HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 Review

Posted on June 11, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 10 Comments

The HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 is a superb business-class convertible PC. It’s nearly perfect for my needs, and for those of many mobile professionals.

I’m not usually this distracted by any laptop. But it’s a good one: I’ve traveled with the 1040 incessantly over the past several months and have taken it on trips to New York (multiple times), Barcelona, Boston, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Seattle, Miami, and The Netherlands, and I’m taking it with me again this week to Washington D.C. for a second time. As a creature of habit, the 1040 has assumed a natural role alongside the luggage, carryon, and other items with which I always travel.

Yeah. I like it a lot.

Design

Though the EliteBook x360 1040 sits at the top of HP’s business notebook portfolio, no one will be blown away by its looks. It’s available only in a plain gray color and doesn’t really draw attention to itself. That’s by design, I’m sure. But I find it a bit more pedestrian than, say, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 lineup, at least from a distance.

Get up close with the 1040, however, and things get interesting as its premium qualities become more obvious. The CNC aluminum design is modern and feels premium, and there are touches—subtle, to be sure—that drive that home. The finely chiseled edges throughout. The precision glass touchpad. The elegant design of the speaker grills. The subtly elegant branding. And the keyboard, which utilizes black keycaps as a nice accent to the light gray surround.

If you’re familiar with HP’s portable PCs, you know that the firm floats 16:9 displays in what has historically been a vast sea of black bezels, especially below the display. With the 1040, finally, this effect has been minimized a bit. No, HP isn’t moving to 3:2 panels, as I feel it should. But it has dramatically cut down on the lower bezel, making it about the same height as the top bezel. And the result is a much nicer, and more modern look.

From a form factor perspective, the 1040 follows now-familiar PC design trends in which HP, in this case, squeezes a 14-inch display into a 13.3-inch body. At 3.25 pounds, the 1040 feels a bit heavy compared to the more pedestrian 13.3-inch entries in this segment. But I’m happy to trade a bit of weight for the bigger screen, though that may not be the case for some.

It’s worth noting, too, that the 1040, as its full name suggests, is a convertible design, and that adds a bit of heft too. Here, again, the versatility may or may not justify the additional weight, depending on your needs. But HP offers traditional notebook form factors as well, for those uninterested in convertibles.

But if you are familiar with convertibles, you know that they typically make for excellent laptops when used in the traditional clamshell mode, and that is the case here. But convertibles are often more awkward when folded around backward and used as large and heavy tablets. The 1040 does suffer from this awkwardness a bit, of course, as it is on the large side. But give HP some credit for thinking through the details: When in tablet mode, the back of the display and the back of the keyboard deck stick together thanks to some strong magnets in each. This helps with stability quite a bit.

Overall, the design of the 1040 is not going to draw much attention. But for those who value understated elegance over flashy boy-racer looks, the EliteBook x360 1040 delivers.

Display

HP offers three different 14-inch display choices on the EliteBook x360 1040. These include a standard Full HD IPS panel, a stunning ultra-bright Full HD IPS panel with HP Sure View, and the UHD/4K IPS display that’s in the review unit. That middle display is particularly interesting, though I didn’t get to test one: It provides a 120 Hz refresh rate, double the normal rate (both of the other displays provide a 60 Hz refresh rate), and at an astonishingly bright 700 nits.

The review unit’s UHD/4K display is no slouch, however. It delivers 500 nits of brightness, which means that it can be used outside or in any other light condition, and with only minimal reflections. And HP Sure View, which blurs the display when viewed at an angle, is available if needed. The resolution is 3840 x 2160, and while I’m generally not a fan of 16:9 panels, I’ve found this one a pleasure to work on. It’s bright, crisp, and not overly reflective.

Components and ports

With its Intel Core i7-8650U processor, 32 GB of RAM, and 2 TB of SSD storage, the HP EliteBook x360 1040 review unit never struggled to keep up with my work. Indeed, it’s overkill for my needs, and there are less capable configurations with other Core i5 processor choices, 8 or 16 GB of RAM, and 128 GB or more of SSD storage that won’t break the bank quite as violently as did this machine.

What you won’t see is any dedicated graphics options: Like all EliteBooks, the 1040 is aimed squarely at the productivity market only. That said, I did install and play a few light PC games like DOOM (yes, the 1993 original, but using the more modern GZOOM front-end) and Oxenfree without any issues. And the 1040 tackled my admittedly basic Visual Studio projects without any complaints.

The 1040 provides an excellent Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint reader that provides speedy and accurate sign-ins. The webcam is supposedly an improvement over previous models and provides HD resolution, but it’s blurry and grainy on Skype calls; it can also be used with Windows Hello if you prefer facial recognition. But there’s no privacy shade, as we’re starting to see on competing PCs, like those from Lenovo.

HP claims 17 hours of battery life, but that’s for video playback on the model with the low-end Full HD display. My review unit came with a 4K display, which is rated for far less battery life. And while I no longer test video playback, I did observe an average of 4:35 of real-world battery life, with a high of 9 hours and 45 minutes, over four months of use. As important, the EliteBook x360 1040 supports fast charging via its 65-watt USB-C-based charger. You can achieve an incredible 50 percent charge in just 30 minutes of charge time.

