The HP Envy x2 is part of a new breed of hybrid PCs that combines tablet and laptop form factors.

The Envy x2 looks and feels like a laptop, with a full keyboard, but comes with what HP calls a "detachable screen."

Without the bulky keyboard, the Envy x2 is a sleek 11.6-inch tablet with an aluminum finish that’s "slimmer than an iPad," boasts HP.

Device makers like HP and Dell have decided to have their cake and eat it too by attacking tablets and laptops at the same time, a strategy that has led to an identity crisis.

"It’s called the x2, like times two, because it’s two designs," says David Conrad, director of product management at HP. "It’s not just a tablet; it’s not just a PC."

Co.Design

HP, Samsung Face Identity Crisis With Tablet-Laptop Hybrids

Gadget makers are now creating a new class of computer that’s supposed to be the best of both worlds, in an attempt to grab market share from Apple. Does anyone want these things?

At a hotel in New York City earlier this week, HP showed off the HP Envy x2…notebook? Er, tablet. Sorry, no, it’s the HP Envy x2 notebook-tablet.

The device is part of a growing trend of products that OEMs are tagging "hybrid PCs," which attempt to combine tablets and laptops. Essentially these devices are the modern-day equivalent of the "all-in-one PC," the arbitrary branding manufacturers used for all-purpose devices for gaming, media, and productivity. (See: every PC.) Not wanting to lose out on either market, device makers have decided to have their cake and eat it too by attacking tablets and laptops at the same time, a strategy that has led to an identity crisis. "It’s called the x2, like times two, because it’s two designs," says David Conrad, director of product management at HP. "It’s not just a tablet; it’s not just a PC."

The Envy x2 is a sleek 11.6-inch tablet with an aluminum finish. The tablet is super thin at 8.5 mm ("slimmer than an iPad," boasts Conrad) and also super lightweight. That is, without the bulky keyboard HP has glued to the Envy’s bottom.

The Envy x2 would be gorgeous on its own—by far the most compelling tablet we’ve seen thus far from HP—yet the company sees benefit to adding a laptop-like keyboard to the device—to arbitrarily make it match a laptop’s size and solidity. "Because it’s a notebook that can be a tablet, we wanted to make sure it was believable as a notebook in the way it looks and feels," Conrad says. "We’ll only sell it like this; we won’t sell it in two pieces. We can’t just have a clip-on keyboard."

HP is performing marketing acrobatics to make sure consumers don’t view the Envy x2 as a tablet with an "attachable keyboard," which it is: The hard drive and other guts of the PC are in the tablet; the keyboard simply contains some extra ports and battery life. But HP is intent on calling it a "detachable screen that becomes a full tablet when separated from the keyboard." Again, this distinction is arbitrary: According to HP, it’s not an "attachable keyboard" simply because the keyboard feels more laptop-like than the accessories we’re used to attaching to iPads?

HP isn’t the only device maker facing this identity crisis. This week, Samsung also showed off its Slate PCs, tablet-laptops that can pop off a keyboard console to become a full-fledged tablet. Dell unveiled its XPS Duo hybrid. Asus has touted its Padfone as a (circus-like) "3-in-1 device," wherein the smartphone can become a tablet, and the tablet can become a laptop, and the Stylus pen can become a phone. (Seriously.) And Microsoft has received much press for its Surface tablet, which features a built-in kickstand and attachable cover that doubles as a keyboard. (If the Surface works as Microsoft says, it will be the most creative solution to the problem we’ve seen yet.)

In that sense, we’re a whole new class of tablets that want to be PCs, and PCs that want to be tablets. HP boasts that this "solves the 'Do I bring my notebook or tablet?' dilemma." That’s simply not true: When facing this dilemma before heading to work or hopping on a flight, consumers will still have to ask, "Do I bring my notebook or tablet?" The dilemma isn’t solved simply because the devices are combined. Rather, it’s created a new dilemma of having to consider bringing along accessories like attachable keyboards and Stylus pens.

Apple, from its perch high above as the top seller of tablets, has avoided this problem altogether, and watched as its competitors have struggled to differentiate their products. "Anything can be forced to converge," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a recent earnings call. "The problem is that the [converged] products are about tradeoffs: You begin to make tradeoffs to the point where what you have left at the end of day is not pleasing to anyone. Some people will prefer to have both [together], but to make the compromise of convergence—we’re not going to that party. Others might, but we’re going to play them both [separately]."

