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HP EliteBook Folio (2016) – A genuine MacBook contender

HP Elitebook Folio 2016

Slimmer than ever the new Elitebook Folio is our pick of the upcoming Windows ultraportables

When Apple released its MacBook in the middle of 2015, it was received with an air of impressed befuddlement. Here was a gorgeous laptop: thin, light, incredibly portable, but one that didn’t quite hit the mark when it came to performance and connectivity. Still, it has proved pretty popular since launch, and HP is hoping to grab a piece of that pie with the HP EliteBook Folio, just announced at CES 2016 in Las Vegas.

And I can report that, having had a brief hands-on demonstration of the new laptop at HP’s offices in London, it’s very much a contender for the MacBook’s crown of most luxurious, slightly underpowered ultraportable.

So how does HP’s new machine stack up? Design-wise, it’s at least the match of the 12in Apple MacBook. It’s the lightest laptop that HP has ever made, and tips the scales at a bird-like 1kg – a mere 77g heavier than the MacBook, despite a 0.5in larger screen. Its hollowed-out, CNC-machined aluminium chassis is 0.7mm slimmer than Apple’s laptop, too, and HP has done a fantastic job with the aesthetics.

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The EliteBook Folio’s chiseled figure, its gleaming chamfered edges, chrome-effect piano-hinge and sparkly matte finish may shout “buy me” rather than whisper seductively in your ear, but there’s no denying the visual appeal of the design. I particularly like the fetching speaker grilles, hiding four Band & Olufsen-branded drivers, but practical features abound, from the fold-flat screen hinge to the military standard testing procedure the laptop has been put through.

HP says the EliteBook Folio has been subject to 120,000 hours of the firm’s “Total Test Process”, ensuring it should survive the rigours of international business trips and the daily commute without too much trouble.

Vital statisticsHP EliteBook FolioApple MacBook
Screen size12.5in12in
Screen resolution3,840 x 2,1602,304 x 1,440
Display pixel density352ppi226ppi

Specifications and features

The MacBook’s Achilles’ heel was its lack of connectivity and power. I remember one of my colleagues deliberating long and hard about whether or not to buy one, and the core reasons against were the Core M-only processor line-up and limited connectivity, courtesy of its single USB Type-C port, used for both charging and hooking up external devices.

In a mildly disappointing move, HP hasn’t obliged us in our desire for a more powerful processor with the Folio: it will be available only with low-power Intel Core M5 and Core M7 CPUs. On the plus side, these will be of the most recent Skylake variant, and – just like the MacBook – the Folio will be completely fanless. HP is also claiming ten-hour battery life, which is similar to Apple’s claims.

It does, however, outdo the MacBook from a connectivity standpoint, with two USB Type-C ports instead of the MacBook’s one. You’ll still have to buy a bunch of new cables, or perhaps HP’s optional Travel Dock, but at least you won’t need an adapter just to attach the laptop to the mains at the same time as hooking up to an external monitor or hard disk. At this end of the market, it’s the small things that matter.

And, when it comes to the smallest things of all – pixels – the HP gains another jump over the MacBook. Crammed into its 12.5in display is an incredibly sharp 4K, 3,860 x 2,160 resolution IPS LCD panel with a pixel density of 352ppi. The MacBook’s, for reference, is “only” 226ppi, although most people will struggle to see the difference between the two from normal working distances.

Being a Windows 10 machine, the 4K display on the HP EliteBook Folio is also a touchscreen, something we’ve yet to see Apple countenance on any of its proper laptops or desktops, and from a quality point of view, HP also claims Adobe RGB coverage of 95%, which should deliver similar picture quality. Side by side with my work MacBook Pro 13 it made an excellent first impression: bright, with excellent viewing angles and good contrast – it’s a beauty.

From an ergonomic standpoint, the Folio acquitted itself equally well. The “premium” keyboard is a refinement of the keyboard built into the EliteBook 1020, and it feels fabulous under the finger. HP has also, thankfully, stepped back from the odd “emulated click” touchpad on the Folio’s predecessor in favour of a good, old-fashioned mechanical click pointing device.

HP EliteBook Folio review: Prices and verdict

At a starting price of €999 (UK prices have yet to be finalised), it looks as if the HP EliteBook Folio is a bargain, too. Before you whip out your wallet, however, be aware that this price will be for the base model with the standard, non-touch 1,920 x 1,080 display. The touchscreen model with the full 512MB of PCI Express flash storage and 4K resolution is likely to be a lot pricier – if the Folio 1020 is anything to go by.

Still, it’s good to see major manufacturers such as HP mounting a serious challenge to Apple in the laptop stakes, with the EliteBook Folio joining a slowly swelling group of top-quality rivals to its MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models. Could 2016 be the year of the Windows 10 laptop? If this keeps up, it might just be.

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