EVER SINCE Microsoft released its touch-focused Windows 8 operating system, hardware makers have been wrestling with finding the best way to show off its finer points and create a truly usable laptop/tablet hybrid.
Some firms like Asus have tried to solve the problem by building dockable keyboard attachments for Windows 8 tablets. Others such as Lenovo have been a little more creative, making Ideapad Yoga devices with flexible hinges that let users turn the laptop into a tablet by rotating its keyboard to go behind the screen.
HP has traditionally chosen the same route as Asus, creating standalone tablets that can be turned into laptop replacements with optional dock attachments. But that changed at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014, where the company chose to quite literally reverse itself and unveil its Ideapad Yoga-like Pavilion x360 laptop.
Design and build
HP has worked hard to make sure the Pavilion x360 looks as eye catching as possible, releasing it in a variety of colours. The red version we saw looked particularly striking and set the Pavilion apart from HP's other more enterprise focused hybrids.
The Pavilion x360 is fairly light by large tablet standards, weighing 1.4kg, and doesn't feel overly heavy. We also found the slightly rubbery plastic outer coating felt suitably robust and offered little to no flex under pressure.
The keyboard and trackpad also proved fairly pleasant to use and were responsive to the touch.
Checking the Pavilion x360's sides and back, we were also pleased to see that HP has given it a healthy selection of connectivity options. The system features a Superspeed USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and Ethernet ports and a headphone-out/mic-in combo jack.
It was only when we attempted to change the Pavilion x360 into a tablet that we noticed any issues. Attempting to rotate the keyboard to go behind the screen, the hinge was very stiff. It felt fairly delicate and on a few occasions we were concerned that we'd actually snap the hinge - though an HP spokesman told us this is because the model we saw was pre-production and that this will be fixed on the final versions.
The Pavilion x360 was also slightly difficult to use, first because by having the keyboard on its back, it's fairly hard to get a good grip on it. Second, while it's reasonably light for a laptop, as a tablet the machine is far too heavy to comfortably hold in one hand.
The Pavilion x360 comes with a 11.6in 1366x768 resolution, LED backlit touchscreen, and seemed very responsive to gesture input. Our only regret in this regard is that the Pavilion x360 doesn't come with a digital stylus, which meant that using it as a standalone tablet could be fiddly at times, especially when trying to use a desktop application.
The display also offered reasonable picture quality. While nowhere near as good as the in-plane switching (IPS) displays seen in other tablets, the Pavilion's screen is reasonably good. Colours were suitably vibrant and text, while sometimes a little fuzzy, was always readable.
The only issue we noticed was that the Pavilion x360's screen was fairly prone to reflecting glare. When this happened the Pavilion x360 became all but unusable - though we were testing it in a very bright showroom.
The Pavilion x360 comes with Microsoft Windows 8.1 pre-installed. It has no Windows 8.1 Professional option for businesses, which makes the device more suited for BYOD than dedicated corporate use.
Windows 8.1 is still reasonably good from a productivity perspective. The device comes with Microsoft's core Office productivity suite and Onedrive storage service. The use of Windows 8.1, as opposed to the less impressive Windows RT, also means that users can run legacy Microsoft Windows applications software on the Pavilion x360.
HP offers the Pavilion x360 with either an Intel Pentium N3520 2.17GHz processor or an Intel Pentium N2820 2.13GHz processor. The demo device we tested featured 8GB of RAM. All versions feature Intel HD graphics.
This means that highly demanding tasks such as digital painting, video editing and 3D modeling and gaming will be beyond the Pavilion x360. Considering that it is priced from £350, though, this is no surprise.
Testing it on productivity tasks such as web browsing and document editing, the Pavilion x360 purred along nicely and we didn't experience any performance issues during our hands-on.
Storage and camera
The Pavilion x360 we tested had 500GB of built-in storage, but it also comes in 320GB and 750GB options. It also has an HP Truevision HD webcam with an integrated digital microphone for video calling. Opening Skype and making a video call to a smartphone, we found that the camera was more than good enough for making video calls.
HP is remaining vague as to how long the Pavilion's two-cell battery should last on one charge and a spokesman at the company's MWC stand declined to answer queries regarding battery life. We will test this properly in a full review.
While the HP Pavilion x360 doesn't seem very original, looking a little too much like a Lenovo Yoga to be considered innovative, our initial impressions are fairly positive. While it is heavy as a tablet, the Pavilion x360 did strike us as a reasonable netbook replacement.
However, its ability to satisfy users will largely be determined by key details that HP is remaining quiet about, such as battery life.
The HP Pavilion x360 is due for European release in March, with prices starting at £350. Check back with The INQUIRER then for a full review. µ