Whether you like it or not, you probably spend more time on your work computer than your personal machine. If those devices happen to be one and the same, then you probably want something thin, light, and attractive, not one of the bulky business laptops of yore.
HP’s newest release, the Elitebook x360, may be geared toward working professionals, but like other HP business laptops we’ve seen in the last year or two, it’s also slim and handsome. The x360 combines the convertible design of the company’s Spectre series with the business-friendly features of the Elitebook line.
Look and feel
HP focused a lot of its time perfecting the Spectre series for its consumer base, and now it’s bringing the same versatile design to its business customers. The Elitebook x360 is a convertible version of the previous Elitebooks, which are designed to be premium work notebooks that can hold their own next to the sea of MacBooks that dot most coffee shop tables. The x360’s all-metal design, finished in a color called “asteroid silver,” makes the device look similar to the gray MacBooks, while the hinges let the screen bend backwards nearly 360 degrees.
The lid and the base don’t align completely when in tablet mode, and the former only juts out slightly over the latter. The diamond-cut accents around the notebook give it a nice high-end touch that none of the Spectres I’ve tested have had. This convertible has edges that you can feel and that reflect slices of sunlight on a bright day. Convertibles are on-trend now for consumer devices, but they provide useful flexibility to workplace environments as well. Simply having different modes—like tent to show off a small presentation, or tablet mode to sketch out ideas or mark-up drafts—has the potential to make collaboration between employees much easier.
The Elitebook x360 is also tough, passing 12 MIL-SPEC shock, drop, climate, and vibration tests. This isn’t a flimsy device even if it measures just 14.9mm at its thickest point, so you should be safe if it accidentally falls out of your bag. It’s the lightest business laptop HP sells—the 12.5-inch Elitebook Folio G1 is 2.14 pounds—but at 2.82 pounds it’s still reasonable for its size class. That additional weight comes from the battery, which is supposed to keep the Elitebook x360 alive for at least 16.5 hours (a lofty goal, but an impressive one if it proves true). The x360 also has a slightly different array of ports to make all kinds of workers happy: there’s a smart card reader, an audio combo jack, and one USB 3.0 port on the left edge, as well as another USB 3.0 port, Thunderbolt 3 port, full-sized HDMI port, microSD card slot, and a power port on the right edge.
That Thunderbolt port can charge the device, but HP includes one of its proprietary (and clunky) chargers in the box that connects to the Elitebook x360 using the traditional, circular port. Through customer research, HP found that many of its users already have this type of charger from using previous HP laptops, so the inclusion of the extra charging port should make it easier for them to keep using the charging bricks they already have. However, you could just bring one, smaller cable and charge the device using the lone Thunderbolt port, which will be more convenient as more and more phones begin using USB-C.
That combination of ports will let you connect nearly everything you’d want to using the Elitebook x360. But as a consumer, I’d almost rather have two USB Type-C ports than two USB Type-A ports simply to prepare for the inevitable switch. However, for a business machine, this sort of in-between port configuration will help IT shops ease the transition. Two Type-A ports will make it easier for the time being to connect one accessory like a USB-connected mouse (if you don’t have a Bluetooth one) and a thumb drive at the same time.
The 13.3-inch FHD display is surrounded by prominent bezels, especially on the bottom edge, but HP wasn’t out to make the bezels disappear on the x360. The company included an IR camera at the top of the display that supports Windows Hello facial recognition, so you can unlock the notebook within moments of opening the lid when it scans your face. Our model also came with a Windows Hello-ready fingerprint sensor on the right side of the keyboard deck, giving you plenty of options to secure the device. Keeping your personal and professional data safe is crucial for workplace devices like the Elitebook x360, so you have at least four basic options to do that (password, PIN, IR camera, and fingerprint sensor), including some others from HP that we’ll get into later.
