HP reimagines the 2-in-1 hybrid and opts for Windows-on-ARM underpinnings
- Epic battery life
- Innovative design
- Good sound system
- Expensive in 5G form
- Only two 5Gbits/sec USB-C ports
- No biometric security
Remember the leather-clad HP Spectre Folio 13? That clever 2-in-1 hybrid eschewed the usual 360° hinge in favour of a foldaway screen that offered the twin advantages of reduced thickness and weight. The laptop was squarely aimed at consumers, but now HP brings the idea to its Elite range for businesses.
That’s not the only unusual thing about the HP Elite Folio, however. It also runs on the ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx chipset, promising several advantages over the usual Intel and AMD x86 platforms, including better battery life and cellular connectivity.
HP Elite Folio review: What you need to know
HP is pitching the Elite Folio as a machine for the on-the-go business person who prioritises lightness, compactness and long battery life over everything else. So I will have no truck with anyone who buys one and then complains it can’t play games, connect to half a dozen monitors or house a 1TB media collection. That is not what the HP Elite Folio has been put on this earth to do.
HP has instead focused on other features. The quality of the keyboard, for instance, and the audio system are exceptional for an ultraportable, and it also comes bundled with an active stylus that docks in a slot carved out just above the keyboard, so it’s guaranteed not to fall out and get lost in transit.
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HP Elite Folio review: Price and competition
The entry-level Elite Folio is the only model currently available direct from HP and will set you back £1,523. That gets you 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD and no cellular modem. This is the model I’ve been sent to test. If you want 5G connectivity, you’ll also have to cough up for 16GB of RAM and a larger 512GB SSD, which boosts the price to £2,496.
The Microsoft Surface Pro X uses a very similar ARM chipset, although it’s more tablet than a laptop and, at £2,100 in comparative form, isn’t cheap either. It has a superb display but mediocre battery life.
If you want a superlight laptop experience in a 2-in-1 format, then Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro 360 is worth considering. When I reviewed this model’s laptop counterpart, the Galaxy Book Pro, I found very little to complain about.
HP’s 13.5in Spectre x360 is an absolute masterclass in laptop design, too. It’s compact, lightweight and stunning to look at, and comes with a glorious 4K OLED display. The Lenovo Yoga 9i is also worth a look with models starting at only £1,000 (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD) and it, too, comes with a bundled stylus. I have no reason to change my view that it remains one of the best 2-in-1 laptops around.
HP Elite Folio review: Design and build quality
HP describes the Folio Elite as the “world’s first pull-forward business convertible PC”. If that sounds oddly specific it has to be, because other laptops – including the aforementioned HP Spectre Folio 13 and Acer ConceptD 3 Ezel – predate the Folio as the first laptops with “pull-forward” displays.
What does this mean, though?
Open the lid of the Elite and it looks and feels like a regular laptop; the difference is that the screen is hinged on a support midway up each side. Pull the bottom of the screen forward and you can rest it on a lip between the trackpad and the keyboard in a sort of “tent” mode with just the trackpad showing. It looks rather more composed in this form than conventional 2-in-1s, which lack a base when set up like an A-frame or have to rest on their keyboards.
Tilt the screen further back and you can fold it flat, turning the Elite into a tablet. Magnets keep everything firmly in place, no matter which position you’re in.
One significant difference between the Acer and HP machines is that the Acer’s display can be used in any position between laptop and tablet, but the HP’s can’t: it just flops about until you position it on the deck and the three magnets in the display engage. Despite that, it’s a clever and curiously satisfying design that feels as though it will last. In tablet mode particularly, it looks and feels much less like a laptop that’s been folded the wrong way than most conventional 2-in-1 machines.
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My one problem with the design has more to do with HP’s marketing bods than its designers or engineers. HP calls the attractive soft-touch covering on the lid and base “vegan leather” when, in fact, it’s just polyurethane plastic. This is one of those idiotic marketing ideas that really grinds my gears: forget the fact that vegan leather is a contradiction in terms, why try to dupe customers with meaningless greenwash when you’re actually using plastic?
On a more positive note, the cover does a good job of looking like leather and makes the Elite Folio appear – when closed at least – more like a book than a laptop. And, because it’s all one piece and covers both the base and the display, it hides the hinge mechanism that joins the screen mount to the body.
The rest of the Elite Folio is made from recycled magnesium and is as solid as you’d like, while physical connectivity is limited to two 5Gbits/sec USB-C ports, one on either side of the machine. Both support Power Delivery and DisplayPort video-out, but I’d have liked them to be faster.
