Review: HP EliteBook Folio G1 offers lightweight business computing

Review: HP EliteBook Folio G1 offers lightweight business computing

HP's latest Windows 10 laptop comes in touch and non-touch versions; it offers a bright display, great keyboard and a variety of options.

If you're looking for a lightweight, portable laptop -- but aren't interested in a tablet with a snap-on keyboard such as the HP Elite x2 -- HP's 12.5-in. EliteBook Folio G1 makes the most of the traditional notebook design. The company has built an excellent display and keyboard into one of the smallest and lightest systems around.

I spent a week with a pair of Folio systems: The full HD non-touch model that ships with an Intel Core M7 processor, 8GB of 1.86GHz DDR3 RAM and a 128GB SSD and the UHD WVGA touch-screen model that includes a sixth-generation Intel Core M5 processor, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. Several other configurations are also available.

The Folio family's 12.5-in. displays are a study in contrasts. The UHD touch system (3840 x 2160) offers a four-to-one advantage in showing details compared to the full HD (1920 x 1080 resolution) model. This became apparent when I zoomed in on an 11.3-megapixel photo of my yard and saw leaves that weren't visible on the HD screen.

It's also much brighter, with the full HD version providing a reasonable 306 candelas per square meter versus the UHD's impressive 411. This makes HP's touch display one of the brightest, richest and most vivid screens on the market. I found it still quite usable when I set it at half its brightness.

Under the surface, both systems have Intel's Graphics 515 video accelerator with 128MB of dedicated memory. They can each draw upon up to 4.02GB from system memory for a total of 4.15GB of video memory available. This is just as good for working with intricate images or CAD designs as for playing a video game.

HP EliteBook Folio HP

The Folio can lie flat on a surface, allowing you to "fingerpaint" on the touch screen.

The Folio's piano lid hinge allows the screen to be opened all the way so you can unfold the whole system flat on a table. This makes "fingerpainting" with the touch version easy -- I comfortably drew a map and sketched a flow chart.

The touch screen responds to 10 independent touch inputs and works with a generic stylus. Unfortunately, when the screen was open beyond about 45 degrees, I ran the risk of tipping the system over if I tapped too hard. Overall, I felt that the display wobbled a bit while tapping, swiping and pinching the screen.

Above the display is a 720p webcam that works with Microsoft's Hello facial recognition log-in.

All Folios come with an aluminum case with a soft finish to it. The laptop measures 11.5 x 8.2 x 0.5 in.; the non-touch model weighs a very light 1.1KG. (3.63KG with its small AC adapter) while the touch model weighs 3g more.

The Folio can take a beating on the road -- the family of laptops has passed the Mil-Std 810G tests, including those for vibration and shock, dust intrusion, drops from 30 in. and extreme temperatures. However, it lacks a spill-resistant keyboard.

The Folios are equipped with Intel's M-6Y75 processor that can run between 1.2GHz and 3.1GHz, depending on its tasks. It uses only 4.5 watts of power, about what a nightlight consumes, allowing the Folio to go without a fan. When I checked the heat with a Fluke infrared non-contact thermometer, the touch UHD system never got above 92.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the non-touch never broke 87.5 degrees.

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The Folio comes with 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2 wireless connections, along with WiDi capabilities.

Although the Folio's Bang & Olufsen tuned audio has speakers positioned underneath the system and pointing down, they delivered excellent balance among bass, treble and midrange tones. I had good-quality audio with spoken word programming, music or a Skype call -- and they can get surprisingly loud. You can tune the sound with B&O's software graphic equalizer.

In addition to a headphone jack, the Folio is equipped with two USB-C ports, which let you charge the system while using a USB-connected accessory. It comes with a USB-C-to-USB 3.0 adapter and another for USB-C-to-Ethernet connections. However, the system lacks an SD card slot, something that I've taken for granted in this genre.

HP also offers two optional docking stations. One provides five USB ports as well as Ethernet, HDMI and DisplayPort connections. The other, which I had a chance to test out, is the HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 65W Dock. It has four USB connectors along with audio, Ethernet VGA and two DisplayPort connectors that can drive a pair of monitors at once. The dock worked well when I used it to connect the Folio with USB thumb drives, an Ethernet connection and an HD display.

The Folio includes Windows 10 Pro and a second-generation Trusted Platform Module that can make remote log-ins airtight. Other security includes HP's SureStart BIOS protection that doesn't allow the notebook to be started with rogue firmware, as well as HP TouchPoint Manager, which is meant to help companies manage a fleet of systems in a secure cloud database.

Test results

Neither test system let me down over a week of daily use that ranged from giving slideshows and doing Web research to editing images and heavy-duty spreadsheet work.

The non-touch model scored a 3,022 on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional benchmark; the touch model scored lower at 2,352. While it won't set any performance records, it's more than enough for most to survive the typical workday.

Each Folio comes with a 4,100 milliamp-hour battery that was able to power the non-touch system for an adequate 5 hr. 35 min. on PCMark 8's battery test. The touch system ran for a rather anemic 4 hr. 19 min.

Because I had previously tested battery life on other systems by running continuous videos, I ran the same tests on the two Folio laptops. The non-touch Folio ran them for 6 hr. 28 min., while the touch lasted for 4 hr. 52 min. This is in comparison to two similar laptops, the Asus Zenbook UX305 (8 hr. 5 min.) and Dell XPS 13 (11 hr. 10 min.).

The EliteBook Folio G1 includes a year of standard warranty protection.

Bottom line

Thin, light and with one of the best keyboards this side of a desktop PC, the Folio twins -- both the touch and non-touch models -- are easy to use and travel with. They are well equipped and deliver the right balance of performance, manageability and security.

While the more powerful, long-lasting and cheaper HD model appeals to the left, more logical side of my brain, the right side dominates here and I lust after the incredibly bright, rich and useful UHD touch model.

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