HP Graphic Power Shines with HP ZBook x2

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There are some things that you desperately want when you first see them—true love, a luxury car, a full head of hair—until you get slapped in the face by sticker shock. I felt that way about the Surface Book for the longest time. I want, I need, I have to have it, yadda yadda yadda. But it was pricey and I learned to live without it. I’m going to have a much harder time getting over the HP ZBook x2 G4.

HP 14" ZBook x2 G4 Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Mobile Workstation

Right off the bat, comparisons will abound between the Surface Book and the ZBook x2, and rightfully so. The Surface Book (Microsoft’s higher-end graphics laptop, in the Surface series) wowed everyone with its sleek look, powerful engine, and graphics muscle. But where the Surface serviced a broad range of needs, from entertainment to engineering, the HP ZBook X2 G4 serves only one master—the creative professional.

Microsoft 15" Surface Book 2 Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Notebook

And not all creative professionals, but those with money to burn who are going to spend hours using Adobe Creative Cloud to produce their work. Forget web-browsing, game-playing or movie watching. This thing is built for creative work.

Let’s break it down a little. The HP ZBook x2 G4 is a two-in-one that includes a 14" 10-bit 4K UHD screen and a Bluetooth keyboard that can attach via a magnetic hinge-clip to the screen and, since the keyboard is Bluetooth enabled, it doesn’t have to be attached to be usable (unlike the Surface Pro series). The HP ZBook x2 G4 can be configured with either an Intel® Core™ i7-8650U, Intel Core i5-8250U, Intel Core i7-7500U, or Intel Core i7-7600U processor. It also comes with a range of RAM (8 to 32GB) and storage options (128GB SATA SSD or the speedier 256GB to 2TB PCIe NVMe SSDs). Worth mentioning is that the ZBook x2 G4 features two Thunderbolt™ 3 ports, which you won’t find on the Surface series. With the keyboard, it’s a fully functioning and powerful laptop. Without the keyboard, it’s suddenly a Wacom-like tablet on steroids.

Included in the tablet portion is an NVIDIA Quadro M620 graphics controller, with 2GB of discrete GDDR5 RAM. The GPU is capable of entertaining an external display at resolutions of up to 5120 x 2880 using the system’s HDMI 1.4 and dual Thunderbolt™ 3 ports, the latter of which supports DisplayPort 1.2.

Another bonus (albeit a smaller one) is the fact that the multi-touch tablet screen has a matte, and not glossy finish, like most 2-in-1 hybrids. You think that’s not a big deal now, but trust me: after repeated use, the absence of fingerprints on the screen is a welcome plus for this graphics-intense workhorse.

While we’re on the subject, the specs of the screen are pretty impressive on their own. It’s a 10-bit (in reality, an 8-bit screen using frame-rate controls to simulate 10-bit) 14" UWVA IPS anti-glare display with UHD 4K 3840 x 2160 screen resolution, support for up to 1 billion colors, LED backlighting, a 16:9 aspect ratio, 300 cd/m2 brightness, a 300:1 typical contrast ratio, refresh rate of 60 Hz, 283 ppi, and viewing angles of 85/85/85/85° (you should be aware that some models, like this one, feature a DreamColor display, which comes with profiles for sRGB/BT.709, DCI-P3, and DICOM. DreamColor displays are especially helpful for creatives who need near-perfect Adobe RGB gamut matching). For those of you not into spec-crunching, this all adds up to one of the most impressive displays on a 14" hybrid.

Another extra, like the matte screen, which most will find useful is that the x2 G4 also includes a new Wacom/HP co-developed stylus with Electro-Magnetic Resonance (EMR) support. It features 4,096 levels of pressure and is run on power from the screen—meaning no AAA batteries to replace or Bluetooth pairing needed. My only caveat with the stylus is that it only features one button, and I constantly found myself accidentally turning features off on the tablet while drawing. What offsets this small glitch is that the display surface has been slightly altered so that the pen and touch controls now adjust to real-life levels of sensitivity. This is as close to writing on paper that a tablet has approached, in my experience. And while the Wacom MobileStudio has a pen with 8,192 levels of sensitivity, most creatives will barely notice the difference.

The HP ZBook x2 G4 won’t win any style awards. It’s built like a Teutonic opera singer, solid and squarish and all business from the breastplate up. But while the blocky look and impressive weight (slightly less than 5 pounds with the keyboard) may not win you over, the sheer muscle of this thing will. I found myself rarely using the keyboard, and instead opted for taking the tablet and sitting on my favorite sofa while I drew some intricate comic-book panels. The system comes with Adobe Creative Cloud app installed (although you still must pay for a plan if you want to use it) and while it was super easy to use, I opted for other art programs that I use regularly.

And that’s where I experienced one of the few drawbacks of this system. The stylus only has one button, and I’m accustomed to having more options when using graphics programs. You will need to re-learn many shortcuts, and your muscle memory will leave you frustrated at times, but it was worth it in the long run. HP also designed the tablet display to feature six HP Quick Keys, fully configurable, to augment the pen’s lack of buttons. Smart move, and one on which you will rely heavily, and which should be familiar to those who have become accustomed to Wacom Cintiq or Intuos Pro’s ExpressKeys. The keyboard was solid, a tad thin, but serviceable. Even pounding on the keys (for my graphics-program shortcuts) produced minimal travel. I even dropped the tablet at one point (it’s really too heavy for one-handed operations and, even with two hands, you’re fatigued in short order), and although I held my breath like a new parent watching their kid ride a bike for the first time, it came out unscathed. That may be due to the MIL-STD-810G rating of this device.

As for battery life, HP touts it as ten hours, but I found it to be a little less (with programs running full bore, I found the battery sent warnings about power at around 6-7 hours). But mind you, this tablet has a fully yoked NVIDIA graphics card running full time, so you want to be near a power outlet all the time if you’re using this all day. I didn’t do a streaming video test (the most common test for battery drainage) because I don’t think most people at whom this tablet is aimed will be looking to watch Rick and Morty reruns all afternoon. (Guilty pleasure and awkward admission: I did). Oddly enough, the tablet never became as overheated as some detachables do. This may be because of HP’s impressive dual-fan active cooling system, which effectively moved air from the processor and NVIDIA card while the computer was running full bore.

And now we come to where the rubber meets the road, or more aptly, where your wallet runs headfirst into reality like a YouTube epic fail video. These HP ZBook x2 G4 laptops are not cheap. They are not value-priced, they are not made for first-time users or to be purchased as gifts for grandkids. These are a serious investment for a niche group of users—power creatives who want the absolute best performance in a portable package. With dual- and quad-core processors, dedicated graphics, and a professional-level display, you are absolutely going to pay a premium.

You must remember: this is a workstation, not a typical laptop. The power of the quad-core processors alone makes this formidable beast, but the addition of the superior display and added durability makes this, probably, the most impressive portable graphics workstation you’ll see for a long time. Creative professionals, meet your new master. The HP ZBook x2 G4 is the tool you’ve been waiting for.

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