6 min read

Review: HP Elitebook Folio G1 business class laptop

If your heart says MacBook, but your head says Windows, HP’s Elitebook Folio G1 fits the bill.

At a glance

For:Thin, light, attractive. Great keyboard for such a small laptop. 4K touch screen display in the review model.
Against: Battery can drain fast at times.
Maybe:Only two USB-C ports.
Verdict: A minimal, business-class Windows laptop.
Price:From around NZ$2600.

For years Windows laptops have been all about features. Size, weight and battery life matter, but for the most part computer makers sell on processor, memory, storage and display. Laptop marketing often amounts to a list of specifications.

Meanwhile, Apple won a lucrative slice of premium computer sales by selling the user experience. MacBook buyers are often unaware of the processor or disc speed. They think of screens in terms of words like Retina, not pixels-per-inch. All they know is their laptop works and does, or doesn’t, deliver.

It took time, but now HP appears to have learned how marketing the laptop experience works.

While the Elitebook Folio G1 boasts an impressive feature list, the user experience it offers is more notable.

Here is a fast, powerful Windows laptop with a stunning display all packed in a thin, light case. It looks good and feels right. The Elitebook Folio is sophisticated and robust. That is the pitch.

Contrast the HP webpage (a clipping shown below) for the Elitebook Folio G1 with other laptop sales material. This looks more like a business suit version of an Apple promotion than the usual Windows laptop marketing.

HP Elitebook Folio G1 design
HP Elitebook Folio G1 design

Made for business

Above all else, the Elitebook Folio G1 is a business computer.

HP has made Elitebooks since 2008. It is HP’s high-end business brand. The company says it builds Elitebooks to military standards so they can deliver performance in tough conditions and take more punishment than usual.

In New Zealand HP underpins this promise with a three-year warranty. Computers sold here for business purposes are not covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act, so this gives companies added confidence.

HP used MacBook template

While the Elitebook Folio G1 looks nothing like the blingy, consumer HP Spectre, the two share much in common.

Both use Apple’s Macbook template. All three are thin and light. They have a minimal number of USB-C ports. The MacBook has one, the Elitebook has two. There are three on the HP Spectre.They are roughly the same size. Both the Elitebook and the MacBook have an aluminium unibody construction.

HP's laptop has a dark grey, metal exterior similar, but in a different colour, to the MacBook's anodised finish.

At 17mm, the Elitebook Folio G1 is much thicker than the 10.4mm Spectre. It weighs much the same: between 1000 and 1100 grams, depending on the configuration. HP targets consumers with the Spectre, the Elitebook Folio G1 is for business users, but some consumers may pick it.

Like a MacBook running Windows

One big difference between the Elitebook Folio G1 and the MacBook is  Microsoft Windows. Many users see that as important. Apple’s OSX has its virtues, but can struggle in inflexible Microsoft-based company set-ups. What’s more, many business people are more comfortable with Windows.

People might like the idea of a MacBook, but they don’t want to spend time learning how to use new software.

HP uses the same Intel Core M processors in the Elitebook Folio G1 that Apple uses for the MacBook. The chips are light, thin and sip battery juice, but you can say the same about most laptop chips these days.

Where Core M differ from alternatives is that they are quiet. There are no fans, so no fan noise. If you’re used to a laptop with a fan you’ll notice this. The downside is they are not as powerful as other Intel processors. While that's a problem if you want to edit video, it's not going to worry most people.

Four to choose from

There are four configurations to choose from starting with a NZ$2600 non-touch screen model. It has 128GB of storage and an Intel Core m5 processor.

This review looks at the top of the line model with an ultra-high definition (UHD) touch screen. That’s 3840 by 2160 pixels and comparable to a 4k TV screen. It has an Intel Core m7 processor, 8GB of Ram and a 512GB solid state drive.

Although the price is not cheap at $3700 plus GST, it is an investment for people who depend on their computers. The price includes HP's three-year warranty.

Where the Elitebook trumps Apple

The Elitebook Folio G1 keyboard beats the MacBook keyboard hands down. There's no comparison. It is a highlight. In comparison the MacBook keyboard is shallow and flat-feeling. The Elitebook has what feels like a proper keyboard with normal travel. When you hit a key it moves as expected. You can touch-type in comfort.

Apple wins by the same margin on touchpads. The MacBook touchpad is larger, more responsive and has Force Touch — which may or may not excite you. The Elitebook trackpad isn't as good at detecting multiple touches and sometimes things seem to happen at random. This could be a matter of getting used to the trackpad or even adjusting settings. HP makes up for the poorer touchpad with a touch screen — at least on the more expensive Elitebook models.

Whether you prefer a better touchpad over a touch screen is, only in part, a matter of taste. That's because Microsoft designed Windows 10 for touch screens; it feels a little odd without one.

UHD display

HP Elitebook Folio G1 laid flat
HP Elitebook Folio G1 laid flat

All of the top three Elitebook Folio G1 models sport the UHD touch screen. It's a little on the reflective side, but bright enough for images to cut through. It looks good even when you're not looking straight-on.

The screen can fold all the way back, so the screen lays flat. See the photo. When used this way, the Elitebook Folio G1 has something of a tablet feel. About the only time you'd use this is when lounging like the woman in the picture, but then that's something we might all like do once in a while.

At times the target buttons on a Windows 10 screen look too small compared to a man's fat fingers, but in practice there are few slips. And anyway, that's a Windows 10 shortcoming, not an HP one.

UHD is a higher resolution that Apple's Retina display. At first sight it is hard to tell which is better. Then you view a 4K video and it becomes clear. The resolution is so high that you may have to adjust some Windows text screens to make them easier to read. In practice apps like Microsoft Office look wonderful if you play around with the zoom controls to get the best text size.

One downside is that  UHD screens are power-hungry. We found we could squeeze almost eight hours out of the battery working with business apps. The battery drains faster when watching video. On balance the Elitebook Folio G1 does well enough. There's enough for a full day's work, but you may feel nervous when asked to do one last job before going home.

Bang & Olufsen speakers

Bang & Olufsen speakers give the Elitebook Folio G1 audio output. They sit under the case. Two rubber bars raise the body a few millimetres above desk level. You'll get good sound when the computer is flat on a solid surface, but sit the computer on your lap or on soft furnishing and the audio is muffled. HP's specification sheet says there are four speakers, but only two speaker grills are visible.

HP has chosen simplicity over adding lots of connectors to the Elitebook. There are just two USB-C ports along with an audio jack. While a lot of users complain, that’s enough for most people if you have Wi-Fi to connect to the net.

Business class

HP has returned to form in recent months. The HP Spectre is excellent, the Elitebook Folio G1 is as good. It is an unfussy business laptop. HP designed it for companies and corporate buyers. It has corporate features like Intel vPro support which IT professionals use to manage PCs in organisations. There is a dedicated communications button that can link to Skype for Business.

Despite being made for business, you can buy one for your own use. It is worth considering, although you might choose the HP Spectre instead. That model is thinner, fancier-looking and  a fraction less expensive. HP optimised the Spectre for all-round use while it built the Folio G1 for work.