Creative Workhorse: HP Announces ZBook x2

Creative Workhorse: HP Announces ZBook x2

HP has spent the past two years working with creatives and developing the latest ZBook x2. It’s got seriously impressive guts under the hood and works as a laptop or tablet, but is it enough for a demanding Lightroom or video editing workflow?

When HP set out to make this 2-in-1, they appear to have had two goals: ask creatives what they want and make sure this machine can replace every machine they own. Supposedly they’ve been secretly testing it at NAB for the past two years, and have heavily included Adobe in the process (they even unveiled it today at Adobe MAX). With enough power inside, this could be a replacement for a desktop computer in your office, and your MacBook at home.

Before I list the specs, I want to talk about my favorite feature of HP, and that is testing it with Creative Cloud. They know exactly how it will run with Adobe’s most popular apps, and have optimized the entire experience. When you install Photoshop, the 18 hotkeys change to reflect the most used features of Photoshop (and are obviously customizable). It’s this sort of intention that makes me think HP have done their homework and aren’t just chucking an NVIDIA GPU in a tablet without optimizing anything. Speaking of NVIDIA, here’s the interesting specs:

  • Included Bluetooth keyboard/trackpad, works when detached too.
  • 14-inch 4K display with stellar anti-glare coat.
  • Optional 10-bit “DreamColor” display, calibrated for Adobe RGB.
  • Up to 10 hours battery life.
  • Fast charging: 50 percent in 30 minutes.
  • Up to 2 TB of SSD storage.
  • NVIDIA Quadro M620 GPU, or Intel HD/UHD options.
  • Quad-core i7 processor; Intel Kaby Lake-R.
  • Up to 32 GB of RAM.
  • Optional pen (get the pen, it’s great and doesn’t need batteries).
  • Facial recognition and fingerprint security.
  • It can power 5 displays, or two additional 4K displays, using an optional Thunderbolt 3 dock.
  • Full-sized SD card slot (thank heaven above); 2 Thunderbolt 3 slots; HDMI; USB 3.0 slot; headphone jack.
  • All of the power is in the tablet, so you won’t need the keyboard for power.
  • 3.64 pounds and 14.6 millimeters thick without keyboard.
  • 4.78 pounds and 20.3 millimeters thick with keyboard attached.
  • Windows 10 Pro for Workstations.
  • $1,749 for the base model.

Powering two 4K monitors is not to be sniffed at.

How HP Wants You to Use It

The reason you should by this 2-in-1 is just that: it’s two devices in one. For the first time I’m being convinced that there’s room for pros in this new market. HP wants you to undock your ZBook x2 from your office desk, take it on the train, and then into a client meeting to show them the work firsthand, without any compromise. If it works well in the real world, and when we review it later, then it could make for a serious shake up among the competition.

I could see this being a sweet laptop to have on set too. Tethering would be a breeze, plus it’s got a full-sized SD card slot and plenty of ports for backing up. Also you could hand the client the monitor like it’s an iPad, something they’re rather used to, for decision making. With that beefy 4K display, you’ll be able to preview back HDR content (at least decently so) too.

HP realizes that we’re tied to our apps by way of keyboard shortcuts. Obviously this can get awkward with a 2-in-1 machine. Their solution has been to include 18 hotkeys to work with Adobe apps (and are customizable for each workflow, even with Capture One) as well as being able to use the keyboard separately. Potentially, the ZBook x2 could be used as a tablet and have the Bluetooth keyboard close by for the odd keyboard shortcut. The keyboard is charged by the tablet or by a micro USB port on the back.

This is what HP is up against.

The Competition

Microsoft have revealed their ZBook x2 competitor this week, the Surface Book 2. So far all we’ve seen from this generation of HP 2-in-1s is the Spectre x2, which is easily beaten by Microsoft. So will the ZBook x2 be the competitive enough?

The Surface Book 2 comes in a little lighter, has two sizes (13.5-inch and 15-inch) and generally isn’t quite as “pro” as the ZBook x2. Microsoft has given it fewer ports, foregoing Thunderbolt 3 for USB-C and including no HDMI port, it maxes out at 16 GBs of RAM, and there’s no 10-bit display. The Surface Book 2 seems a little like the lighter version in general. I can’t see it trying to replace a desktop like HP are gunning for.

All of the power is in the tablet, the keyboard is just Bluetooth.

What Could Go Wrong?

