Hand’s on with HP’s new Surface Pro rival, designed for Adobe-using designers and artists

At Adobe MAX, we got to play – and draw – with the new HP ZBook x2 tablet, which has a stunning screen and features Wacom-developed pen tech.

Combining a high-spec screen, workstation-class performance and features designed to make drawing as effortless as possible, the HP ZBook x2 aims to usurp Microsoft’s Surface Pro as the tablet PC of choice for artists and designers.

The HP ZBook x2 is powerful – you can sketch within apps then edit using Photoshop all on the same device – but this means it’s a little more clunky than Wacom tablets or an iPad Pro.

Designed for a wide spectrum of creative professionals – from aspirational freelancers to creative business management – the device has been built for multiple Adobe and creative apps to be run at once, such as Photoshop and Illustrator. The aim of the workstation is to reduce the number of devices needed in your creative workflow, so instead of sketching on a smaller tablet and editing on a laptop, you can work through an entire creative process with the HP ZBook x2.

It will ship in December in the UK and across Europe, with pricing starting at £1,729 plus VAT.

Having the chance to have a look at the device at Adobe MAX, we instantly noticed the heavy weight of the tablet when held, the stiffness when moving the stand out from behind the back of the ZBook x2, and the industrial aesthetic. However, this workstation device by HP is all about power and performance. HP describe the unit as its "crown jewel" within its detachable device range, as it attempts to offer a better experience for illustrators, graphic designers, 3D animators and more.

Although the device was built to support Adobe CC, 3D artists can run software such as Maya, Maxon and SolidWorks.

The ZBook x2 can be used in three ways. You can use as a traditional tablet.

You can use it as a laptop by pulling out the stand on the back and attaching the clip-on keyboard.

There’s a thermo cooling system designed specifically for the ZBook x2, which cools heat from both sides and releases it from the top of the device, supposedly making the unit seem quieter, as opposed to placing the fan on the bottom like a laptop might.

HP says its tested dropping the ZBook x2 from 32 inches above ground, 32 times, so it should be sturdy and reliable.

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Or you can use docked and connected to a monitor or keyboard. Here the ZBook x2 can also power two more 4K displays, using the sold-separately ZBook Dock.

When used as a tablet, you can use the keyboard off to the side if you wish – to quickly hit shortcuts and the like.

The backlit keyboard is Bluetooth-powered, so it can still be used for keyboard shortcuts while detached from the device. When you do want to attach it, a magnetic connection makes it easy to clip on, and the keyboard will charge while connected to the tablet. You can also charge the keyboard through USB.

The first feature you’ll notice is the 14-inch, 4K touchscreen. It’s anti-glare and there’s a Dreamcolor option that can output 10-billion colours – including the full Adobe RGB gamut for smooth shades, shadows and highlights.

The non-glare treatment created for the screen improves touch capabilities according to HP, and removes that sticky feeling on your fingers when using them to zoom in and out on an image.

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The HP ZBook x2 comes with a detachable, Bluetooth-enabled keyboard included in the price.  Along with the screen it features Wacom tech to offer 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity - which is impressive if half that of Wacom’s current Cintiq Pro tablet displays.

However you’ll have to buy the HP-designed, Wacom-powered stylus separately, and a price for this has not been officially decided. With the battery-less stylus comes a smartcard reader slot-based holder for the stylus that sits on the side of the unit, as well as a case. This stylus is unique to the ZBook x2 – it’s not available with any other HP device.

The stylus was comfortable to hold, with hardly any latency when I was drawing brush strokes in Photoshop.

Tilt is supported, though not rotation – and there’s an eraser on the end of the pen too.

Around the screen are 18 Quick Keys – similar to Wacom’s ExpressKeys on its Intuos Pro, Cintiq Pro and MobileStudio Pro products. These allow you to trigger application-specific functions in tools.

The Quick Keys come with presets for Photoshop, Lightroom and Illustrator You can also choose to create your own Quick Keys if you prefer having the control. They also work with all Adobe CC but you will have to create the Quick Keys for these too.

At the moment it’s uncertain if Quick Keys works with non-Adobe software, but HP says additional support for this will roll out after the first release.

Under the screen is a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (up to 3.6GHz) and up to 32GB of RAM and an Nvidia Quadro graphics chip. Combined, this gives the ZBook x2 up to 73 percent higher graphics performance than the Surface Pro – according to HP. Inside, there’s up to 2TB of PCIe storage.

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The ZBook x2 can last up to 10 hours after charge, and it will charge from 0 percent to 50 percent in 30 minutes. The keyboard also lasts 10 hours without charge.

On the outside, there’s an SD card slot – which should please photographers – and a Thunderbolt 3 port for fast connectivity.

And if security is important to you, the device offers a fingerprint sensor on the side of the device, face recognition and regular HP security options.

The ZBook x2 has strong competition though. Microsoft launched a 15-inch version of its Surface Book yesterday, also with powerful Nvidia graphics – though the graphics chip lives in the base and only boosts performance when used as a laptop.

The ZBook x2 has an aluminium and die-cast magnesium body. It weighs 1.6kg and is 14.6mm thick in tablet mode. In laptop mode it's 2.2kg and 20.3mm thick.

For comparison, a Surface Pro weighs only 910g and is 13mm thick. The new 15-inch Surface Book is 810g without the keyboard base and 1.9kg/23mm with it. A 15-inch MacBook Pro is 15.5mm thick and weighs 1.8kg.

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Adjusting the stand out from behind the tablet is quite a stiff process, and it feels large and heavy in your hand, making it a little clunky for a mobile device built for when you’re out and about, or on public transport, for example.

However, the long-lasting battery, 1TB storage, over 30GB memory and decent stylus – and most importantly the ability to create and edit your work on one device that can be a tablet – redeems itself.