Added Cook, "You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are not going to be pleasing to the user."

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22 Comments

  • Danilo

    I think Canonical has a better idea when they plan to release a dock for turning your phone into a production PC. That could be also possible on tablet as well.

  • mkmandel

    I own a first-gen Asus Transformer (someone already mentioned the Transformer Prime).  It is an Android-based tablet/keyboard dock combo that I now cannot live without.  I wish I could say that I am surprised that this article left out a product that was so popular it was hard to find when it was first released, but seeing how biased Fast Company is to all things Apple, I'm not surprised at all.  As another commenter said, get your heads out of the sand and you just might see some powerful, useful, valuable products from other manufacturers!

  • Alfie Proudfit

    i really don't see people making a huge deal out of deciding whether or not to bring their attachable keyboard and stylus along with their tablet when traveling. thats not really comparable to choosing between a notebook or a tablet. that whole argument makes no sense at all. i'm not saying a tablet is better than a notebook, or the other way around, that depends solely on the user, but if you're going to talk about companies' attempts at innovation with negativity then at least have some valid arguments

  • LIB

    Why don't you talk about the cons of a device like this on here as well? This magazine is supposed to have an objective look on design. I get the sense that this is actually an advertisement in disguise, and it discourages me. This is NOT a PC. This is a tablet with a bunch of accessories (3 usb ports, an HDMI out, a card reader and a keyboard). Tablets are limited in processing power and storage by their thin size, and this is no exception. Instead of having an Apple iPad with a small portable keyboard, this unit seems to be a tablet with a gigantic full sized keyboard. Which basically boils down to having all of the size issues of a regular PC, with none of the speed and storage that comes with it. Stupidest thing I've ever heard.

  • LB

    This is all retro-positioning! HP have been producing what they now refer to as hybrid tablets for at least 10 years (well, Compaq launched them before it became HP) -- the original Compaq versions had the works in the screen section and the screen section was detachable, exactly as described above. Subsequently, HP introduced a series where the computer works is in the key board section and the screen is not detachable. In fact, the HP TouchSmart laptop, which I am now using, looks remarkably similar to the images above. While the screen is not detachable it does fold back over the keyboard to give the appearance of a key-board free tablet (but somewhat thicker than a typical tablet).

    I have been using these things for years and they are brilliant in that you can use on-screen writing features and stuff. Exactly like a tablet. 

    To talk of this as some kind of post-appleonian converged product is revisionism in the extreme. If anything, the apple tablet (form a design point of view) is a deconstructed Compaq without the benefit of an attachable keyboard (but the app-based operating system is obviously entirely different...and not necessarily always superior).

  • Faezal Yunus

    Please don't disparage it. Apple deliberately doesn't want to go this way as it'll eat into their notebooks. Just think of it, you just can't beat a keyboard when it comes to speed; and sometimes, hands are too sweaty and leave smudges on the screen. This is not a tradeoff, but a natural next-step.

  • Phil

    Having once borrowed an Apple Lisa from a computer store in Chicago in 1983 to show my boss and being told that Apples were toys, its refreshing to read about the frantic efforts of computer makers like HP and others scrambling to take market share away from the company they once thought was a non-player.  But what is also clear is that the design innovation that Apple puts into each product (the engineering, manufacturing design, the look and the feel) is being once more flagrantly copied by companies like HP although the grosser lines of their products will probably mean that they can get away with their design plagiarism. 

    One request, could other computer and tablet makers pleasure come up with their own designs?  And by this I don't mean tacking some crown molding to the edge of an iPad look-alike and calling it different, grotesque though such a device would be.

  • No identity crisis here

    This is just the next logical step in the progress of the technology. To call it an “identity crisis” is naive. I actually think this is quite remarkable and is filling a gap that I've always felt present. This is the sort of creativity that will finally push me to purchasing a tablet.

    The flexibility it was will drive these products. In a world where devices are becoming more and more locked down and users are told what to do and how to do things (ahem, Apple), this is exactly the kind of freedom and choice we need in consumer devices.

  • Ken_Wyman

    I've been using hybrid tablet+laptops for 6+ years. Love this combo. It has full Office software, not just docs to go. Full power not just apps.

    As a college teacher these allow me to mark students' assignments electronically, using a stylus to add handwritten comments (in various colours) directly in Word docs (or Excel or PowerPoint or PDFs), No more stacks of papers to grade -- all digital now.

