HP Elite X2 Tablet Thoughts, Experiences & Tips

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I had been using an iPad as my portable device for a while, however, the big issue I have with it is the lack of the ability to mount a secure thumb drive.  I use the excellent Apricorn Aegis Secure Key (referral link to Amazon) device to store sensitive files and passwords on:

The issue is iPads simply can’t access USB devices to look at arbitrary files.  There’s a Lightning to USB adaptor, but its only purpose is to let the photo app import photos onto the device, so even if the drive came in Lightning, it wouldn’t be usable.

A secondary issue I have with the iPad is Apple locking down the networking aspects of iOS so much that common VPN client software is not available because it wouldn’t have sufficient access to “do its thing” anyway; I specifically want to run the full Fortinet VPN client for interacting with their FortiGate firewall line.  This differs from simple IPsec tunnels because I can’t do many of the enhanced client-specific things like policy enforcement, user level authentication, or for that matter, strong encryption.  The best the native IPsec client in iOS can do, at the time of this writing, is SHA1 auth and DH group 2, where the normal native FortiClient software on other platforms can do SHA256/384/512 auth and DH groups 14,5, etc.

Anyway, enough harping on iPad, it is what it is and it fills a market niche, and after going through the setting up of the HP with Win10, I now understand why people would never want to deal with a Windows-based tablet, let alone people who actually work with computers for a career.  Additionally, HP bills this thing as their ‘corporate’ model, which you think would make a sysadmin happy, but it really sucks because of a few huge reasons.  Here’s the major up-front complaints that would make me never buy this thing for staff, IT or otherwise, after testing it:

  • Limited charging options; needs very specific voltage on the USB-C port, and may even require HP-branded charger at some point since its sibling, the Spectre X2, went that direction via Apple-esque id/DRM features in the charger.  Even without that currently being required, there’s still next to zero third party chargers that will charge it, so get ready to plop down $45+/ea per location you’d like to leave a charger at since none of your normal USB-C stuff will charge it, even if it would have been at a slower rate than normal, which I’d have been perfectly fine with.  Here’s a thread on this:http://forum.tabletpcreview.com/threads/hps-usb-c-charger-lock-crisis-explained.69523/
  • The power button is not only on an external edge of this thing, it even protrudes beyond the edge.  Seriously, who in their right mind puts the power button, on a device designed to be very portable, sticking out off one of the square edges of the device?  It just begs to get an accidental press, and it happens frequently.  The one, and only one, way to prevent the HP Elite X2 tablet from accidentally turning on is to purchase an even larger hard case to wrap around this already large tablet, where the case effectively makes the power button recessed like it should have been to begin with.  HP of course sells one to fix the problem that shouldn’t have been a problem to begin with:I carry mine in a backpack, so I constantly have to make sure I insert it in the optimal direction to not get pressed, and it still gets pressed anyway.
  • Next issue, the thing drains the battery slowly but surely even if you’ve shut Windows down to do a proper power off.  It’s not a massive amount, but mine probably loses between 5% and 8% per day of sitting completely off.  If Windows is left running and in sleep mode, it drains significantly faster; you’re dead in probably day or two.I came from using an iPad Air 2, which can sit idle for days and still be nearly fully charged, so this was a huge let down.
  • Now, here’s the worst part, and ties into the above power button issue.  If you are paranoid about security, and you use HP Client Security to enable additional security options on your Elite X2, there’s one that will really screw you, and that’s the fingerprint at power on option.  The Elite X2 with HP Client Security has a massive flaw in that if you enable power on fingerprint auth, this thing will sit there at the BIOS-presented HP Client Security screen indefinitely once it has had the power button touched.  Yes, indefinitely, only to be cut short by either the unit overheating and having a thermal shutdown, or the battery dying.Even worse, since however they’re doing this is in firmware and probably reliant on very poorly written code, not a real OS with power management or scheduling, all indicators are that the device goes into some type of loop on the CPU waiting to read a fingerprint, so it’s running at 100% load until you give it a fingerprint.  How do I know that?  Because if you power it on and don’t immediately give a fingerprint, the shell will get VERY hot after just a few minutes.  Wait even longer and it will eventually have a thermal shutdown if the battery doesn’t die first.  But wait, there’s more.  It will still do this even if you have the travel keyboard attached and CLOSED.  If Windows is running and you close the keyboard, it knows to suspend/hibernate.  Not HP Client Security; if you have fingerprint enabled and that ol’ power button gets touched, the fucking thing will turn on and ask for a fingerprint, indefinitely, even if the keyboard is covering the screen that you’d need to see to know that it was even on in the first place.So here’s how your day goes when you throw an Elite X2 tablet into your briefcase, backpack, or really ANY carrying contraption of any type.  Full charge, got an important client meeting, toss my Elite X2 into my bag.  Get to client site perhaps 45 minutes later.  Open bag, holy shit my bag is hot, what’s going on?!  Oh, it’s my Elite X2 tablet which is currently too hot to even touch.  Tip bag over to let it fall out onto the table, peel travel keyboard away, yep, there it is, the white HP Client Security screen waiting for my fingerprint for the last 45 minutes.  Give it a fingerprint, Windows boots up, sorry, your battery is critically low, Windows is shutting down.  Yep, since it just ran at 100% cpu for 45 minutes, your fully charged tablet is now overheated and dead so you look stupid at the time you needed to use it.
  • HP support absolutely sucks, and there is simply no way whatsoever to escalate an issue like the above to the point someone that matters will actually be made aware.  I tried for several months.  The front line support have no access to actual hardware, so they can’t reproduce or even understand your complaints.  My first two attempts, which usually involve a week or two of waiting for a response, resulted in HP sending me a product return box to ship the Elite back for them to ‘fix’ it.  I have more than one of these, it is not broken, it is working as it was (poorly) designed, so sending it in will not fix it.Finally, I have to get almost rude to get my issue escalated, few more weeks.  Contact them for status (early 2017).  Oh sorry, we’re transitioning to a new ticketing system, your ticket got lost, I’ll create a new one in the new system for you.  Fantastic.  Few more weeks, start all over again with new person in new system since they can’t just read the old ticket.