Since we haven’t had a chance to test it out in the wild just yet, there are obvious concerns. The Pen could suck, but from testing it briefly we found that it was actually amazing. It glides like butter over the display, feels comfortable and doesn’t ever miss a beat. Plus HP have a number of nibs for people to try out, including felt.

It could also heat up too much, especially while editing video. This is something we couldn’t test during the hands on. However, they have promised that since the heat filters in and dissipates from the sides, that it won’t get blocked from being placed on a desk. The chipset is also facing away from the display, so the glass won’t heat up. Obviously this needs to be tested under some strenuous conditions, but they seem pretty confident.

The battery doesn’t compete with the Surface Book 2, but that’s obviously due to the extra level of power needed for the ZBook x2. HP is saying it gets up to 10 hours, but they’re not overly specific about that. It’s also worth noting that this is with the regular display, not the fancier “DreamColor” 10-bit display. If you opt for that model you can expect even less battery power. All in all, I wouldn’t rely on this for a long haul flight. It will be interesting to see how long it can last with intensive Photoshop tasks or editing with Premiere Pro.

Reviews won’t be out for a while yet anyway, so we’ll just have to hold off on judgment until then. The hands on with this machine showed us that HP are a serious player and this is a seriously smart solution. It feels great in your hand and there are nice little touches, like being able to face the keyboard inward in tablet mode. If it works as well as it does on a demo day in real life, then this could be the true creative’s 2-in-1.

This article was created with the help of Eugene Mulligan.

Stephen Kampff's picture

Working in broadcasting and digital media, Stephen Kampff brings key advice to shoots and works hard to stay on top of what's going to be important to the industry.

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So does the hinge hold up the display when attached to the keyboard? Using the kickstand in 'laptop' mode would not be ideal.

It's not light, so even though I haven't seen proof otherwise, I don't assume that it can be held up without the stand. Seems to be a theme in a lot of 2-in-1 devices.

Yes, it does just fine. And it is heavy compared to my Zbook 14u G4. It feels solid built though.

First thought: Battlestar Galactica

So say we all.

Nice execution, but if they were really serious for us Cintiq and Creative Content Creators, HP should have done 15.4 inches. Looking forward to the 6-core Ice Lake, 15.4" X3 next year... =)

It's heavy as it is!

True, but I actually want it heavy if it's 15.4" or bigger. Like I said, as a Cintiq user, I want it stable when it's large. It may not be light and lap-friendly (which I extremely seldom do when I work, not advisable for long periods anyways when doing things like this!) but makes it far more useful for us Content Creators always on the move.

Looks very exciting to me. A bit like the updated version the Vaio Canvas Z never got. Even though that uses an actually HQ quad core cpu.

I currently use a 2in1 on location in combination with a Tablet Pro (tabletpro dot com) on screen keyboard for shortcuts such as next, prev, ratings etc etc. Even though I miss Mac OS this works brilliantly well. Can’t believe Apple still leaves touch out of its Mac OS offerings.

Is this the only non glare 2 in 1 on the market or does the surface book 2 also come with a non glare display?

Also I read elsewhere that the dGPU was in the keyboard instead of the tablet. Which would seem silly to me, but if I understand this article correctly all the hardware is in the tablet?

Last but not least I am curious how HP did manage to get a dPU and full band with TB3 port in this while I read that the Surface Book 2 doesn’t have TB3 because they couldn’t combine it with the GTX 1050 due to the limited PCIe lanes of the Kaby Lake R quad cores.

From what we've seen, the anti-glare works insanely well. Hard to compare without seeing it beside other 2-in-1 machines though.

The GPU is inside the tablet – the idea being that you can take off the keyboard and still retain all the power. I'm not sure how they have figured out full bandwidth TB3, but I can tell you for sure that they're not throttling the GPU and it will output full resolution 4K to two monitors. The two TB3 ports were confirmed to be 40Gbps.

Perhaps the quadro needs less lanes compared to the 1050/1060?

I can only imagine.. That or Microsoft is throttling something along the way. The Surface Book 2 is obviously aimed at Pros, but not to the extent that HP are gunning for with the ZBook x2. I'd figure HP went out of their way to make sure TB3 could offer full output.

Dell also throttles the XPS 13 (or was it XPS 2 in 1) TB3 to 20gbps so perhaps MS does the same?

I am really looking forward to this machine. Does it also charge through USB-C?

Bit afraid of pricing though, only just noticed the 10 bit display is also optional. Might start adding up quickly!

Would be great if they would also release a HP Z thunderbolt dock with a built in GPU like Acer has done previously.