Hands on: HP Envy Note 8 review

The only note-taking tablet you'll ever need

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

Despite a bizarre keyboard and middling specs, HP's latest tablet might be the coolest device ever made for taking notes.

For

  • Neat notes integration
  • Solid build quality

Against

  • Underwhelming specs
  • Disproportionately large keyboard

Taking notes on a tablet has never been fun, even after all the advancements in styluses and cross-platform apps. The biggest underlying problem with digital note taking is it requires the users to manually input everything through touch-typing. It's also too easy to make yourself a dozen reminders and then, by the end of the week, you've already forgotten why you jotted down that quick note, website address or what have you.

It's for these reasons I was apathetic towards HP's latest stylus-focused tablet, the HP Envy Note 8. But little did I know this slate would have the best note taking software ever developed behind it.

HP Envy Note 8 review

Standard specs

Looking at most of its specifications, the HP Envy Note 8 is a run-of-the-mill, 8-inch tablet. Built with a plastic frame and a 1,920 x 1,200 resolution display, it's not as premium as some other slates.

The aluminum-clad Dell Venue 8 7000, for example, comes with a 2,560 x 1,600 screen that blows the Envy Note 8's resolution out of the water. However, one high-end addition that might just save the Envy Note 8 from cracks is a Corning Gorilla Glass III screen.

Internally, the HP Envy Note 8 isn't exactly blind blowing either. The slate comes outfitted with a 1.44GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor, plus 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. On the camera front, the slate also has a 5-megapixel (MP) rear shooter and 2MP, front-facing webcam.

That all said, the HP Envy Note 8 doesn't feel like a cheapo, bargain tablet. You'll hardly notice it's made of plastic, because the outer shell feels solid and engineered to be as small as possible. Weighing only 0.8 pounds (362g) and measuring 7.7mm for a miniscule thickness, it feels like you're practically holding nothing.

HP Envy Note 8 review

Kooky Keyboard Folio

While the Envy Note 8 lacks a premium feel, it's massive, all-aluminum keyboard more than makes up for this. The keyboard itself is bigger than the tablet, seemingly meant for something closer to a 10-inch tablet rather than an 8-inch device. The Keyboard Folio is so disproportionately large compared to the tablet that I thought it might fold in half for easy storage.

When in use, it looks almost as if you were using a keyboard base meant for a hybrid laptop. In fact, the tablet does not really securely attach to the peripheral, but rather it simply sits in a trough big enough to hold the device.

Despite all its weirdness, the Keyboard Folio is one solid peripheral machined from a sheet of aluminum. Typing on it feels even better than some of HP's smaller laptops, like the Pavilion x2, thanks to its full-sized keys and an available 1.5mm of key travel. And, there's even a decently sized 9.8 x 34.8mm trackpad.

HP Envy Note 8 review

With the accessory being labeled the Keyboard Folio, you might think it folds over the tablet, like I did, but we're both wrong. Instead, the typing peripheral has a fabric panel that folds over the keys. When in use, the panel also flips a full 360-degrees, so it can act as a stabilizing bottom base for the keyboard.

What's even stranger is the tablet clips onto metal underside of the Keyboard Folio. It honestly looks sort of like a spaceship when the tablet is riding piggyback on its typing accessory.

HP Envy Note 8 review

Styling stylus

While I'm not entirely sold on the strange keyboard accessory, what HP has done with its note taking software is revelatory. When you touch the optional stylus to the screen while holding the side buttons, it spawns a radial menu letting you access quick shortcuts. Options like turning on the camera, select-cut-copy-paste options and, of course, taking notes all appear instantly.

Opting for the later option will bring up a floating HP Notes window that will disappear once you're done with it. After that, it flies into the HP Notes hub, which organizes all of your daily cliff notes into a timeline. The most amazing bit is that HP's notes app will also automatically log what you were doing at the time whether it was watching a YouTube video, visiting a website or working on a document.


HP Envy Note 8 review

It's sounds like a simple, little improvement, but it saves you the headaches and annoying process of recording everything you were doing at the time for context. Even better, the HP Notes app will also import everything from your OneNote and Evernote accounts.

As a digital pen, the stylus works fairly well, but it doesn't feel nearly accurate as the iPad Pro Pencil (stylus). Apple's simply put in more engineering time, and the Cupertino company's plus sized template also doesn't have a noticeable air gap on its display, like the Envy Note's Gorilla Glass-laden screen.

Early verdict

The HP Envy Note 8 surely isn't the iPad mini killer, and it's nowhere nearly as premium as some big name tablets, like the Google Pixel C. I'm not a fan the disproportionately large keyboard, even if it does offer a really solid typing experience. Personally, I would avoid getting the tablet bundled with the Keyboard Folio and stylus for $429 (about £282, AU$608).

Instead, you can pick up the HP Envy Note 8 with the stylus for $329 (about £216, AU$467). Given its low price and the amazing note-taking features, this one might worth the expense for some experimenting.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.