HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 ultraportable laptop review

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1

There are cheap laptops that pretend to look expensive. You find them everywhere. And then there are expensive laptops that not only look the business but act it as well. The HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 is just such a product, a premium-priced and beautifully constructed ultraportable that stands above almost every other Windows laptop in sheer quality. (See also: best laptops of 2015.)

It's a 14-inch lightweight model based on the MacBook Air template, just 17 mm thick and weighing little over 1.5 kg. Like very few others, it is made almost entirely from real metal, using an Apple-like unibody aluminium construction. This seems to be anodised to give a dark lustre, more like a gunmetal finish. Only the underside appears to be of the more usual plastic we find on Windows laptops, with a slightly soft surface which aids grip. Yet even this is forged from sturdy yet lightweight magnesium alloy, with a thin polymer coat.

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review: Components

Powering this top version of the EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 is an Intel Core i7 running at 2.1 GHz, although the laptop can also be found with the more affordable 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 that's the popular fitting in more mainstream ultrabooks.

For memory there is 4 GB fixed in place, and an additional SO-DIMM slot that here is filled with another 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, to provide 8 GB total. Storage is courtesy of SanDisk, with the flash specialist's X110 SSD used in its next-generation form-factor (NGFF) M.2 format.

Two USB 3.0 ports are included, one each side, along with some less familiar connector options. On the left is a long slot for a smart card, historically used by some larger businesses for user authentication. Next in line is a memory-card slot – not for the typical full-size SD card, but a tiny microSD card. To physically tether this covetable portable to the desk, a Kensington lock slot is milled into the metal casework at the rear corner.

To the right is a DisplayPort video output, and again HP here has gone off-piste by fitting the full-size version that is never normally found on notebooks.

Another miniature slot on this side holds a Micro-SIM card for use with the integrated 4G LTE modem, sprung-loaded like a smartphone's slot, and the card end lies flush with the body when installed.

There is no ethernet nor VGA built-in, but these are covered together by an included dongle adaptor which fits into a wide multi-pin slot next to the power inlet. Disappointingly given the impeccable construction and attention to detail elsewhere, the power port takes a regular right-angle plug with a barrel that wobbles in its socket.

What truly separates this laptop from most others is the high calibre of the display, the keyboard and the trackpad. These are the key human interface elements that are rarely promoted from spec sheets, and almost invariably are given very short shrift by less thoughtful manufacturers.

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review: Display

Thanks to the onward march of smartphones and tablets, better quality displays – usually based on IPS technology – are now finally becoming more readily available in laptops, even if only at the high end of the market. The EliteBook Folio uses just such a display, and it's one of the finest we've seen fitted to any laptop.

It's a 14.0-inch 16:9 panel, a common size for business portables, but with full-HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. That provides a decent pixel density of 157 ppi, and to make the interface more clearly legible HP sets the laptop's Windows 7 Professional operating system with 125 percent scaling. We also experimented with 150 percent scaling which worked well here too.

In our lab tests, this display could cover 93 percent of the sRGB colour gamut, and 70 percent Adobe RGB. Contrast ratio, the bugbear of budget LCDs, was at a decent level of 610:1 with the screen at full brightness (295 cd/^2), and still 550:1 at a more usable '75 percent' brightness setting (136 cd/m^2).

Colour accuracy was superb, with an indicated Delta E average of just 1.19. And luminance variation was very well controlled, within 4 percent for most of the screen at various settings, rising to a still insignificant 11 percent on the left edge of the screen.

Beyond just the test numbers though, this screen looks superb to the eye. There is a gentle matt anti-glare coating which allows easy viewing near windows or artificial light, and this treatment does not add any perceptible grain. As an IPS panel it can be viewed from every angle with next to no drop in image quality. And the bezel surround is a sympathetic matt black that doesn't visually intrude on your window into Windows.

When simply reading, text looks very sharp and type is a clear, dark black rather than the charcoal grey as cheaper displays will render. The overall effect is not quite Retina-class but since Windows cannot work effectively with Retina-grade display, the 157-ppi pixel density and 125 percent scaling is a great compromise for a practicable interface.

The keyboard sits slightly rebated into the top deck, and thanks to the laptop's stiff metal construction there is no unwanted flex as you tap away on its short-travel Scrabble tiles. These are backlit if required, with two brightness settings toggleable from the Fn+F11 keys.

Completing the tactile experience is a particularly fine trackpad, which maker Synaptics calls a ForcePad. It closely resembles the large, glass-topped touch pads found in Apple MacBooks, a buttonless design with some barely perceptible movement possible to actuate mechanical clicks from the front left and right corners. But most of the time a tap-to-click action is all that's required.

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1

The silky trackpad top and its precise, predictable control combine to make a great user experience. The combination of slick surface and Windows 7's glassy Aero interface work particularly well together to give the effect of effortlessly sliding around the desktop interface.

Customisation options also allow reversal of scroll direction to follow current thinking that's based on vicariously moving screen content with your fingertips, rather than pulling just the scroll bars.

Other features to be found around the notebook's body include an NFC reading area, just to the left of the trackpad, its presence only indicated by a removable sticker on the wrist-rest area. Over to the right is a fingerprint reader, with a glassy black solid-state sensor that just stands proud of the chassis. Two hardware buttons in the top right corner allow sound muting and radio-silent mode, the latter switching off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LTE.

