If you’re a Windows person, working and living in a Windows world, then you'll have seen just how much portable Windows computers have changed over the years, just as Windows itself has into today's Windows 10 OS – and as you'll see with HP's Elitebook x360 1020 G2, which we're looking at today.
Of course, while Windows might rule the desktop and notebook computing roost, Apple's MacBook and its Pro variants have never been more popular in today’s world, with iPhones and iPads supplanting laptop purchases for many people. But in the world of business, most homes and in many schools, people still use a Windows PC of some kind.
In today's world, in addition to Macs, Android tablets and Linux, there are multiple Windows PC choices to consider. Do you need something ultra thin and light at 13.9mm and 1.13kg, 12.5-inch or so touch screen, with plenty of power, stylus and tablet capability, backlit keyboards, USB-C, Thunderbolt, and more, as we see included with this new x360?
Or do you need a much bigger laptop with 14-inch or larger screen, with even more grunt but a lot more weight, while still maintaining that touch screen capability?
Or perhaps you've no need for a touch screen, and just want something as close as possible to the traditional laptop that just uses a good old fashioned keyboard and mouse
In the PC world, you have plenty of choices, with HP (and most of its competitors) making models to fit all the descriptions above, and more besides.
Then there's the question of reliability, too. All brands will have users with horror stories, that's simply the law of numbers at play and manufacturing snafus that can affect any brand.
Now, anecdotally, while Apple has a superb reputation for quality, so too does HP, or at least, it does today. A friend who has had his Surface Pro 4 replaced three times by Microsoft told me he was thinking of a new computer, and wondered what I thought was the most reliable.
I explained that those aforementioned horror stories could be found with all brands, but that if his current Surface Pro 4 was finally working smoothly, there was no reason to upgrade just yet.
He agreed, and told me that he’d asked the staff in the Microsoft Store and at JB Hi-Fi in the Westfield Pitt St shopping mall, and both had said that while various Surface models had seen all manner of returns, the HP Spectre range had proven solid, with the JB rep reporting only one had ever been returned in the time they’d worked there.
Despite that, this friend ended up buying a recent second hand HP Spectre he managed to find online, and is happy as happy can be, because he managed to save some money too.
So, what does all of this have to do with my review of the HP Elitebook x360 1020 G2?
Well, it’s simply a bit of background to this review. I have had the chance to use it for a few days, and while it’s absolutely no secret that I defected to the world of Apple Macs back in 2011, and use a 2013 MacBook Pro as my primary computer, and my iPhone X as my primary phone (with both devices purchased outright and not being loan units), I need to keep up with and stay fresh on developments in the world of Windows and Android.
Obviously, it’s part of my job description as a technology journalist, reviewer and commentator, but also because Windows is still a huge part of the world’s computing environment, and there’s plenty of people who are Windows users to whom I provide tech support help.
Convertible tablet evolution and pricing
We’re also in the position of Windows tablets having evolved to be a blend between traditional Windows ultrabook and iPad style tablet device, complete with multifunctional stylus, which are less iPad clone and more the ultimate evolution of the original Windows XP Tablet devices that Bill Gates launched all those years ago in 2002.
Indeed, had today’s 2-in-1, 5-in-1 and convertible Windows tablets with vibrant, capacitive screens protected by Gorilla Glass, with multifunction styluses, stronger battery life (on some models at least), ultra light weight and more been around in 2002, iPads would probably never have gotten off the ground, because everyone would have transitioned to Tablet PCs long before.
But with Tablet PCs being up to 10 times more expensive at launch than the US$499 original iPad, with the most affordable 2018 iPad being US$329 and A$469, Tablet PCs just weren’t as successful as they should and could have been.
Indeed, today’s 2018 Tablet PCs, like the HP Elitebook x360 1020 G2, are fabulous devices, but they’re still quite expensive (even as iPad Pro prices have crept up dramatically too), although for business uses with tax deductions, they then become more affordable.
In addition, you can get HP'x new Elitebook x360 1020 G2 model in a range of configurations as seen at HP's Australian online store, from the cheapest model at A$2150 without touchscreen, through to every other model above that with touchscreen and varying amounts of RAM, Core i5 or i7 processing power, SSD or M2 NVMe drive capacities, Sureview capability (explained below) and screen resolutions, with the most expensive model offering the lot – 4K, 16GB, 512GB M2 NVMe and more for A$3616, with various prices and configurations in between.