    I try reaching out via social media avenues thinking maybe they can take the time to try to get my question about the HP Client Security timeout in front of someone who has some pull within HP, or even a developer for the Elite X2 platform; nope.

    Few months later, after endless pestering, I’m finally told that unless I had hundreds of these, they’re not going to do anything because they don’t consider it a bug and no one else is reporting the problem.  I guess that tells me a few things that are worth your consideration before you buy one of these; the Elite X2 is not selling well, most people don’t care about security so they don’t enable fingerprint at power on, the tablet is most often used in a case, HP simply doesn’t give a shit and the platform is a dead end.  One or more of those may be true, and none would make me comfortable recommending one buy this thing.

Anyway, those are the major points.  Onto the longer review about why I purchased this lame tablet, and what I came away thinking…

I ended up purchasing the HP Elite X2 (1012) tablet, model T8Z06UT specifically.  The Elite X2 is very similar to HP’s Spectre X2.  Both are two in one’s, where you’ve got a removable keyboard to use the thing in tablet mode if desired.  The Elite includes their travel keyboard as well as a Wacom pen, so factor that into the price if you’re comparing to other options, such as Microsoft Surface, or even iPad’s.  What pushed me towards the HP line to begin with was the lack of a cellular modem on most other Win10-based tablets.  I don’t want to hot spot for a variety of reasons (personal phone vs work tablet, simultaneous voice/data not always reliable on Verizon based on phone model and tower coverage, etc.).  The only tablets I found that were left for consideration once I completed my research were the Microsoft Surface 3 (the 3 Pro and 4 Pro don’t have cellular), the Dell Venue 8 5000 (due to their discontinuing the better Venue 11), the HP Spectre X2 vs Elite X2, and the Thinkpad X1 which seems to have gone permanently unavailable for ordering due to the arrival of the non-cellular Yoga tablet, which I didn’t like.

The Surface 3 is poor performing; 4 GB mem max, slow CPU, not so great battery, one USB-C which doubles as charging point.  The Dell is too small at 8″, and has horrible battery life.  That left the Spectre X2 vs Elite X2.  If Samsung ultimately releases a cell-enabled TabPro S, that will be worthy of consideration.  Anyway, so HP it is, and what pushed me in the Elite’s direction was:

  • USB-C & USB-A ports; now I can use either type of device without hauling around an annoying dongle
  • Pull out kick stand vs button-release kick stand, with greater angle choice
  • Win10 Pro vs Home
  • Fingerprint reader (and Smartcard reader if you go with advanced keyboard, which adds 0.1″ of thickness)
  • Field replaceable components, including the screen and drive
  • Thunderbolt 3 via the USB-C port, so you can use it as a desktop with dual monitors, external eGPU, etc
  • More physical security options, including TPM, self encrypting hard drives, etc.
  • Wacom pen compatibility (and included)
  • Wireless docking
  • Charging via any ‘compatible’ USB-C charger, whereas the Spectre X2 requires the HP adapter or one that someone has hacked to emulate theirs.  So this doesn’t mean you can just throw your Elite X2 on the end of a USB-A to C cable and get some electrons flowing, but it does give you some options the Spectre doesn’t.  More specifically, what you need is a device that is able to put out 15v 3A to USB-C, and the Elite will charge from it.  The Spectre will not because it expects to find HP firmware on the other end of the cable, aka proprietary tech.

