HP Envy x360 13-ay1222nc (2021)
After patching up my beloved ThinkPad with replacement parts official, unofficial and 3D-printed for years, I finally got a new notebook, an HP Envy x360 13-ay1222nc. It’s got a Ryzen 5 5600U (Cezanne Zen 3 6-core APU), 16GB RAM, a 512 GB SSD and a Realtek WiFi/Bluetooth card.
I’m running NixOS on it, and plan on writing a more detailed article about the hardware compatibility and generally talk more about my setup. There’s not that much written online about the 13-ay1xxx revision from late 2021, so I thought I’ll write down my thoughts on the hardware first, focusing on the things you can’t read from specs sheets.
My last few notebooks were bought used, a ThinkPad T440s and a Surface Pro 3, so I’ll be comparing the Envy against them. I often recommend used business hardware to friends and family, but in the price and power range I was after, that market seemed to be pretty barren right now, which is how I ended up buying new. For reference, I got this notebook for 20 000 Czech Crowns (roughly 810 EUR).
The build quality is great, but not perfect. Everything mostly fits the way it should, and the feel is great. The touchpad is a touch higher on the right, so the lip is more of a ridge there (EDIT: I fixed it by just pushing hard on one corner).
One of the back corners of the chassis somehow got bumped and deformed a little. That’s obviously my fault, this is just to say it’s not a magnesium chassis ThinkPad.
The keyboard is good. From what I have experience with, it’s most comparable to the Surface Pro 4’s type cover. I think the travel is slightly longer and the actuation softer, but it’s close enough that I’m hesitant. Do keep in mind that HP only makes the keyboard in ANSI layout (i.e. US layout), so a long one-row enter and no split left shift even in Europe. Some may mind, I’m happy that my nechanical keyboard now has the same layout as my notebook, down to the right-side movement keys.
Yes, the power key is right next to delete, but the key requires significantly more pressure than others, so I haven’t found it to be a problem.
The touchpad is, sadly, not great. Maybe I’m just not used to touchpads after years of using the TrackPoint almost exclusively, but it doesn’t seem as responsive and “glidy” as the SP4 one. Part of that is surely just a materials change, I’m already getting more used to it. For those interested, the USB ID is 06cb:00e7, so it’s a Synaptics touchpad.
EDIT: After a brief transition period, I’ve gotten used to the touchpad. Do note that clicking by pressing down takes too much pressure in the upper half, as it’s hinged at the top.
I’m sadly disappointed by the touchscreen. This model came with an included stylus, a USB-C rechargeable plastic MPP 2.0 one. The latency is good, about as good as I could expect from a 60Hz display without some “direct-to-GPU” trickery. Tilt works, activation pressure is fine, but for some obscure reason, the accuracy gets way worse when tilting the pen. It’s near perfect at 90°, but around a natural writing/drawing position lines get pretty wobbly. Interestingly enough, this also happens with pens without the tilt function, but the ones that I tested also had accuracy problems when held perpendicular, so there could be a host of different problems all contributing. Sadly, digitizers are still as opaque a technology as when I bought my SP3.
EDIT: A few weeks later, having borrowed a stylus or two from friends, I found that while the wobblines is there, most of my problems with using the touchscreen for writing actually came from the parallax correction of the stock stylus. It’s far too pronounced and creates most of the “wobble” I then noticed in my writing. The conclusion is that the HP touchscreen and pen aren’t bad per-se, they’re just different (which might as well just be the same thing in my case).
A word of warning: My Renaisser Raphael 520, which works perfectly with my SP3, requires a ridiculous amount of pressure on the Envy. This is apparently a “known problem” to people on stylus discussion forums, but, again, no word of it anywhere official.
The screen is great (model number CMN139d). I don’t have any way to measure it, but it seems to me contrast and colors are all at least as good as my T440s, if not better. It’s also glossy, which to me is just one of the necessary compromises for two-in-ones. I can say that, while reflections are clearly there, the content visibility is perfectly fine here on a mostly clear spring day, even with white-on-black text. On a train with the sun shining through the window, I could get away with lowering brightness to 35%. I’ve owned matte screens with worse visibility (which is more of a condemnation of that particular notebook, but still).
Where the screen does have a problem is minimum brightness, “0%” is about 5% on
an internal scale (do note that human perception of light is non-linear).
Thankfully a simple patch to the Linux
amdgpu driver let me get it down to
true internal zero.
I don’t much care for notebook speakers, but I find these very good. Speaker enthusiasts might complain that they’re bottom firing (the sound changes dramatically based on the surface underneath) and that at higher volumes some sounds are mildly distorted, but this is a slim 13” laptop and I can actually play music or a movie through these speakers!
I’d need to use an oscilloscope to evaluate the 3.5mm jack output, except for one thing: It has a higher noise floor and some earphones do pick it up. In my Tin T2s it’s barely audible, but in my Tin T2 Pluses it’s very noticeable. I tested a few devices around the house, and both my phone (Xperia XZ1 Compact) and desktop (ROG Strix X370-I Gaming) don’t have any audible noise. However, the 5K iMac from 2014 does have an even greater amount of noise. It’s not a dealbreaker or a unique problem, I just wish we could count on audio outputs to be virtually noise-free nowadays.
HP claim a 16 hour 30 minute battery life for “video playback” and an hour less for “mixed usage”. I’ve been tweaking my Linux install and at one point measured 2.5W at idle, so I think these figures are actually reachable. What kind of work one could do at 3.3W is another question. I have a lot of tweaking and measuring to do, and I’d like to find out in the future.
The specific SSD I got is a WD SN530, specifically a SDBPNPZ-512G-1006. I don’t have any benchmarks, but it’s got TLC flash and reasonable-looking manufacturer ratings. I’m happy HP didn’t cheap out on some QLC rubbish.
I also ran a few quick benchmarks in Windows in HP’s performance mode, here are the numbers (sorry for only single runs and no temperature/frequency charts, I’m not a proper reviewer :) ):
Cinebench R23 (single core): 1308 pts
Cinebench R23 (multi-core): 7729 pts
Cinebench R20 (single thread): 535 pts
Cinebench R20 (multi-core): 3056 pts
Unigine Heaven Extreme: 16.3 FPS, 409 pts
Miscellaneous and final thoughts
The fold-out USB-A ports are a funny idea, and they do work and even seem mostly robust. They fold out low enough that they hit the table, so just interrupting the chassis taper wouldn’t have been enough, so they do make some sense, I’m still on the fence whether or not they’re necessary, but I guess I’ll trust HP to not have added extra cost and complexity for no reason.
The Envy goes against persistent trends and has a lot of various LEDs: caps lock, mute, microphone mute, camera shutter, power and a charging light on the right side (orange for charging, white for fully charged). The side light is thankfully dim enough that it doesn’t bother me while sleeping, unlike, say, the Surface charger light.
I’m pleasantly surprised by HP’s decision to publish a full service manual for the device (well, actually the near-identical 13-ay0xxx model). Sadly, I can’t find a way to order the spare parts officialy, but they’re mostly easy-to-find on eBay for reasonable prices. Considering how much I prolonged the life of my T440s with repairs, this is very important to me and I think parts availability should be a decision factor for everyone.
All in all, I like it. It’s a very good notebook and a passable tablet.