If hybrid laptops have a theme so far in 2014, it's the rise of the Yoga-like. This is a term we use for systems with an all-the-way-back hinge like on Lenovo's popular Yoga line of laptops, as well as me-too models from Dell and others. One of the newest and least expensive of these is the 11-inch HP Pavilion x360.
This version starts at a low $399 in the US, which means it runs Intel Pentium chips, rather than the more mainstream Core i-series CPUs (although that's mostly fine for an 11-inch laptop). Prices begin at £329 in the UK and AU$599 in Australia.
HP says the x360 is aimed at millennials looking for a single device for work and play, and one goal for this system was to produce an affordable convertible that's accessible to anyone. Since we first heard about the x360, we've seen budget versions of similar 11-inch hybrid designs from Dell and Lenovo, which means the fold-back hinge may soon be as commonplace among budget laptop shoppers as netbooks were several years ago.
There are, of course, trade-offs with taking designs that started in $1,000-plus laptops and bringing them down below $500. The look, while muted and modern, is bigger, thicker, and heavier than you may be used to from an 11-inch ultraportable. The screen in particular has a budget feel, with poor off-axis viewing -- especially troublesome for a tablet meant to be viewed from many angles.
But it's also less expensive than the otherwise similar 11-inch Yoga 2 from Lenovo. Our configuration of the normally $399 x360 doubled the RAM from 4GB to 8GB, resulting in a final price of $474. (Configuration options are not widely available outside of the US.) The Yoga 2, while slimmer and with a better screen, is $479 in a Best Buy configuration with only 4GB of RAM (other configurations are available on the sometimes-confusing Lenovo US website).
That's the trade-off between these two models. For roughly the same price, you can get more RAM in the HP x360, or a smaller, lighter design and better screen in the Yoga 2. I'm inclined to lean toward the Yoga, thinking the easier-to-see display outweighs the small performance boost the extra RAM in the HP x360 gives you. That said, the entry-level x360 is only $399, and that's a price Lenovo can't currently touch.
|HP Pavilion 11 x360||Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch)||Dell XPS 11|
|11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 touch screen||11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 touch screen||11.6-inch 2,560 x 1,440 touch screen|
|2.16GHz Intel Pentium N3520||2.16GHz Intel Pentium N3520||1.5GHz Intel Core i5 4210Y|
|8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|32MB Intel HD Graphics||32MB Intel HD Graphics||1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics HD 4200|
|500GB 5,400rpm HDD||500GB 5,400rpm HDD||256GB SSD|
|802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
Design and features
The idea of the 360-degree fold-back hinge is that you can use the system as a traditional laptop, then bend the lid backward, stopping at a kiosk or table-tent form in the middle or folding it all the way back into a tablet orientation.
It's an appealing concept, and one we've supported since the original Lenovo Yoga model launched alongside Windows 8, paving the way for a burst of creativity in inventive hybrid designs that melded laptop and tablet. In the end, this design seems to have won out, thanks to two reasons: it does the least to interfere with the traditional clamshell laptop design, and it's relatively inexpensive to engineer, compared to pull-apart or slider-style hybrid hinges.
The x360 is bigger and heavier than other 11-inch systems, hybrid or otherwise. The rounded corners and playful design gives it an accessible, consumer-gadget feel, but holding it in one hand in tablet mode is awkward. The x360 weighs 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg), while the 11-inch Yoga 2 is only 2.8 pounds (1.3 kg). By way of comparison, the 11-inch MacBook Air is 2.4 pounds (1.1 kg).
But as a budget ultraportable laptop, the x360 works well, with a full-size keyboard and a large, wide, touchpad. Like many HP laptops, the top row of function keys are reversed, which means you can adjust the screen brightness, volume, and other features without holding down the Fn key. The island-style keys have a tiny bit of texture to them, which helps grip the fingers, but the keys are also shallow and wiggle a good bit, even under light typing. Still, it's better than decent for a budget laptop keyboard.
The wide touchpad, another HP staple, also translates well in the budget version presented here. It's a clickpad-style pad, giving you a larger touch surface without separate left and right mouse buttons, but the plastic surface doesn't feel as natural as more-expensive glass versions. Multitouch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, work surprisingly well, although on a system such as this, you're likely to do a lot of your on-screen nav from the touchscreen.
It's that 11.6-inch touchscreen that holds the x360 back more than any other single feature. With a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, it's comparable to the 11-inch Yoga 2, the 11-inch MacBook Air, and many other 11-inch laptops, but the screen here is washed-out and often hard to see. The screen doesn't get especially bright, and coupled with an excessively glossy overlay, that means it's virtually unusable, even in modest sunlight.
Between this model and the 11-inch Yoga 2, the difference in display quality is huge, even at a casual glance. A poor display can undo an otherwise worthwhile laptop, and especially if you're planning to share content in the system's kiosk or tablet modes, it could be a dealbreaker.
The system loudly proclaims its Beats Audio branding via a large logo right on the interior hinge, but with Apple's recent deal to buy the audio company, this is a feature that probably won't make it to future versions of the x360. (HP has the right to build Beats systems for the rest of 2014 and to sell stock until the end of 2015.) It's a small loss in a low-cost ultraportable, as the Beats branding referred only to some software tweaks for deeper sound, mostly EQ presets, and not any actual Beats speaker hardware.
Ports and connections
|HP Pavilion x360|
|Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack|
|1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Connections, performance, and battery
Compared to many other ultraportable laptops, even the $899 11-inch MacBook Air, the x360 has a very generous selection of ports, including HDMI out, an SD card slot, and a full-size Ethernet jack. That's great -- if you need a small laptop with the ability to easily connect to a wired Internet setup, it's a big vote in this system's favor.