With the latest update to its Envy x360 laptop line, HP has done what has long seemed nearly impossible: Jettisoned Intel from the CPU slot. In preparing this writeup, I scoured my archives of hundreds of laptop reviews I’ve written over the years. The last time I encountered a laptop with a non-Intel processor was in 2011.
AMD announced a mobile platform codenamed Raven Ridge, now known as Ryzen, in October 2017. While it has solid corporate sponsorship, Ryzen laptops aren’t exactly dominating the shelves. HP was one of the first to implement Ryzen, using it across the Envy x360 line. Ryzen is called an APU instead of a CPU because it combines both a 2GHz Ryzen 3 processor with a Radeon Vega 3 graphics core, all on the same die. You can think of it as your typical integrated graphics, just kicked up a notch or two.
But AMD’s Ryzen isn’t just designed to bring much-needed graphics improvements to the ultralight category, it’s designed to do so on the cheap. The entry level version of the Envy x360—which I received for review—is currently available (after discounts) for a penny shy of $600. That kind of pricing has been completely unheard of in the touch-capable convertible space. To compare, that price is almost half that of the similarly-equipped but Intel-powered Spectre x360 I reviewed just weeks ago.
This base configuration of the Envy x360 includes the aforementioned Ryzen, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The 13.3-inch touchscreen (1920 x 1080 pixels) wraps around to the back of the device, allowing it to be used in tablet mode, or to be propped up, tent-like, for presentation purposes. Ports include two standard-size USB 3.0 ports and a mini USB-C port. A separate, cylindrical socket is included for charging, but as I discovered, the laptop will also charge via the USB-C port with a generic power adapter.
Walk, Don’t Run
Performance is solid, if not earth-shattering. On general apps, the Envy was neck and neck with the Spectre x360, which was powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5. But on most graphics tests, it outperformed the Spectre by a factor of 20 to 30 percent. (It fell a bit behind the Spectre on a small number of gaming tests.) That may sound like a lot, but on the whole the graphics experience was underwhelming. Serious, current-generation games were simply much too slow to be played with any degree of accuracy, although, of course, you’d be crazy to try to use a $600 convertible tablet as a gaming machine. Worst of all: Battery life, at under three and a half hours, is downright awful at any price.
There are more serious drawbacks to the Envy x360, the most notable of which is stability. The Envy crashed repeatedly on benchmarks—and even installing benchmarks—often requiring numerous retries, updates, and patches to get things to work. With a few exceptions, I was able to get things stabilized, though using the Envy in day to day operations never felt completely comfortable. The fan is loud and runs at the slightest provocation, and the build quality of the hardware is not overly impressive, either. The island style keyboard is good enough, but the touchpad is erratic and stiff, with left- and right-clicks (and even taps) being frequently confused for one another. Under load, the bottom of the laptop can get blisteringly hot. (Hence the fan.) While it weighs an acceptable 2.9 pounds, the whole thing feels a little janky, and its hinge system is surprisingly loose and floppy.
The Envy x360 also continues HP’s particularly unenviable legacy of attempting to push as much shovelware down its users’ throats as is humanly possible. Two Candy Crush games are preinstalled on the system, and the HP JumpStart package offers over a dozen more ways to “customize your apps and weblinks” with mostly junk if you haven’t had your fill.
But hey, for 600 bucks, maybe it’s worth it.