WE SAW A LOT of impressively slim and light laptops over the past 12 months, but the upcoming HP EliteBook Folio, revealed at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, is something else. It's a wafer-thin 12.4mm deep and weighs just 1kg, lighter than the smallest 11.6in MacBook Air but boasting nearly an entire inch of extra diagonal screen space.
The EliteBook Folio won't find itself on the folding seat-back trays of commuters until it launches in March, but we were invited by HP Inc to try it out first-hand.
The silvery aluminium construction contrasting with a black plastic keyboard certainly evokes the rest of the EliteBook range, leaving the EliteBook Folio's thinness and narrowness to make it stand out. The left and right screen bezels are tiny and there's hardly any chassis between the keyboard and the edges. It's clear that HP Inc has trimmed off as much as it feasibly could to increase the device's extreme portability.
This comes at a cost, however: there's no room for a full-size USB port, just two USB-C slots. These are Thunderbolt 3-equipped, so they'll be able to connect to an external display with the appropriate cables, but anyone hoping to use a mouse or even a common USB stick will need to invest in an adapter. It's also a bit disappointing to see no SD card reader or mini HDMI port.
At least HP Inc has made other improvements. The surprisingly spacious touchpad, for instance, has new mechanical left- and right-click buttons. These add a pleasantly deep, forceful action as well as a premium feel broadly similar to that of a mechanical switch keyboard. The EliteBook Folio's keyboard is fairly standard in design and operation, with the exception of specialised calendar and conference call controls on the function keys. HP Inc sees this laptop as a device that can multitask as a business laptop and a conference phone, hence the inclusion of quick calling and voice-muting controls.
This also seems to be the idea behind the EliteBook Folio's 180-degree hinge, which allows it to lie completely flat on a table - presumably so that everyone sitting around it can see what's on-screen.
As we'd expect from something that will cost a minimum of €999, the EliteBook Folio's screen is of a suitably high quality. It's a 12.5in IPS panel that shows off some beautifully bright, bold colours, and even on a base FHD model we tested - that's 176ppi - text and images look fine. A UHD model which runs at a 352ppi will also be available, although we haven't seen it in action.
The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 4, which provides some good scratch resistance but is just as reflective here as it is on a smartphone, so those planning to take advantage of the flattening hinge should beware of any pesky overhead lights.
Operating system and software
Windows 10 Home will be the EliteBook Folio's standard issue OS. HP Inc will offer Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Pro through downgrade rights, which might prove useful for firms with a strictly controlled IT environment based on the older operating systems, but we feel that Windows 10 Pro would be a better choice for sheer usability. The UI is much improved for laptop use since Windows 8.1, and it's hard to dislike features such as Universal Apps or the versatile Action Centre menu.
Windows 10 Pro also features handy tools like BitLocker encryption and built-in IT policy deployment, considerable advantages over the Windows 10 Home version that appears on cheaper laptops.
As with all EliteBooks, there's a handful of HP Inc's pre-installed programs onboard. A lot of these can be ignored or deleted for extra SSD space, although there are some genuinely good inclusions. HP Touchpoint Manager, for instance, allows admins to streamline software inventory and patch deployment, while HP Client Security is an expansive collection of anti-malware, authentication and drive encryption tools.
HP Inc is staying tight-lipped on the specific CPU and RAM specs the various EliteBook Folio models will include, other than the fact that all processors will come from Intel's 6th-generation Skylake Core M line. That's to be expected, since the laptop's fanless design wouldn't be able to cope with a full-on Core i5 or i7, although the Core Ms will all be vPro-enabled.
For now, we can get an idea from the test unit we were given, which ran a 1.1GHz Core M5-6Y57 dual-core chip with 8GB of RAM. On paper, that's an adequate if hardly spectacular amount of power for everyday tasks.
Indeed, we didn't notice any stuttering or sluggishness when web browsing and text editing on the EliteBook Folio, but we couldn't run benchmarks or download more demanding photo and video editing software to test. We're still curious as to how it will fare under intensive working use, and have requested a unit we can test in full for a later review.
The EliteBook Folio may be custom built for conference calls, but its webcam isn't quite as clear as those of high-end competitors like the Dell XPS 13 or Microsoft's Surface Pro 4, mainly due to a large amount of visual noise. That said, videos appear bright and smooth with blurring kept to a minimum.
Some good software and a sleek design means the EliteBook Folio scores points for style and functionality. Even without the somewhat niche conferencing focus, that's enough for us to keep an eye on it ahead of its launch later this year.
Nonetheless, we can't shake the feeling that the few available ports may cause headaches, and EliteBooks typically don't have the best battery life, something in which the EliteBook Folio remains untested. A more in-depth look is required before we can fully judge its suitability as a real mobile productivity machine. µ