When Microsoft first revealed the Surface and Surface Pro a little lust crept into my heart. While I realize I have a ridiculous number of computers, most of them old things that serve limited special purposes, I spend most of my computing time on three. One is a fairly recent HP Touchsmart 520 that is actually my wife’s but occupies a very convenient location in our house. The second is a Toshiba Portege R705 that is my primary work computer. If you see me on a consulting project that’s what I’ll have with me. The third is an original iPad that I take everywhere with me. Of course it isn’t getting IOS6, got painfully slow with more recent IOS5 updates, has a slower 3G radio, and the battery life is down noticeably. My own desktop is an old Dell that I find actually painful to use, which partially explains why blog entries like this are usually written on the HP or Toshiba. So with the exception of my wife’s HP my technology base is due for a refresh.
When Microsoft revealed the Surface it immediately went to the top of the “must have” list. Ever since then I’ve been thinking about Surface, Surface Pro, or both? Ok, why this dilemma? Well I really need something extremely portable to replace the iPad and the Surface looks like it would meet that need. I mean, I literally take the iPad everywhere with me and now feel “naked” leaving home without it. So a replacement can’t add significantly to size or weight. But I need a modern replacement for the R705 too. One that can run x86 desktop apps, support Visual Studio, and let me spin up a VM or two, and be a reasonable device for writing documents and creating Powerpoint presentations. And still be a good tablet when I’m traveling. The Surface Pro looks like it is potentially the best compromise here. But it also looks like it might (with the Type Cover) be a little too heavy and a little too big for a take everywhere device. Of course without seeing them in person it is really hard to know for sure.
Then there is the Application problem. Out of the gate the Surface, and other ARM-based Windows devices, will be handicapped by a lack of “Modern” applications. Meanwhile the Surface Pro and other x86 devices will always have the rich (if not touch-centric) library of desktop apps available. So it is a bit of a leap of faith to get a Surface, and a no-brainer to get a Surface Pro. Decisions, decisions.
Last week at IFA many OEMs revealed their initial set of new Windows 8/Windows RT devices. I didn’t see much that reduced my lust for the Surface/Surface Pro until I saw PocketNow’s video of the HP Envy x2 convertible. Wow, I think I’ve found a replacement for the R705! Now my dilema is that with its larger 11.6″ screen the tablet portion of the Envy x2 is probably too big to be my take everywhere device. So that still leaves an opening for the Surface (or maybe even the Surface Pro). My head hurts. And when my wife reads this serious eye-rolling will no doubt occur.
So why is the HP Envy x2 so much more exciting than previous, or other recently announced, convertibles? It’s HP’s attention to detail. HP has been in the convertible/hybrid business since Microsoft first introduced Tablet PCs a decade ago. So they understood better than anyone what customers have liked and disliked about these kinds of devices in the past. And by combining it with good observation about what users like about modern tablets like the iPad they’ve come up with something that hits the sweet spot. For example, the docking and/or hinging mechanisms have always been the mechanical Achilles heel of this segment of the market. The Envy x2 looks like it might have finally nailed it. Putting a micro-SD slot in the tablet portion means it has the storage expandability needed for more serious use than is typical of tablets. The keyboard adds a full-sized SD slot, another battery, and a good set of connectors. And build quality is reported as being excellent. Basically, whereas previous covertibles have either been decent notebooks with some tablet capability or tablets with a (mechanically unsound) keyboard dock the Envy x2 looks like it will be both a good notebook and a good tablet. Maybe even great.
There will be the inevitable comparisons of the Surface Pro and the Envy x2. My initial impression is that the Surface Pro is a tablet that is (with the Type Cover) able to reduce or eliminate the need for a notebook in many scenarios. But it is definitely a tablet-first approach. The Envy x2 is more balanced towards notebook usage scenarios and much more suited as an alternative to an Ultrabook or MacBook Air for someone who also wants a tablet. So someone thinking “I want a tablet but I need to be able to create documents….” will go for the Surface Pro. Someone thinking “I need a new notebook but it would sure be nice to have a tablet as well” will lean towards the Envy x2.
Of course until I see them in person I really won’t know what will work for me. It’s just great to see one of Microsoft’s OEMs apparently nail a spot on the portable computing spectrum. A point that hasn’t been well served in the past, and hasn’t been served at all by Apple or the Android ecosystem. And what about the other announcements at IFA? It’s too early to tell. The PocketNow access to the Envy x2 let them show it off rather extensively compared to other devices. It may be that when late October rolls around there will be many more devices (announced at IFA or yet to come) that I’ll actually see and consider buying. For now though the Envy x2 lives up to its name.