HP Split 13 x2
HP’s 13-inch laptop/tablet hybrid is a strong concept, but the execution could be better.
- Tablet portion is fairly light at 1.06kg
- Hybrid storage system is smart and useful
- Performs well in lightweight web and productivity tasks
- Screen resolution could be a bit higher
- Limited battery life for the weight and dual-battery setup
- Struggles with fancy flash games and graphical tasks
- Tablet and dock are heavy together at 2.2kg
It’s a great concept and while the execution leaves something to be desired – particularly in weight and battery life – HP’s Split 13 x2 proves itself a useful piece of technology nonetheless. Great as a mobile presentation tool, or as a hybrid PC/tablet for use around the home.
Laptop/tablet ‘convertible’ or ‘hybrid’ devices are nothing new. ASUS pioneered the concept with its Android-based Transformer Pad, but HP has also had experience in the form factor over the last couple of years. The Split 13 x2 is the company’s latest Windows 8-based convertible, combining a 13-inch tablet with a keyboard, battery and storage dock.
The 13-inch form factor is well past the northern border of traditional tablet sizes, with Apple’s genre-defining iPad at 9.7in and Samsung’s hero Galaxy Tab at 10.1in. Larger tablets do have useful applications, however – in business as sales and demonstration tools, or at home for family use.
A large tablet is a great way to demonstrate your latest website, or take a client through a deck of slides, at a cafe table – without putting a laptop between yourself and whomever you’re talking to. A big screen is also great when you’re relaxing on the couch with your partner, looking for a house, planning a holiday, or just browsing the web.
Those sort of applications are also well-suited to convertible devices. It’s great if, rather than carrying around a separate tablet just to do your presentations on, you can just crack the screen off the fully-featured laptop you used to create those presentations in the first place. If you’re on the road and need to tweak that prototype website, just snap on the keyboard and launch your dev tools.
Likewise, it’s nice to be able to email the real-estate agent, or make your holiday bookings, by docking the tablet with a full-sized keyboard – rather than tapping away awkwardly at an on-screen keyboard, or moving to another device entirely for that final step.
The HP Split 13 x2, therefore, most definitely has a place in the market. It’s all down to how well HP has managed to fill that place with its latest design.
The Split 13 has very plasticy construction, both in the tablet and the base. Our test model had a small but noticeable gap in the seam between the rear casing and border of the screen, which didn’t look altogether too promising. There’s quite a bit of give in the screen when twisted or bent, though the keyboard dock is a bit more solid. When docked together and closed like a laptop, it’s solid enough not to be damaged in transit. It doesn’t feel like the Split is going to… well, split… but the construction does leave something to be desired.
The glossy screen has a 2cm border in each side, which lets you maintain a good grip on the tablet without accidentally activating anything on the touchscreen. While thin borders are attractive and technically impressive, the weight of a 13-inch tablet means that a good grip is necessary. HP has smartly gone with the practical approach, leaving plenty of dead space to hold on to.
Speaking of weight, it’s really not as bad as you might imagine. The tablet-only portion of the Split weighs just 1.06kg. Compare this to the 10.6-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 2, which is only 150 grams lighter despite the substantial size difference. The Surface felt overly heavy for its size – the HP Split almost feels light. Then again, the Surface was much more solidly constructed, and a substantially more powerful device.
The docking mechanism between tablet and keyboard is a solid barrel-hinge, with two strong plastic catches actuated by a single release lever in the centre. The two parts aren’t going to come apart mistakenly, and there’s little chance of them docking ‘wrong’ and damaging the connector.
The keyboard is very slightly heavier than the tablet – together in ‘laptop mode’ the whole setup is a far-from-ultraportable 2.2kg. This can be explained by the battery and hard drive in the keyboard dock, but a good explanation doesn’t make the thing any lighter.
Keyboard and touchpad
The Split 13 x2’s island keyboard is full-sized at just over 28cm wide. The keys have reasonable travel, and most provide a good tactile and audible ‘click’ on activation . The spacebar was the one exception – it felt a little soft and lacked the same clear ‘click’, particularly when pressed near the far-left edge. You’re unlikely to notice that one little flaw unless you’re a very high-speed typist, or have a great love of retro-games which make punishing use of the spacebar.
Overall, I found the keyboard well above-average by laptop standards. I managed an excellent 118wpm without any practise, slightly above my average ‘desktop’ typing speed. There’s no learning curve due to odd key placement or spacing – HP has delivered a keyboard you can type on, quickly and comfortably.
Though there’s no learning curve, there are a few persistent annoyances – half-height up and down arrow keys make text editing and spreadsheet navigation a bit of a pain, while the inclusion of the home/page up/page down/end keys on the rightmost edge of the keyboard is of questionable usefulness.
Neither of those issues affect the basic typing experience, though, making the Split 13’s keyboard great for rapidfire note-taking or writing.
The touchpad is slightly over 11cm diagonally, which is a fair size for the form factor. It’s responsive and accurate, which is all you can really ask for. The click buttons are integrated into the pad surface, so the whole area can be used for pointing.
The 13.6-inch multitouch display has a barely-sufficient 1366x768-pixel resolution, for roughly 115 pixels-per-inch. I’ve shot down 15-inch laptops for having that same resolution, but it’s not quite as bad in this size.
It helps that the Split is a casual web-browsing, note-taking kinda PC – this is not the sort of laptop you’d run Photoshop on. Having a lower resolution makes Windows desktop applications nice and touch-accessible, with large icons and buttons – if there Split sported a 1920x1080-pixel screen, it may actually not be as useful as it is right now.
