Cameras

Like a typical tablet, the Envy x2 includes both front-facing and rear-facing cameras. It's unusual for a laptop, though, to include a rear-facing camera, so we count that as a bonus, though we can imagine someone walking by the laptop being concerned that they might be spied upon.

The front-facing camera is an HP TrueVision 1080p HD webcam. That's probably higher resolution than you're likely to be able to use with most video conferencing software, but it performed very well even in low light conditions. The rear-facing 8.0MP camera includes a flash and took good quality stills and video.

Our only complaint with the cameras is the paucity of features in the native Windows camera app. HP includes the CyberLink YouCam DE that provides more functionality, but this seems like a pretty serious limitation of Windows 8 as a tablet platform. Photos and videos should be integrated into the OS, and as of now, Windows 8 falls far short of that goal.

HP ENVY x2

HP touts its Beats Audio so much so that the logo is emblazoned on the face of the tablet. This includes engineering tweaks, like isolating the audio amplifier and audio lines and using a non-grounded headphone jack, as well as fine-tuning the audio profile with the help of engineers at Interscope Records.

Unfortunately, the hybrid nature of this computer makes its speakers one of its weaker points. We found the sound quality of the speakers good compared to other tablets; it pounds out music at a good volume, and the quality was crisp and clear if a bit tinny. However, there aren't any speakers at all in the keyboard base, so when used as a laptop, you're relying on tablet speakers. This puts it at a severe disadvantage to other non-hybrid laptops.

The situation is a lot better if you are using headphones. The tablet itself includes a headphone jack and the keyboard has a combo keyboard/microphone jack. Audio through these with a good pair of headphones sounded exceptionally clear. There was no noticeable distortion or background noise we could detect.

Software and interface

There's no question about the potential of the Envy x2. In theory at least, it's a dream machine, able to do double-duty as both a laptop and a tablet. Imagine, after all, if your iPad could run MacOS X. That would be an incredible do-it-all machine. If the Envy x2 could run iOS, then it would be even better. The problem, in functioning as a tablet, is that it is running Windows 8.

The number is growing, but right now, there just aren't that many apps optimized to run on Windows tablets. Of course you can run practically any standard Windows application, but most Windows applications are designed to run best with keyboard and mouse. Tablet-optimized applications, which are so abundant on Android and iOS platforms, are still limited on Windows.

The situation isn't all bad. The Envy x2 comes preloaded with several popular apps like Netflix and Kindle, so you can watch movies and read books right off the bat. The Microsoft Windows store functions like its Android and iOS competitors, offering thousands of apps.

HP ENVY x2

However, as of this writing there are some serious limitations to app availability. For instance, no Google-created apps are available. Instagram doesn't yet have a native app. The number of games is also very limited. Over time, as Windows tablets and phones get more widespread, this situation is likely to improve somewhat, but Android and iOS have such a head start that it's hard to imagine Windows catching up anytime soon.

Being able to run normal Windows apps makes up for a good deal of the lack of tablet-optimized apps. For instance, even though Google Earth isn't available in the Windows store, you can download the normal Windows version and run it, either with the keyboard and mouse or just using the touchscreen. Most Windows applications are usable using just the touch screen, though the user experience is going to be much better for apps designed specifically for tablet use.

To offer an example, if you launch Internet Explorer from the Live Tiles, you get an interface optimized for use on tablet. The input methods available, including handwriting recognition, are presented as options at the bottom of the screen. If you go to Desktop mode and run the standard Internet Explorer, you are presented with the typical mouse-and-keyboard user interface. It's possible to use this interface using just the touch screen, but it's clumsy in most cases.

There some key apps like Microsoft Office are available only for the Windows platform. We shouldn't understate the utility of having a tablet on which you can edit natively edit your PowerPoint presentations or Excel Spreadsheets. If you are an aficionado of Microsoft apps like SkyDrive, Outlook and Calendar then the Windows 8 versions with Live Tiles will be ideal.

There's little doubt that we can expect Microsoft to further develop the potential of Windows 8 tablets. Already the Xbox SmartGlass app lets you interact with and control your Xbox console via Envy x2 as well. Since it has acquired Skype, that's also likely also to see further integration into Windows and special features for tablet like this.