    Also in lectures or presentations I can add on the fly, including handwritten notes such as students' comments, highlighting, etc.

    Can't do this with any tablet or laptop alone that I know about.

    Don't know why anyone would want a laptop that does not have pen based inputs. I currently use a Toshiba. Previously has an HP and a Dell Latitude, all with screens that flip around to hide the keyboard in 'slate' mode.

    Sure it would be nice if they were lighter. But not at the sacrifice of real work.

  • Robertjan Kuijten

    Can somebody explain to my why these things have a touchpad? In my opinion these guys still don't get it. The usable interfaces are either:
    * the touch screen itself with touchable graphics (buttons, icons, programs, choices);
    * keyboard with easy-to-use and understandable keyboard shortcuts (like 'in the old days' we used to have 'print screen', 'page up', 'page down', 'delete', 'backspace', 'up', 'down', etc.);
    * mouse, for precise working in graphical, audio and video apps. And to precisely place a cursor in its place in text environments;
    * pen, for precise working on a screen when a mouse is too 'far-away' from the object we're actually creating.

    I don't see any usefulness in a dumb interface like the touchpad, which is not precise, nor anywhere near the object. Also it adds some weight, adds visual distraction, takes away some of the strength of the structure of the keyboard, and it brings in an interface difficulty for when you don't wanna use it but it's still there (Wintel brands tend to -add- a button to turn it on/off on a laptop, but why is such an inprecise interface doing on a TOUCHSCREEN device anyway...?)...

  • PCCare247

    Hybrid PCs - A new nomenclature of the innovative PCs cum tablets in the market.

  • Ken

    I'm not certain the identity issue is that profound.  This product appears to be an elegant integration of keyboard to tablet.  Tablet hybrid is a workable term.  But as mentioned, the gap between point-and-click interfaces and tablets are still notable.  My iPad is a wonderful device, but it's largely used for play with occasional work functionality.  The real work takes place on a desktop.  If I were to require a stronger mobile solution, a laptop would be my choice.  

  • NicholasTylerMiller

    I can only conclude that Apple dismisses these kinds of products because they would prefer to sell their consumers two devices rather than one.  Most of their consumers really only need one device; one like these.  It will be interesting to see how the new version of Microsoft bridges the divide between tablet interfaces and point and click interfaces.  That's the real challenge, not the hardware.

  • Rob DeMillo

    Actually, yes - of course people want these things. I have an Asus Transformer Prime (which is an android tablet/keyboard combo) and its, well, pretty phenomenal. 8 out 10 times, I just use the tablet -- but on the quick business trips its a godsend to have the keyboard with almost no extra bulk in my shoulder bag.

    I'm not an HP fan, but I will be taking a very hard look at the Asus Windows 8 notebook/tablet when it comes out in a few months.

    For a design blog, you really do need to get your head out of the sand guys. Combo devices do make sense under certain circumstances -- and if they are fast, sexy, and easy to deal with, what's your issue?

  • tN0

    I don't see an identity crisis here. The only thing that needs to change is how we call PCs. The old naming of netbook, laptop, notebook, slate, tablet, desktop, handheld is outdated. We all use devices very differently from one hour to the other.

    And where is the dilemma of deciding what you need to bring to your office for instance? It only depends on what you want or need to do with it. If you want to listen to music on your smartphone you shouldn't forget your headphones at home. And if you need to do some serious work in Photoshop or Office, you have to take a keyboard and mouse with you.

    For me it is more important what is possible with those new PCs: sit at a desk using a real physical keyboard with back-lit keys and a wireless mouse, maybe a large monitor connected to the PC, then simply detach the display and move to the couch, without interrupting a Skype conversation.

    Or: reboot your workstation at your office from your homes living room by using the built-in remote technology and touch app in Windows 8.

  • Heracles Papatheodorou

    Because a toaster & fridge is the exact analog to a tablet & laptop; he's trying too hard.

  • Not so quotable

     Agreed, and it worries me that people consider it a worthy quote to be continually regurgitated every time a pc-tablet “hybrid” is mentioned.

  • Juan_xxi

    I would never buy an HP notebook or computer again. As pretty and as similar to apple the can ever do it , never buy those overpriced objects!!! Those things suddenly get expontaneously burnt from inside out.

  • Emenot

    I have a 7 year old HP dv5237cl and its still going gang buster, I must be blessed they the computer GOD!

  • Schmidt

    Not related with the topic, but I have to agree with you after being owner of 3 now fried HP notebooks.