The mode I reviewed had the Sureview screen, a 500GB SSD, 8GB RAM, 1080P FHD touch screen, stylus, NFC and more.
HP Sureview Privacy screen
Now, depending on the model you get, one option is the very cool Sureview feature, which activates a privacy screen mode built-into the screen, so you don't need a separate (and most excellent) 3M Privacy screen sitting atop your existing screen.
This privacy screen prevents those sitting to your left or right, whether at a café, conference or seatmates on a plane or other transport from being able to see what you are typing or doing – something especially useful in the age of identity theft, corporate espionage and more.
It will cost more, but especially for those in business, it is definitely worth it.
Another nifty feature that appears to come standard on all models is HP Phonewise, which lets you pair your iPhone or Android so you can make and take phone calls, as well as send and receive SMS messages from the screen of your x360, and with Androids, even mirror the display of your phone onto your larger ultrabook’s screen. I tested this with both an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, and these features worked as advertised (with minor differences for both platforms).
Special conferencing keys let you use conferencing software, complete with call answer and hang up buttons, are on the top row of the comfortable, backlit keyboard, although for some reason the hang up and answer buttons didn’t seem to work with the HP Phonewise software.
The battery offers a fast charge mode, promising 50% charge within 30 minutes when the HP is off or in standby mode, after which battery charging returns to its normal slower pace.
As with Laptop Mag’s review of this same unit, battery life could be better, even though HP boasts of up to 15 hours of battery life.
For example, I have the system on the best battery life setting, with the screen dimmed, and with the Battery Bar software showing me that I have 86.3% battery life left.
Windows no longer gives an estimate of battery life in hours and minutes, but Battery Bar app does, telling me there’s only 4 hours and 11 minutes left.
This is not really a problem in an office environment, when you’ll be spending a lot of time at a desk and near your power adapter, but if I’m out and about and on the go, I’d have wanted at least eight hours or battery or more. At least, there’s that quick battery charge feature to help make up for it.
NFC, speakers and ports
There’s also an inbuilt NFC chip, presumably so you can transfer information between phone and PC or compatible PCs, and a raft of other HP business software, for remote management and more.
The five-speaker Bang & Olufsen speaker system is great, too – obviously those guys know how to deliver great sound.
A built-in full size HDMI port is great to see, meaning no dongles are required just to plug into a conference room projector or a larger monitor, or a TV.
It is also great to see two USB-C ports, which are actually Thunderbolt 3.0 ports for use with superfast Thunderbolt drives, and with USB-C able to become any other port, having two such ports is vastly better than only having one.
However, the fact no standard USB-A port or ports are included means a dongle will be necessary in some scenarios – like plugging in other people’s USB thumb drives or portable hard disks, for example.
Thankfully, USB-C dongles are now widely available and at ever more affordable prices, offering Ethernet ports, USB-A ports, VGA ports, HDMI ports and more.
Keyboard, trackpad and stylus
As for the keyboard, although I’m used to my Mac’s keyboard, and the Command-C and V keys (equivalent to the ALT key) rather than the CTRL-C and V keys, thus making me have to relearn my keyboard shortcuts (temporarily at least as I review this computer), the keyboard itself is great to type on – more than enough travel for me to be happy with (and more than you'll find on the MacBook or new Macbook Pro), while backlit keys you can toggle on, off or to different levels of brightness are also excellent and a welcome inclusion.
This compares to Fujistu's otherwise also very impressive Lifebook U937 notebook I reviewed late last year, which didn't have backlit keys, and which I missed having access to.
The welcome inclusion of a stylus and a touch screen on the HP Elitebook x360 model I reviewed is something I’d love to see on a Mac one day, even though Apple seems determined to forever keep its Mac and iPad lines as separate devices.
Being able to mark up Web pages in Edge, sign PDF documents, make handwritten annotations in Word documents and more is cool, and so too is being able to scroll by using fingers on the screen, even if a trackpad is a vastly more ergonomic way of scrolling.
HP also includes a little stylus holder, made from material with a stick edge that attaches to the top of the notebook case. A little loop then protrudes from the left or right-hand side of the screen, into which you store the stylus, and it's a great and simple solution to stylus storage without having to build a stylus to go into the body of the x360.
