By Brady Betzel
There are a lot of laptops and tablets on the market these days that can seemingly power a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing. If you work in media and entertainment like I do, these days you might even be asked to edit and color correct that Falcon 9 footage that could have been filmed in some insane resolution like 8K.
So how do you edit that footage on the go? You need to find the most powerful mobile solution on the market. In my mind there are only a few that can power editing 8K footage (even if the footage is transcoded into manageable ProRes proxies). There is Razer, which offers a 4K/UHD “gaming” laptop with its Razer Blade Pro. It sports a high-end Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU and i7 processor; Dell’s high-end Precision 7720 mobile workstation allows for a high-end Quadro GPU; and HP offers high-quality mobile workstations via its zBook line.
For this review, I am focusing on the transforming HP zBook x2 mobile workstation, complete with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 32GB memory, Nvidia Quadro and much more.
The zBook x2 allows you to go laptop-style to tablet by removing the keyboard. If you’ve ever used a Wacom Cintiq mobile tablet, you’ve likely enjoyed the matte finish of the display, as well as the ability to draw directly on screen with a stylus. Well, the zBook x2 is a full touchscreen as well as stylus-enabled matte surface compatible with HP’s own battery-less pen. The pen from HP is based off of Wacom’s Electro Magnetic Resonance technology, which essentially allows for cable- and battery-free pens.
In addition, the display bezel has 12 buttons that are programmable for apps like Adobe’s Creative Cloud. For those wondering, HP partnered with Adobe when designing the x2, so you will notice that Creative Cloud comes pre-installed on the system, and the quick access buttons around the bezel are already programmed for use in Adobe’s apps. However, they don’t give you a free subscription with purchase — Hey, HP, this would be a nice touch. Just a suggestion.
I was sent the top-of-the-line version of the zBook x2, complete with a DreamColor UHD touchscreen display. Here are the specs under the hood:
– Windows 10 64-bit
– Intel Core i7 8650 (Quad Core — 8th gen)
– 4K UHD DreamColor Touch with anti-glare
– 32GB (2×16 GB) DDR4 2133 memory
– Nvidia Quadro M620 (2GB)
– 512GB HP Z-Turbo Drive PCIe
– 70Whr fast charging battery
– Intel vPro WLAN
– Backlit Bluetooth Keyboard
– Fingerprint reader
– One- or three-year warranty, including the battery
– Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
– HDMI 1.4 port
– USB 3.0 charging port
– SD card slot
– Fingerprint reader
– Headset/microphone port
– External volume controls
The exterior hardware specs are as impressive as the technical specs. I’ve got to be honest, when I first received the x2, I was put off by the sharp edged-octagon design. I’m so used to either square shaped tablets or rounded edges, so the octagon-edged sides were a little strange. After using it for a month, I got used to how sturdy and well built this machine is. I kind of miss the octagon shape now that I had to ship the x2 back to HP.
In addition, the zBook x2 I received weighed in at around 5lbs (with the bluetooth keyboard attached), which isn’t really lightweight. Part of that weight is the indestructible-feeling magnesium and aluminum casing that surrounds the x2’s internal components.
I’ve reviewed a few of these stylus-based workstations before, such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Wacom’s mobile Cintiq offering, and they each have their positives and negatives. One thing that consistently sticks out to me is the kickstand used to prop these machines up. When you use a stylus on a tablet you will have a height and angle you like to work at. Some tablets have a few specified heights like the Wacom offering. The Surface Pro has a somewhat limited angle, but the zBook x2 has the strongest and best working built-in stand that I have used. It is sturdy when working in apps, like Adobe Photoshop, with the stylus.
HP’s Wacom-infused stylus is very lightweight. I personally like a stylus that is a little hefty, like the Wacom Pro Pen, but don’t get me wrong, HP’s pen works well. The pen has a similar pressure sensitivity to the Wacom’s pens many multimedia pros are used to at 4,096 levels and includes tilt sensitivity. When using tablets, palm rejection is a very important feature, and the x2 has excellent palm rejection. HP’s fact sheets and website all have different information on whether the pen is included with the x2 or not, but when ordering it looks like it is bundled with your purchase. As it should be).
One final note on the build quality of HP’s zBook x2: the detachable Bluetooth keyboard is excellent. The keyboard not only acts like a full-sized keyboard, complete with numerical keypad (a favorite of mine when typing in specific timecodes), but it also folds up to protect the screen when not in use.
If you are looking at the zBook x2 to purchase, you are probably also comparing it to a Microsoft Surface Pro, a Wacom Cintiq mobile computer and maybe an iPad Pro. In my opinion, there is no contest. Te x2 wins hands down. However, you are also going to be paying a lot more for it. For instance, the x2 can be purchased with the latest Intel 8th gen i7 processors, an Nvidia Quadro GPU built into the tablet —not the keyboard like on the Microsoft Surface Book systems — it has the ability to be packed with 32GB of RAM as opposed to 16GB in all other tablets. And most importantly, in my opinion, this system offers a color-accurate UHD 10-bit-HP DreamColor display. As I said, it is definitely the beefiest mobile workstation/tablet that you will find out there, but will cost you.
