Chrome OS tablets don’t have a pretty past. In 2018, Google released the Pixel Slate, its attempt to jumpstart the market, but poorly optimized software and expensive hardware made the device a non-starter for most people. Since then, Google stopped making tablets entirely, while most manufacturers making Chrome OS devices have also stuck with more traditional designs.
That started to change last year, when Lenovo built an inexpensive but useful Chrome OS tablet, the Chromebook Duet. This year, HP has followed a similar pattern with the HP Chromebook X2, an 11-inch tablet that’s pricier and higher-end than Lenovo’s Duet (the model I’m reviewing costs $600). But, like the Duet, it uses a mobile processor (in this case, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c) and includes a keyboard and pen at no extra charge. Based purely on specs and design, the Chromebook X2 should be a fine performer — but is its convertible form factor worth the premium over a more standard laptop?
- Great battery life
- Well-built hardware
- Keyboard and pen are included
- Excellent (though small) display
- Sluggish performance if you push it too hard
- Keyboard is just OK
- Expensive if it’s not on sale
We’ll get into how useful Chrome OS tablets are soon, but based purely on hardware alone, HP’s Chromebook X2 makes a great first impression. The tablet itself is a metal-clad slap that feels sturdy and well built. There’s a small camera bump on the back, along with metallic HP and Chrome logos, but overall it’s a simple device with few adornments. The device has squared-off sides with rounded corners, much like the iPad Pro and iPad Air, but it feels different enough from those devices despite the fact there are only so many ways to make a tablet.
When looking at the front, you’ll notice a small camera on the top bezel, with stereo speakers positioned near the top of the screen. On the left side edge you’ll find two USB-C ports and a volume rocker. In the top left corner there’s a multi-function power button with a fingerprint reader. When you’re using the Chromebook X2 with a keyboard attached, pressing the power button shows options to shut down, log out or lock the device. When you’re using it as a tablet, though, the button has the more standard “lock the device and turn off the screen” function. The fingerprint scanner is easy to set up, and I wish that more Chromebooks had them.
The right side of the tablet is basically unadorned, aside from a mark that shows where you can magnetically attach the Chromebook X2’s pen to its side for easy access. The iPad Pro and various Microsoft Surface devices also let you magnetically attach a stylus, so this isn’t really a big innovation — but it’s still nice to have.
When I reviewed the Pixel Slate back in 2018, my main takeaway was that Chrome OS still required a keyboard. As such, I was glad to find that the Chromebook X2 had one included. To turn the X2 from a tablet into a functional laptop, HP designed a two-piece case. The keyboard cover goes on the front, much like Microsoft’s Surface Keyboard. But instead of having a built-in kickstand, the X2 has a second cover that serves as a kickstand which magnetically snaps on to the back. Once you have that set, the X2 is basically identical to the Microsoft Surface Go, at least in looks.
The Chromebook X2’s keyboard is pretty good considering it has to fit a relatively small device. The keys have solid travel and are quite responsive, though they’re a little bit loud. It feels a little cramped, but not any worse than the Surface Go’s keyboard. But it definitely feels more cramped than the Magic Keyboard I use with my 11-inch iPad Pro. (That’s a $300 accessory, though, so it really should be better than a keyboard HP includes with every X2.)
The main issue with the X2 keyboard is that it’s not ideal for using on your lap. As I’ve noticed with some other keyboard folios, applying just a little pressure on palm rests often causes the trackpad to register a click, which can be infuriating when you’re, say, typing a review and keep getting interrupted. It’s much better on a desk, where the keyboard is more stable. Microsoft’s Type Cover for the Surface lineup doesn’t have this problem, so it’s just a matter of build quality in the end. And for a small, light device meant to be used on the go, having a keyboard that only works on a hard, flat surface is less than ideal.
Despite occasional accidental clicks, the X2 trackpad is pretty good. It’s larger than the one on the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard and as well as the Surface Go’s keyboard, and it’s fast and responsive for both single-finger and multi-finger gestures. It’s still pretty small, though, so you might prefer an external mouse for extended work sessions.
The Chromebook X2 may be a small machine, but its 11-inch touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio is a standout. It’s a high-resolution display, coming in at 2,160 x 1,440, and the taller aspect ratio makes it feel a lot less cramped for work than a 16:9 screen would, especially at this smaller size. It’s also a very bright screen, almost painfully so — even when working in a sunny office, I rarely turned brightness up higher than halfway.
As I mentioned earlier, HP included a stylus with the Chromebook X2. I’m no visual artist, so I’m not qualified to really judge its performance — but there’s no question stylus performance on this device lags behind Microsoft’s Surface Go 3 and any iPad I’ve tried. But again, HP included a stylus for free, whereas Microsoft and Apple charge extra for it. That doesn’t make performance better, but at least you’re not shelling out additional cash for a sub-par experience. The pen might be fine for quick sketches or notes, but it doesn’t feel like something I’d want to use for very long.
