HP Omen X 2S gaming laptop review: The Nintendo DS of laptops

Gaming laptops are getting nutty. Because of how powerful and portable they’ve become, it takes more than smooth framerates to stand out from the crowd. The HP Omen X 2S takes an extraordinary step to make gamers give it a look. It has a small, second screen built right into the keyboard deck.
It’s a neat trick, but HP wants the Omen X 2S to be more than just a gimmick. It’s also a powerful flagship gaming laptop built to stand toe-to-toe with the best from Alienware and Razer. At $2,540, it comes with a six-core Core i7 processor, an Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics chip, and 16GB of RAM. You can even choose an eight-core Core i9 if you want to get crazy.
So, is the second screen useful? Or are you better off with a more traditional gaming laptop?
Two screens on a laptop. Why not?
The Omen X 2S is unlike any gaming laptop I’ve ever used. Yes, it’s still black, RGB-laden, and heavier than your average laptop. But when the empty space between the keyboard and the hinge lights up as a second display, I can’t help but want to play with it.
That second screen is a 6-inch, 1080p touchscreen — just about the size of a smartphone. You might wish it was wider to fill the blank space on either side, but there’s a reason for the size. The idea of the laptop came from some research that showed just how often people used their phones while gaming. They play music, listen to podcasts, text, check social media, and watch videos. That’s why HP decided to build a smartphone-sized screen right into the keyboard deck.
The screen’s default app is the HP Omen Command Center, which gives you quick access to things like system vitals and lighting customization. But from there, you can drag any window down to the second screen, or open any application you want to run, as if it was an external monitor. It’s just a quick reach to select a new song on Spotify or scroll down on a guide you’re reading as you make your way through a game.
HP even includes a few helpful macro buttons above the touchpad that add extra functionality. One will swap the apps between the main screen and the second screen, and another will turn the screen off entirely.
I can’t see many benefits to having a screen built into the keyboard where this one is.
The problem, of course, is the screen isn’t a smartphone. You don’t have access to the same apps as your phone, and when you do, they’re comically small. There are even problems with the touch capabilities of the screen. When a game is open, the system automatically turns off touch controls, and they can’t be flipped back on. This isn’t a problem with other applications, but for DirectX games, it’s off limits.
You can work around this by placing a game in Windowed mode. That works well in some titles, but others suffer performance penalties or interface oddities in that mode.
I also had issues with the placement of the second screen. Because it lays flat across the keyboard deck, it’s not ideal for activities like watching videos. The off-axis angles aren’t great, which meant I had to lean over to have a better view. Then there’s the problem of glare. Even though the screen is matte, bright images cast reflections across the bottom screen. As I type this review, the blinding white screen of Google Docs is washing out the second screen with glare.
Having a second screen is still useful, though. HP even includes one game-specific trick, where you can mirror a portion of your main screen. I tried it out in Civilization VI, cropping out the mini-map onto the second screen, almost like playing on a Nintendo DS. The use cases are definitely limited, but for the right gamer, it could be a nice addition.
Even beyond that, extra screen space is always great (especially if you’re on the go or away from your desk). Still, I can’t see many benefits of having that screen just above the keyboard. I still found myself picking up my phone.
The second screen of the Omen X 2S might be the more exciting of the two, but the regular display is the one you’ll be playing games on. It’s a 15.6-inch 1080p screen with a 144Hz refresh rate, though you can also opt for a 4K model at 60Hz. The screen is mid-pack in image quality. Its certainly not the brightest or most colorful laptop screen I’ve seen, but for a gaming laptop, it gets the job done. The top and bottom bezels are rather chunky, though, making this otherwise futuristic laptop feel a little old-school.

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