One of my favorite practices that HP is starting to standardize among its mobile workstations is the use of quick charging, where you can charge 50% of your battery in a half an hour and the rest over a few more hours. I can’t tell you how handy this is when you are running around all day and don’t have four hours to charge your computer between appointments. When running apps like Blackmagic’s Resolve 14.3 with UHD video, you can drain the battery fast — something like four hours — but being able to quickly charge back up to 50% is a lifesaver in a lot of circumstances.
In the real world, I use my mobile workstation/tablets all the time. I surf the web, listen to music, edit in Adobe Premiere Pro or color correct in Resolve. This means my systems have to have some high-end processors to keep up. The HP zBook x2 is a great addition to your workstation lineup when you need to take your work on the road and not lose any features, like the HP DreamColor display with 100% Adobe RGB color accuracy. While it’s not a truly calibrated work monitor, DreamColor displays will, at the very least, give you a common calibration among all DreamColor monitors that you can rely on for color critical jobs on the run. In addition, DreamColor displays can display different color spaces like BT. 709, DCI-P3 and more.
Putting it to the Test
To test the x2, I ran a few tests using one of the free clips that Red offers to download from: http://www.red.com/sample-r3d-files. It is the Red One Mysterium clip with a resolution of 4096×2304 and runs at 29.97fps. For a mobile workstation this is a pretty hefty clip to run in Resolve or Premiere. In Premiere, the Red clip would play at realtime when dumbed down to half quality. Half quality isn’t bad to work in, but when spending $3,500 I would like to work in a better-quality Red files. Maybe the technology will be there in a year.
If you are into the whole offline/online workflow (a.k.a. proxy workflow — a.k.a. transcoding to a interframe codec like DNxHR or ProRes — then you will be able to play down the full 4K clip when transcoding to something like DNxHR HQ. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a 10-bit DNxHR HQX clip to play at realtime, and with the sweet 10-bit display that could have been a welcome success. To test exporting speed I trimmed the R3D file (still raw Red) to 10 seconds and exported it as a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime (in the files native resolution and frame rate) and highly compressed H.264 at around 10,000mb/s.
The DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime took 1 minute and 25 seconds to export. I then added a 110% resize and a color grade to really make sure the Quadro GPU kicked in, and unfortunately the export failed. I tried multiple times with different Lumetri color grades and all of them failed, probably a sweet bug.
Next, I exported an uncolored 10,000mb/s H.264 MP4 (a clip perfect for YouTube) in 2 minutes and 41 seconds. I then resized the clip to 110% and performed a color grade using the Lumetri tools inside of Premiere Pro. The MP4 exported in 1 minute and 30 seconds. This was pretty incredible and really showed just how important that Nvidia Quadro M620 with 2GB of memory is. And while things like resizing and color correcting will make sure your GPU kicks in to help, the HP zBook x2 was relatively quiet with the active cooling fan system that kicks all of the hot air up and out of the magnesium case.
Inside of Resolve 14.3, I performed the same tests on the same Red clip. I was able to play the Red clip at about 16fps in 1/16 debayer quality in realtime. Not great, but for a mobile tablet workstation, maybe it’s ok, although I would expect more from a workstation. When exporting the DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime took 2 minutes and the same clip resized to 110% and color graded also took 2 minutes. The H.264 took 2 minutes and 33 seconds without any color grading and resizing, but it also took 2 minutes and 33 seconds when resized 110% and color graded. I had all caching and performance modes disabled when performing these tests. I would have thought Resolve would have performed better than Premiere Pro, but in this case Adobe wins.
As a bonus, I happen to have Fusion, GoPro’s 360 video camera, and ran it through Fusion Studio, GoPro’s stitching and exporting software. Keep in mind 360 video is a huge resource hog that takes lots of time to process. The 30-second test clip I exported in flat color, with image stabilization applied, took an hour to export. The resulting file was a 1.5GB – 4992×2496 4:2:2 Cineform 10-bit YUV QuickTime with Ambisonic audio. That’s a big and long render in my opinion, although it will also take a long time on many computers.
In the end, the HP zBook x2 is a high-end mobile workstation that doubles as a stylus-based drawing tablet designed to be used in apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Premiere Pro.
The x2 is profoundly sturdy with some high-end components, like the Intel i7 8th gen processor, Nvidia Quadro M620 GPU, 4K/UHD HP DreamColor touchscreen display and 32GB of RAM.
But along with these high-end components comes a high price: the setup in this review retails for around $3,500, which is not cheap. But for a system that is designed to be run 24 hours a day 365 days a year, it might be the investment you need to make.
Do you want to use the table at the office when connected to a Thunderbolt 3 dock while also powering a 4K display? The x2 is the only mobile table workstation that will do this at the moment. If I had any criticisms of the HP zBook x2 it would be the high cost and the terrible speakers. HP touts the Bang & Olufsen speakers on the x2, but they are not good. My Samsung Galaxy S8+ has better speakers.
So whether you are looking to color correct on the road or have a Wacom-style table at the office, the HP zBook x2 is a monster that HP has certified with companies like Adobe using their Independent Software Vendor verifications to ensure your drivers and software will work as well as possible.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.