This blending on touch screen, included stylus and trackpad (looked at in further detail below) compares with Apple's approach of trying to to have it both ways, by saying such a set-up is not suitable for a Mac, while forcing you to do just that on an iPad docked into a keyboards.
Perhaps Apple will have to do one of its famous reversals and reveals where it denies all existence of a particular product or scenario until it triumphantly releases the same concept itself in its own way on its own device, but until then, Windows users are able to do this, should they choose, on all manner of devices out there, and often without having to pay extra for a keyboard or stylus (although in the case of Microsoft's Surface tablets, as with Apple's iPads, buying those extras cost extra).
Then there's the trackpad. While nowhere near as large as those on modern-day Macs, HP's trackpad did the job as smoothly as I’d expect in 2018, which is vastly better than Windows trackpads of old – something Microsoft finally got right in Windows after what seems like decades of trying and failure compared to Apple's silky smooth trackpads.
But as I said, modern trackpads have mostly caught up to Apple usage-wise, except in size, which on the very latest MacBooks might even be a little too large, but which are Apple's substitute for a touch screen on its Macs – at least for now.
Like Laptop Mag’s review, which I heartily recommend you also read, I didn’t have any performance problems.
Sure, I heard the fan spin up now and then simply while surfing the Web, which did surprise me a little as it is more than I can say for my 2013 MacBook Pro, where I rarely hear the fan spin up unless I’m seriously overloading the machine with a zillion open tabs and lots of open apps, or am doing video transcoding, but then I do use ad-blocking, cryptocurrency script blocking and tracking cookie blocking software on my Mac these days too, which no doubt helps prevent a lot of useless code from running in the first place - and helps to stop the fan spinning more than it presumably otherwise would.
That said, I was happy with the Elitebook x360's performance, and it did the job snappily, transforming as required from ultrabook to tablet and all the configurations in between as needed. It didn't skip a beat in my usage and it was a great Windows 10 tablet computing experience.
Look, if I wanted an ultraportable Windows computer that could do it all, with 12.5-inch screen, superfast SSD or NVME M.2 drive, Sureview, stylus and more, this particular model, the Elitebook x360 1020 G2 is a very compelling ultrabook convertible.
Of course, as a devoted, unabashed Mac user these days, a Mac even without touchscreen or stylus is always my first choice, especially with what I consider to be the superior macOS and its superb integration with iPads, iPhones, Apple Watch, AirPods and HomePod, but I’m definitely not the everyday office worker or business user who lives in a Windows world.
You have a heck of a lot of choice out there, from a range of well-known brands, but with HP’s reputation these days as a solid maker of business-class devices, and the world's top PC maker for years, one of HP's models will be the first choice for many out there, even as the Windows world reminds as competitive as ever.
Again, I wish battery life more closely lived up to HP’s claims, and I wish that the promised major upgrades to battery chemistries delivering vastly improved battery life would come sooner rather than later, but for the office worker needing a Windows based device, HP’s Elitebook x360 is a solid choice.
All of that said, Fujitsu’s impressive 779 gram Lifebook (linked above) is nearly half the weight of the Elitebook x360, so there’s even lighter options out there at similar pricing, as well as heavier but beefier machines with much bigger screens, so doing your own research before committing to any model to find the right model for you is, as always, the wisest course of action.
That said, I’d be a very happy camper with this HP Elitebook x360 1020 G2 if I had to use it every day, and if you choose it, I’m sure you would be very happy too.
I'd give it 3.75 stars, 75% or a solid B++ in the ratings. If only battery life were longer, it would have rated better, but again, for office workers who keep their devices plugged in while at a desk, you'll have plenty of battery life for meetings when you need to be on the go, and that fast charge capability helps to make up for things.
Finally, I only wish these devices were a bit more affordable, whether iPads, MacBooks or HP Elitebook x360.
Sadly, in a world where the US is $20 trillion in debt, and China with its own debt troubles too, let alone Australia's debt sadly creeping up to the trillion dollar mark for the first time, inflation and the problem of too much money out there conspires against strong dollars keeping their value and thus having a lot more bang per buck.
But that said, if you use these devices for business, or can get an education discount for the student in your life, then your accountant or student status can help.
Here’s HP’s promotional video below, with plenty more information here.