For Wi-Fi there is up-to-date 11ac wireless, a two-stream arrangement that is specified for up to 867 Mb/s circuit speeds.

We tried the EliteBook with a live Debian Linux OS booted from USB, and essential points such as Wi-Fi, trackpad and display/volume F-button controls all worked without additional drivers or intervention.

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review: Lab report

With its 2.1 GHz Intel Core i7 dual-core processor, 8 GB of memory and 256 GB SSD, this laptop ought to be fast enough for any service you'd need of an ultraportable. And in our lab tests, the EliteBook Folio proved amply quick and without blowing its cooling fan to distraction.

Geekbench 3 scored the EliteBook with 3203 and 5962 points respectively for single- and multi-core modes. Cinebench 11.5 indicated point scores of 1.40 and 2.71, while v15 of the same bench test showed results of 128 and 254 points.

For reference these figures compare well with the 2.6 GHz Core i5-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro, the latter offering slower single-core results (1.31 and 113 points) and higher multi-core scores (3.15 and 280 points).

Futuremark PCMark 7 returned a good result of 4783 points, while PCMark 8 reported 2522 points (Home) and 3630 points (Work). (See also: Surface Pro 3 vs MacBook Air comparison review.)

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review: Graphics

Clearly not a laptop for Windows gamers, the HP's Intel HD Graphics 4400 processor is nevertheless capable of some very light gameplay.

In Tomb Raider 2013 we found with quality settings kept down to 1024 x 768 and Low detail that it could play at 49 fps, dropping to a 33 fps minimum.

At 1920 x 1080 and Normal it unsurprisingly struggled, averaging just 14 fps; but for some reason intermediate resolutions were not available from the game's setup menu, other than a seriously side-cropped 1280 x 1024 5:4 option.

The same was true of Batman: Arkham City, which could average 19 fps at full-HD and Medium (or 28 fps at 1280 x 1024 Medium).

For more professional graphics rendering duties, we found the Folio 1040 G1 could play Cinebench's v11.5 and 15 OpenGL tests at 18.9 and 17.9 fps respectively.

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review: Storage

The solid-state drive is a speedy SanDisk X110 connected to a standard Serial ATA Revision 3 bus, hence capped from its true potential but still capable of sequential reads of 468 MB/s, according to CrystalDiskMark 3.

Sequential writes were slower at around 330 MB/s, although small-file performance was very good – still at 314 MB/s for 512 kB files, and 99 MB/s for random 4 kB writes. Peak performance was found with 4 kB random reads at 32 queue depth, where the solid-state drive could manage 84,000 IOPS. (See also: Should I buy a Windows laptop or a Chromebook? Office apps on Chromebook explained.)

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review: Battery

An integral 42 Wh lithium-polymer is not especially large for any laptop with Core i7 processor and IPS display, but it proved quite sufficient for over five hours real use.

That's well short of what HP optimistically promises ('up to 12 hours battery life'), although the company's small print spells out the somewhat unrealistic methodology – just 60 cd/m^2 screen brightness, all wireless turned off, and all non-essential programs, utilities and services disabled.

In our standard battery test, looping an HD video over Wi-Fi link with screen set to a usable 120 cd/m^2 level, the Folio 1040 G1 survived for 5 hours 41 mins. (See also: best laptops of 2015.)

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1: Specs

  • 14.0-inch (1920 x 1080) 157 ppi IPS matt anti-glare display
  • 2.1 GHz Intel Core i5-4600U, 3.30 GHz Turbo (2C/4T)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3L
  • 256 GB SanDisk X110 (SD6SN1M-256G-100) SATA Revision 3.0 SSD
  • gigabit ethernet & VGA via included dongle
  • 802.11a/b/g/ac dual-band 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 4G LTE
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • DisplayPort
  • fingerprint scanner, NFC
  • microSD, smart card slots
  • stereo speakers
  • 0.9 Mp webcam
  • dual microphones
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • 100 x 68 mm buttonless trackpad
  • 42 Wh lithium-polymer, non-removable (11.1 V, 3700 mAh)
  • 45 W mains charger with IEC C5
  • 338 x 232 x 17.3 mm
  • 1556 g
  • 14.0-inch (1920 x 1080) 157 ppi IPS matt anti-glare display
  • 2.1 GHz Intel Core i5-4600U, 3.30 GHz Turbo (2C/4T)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3L
  • 256 GB SanDisk X110 (SD6SN1M-256G-100) SATA Revision 3.0 SSD
  • gigabit ethernet & VGA via included dongle
  • 802.11a/b/g/ac dual-band 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 4G LTE
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • DisplayPort
  • fingerprint scanner, NFC
  • microSD, smart card slots
  • stereo speakers
  • 0.9 Mp webcam
  • dual microphones
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • 100 x 68 mm buttonless trackpad
  • 42 Wh lithium-polymer, non-removable (11.1 V, 3700 mAh)
  • 45 W mains charger with IEC C5
  • 338 x 232 x 17.3 mm
  • 1556 g

OUR VERDICT

Most ultraportables we test are dumbed-down MacBook Air clones with cheap construction and low-grade components. That's why it makes a particularly refreshing change to find a Windows laptop that not just matches but surpasses Apple's popular ultraportable in a key area like screen quality. The price is much higher than even the Retina-display 13-inch MacBook but if you must have a laptop built for Windows that can make a statement in build quality and top-class components, check out EliteBook Folio 1040 G1.

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