Keyboard, trackpad, and SureView
Similarly to the Elitebook Folio G1, the x360 has a stellar keyboard. I used it as my primary computer for a few days, and one of my favorite things about it was the typing experience. With 1.3mm of travel, the chiclet keys are satisfying to press and comfortably spaced. The keys are laid out like any regular keyboard with no surprise button-size changes or awkward key shifts. HP also claims to have made the keys quieter so anyone annoyed by the clickety-clack of loud keyboards won’t be bothered by the x360. You can still hear yourself typing—it’s not like you’re typing on pillowy-soft air keys—but they do give off a more muted, subdued sound than others. The Precision Touchpad complements the keyboard by being smooth to use and seamless when using different gestures.
The function keys are somewhat small, and, since this is a business convertible, they’re geared toward work uses. You have your typical brightness and volume adjusters, but you also have mute/unmute, screen share, and answer/end call buttons for Skype for Business users. Unfortunately, those keys are specifically for Skype users, so their functions may not translate in other video or conferencing apps.
The F2 button is specifically for HP’s SureView feature, which wasn’t available on our model but will be coming as an option to the Elitebook x360 in mid-April. SureView is HP’s privacy screen feature that adjusts the brightness of the display to make it visible only 35-degrees from its center. That means you’ll be able to see everything on the display, but anyone around you won’t be able to peak at what you’re working on. You’re not subjected to the brightness, though, as you can adjust your viewing brightness to fit your needs even with SureView enabled.
I received a demo of SureView on a pre-production Elitebook x360 model, and it works well. Outside that 35-degree threshold, the screen becomes too bright to decipher—it doesn’t hurt your eyes like staring at a bright light or the sun would, but it blurs everything on the display with muted white light.
HP pushed SureView as a feature all workplace notebooks should have, particularly because more people are working outside offices now. When you’re at work, you probably won’t use SureView much, but it becomes more handy when you’re working remotely on a flight or from a coffee shop. HP couldn’t say exactly how much SureView would add to the cost of the Elitebook x360, but the company89+ did say it wouldn’t cost “too much extra.” I wish HP would make SureView a default feature on the Elitebook x360 and other Elitebooks. Even if it’s not a feature I’d use every day, there are regular situations in which I’d use it for a couple consecutive hours.
HP’s Active Pen is a solid stylus with two side buttons and one top button. The two side buttons act as left and right click tools while the top button (where an eraser would be on a pencil) can be customized using Windows Ink. I’m not a regular stylus user, but having one is convenient if you enjoy taking notes or your work requires frequent editing or marking-up documents. There’s a small pen icon on the bottom bar in Windows 10 that opens a bunch of Windows Ink options, and my favorite is the Screen Sketch tool. It takes a screenshot of what’s currently on your display and lets you draw on it; considering I take a bunch of screenshots on my smartphone, being able to do this on a notebook and highlight or write notes over what’s most important to me is incredibly useful.
The bottom side button on the stylus acts as a useful eraser in these kinds of situations: you can tap on a continuous stroke (one made when you put the stylus to the display without picking it up) and that button will erase just that stroke. This mostly comes in handy if you’ve written over previous scribbles and want to get rid of a certain layer of ink, but I appreciated that the tool is not just a delete-all eraser. One thing I didn’t appreciate, though, is that HP’s Active Pen takes a AAAA battery, so you will have to replace it every so often. Our model came with the Active Pen included, but some models (mostly sold outside the United States) won’t include it. In that case, you can add it to the Elitebook x360 for an additional $60.
While there’s no space for the pen in the Elitebook x360, HP included two add-ons: a sticker-like appendage that you can attach to the notebook and a smart card insert that holds the pen. I never use smart cards, so I would opt for the insert, also because I could remove the holder insert if and when I did need to use a smart card. The adhesive holder is much like the holder that comes with the optional keyboard case for Samsung’s Tab S3, and I feel a sticker is much more appropriate for an accessory rather than an actual device. Many people might be comfortable with decorating their laptops with stickers of any kind, but I’m not one of them.
Listing image by Valentina Palladino