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HP SlateBook x2: Two Devices in One, Master of None

As great as technology is, it doesn’t do any favors for your wallet or your back when you have to schlep all your gadgets around. So, if you had the opportunity to reduce the number of devices in your life without sacrificing any of the functions you’re used to, you’d take it, wouldn’t you?

That’s the idea behind hybrid PCs — or convertibles, as they’re sometimes called. They’re laptops that flip, twist, detach or slide to also become tablets. It’s a concept that became popular when Microsoft released Windows 8, but this week I tested one called the HP SlateBook x2, running on Google’s Android operating system.

The SlateBook x2 features a solid design that allows you to easily move from a 10-inch tablet to a laptop by attaching an included keyboard. It’s equipped with Nvidia’s latest processor, which delivered good performance, and comes preloaded with some useful productivity software, like Kingston Office. At $479, it’s also $20 cheaper than the latest iPad of the same capacity (16 gigabytes).

But, as with other hybrids we’ve tested, there are trade-offs. Its screen is dim, and tablet battery life is mediocre. The keyboard is also cramped, which made it frustrating to use as an everyday computer. As a result, the SlateBook x2 doesn’t excel at being either a tablet or a laptop. For now, you’d be better off going with a dedicated tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard.

The SlateBook x2 features a design similar to HP’s Windows-based hybrid, the $650 Envy x2, which is a good thing. This is because you can completely remove the keyboard, simply by sliding a button on the keyboard hinge. The tablet pops off with ease, and you’re left with a device that’s comfortable to hold.

I prefer this design to some of the other hybrids like the Dell XPS 12 and Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, where the keyboard tucks underneath the machine and makes for a bulky tablet. The only issue I had with the SlateBook x2’s physical design is that the power button and volume controls are located on the back of the device, so I’d accidentally press one of these buttons occasionally.

Also, with the keyboard attached, the SlateBook x2 is somewhat heavy at 2.77 pounds. By comparison, the 11-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.38 pounds. Still, it’s easy to carry around in a backpack or larger purse.

The SlateBook x2’s 10-inch touchscreen has a resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels. That’s on par with the Sony Xperia Z, and even better than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1, but unfortunately, the display isn’t very vibrant. Even with brightness set to the highest level, images had a yellowish tint and a grainy look. I watched some clips of Disney’s “Wreck It Ralph,” and the normally colorful movie looked lackluster on the SlateBook x2’s screen. Also, when playing games like AVP Evolution, which has dark scenes, it was difficult to make out the details.

The keyboard isn’t much to write home about, either. The buttons offer a nice, tactile feedback, and the touchpad is wide. But the keys are small, and the overall layout is cramped. I grew a little more accustomed to it after a couple of days, and it was convenient to have a full keyboard for writing longer emails and working on documents. But I never felt really comfortable using it, and I have pretty small hands. I can’t imagine that it would offer a good experience for someone with larger mitts.

Along the left and right sides of the keyboard are various ports, including an HDMI port, a USB 2.0 port, a headphone jack and a proprietary power connector. The tablet offers the latter, a headphone jack and a microSD card expansion slot to supplement the 16GB of internal storage. HP doesn’t offer the SlateBook x2 in any other capacities, and it’s Wi-Fi only.

The SlateBook x2 runs Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2, and HP hasn’t done too much to fiddle with the user interface. The company does ship the device with a bunch of software, some of which I didn’t use at all, such as HP’s proprietary media player. But some of the others were quite handy. For example, the HP File Manager allowed me to easily find files stored on the tablet or on my microSD card. Kingston Office was also a great productivity tool, and I used it to work on numerous Word documents, including this column.

In general, the SlateBook x2 was a responsive tablet. It’s equipped with Nvidia’s latest Tegra 4 quad-core processor, which, compared to previous chips, promises faster Web browsing, better graphics performance and increased battery life, among other things.

I didn’t encounter any delays when navigating through menus, and most apps launched immediately. But there were a couple of hiccups. For example, occasionally there was a slight delay when flipping through photos in my Google+ gallery. Another time, the Google Play store unexpectedly closed while I was searching for a movie to rent.

I also played a couple of games, including the third-person shooter Max Payne and, for the most part, game play was smooth. I have to admit I missed the dedicated controls offered by Nvidia’s gaming handheld, Shield. And the SlateBook x2’s sub-par screen and weak speakers didn’t do much to enhance the entertainment aspects of the tablet.

The SlateBook x2 tablet and the keyboard dock are both equipped with batteries, and HP estimates battery life at 12.5 hours when used together. In my harsh battery test, where I turned off all power-saving features, set the screen brightness to 75 percent, and kept Wi-Fi on while watching a continuous video loop, I got five hours of battery life from just the tablet. That’s not particularly great, especially compared to the iPad’s 10 hours.

With the keyboard dock, I was able to get 10 hours using the same battery test. In a more real-world test, where I used the tablet and keyboard to check email, social networks, browse the Web and work on documents, the SlateBook x2 lasted a little over a day before needing a recharge.

While there are some good points to the HP SlateBook x2, there are just too many trade-offs to make it a suitable laptop-tablet replacement.

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