Keith C. Perry via plug on 29 Dec 2020 15:32:02 -0800

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[PLUG] HP Envy x360 [a success story]

I wanted to share a very positive experience I had with moving my current ultrabook system from an ASUS model to a current HP Envy x360.  It is my hope that this information helps others that might be looking for a current higher end laptop that will run Linux well.  This determination is subjective so I'm going to give as much information as possible to explain what that means to me as well as my motivations for purchasing this model.  This is not meant to serve as a comprehensive review since after only a week using this new hardware, I'm going to call it a win.  This has been the best Linux laptop experience for a personal device that I have had since my HP DV7 17" desktop replacement unit (which I think is close to 10 years old and still works!).

For reference:



Let's jump right in... what happened to the ASUS?

As you can see from the links, ultrabooks are NOT cheap but because of my work and lifestyle I have to have higher end performance at the ready for portability and redundancy.  I need to be able to do everything from emails to financial trading to running virtual machines to editing or playing video.  The ASUS was able to do all of that but I had a love/hate relationship with it.  Purchased in 2016, the first system to go on it was Kubuntu 16.04 (Kubuntu is typically what I use on personal systems).  At the time, this unit had two major issues; 1) the native Intel video driver did not work well (e.g. sleeping caused lockups) and 2) the trackpad is ginormous and overly sensitive- typing on the unit was impossible without constantly touching the trackpad with my palms.

We know the drill with putting Linux on laptops- especially newer laptops.  Install and hope that it mostly works and then wait for later kernel updates to **maybe** fix the remaining issues.  Within a year, the video problem was fixed and the trackpad issue was addressed by using a bluetooth mouse (which, when enabled disables the trackpad).  Despite that making me like the ASUS a lot more, the unit does run warm nominally, has a ridiculous AC power brick, poor battery life (3 to 4 hours tops and yes that has always been the case) and for me, an Intel CPU.  Yes, I'm on of those people who strongly prefers AMD but I decided to take a chance this time on Intel at the time.  The performance for me has been just "ok" for everything except VM work where I knew the performance would not be good.  However, at a price of 1189 in 2016 (notice it is MORE now, WTF?), I definitely was not impressed so for what it is worth, that alone would prevent me from ever recommending this ASUS model.  There are much better values out there.

The remaining issue was the one thing I figured might happen because it is the same mechanical risk that exists in every regular laptop... the hinge.  After 4 years of being careful as possible, somehow one side of the single long hinge separated from the screen side in a way that I have not been able to come up with a fix for.  Perhaps still a work in progress but I refuse defeat but without being able to close it, the reality is that I could no longer carry it.  I should also mention, that my Acer Chromebook for Work (also purchased in 2016) which can run Linux from its SD card was not going to be a long term replacement.  It is also important to mention that I have NEVER has this type of mechanical failure in a laptop.

Enter the HP...

The link provided is directly to HP and that is because NO ONE had stock on the model.  I had been waiting for at least 5 months so when it popped up again, I jumped on it.  You can look at the specs for yourself but what I will tell you is that what brought me to a convertible model was 1) a lower risk of hinge breakage due to the 360 degree design.  Even if you never plan to flip the screen around, this design removes mechanical stresses on the hinge and 2) I was considering a Chromebook Duet to use mostly as a tablet but once I had to replace the ASUS, I figured I would get something that could work in that role too.  I pleased to report that pretty much everything works with Kubuntu 20.10.  Everything means...

1) wireless
2) bluetooth (only the mouse has been connected so far)
3) screen brightness (note, the keyboard brightness is hardware controlled so that works fine, as does the camera privacy shutter)
4) "nightmode" (really not a big deal- 'just does the red shift by allowing you to control the screen backlight "temp" in kelvin just like with smart bulbs)
5) mic (soft key to mute the mic does not work but is not a big deal since that typically is an in app function and you can do it from the menubar)
6) webcam video (720p 30fps- typical fair)
7) touchscreen and multi-point controls
8) touchpad and multi-point controls (still the same issue with typing so I still use a bluetooth mouse but at least the sensitivity did not need to be tweaked)
9) screen flipping for tablet modes (left or right) and tent (inverted mode)

Additionally, a proper AC power supply (i.e. one with the "brick" NOT on the plug prongs), at least 5 hours of battery life right now and it runs surprisingly cool.  The only headache I had was realizing that Kubuntu 19.10 (the original OS version on the ASUS) and 20.04 was not working.  This caused some issues in moving from the legacy boot process to the EFI boot process.  I ended up going back to the ASUS and upgraded it from 19.10 to 20.04 and then directly imaging that to the HP.  That fixed the EFI boot issues but the screen brightness controls (kernel 5.4.x) where not working at all.  Once I upgraded to 20.10 (kernel 5.8.x) I was good to go.  I am very much understating how important it was to be able to image my system as compared to installing from scratch.  I loathe building my personal systems from scratch and have not needed to do that since 2011 (when I first moved moved Kubuntu).

Other things of note for better or for worse...

1) no external video port- there is a USB-C so I will be getting a USB-C to HDMI connector.  Not a big deal to me but if I was going to use this as a daily driver permanently, a USB-C universal dock would be a necessity
2) no right ctrl-key in favor of a fingerprint scanner-  this is annoying and epically stupid.  I did not know this was the case and it probably would have given me pause.  Ultimately it would not be a deal breaker but I admit the adjustment back to the laptop from my desktop is initially annoying.  To offset that, I did gain dedicated Home, Page Up/Down and End keys which were function-arrow combos on the ASUS.  Please, please, pleaseeeeeeeee, HP and others, stop with these fingerprint scanners.  Seriously, just stop !
3) initial webcam mic audio to me seems low so you might want to add some gain on video calls
4) those Bang & Olusfsen speakers are still laptop speakers.  Marketing b.s. folks- they don't sound any better than anyone else's laptop speakers

I need to explain the screen flipping more since this is a secondary win.  First of all, I do this manually... there apparently is way to do it automatically but I didn't want that so I don't know if it works.  All you need is a script that executes the xrandr and xinput commands (for the touchscreen) to rotate right, left, inverter or "normal" to restore the default orientation and then also fire up the onboard virtual keyboard.  This laptop is not heavy but you will experience the weight more in tablet form factors because the thin screen bezel leaves very little real estate to get a good purchase on the unit.  This HP and the ASUS are both 13" models but the HP is noticeably smaller because of the minimal case. I do however enjoy being able to read in left or right tablet modes (i.e. long in the Y plane).  Mostly holding in my left hand since if I want to hold it with my right hand, I tend to cover the exhaust fan more.  The fan doesn't seem to come on when I am just reading or browsing a website that is not loaded with media so left or right use has not been a technical choice.  Reading in bed was also good with the inverted mode (i.e. flipped) because it allows me to orient the hardware vents at the top which means all that hot air will be properly exhausted.

As I said, on balance, this is the best Linux laptop I've had for the money.  I'm sure there will be more quirks that come up but unless something goes completely awry, I don't anticipate anything that would reverse my opinion.  Additionally, the convertible abilities allow it to be used in ways that previously would be better served by another device.  If you want an ultrabook that can do more than be a high performance computer, this HP Envy x360 is worth considering in world where Linux laptops and tablets are still a rare breed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Keith C. Perry, MS E.E.
Managing Member, DAO Technologies LLC
(O) +1.215.525.4165 x2033
(M) +1.215.432.5167

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