The only complaint I’ll level at the screen is its intense reflectivity – even at maximum brightness, I could clearly see myself reflected in the screen as I wrote this review. I was working under ambient light, next to an open window – no direct sunlight, no halogen spots – just a few fluorescent tubes and diffuse sunlight were enough to turn the Split into a mirror.
The touchscreen is very responsive – it offers a little more friction than I’d have expected of the glossy finish, but worked well as a standalone tablet.
Specs & Performance
The Split is based on Intel’s third-generation (Ivy Bridge) Core i5-3339Y CPU. The modest dual-core/four-threaded processor has a base clock speed of 1.5GHz, with a maximum 2GHz – in other words, it’s no powerhouse in any regard. There’s 8GB of DDR3L-1600 RAM backing that up, so anything you can do with that processor, you’re highly unlikely to run out of memory.
Results in CPU-intensive benchmarks such as video transcoding, rendering and data compression were all low – better than an Atom-powered netbook or Windows 8 tablet, but not quite at the level of a similarly-priced Ultrabook.
Though limited in performance, the Split isn’t a computational write-off like Samsung’s ATIV Book 9 Lite. We could easily play three 1080p YouTube clips simultaneously, and web apps such as Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office ran seamlessly.
Graphics are on-chip, handled by Intel’s competent-but-conservative HD Graphics 4000 engine. Our graphics benchmarks all returned the bottom-of-the-range results one would expect of an entry-level laptop, but there was nothing we couldn’t at least get running.
The only place we really felt the HP Split 13 slow down was when running graphically intensive flash games such as Robot Unicorn Attack. This is definitely not laptop for gamers, that’s clear, but it’s worth noting that even outwardly simple flash games do require some grunt to run. Going back to the earlier sales-tool example, this is not the sort of laptop you would use to demonstrate heavyweight web games, or flash-based interactive advertising.
Battery life was the most disappointing – in our intensive ‘productivity’ test, the HP Split’s tablet-portion lasted for just 2hrs 37mins. With the keyboard dock attached, the secondary battery therein extended that to 4hrs 37mins, not quite double. With lightweight usage – web browsing, or typing, we could stretch the tablet-and-dock combination out to about eight hours of use. That’s reasonable, but barely enough to justify the 2.2kg weight.
The tablet can be charged independently of the keyboard dock, by connecting the power adapter directly to it. This means it’s possible to travel with only the tablet, though you’ll be limiting yourself to half the battery life in doing so.
A nifty feature of the Split x2 is its dual-storage setup. The tablet portion has a 128GB SSD, which contains the operating system and all of your installed software. The keyboard dock has a 500GB 5400RPM hard drive for bulk storage, which essentially works like any plug-in external drive.
When the tablet is first docked, the hard drive pops up like a flash drive. Before undocking the tablet, you must remember to use the ‘safely remove hardware’ icon in the Windows taskbar and ‘eject docking station’. If you don’t do so, the Split x2 will warn you of an unsafe undocking operation, and you may lose data you’ve recently written to the hard drive.
This is a minor annoyance, but something that could have been handled much better.
HP has included software to warn you of an unsafe undocking – why not at least make that software give you a nice big desktop button to eject the dock? It requires two or three clicks on tiny, easy-to-forget icons to undock normally. We’re not dealing with OS X, where you can just drag the thing you want to eject into the trash.
Even better, why not trigger an automatic ‘eject’ when you start to slide the physical eject button? It is the year 2013, after all. Surely we’re not expecting too much from technology?
Complaints around ejection aside, the dual-storage model works really well. You can’t have applications installed on the hard drive, as they wouldn’t be available while the tablet was undocked. Not in a graceful ‘sorry, iTunes is not available’ kind of way, but in a ‘potential for all sorts of dodgy errors when Windows tries to start’ way instead.
You could, though, store your iTunes library on the hard drive, with iTunes itself installed on the tablet’s SSD. The hard drive is great for music, video and photo storage, especially if you’re using the Split as your main home PC.
Understandably, you don’t want to riddle a tablet with holes for every possible connector – the dock provides a good opportunity to circumvent this, by serving as a convenient hub for all of the devices you might want to plug in. A good opportunity, but HP hasn’t really taken it.
The tablet is really stripped-down, with just a microSD card slot and 3.5mm headphone/microphone socket. Not even a single USB port, which is disappointing – without the dock, you can’t even plug in a flash drive.
The dock starts well, with HDMI output, full-sized SD card reader, another headphone/microphone socket, and two USB ports: there’s one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0. But then it stops. That’s it.
Two USB ports is just too few for a laptop. Three is really the practical minimum. Yes, USB hubs are simple and cheap, but they’re one more thing to carry around.
Ethernet is the other sad omission – business travellers with Wi-Fi only devices are asking for trouble, with Wi-Fi either unavailable or of highly questionable quality in many hotels and offices. USB-to-Ethernet adapters are available, but as above – one more thing to carry around, and there are only two USB ports.
It’s a great concept and while the execution leaves something to be desired – particularly in weight and battery life – HP’s Split 13 x2 proves itself a useful piece of technology nonetheless.
While working with the x2 around the office, I would frequently pull the screen off and use it to show a document or email to a colleague – yes, I could have brought the whole laptop over, but we have small desks. Popping a tablet atop an existing stack of paper is far more practical than trying to clear space for a laptop.
It has its faults, but I would still recommend the Split 13 x2 as a mobile presentation tool, or as a hybrid PC/tablet for use around the home. When the base spends most of its time sitting at a desk, and it’s only the tablet you carry around from room to room, the excess weight really doesn’t matter that much.
A little refinement could go a long way, and we look forward to seeing what HP does with the next iteration of the Split.
Today's version has an RRP of AU$1299, or NZ$1599.
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