The backlit keyboard is solid and the keys have a decent 1.3mm of travel to them. I’ve no arguments with the layout, which is surprisingly spacious considering there are speaker grilles to either side, although the half-height up and down cursor keys are a small niggle. It’s a quiet keyboard, too, which is just as well because the passively cooled Elite Folio is as silent as the grave. The trackpad is very pleasant to use and the corner click-action is supremely precise.
The 720p webcam above the display has a sliding privacy shutter, but that’s the only good thing I can say about it. The feed looks dull and grainy, and there’s no support for biometric security. The Elite Folio doesn’t even have a fingerprint scanner, which is poor for a machine of this price and ambition.
HP Elite Folio review: Display and audio
There’s little wrong with the Elite Folio’s 13.5in 16:10 IPS touchscreen, although it is very reflective. Maximum brightness measured 385cd/m² so the reflections are not the problem they could be on a duller panel, and the contrast ratio was a cracking 2,350:1.
The Delta E colour accuracy tested at 2.4, which is only borderline acceptable, but with sRGB gamut reproduction at 96.6%, it’s plenty capable. The shape of the screen is what will attract business users. Spreadsheets and documents simply fit better on a 16:10 screen.
The display is also active-stylus-compatible, and HP includes one in the box. This is 145mm long, has a programmable two-function rocker button on the side and another on the top that you can use to change slides and the like. It has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and even tilt support.
Palm rejection worked perfectly when I rested my hand on the screen in tablet mode – a must for me, being left-handed – and the system kept up with my fastest doodlings.
For such a thin and light machine, the four-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system is rather impressive. There’s volume aplenty and even a reasonable amount of bass. Proceedings are helped by the two upward-facing speakers on each side of the keyboard deck, another feature not common to machines this petite.
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HP Elite Folio review: Performance and battery life
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen2 chipset inside the Folio Elite is closely related to the SQ1 chipset inside the Surface Pro X and a little more distantly to the 7c Gen2 chipset inside the Samsung Galaxy Book Go I recently reviewed.
The 8cx Gen2 is an octa-core part that runs at a base frequency of 1.8GHz and turbo boosts to 2.84GHz; it’s almost twice the speed of the 7c in the Samsung.
That increased power means the performance hit involved in running 32-bit Windows apps under emulation isn’t so obvious. Chrome, which has yet to appear in a native Windows-on-ARM form, doesn’t run as fast as Edge on the Elite Folio, but you’d have to run a browser benchmark to see the difference. In the JetStream2 tests, Edge outscored Chrome by 86.5 to 41.3 but, in everyday use, the difference is harder to notice than those scores would suggest.
Of course, there are compatibility issues because Windows-on-ARM only supports 64-bit Windows apps if you’re using a Windows Insider Program version of Windows 10 Pro. HP says 94% of Windows apps will run on the Elite Folio, but I couldn’t even begin to say if that’s true or not.
The Handbrake video-encoding program is one that certainly won’t work on Windows-on-ARM, which is why the Expert Reviews’ in-house media benchmarks won’t run on the Elite Folio.
It did, however, run the Geekbench 5 test, which produced scores of 794 for single-core and 3,082 for multicore performance, the latter being midway between what you’d expect to see from 11th gen Intel Core i3 and Core i5 laptops.
Incidentally, the HP information page for the Elite Folio says it uses the Adreno 540 GPU, whereas it actually uses the more powerful Adreno 690. There’s a similar mismatch with the wireless specification: my machine had the Wi-Fi 6 Qualcomm QCA639x adapter, but the specification sheet says the Elite Folio is only compatible with Wi-Fi 5.
The SK Hynix PC601 PCI-E Gen3 x4 SSD returned pretty lacklustre scores, with sustained read and write rates of just 2,079MB/sec and 654MB/sec. Again, however, this shouldn’t inconvenience the target market too badly.
Battery life, on the other hand, is simply outstanding. In the Expert Reviews video rundown test, the Elite Folio lasted 17hrs 23mins, which means it’s right up there with the Apple MacBook Pro.
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HP Elite Folio review: Verdict
The Elite Folio is a stylish, super-light convertible ideal for anyone who needs to run basic productivity and communication applications while on the go and is buying on the company tab or has deep pockets. With the 5G model with a 512GB SSD costing nearly £2,500, it’s hardly the most affordable option.
The design is very clever and well executed and the build quality is impressive. The 16:10 display doesn’t let the side down, nor does the fine speaker system, while the cleverly housed stylus is a real bonus. And then there’s that battery life. I’ll forgive all the compromises of Windows-on-ARM for a 17-and-a-half-hour run time.