Now a few tips if you decide to buy one of these Elite X2’s.  Buying direct from HP, at the time of this writing, will generally be slightly more expensive than buying from resellers, will take a lot longer to ship (2-3 weeks), will only have a one year warranty versus three, but, will also include the $150 USB-C docking station which is fairly useful, so take that into consideration.  Here’s the one I bought on Amazon (link in case you use Ad Blocker and don’t see the picture below):

I decided to go that route because it was cheaper than HP’s website and my use case is exclusively for travel, so I didn’t care too much about the docking station, and I got it the next day.  I also didn’t care about the warranty because it’s very unlikely I’ll have this thing for longer than a couple years given my propensity to upgrade to the latest and greatest fairly often. 🙂

Complaints (many of which are mirrored in my Windows 10 article):

  • Endless bloatware is installed; several gigs worth.  Go to Control Panel -> System -> Apps & features to start getting rid of things.  I chose to remove “Candy Crush” (WTF?!?!), CyberLink PowerDVD, Discover HP TouchPoint Manager, Foxit PhantomPDF, Get Office (since I’ll install MS Office later on my own) and Microsoft Office default files, Get Skype (same as previous), Microsoft Solitaire Collection, Microsoft Money, Microsoft News, Microsoft Sports, Microsoft Sway, Twitter.
  • Can’t remove all bloatware easily, or at all; Windows 10 starting to feel like a Verizon phone.  On the surface, it seems you’re stuck with Groove Music, Weather, Xbox.  Seriously, Xbox?!

Likes:

  • Keyboard feels quite good for such a small and thin device.
  • I like tablet mode; it can be useful.  Find it via Control Panel -> System -> Tablet Mode.  You can set it to remember what you used last, etc.

Tips:

  • If you’re doing fingerprint authentication, see below even if it doesn’t sound applicable; there’s a higher security feature you should enable.
  • Windows Hello on this tablet requires you to set a PIN before you can use fingerprint access.  HP includes “HP Client Security” as an alternative which also offers fingerprint access without a PIN.  Which one to choose is difficult.  I have no way to know if HP Client Security is just storing your password and passing it to Windows if you fingerprint auth, or if it’s actually hooked into Windows auth in some way that fingerprint is sufficient.  Windows Hello, I believe, is not storing your password, and instead, is handling fingerprint auth properly, but requires you set a stupid numeric PIN which is less secure.In any case, what HP Client Security does offer is additional methods of authenticating, including via smartcard, and two factor, along with PIN and bluetooth, so that may be useful to some users.I decided to go the HP software route since it offers boot auth as well as Windows auth.  This whole thing was annoying though.  I somehow got it to think I had already enrolled one finger, and it wouldn’t let me enroll that finger.  Then it began giving me a “The unit ID number does not correspond to a valid biometric device” error.  A reboot got rid of that error but not the error about finger already enrolled.  I found a way to fix that, which was not easy.  You need to go into HP Client Security and click Fingerprints:

    IMAGE

    Then, down at the bottom, click Administrative Settings:IMAGE

    Okay, now within this area, the two important things here are one, you can delete the stored fingerprint data, which will resolve that error about already enrolled, and two, you can set the recognition accuracy to high instead of the default of medium.  Do that.

  • In System -> Notifications & actions, I recommend enabling “Hide notifications while presenting” if you use your device for presentations.
  • Same screen as above, turn off the Discover HP Touchpoint Manager which will constantly bug you to buy their crap.
  • I never like AutoPlay being on; turn off in Devices -> AutoPlay
  • If you, hopefully, decided to not use Express Setup to give up all privacy, you can still enable location access later on a per-app basis.  Find it in settings -> Privacy -> Location.  You can turn it back on, and also make sure all the apps you don’t want having that access are turned off.
  • Apps can use your camera by default; turn that off in Settings -> Privacy -> Camera
  • Apps can use your microphone by default; turn that off in Settings -> Privacy -> Microphone
  • WTF; apps can even use your motion data by default; turn that off in Settings -> Privacy -> Motion
  • Keep on going, turning off contacts, calendar, call history, feedback, etc. as appropriate.

So that’s that, underwhelming tablet thanks to some critical hardware issues.

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One Reply to “HP Elite X2 Tablet Thoughts, Experiences & Tips”

  1. Howard

    The only thing I like about it is the keyboard. The rest is worse than surface pro 3.
    I am still having problem with the USB ports on the thunderbolt 3 dock.

    About Candy Crush, Get Office, and the rest of the universal apps, they are bundled with Windows 10. It’s not HP’s fault that they are there. Blame Microsoft for pushing their app store. I personally hate having the virtual machine running in the background, taking up memory.

    Reply

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