aside from the absence of an Ethernet jack (which is quite the rarity among slim consumer-focused machines these days) the Envy x360 15z delivers all the connectivity we’d expect from a plus-sized 2-in-1 here at the end of 2017. Bluetooth 4.2 and 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi are also included.
As for the keyboard and touch pad, both are solid for a system in this price range. The keyboard includes a number pad, which many will appreciate. But coming from regularly working on a 13-inch laptop with no number pad, we often found our fingers mashing the Num Lock key when we meant to hit Backspace instead. The keys are mostly full-sized (apart from the top row and the up/down arrow keys), with a decent amount of travel and little keyboard flex. They keyboard is also backlit, though you can’t adjust the level; it’s on or off. The touch pad is extra wide (over five inches diagonal), with attractive beveled edges. There are no physical buttons here, which is again common these days on consumer machines. Instead, the whole touch pad depresses slightly for physical clicks. The clicking mechanism had just about the right amount of resistance and depth to please our fingers.
The Bang Olufsen-branded speakers, which sit above the keyboard, get quite loud at maximum volume, and we didn’t notice any distortion when cranking up our tunes. Bass response isn’t exactly stellar, but for music and video playback, the speakers do a good job—at least in laptop mode. In tent mode while watching video, the sound is pushed out away from the screen (and the viewer). And in tablet mode, the sound pumps out from the bottom of the device. None of these issues are major, or unusual for this type of convertible. It’s just worth noting that the audio setup here strongly favors using the Envy in laptop mode.
The HP Envy x360 15z has but one screen option: the 1080p (1,920×1,080 resolution) touch panel that shipped with our review unit. It’s not particularly pixel-dense for a 15.6-inch screen, but for productivity purposes we like this resolution perfectly well. The Intel-based 15t model does offer a 4K panel (for $200 extra) if you’re looking for higher pixel counts, though keep in mind the extra pixels will almost certainly shorten battery life signficantly.
Despite the fact that HP doesn’t advertise the 15z’s screen as an IPS panel, we noticed no viewing angle issues. The panel’s main drawback is that it doesn’t get particularly bright. It’s not overly dim either, and should suffice just fine for most conditions (barring direct sunlight). Just know that more premium machines offer brighter backlights. And in lighting where glare is an issue, the glass over the Envy’s touch screen can exacerbate the moderate level of backlighting. Again, we’re left feeling that the screen is perfectly adequate for a machine in the $700-to-$800 range. But if you’re going to spend much more than that, you could probably do better.