Even though there aren’t many Chrome OS tablets, Google has made improvements to the OS’s tablet mode over the years. It’s quite a bit more stable and user-friendly than it was when the Pixel Slate came out in 2018; the main UI concepts are a mix of what you’ll find on iPadOS and Windows. Apps automatically launch in full screen, and the home screen is a grid of all the apps you have installed. Swiping up when you’re using an app brings you back to the home screen, and a more deliberate swipe from the bottom shows the Chrome OS dock. Finally, you can run two apps in split-screen mode when you want to multitask.
I haven’t used the Chrome OS tablet mode in a while. I’ve reviewed a ton of Chromebooks with 360-degree hinges that can be used in tablet mode, but they’re usually too heavy for that. But the Chromebook X2 feels great in the hand; with its 11-inch screen and a weight of 1.23 pounds, it’s not too big or heavy to be used as a tablet. The main issue with Chrome OS on a tablet is familiar to anyone who has used Android tablets: there just isn’t much software optimized for a large screen. That said, using the X2 to casually browse the web, watch videos and play the occasional game worked well. HP knows that this isn’t the primary way anyone should use a Chrome OS device, hence the included keyboard — but for casual couch browsing or watching a movie on a plan, the X2 does the trick.
As a laptop
The main way I used the Chromebook X2 was as a laptop, with the included keyboard attached. The biggest question I had was whether the Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c processor was enough for my normal workflow. The answer was “more or less.” The X2 ran better than I expected, and I could usually have most of my normal apps running at all times. That means a couple Chrome windows with a handful of tabs in each, plus Chrome apps for Slack, Todoist, Keep, Trello and Tweetdeck. I also often had the Android version of Spotify running for music.
This all ran acceptably, but it definitely wasn’t the fastest — particularly if I had too many Chrome tabs going. The X2 that I tested has 8GB of RAM, and that helped keep most of my programs running without the need to refresh when I switched between them, but I ended up instinctively limiting how many tabs I had going at any given time to avoid pushing the X2 too hard. I also didn’t play music directly from the X2 much when I was running a lot of other apps, as I eventually would run into slowdowns or low memory skips if I had too much going on.
While I wish performance was a little better, it’s important to look at it in the context of how HP designed the device. Given its small size, I thought of it more as a secondary or travel computer rather than something most people would sit down and use for hours on end every single day. The display is certainly too small and performance not quite robust enough for me to use it that way, anyway.
One advantage of using a Snapdragon processor is that the Chromebook X2 had excellent battery life. While it’s too small of a computer for me to comfortably use all day long, I routinely got around eight hours of work when I used it as my primary machine, and still had charge left at the end of the day. It also performed extremely well in our battery drain test, which loops an HD video with the screen set at 50 percent brightness. The X2 lasted about 11 and a half hours in that test, which means this device should be a solid movie-watching companion if you’re on a long flight.
At only 1.23 pounds as a tablet and a little over 2.25 pounds with the keyboard and kickstand attached, the Chromebook X2 is an extremely portable computer for when you don’t need the full size and power that you get in a larger laptop. It again reminds me of Microsoft’s Surface Go 3, not just in the way it looks. Both devices are a bit underpowered, and I wouldn’t recommend either be someone’s primary computer. But, they can be great secondary computers if you’re aware of their limitations.
Pricing and the competition
Of course, price is a big part of the equation. That was probably the biggest problem with the Surface Go 3 when I reviewed it recently: The kit I tested cost $860, and for that money it should be powerful enough to use as your only computer. But the Chromebook X2 is cheaper; the model I reviewed costs $600. That gets you the aforementioned Snapdragon 7c processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, the keyboard and pen. And the X2 has already been on sale numerous times at Best Buy for only $400. At that price, it’s a pretty great portable secondary computer.
At $600, it’s a little pricey for what you get, though. That’s mostly because you can buy a larger, more powerful Chromebook for a little more money. Both the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 and Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 cost $700 and come with faster Intel chips, better keyboards and larger displays. You have to be really committed to the tablet form factor to not give those computers a look instead. Or, you can get Lenovo’s Flex 5 Chromebook for only $300 on Amazon as of this writing; you’ll save yourself money and have a better overall experience. If you can find the Chromebook X2 on sale for $400, it’s a much more compelling buy, but it’s still not the best Chromebook in that price range.
The main issue with the Chromebook X2 is neither its price nor its performance. It’s the fact that most people will be better served with a standard, laptop-style Chromebook. Sure, most Chromebooks are a little bigger and heavier than the X2, but they’re also generally more powerful and have better keyboards. The X2 only makes sense if you value portability and battery life over performance. If you can find the X2 for $400, it’s worth considering if you’re a Chrome OS user looking for a secondary computer that you can take with you anywhere. Otherwise, you’re probably better off considering one of the many other Chromebooks on the market.
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