Tied to this, of course, is the PC’s thermals and related fan noise. What HP claims is a regulated thermal experience in which the 1040 doesn’t provide the explosive ups and downs in power usage under load that is common in other PCs in its class. Instead, the 1040 delivers more even power usage across workloads.

What seems great in theory isn’t as excellent in use, and the EliteBook x360 1040 does exhibit steady and loud fan noise at times, and it can be occasionally intrusive. But it does seem to avoid the spiky fan blasts that are still common on many Windows PCs, especially those that seem to occur at odd times, such as when the system is at idle.

From an expansion perspective, the 1040 really shines. It provides two full-sized USB 3.1 ports, one on each side, a full-sized HDMI port for video-out, and two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports.

That’s great. But there are two major problems with those USB-C ports. They’re both on the same side—I prefer at least one on each side of the machine to accommodate lefties and other needs—and they’re too far forward on the machine. So, they can get in the way if you (as a righty) wants to use a mouse, as I often do. USB-C ports should be as far back as possible since they’re used for power and you’ll often have that cable plugged in.

You can get CAT16 4G/LTE capabilities as an option. My review unit did come with this feature, but I didn’t test it. There’s no SD or microSD card slot.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

This is where all sins are forgiven: The EliteBook x360 1040 provides the single best typing experience I’ve ever had on any portable PC. It’s better than the best ThinkPads, and it’s better than Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 and Surface Laptop 2. (Each is excellent in its own way, of course.) What makes this true is a combination of factors, including the perfect combination of key feel, key throw, and key placement and separation.

Curious about this success, I looked into what the firm did to achieve this level of perfection. And while the company didn’t describe it this way, it’s very clear that it was influenced by what Apple’s done with its recent MacBook keyboards. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the conventional wisdom on what makes the ideal portable typing experience has evolved in recent years to include shorter-than-normal key throws, clackier key feedback, and more key stability.

These are all things that Apple tried to implement on the MacBook family of products. But as I’m sure you know, they completely screwed it up, and the result is an unreliable mess with almost no key throw or feedback at all. HP’s approach is more measured, and it has clearly learned from Apple’s mistakes. The 1040’s keyboard provides 1.4 mm of travel, so it’s on the short side, but closer to what I think is the new ideal. And it worked to make the keys more stable without resorting to an all-new design, like Apple’s retched Butterfly contraption.

The result? HP raised the bar. And while perfect is a strong word, this is as close as it gets, at least on portable PCs. I have never used a keyboard this good, and I type for a living.

The keys are also nicely and evenly backlit, except for the Space key, which gets no lighting of its own. And this is an HP Collaboration Keyboard, so there are dedicated keys for answering and ending VoIP calls.

The glass touchpad is similarly excellent, though it doesn’t rise to the apex of its component type like the keyboard: Apple still reigns supreme here, overall, though I like most modern Surface and ThinkPad pointing system as well. It’s still very good, and is a precision touchpad, meaning that have a much wider range of customizations and capabilities, including multiple gesture support, without the need for third-party software. Mis-clicks—where your finger brushes the touchpad surface while you’re typing, triggering an errant cursor position change—do happen but are rare.

The 1040 supports HP’s line of smartpens, the latest of which, the HP Rechargeable Active Pen, supports tilt and USB-C-based quick charging. But since no pen is included with the PC, I didn’t examine this functionality yet.

Portability

The EliteBook x360 1040 may not seem to be particularly svelte, thanks to its 3.25-pound curb weight (as reviewed), large 14-inch 4K display, and all-aluminum construction. But this needs to be put in context, since many will compare this PC to 13-inch notebooks and convertibles, and that’s a bit unfair. The 1040 is 10 percent lighter than its predecessor, HP says. And the firm is marketing the 1040 as the smallest and lightest 14-inch business-class convertible PC.

In the real world, the 1040’s size and weight seem to disappear in my carry-on bag, and I’ve lugged it halfway around the world and back multiple times over the past four months and have never found it to be too big or bulky. Hell, I love traveling with it.

I also feel that HP has struck the right balance here between power, battery life, portability, and functionality, and that the PC’s fast-charging capabilities help overcome some of its deficiencies. Perhaps as important, the 1040’s ideal combination of legacy and modern ports means that I never need to worry about USB hubs on the road: I can plug in my Logitech webcam and microphone/headset, both of which require old-school USB-A ports, at the same time when I have to record a podcast while on the road. And this is while I’m charging the 1040 and charging my Pixel 3a XL, both via USB-C. That’s ideal.

Software

The EliteBook x360 1040 ships with Windows 10 Pro, as one should expect, though that arrives with whatever crapware Microsoft inexplicably foists on its users. That’s not HP’s fault, but it needs to be noted.

Fortunately, the driver and third-party software situations are more positive. The 1040 isn’t the first HP I’ve used that foregoes the HP Support Assistant application to use Windows Update for driver updates: The firm’s Snapdragon-based PCs also do this. But this change is particularly appreciated on such a mainstream PC, as is the lack of superfluous HP apps on the system. Many HP PCs are loaded down with additional software, and HP’s commercial offerings can be paradoxically even worse, thanks to HP’s suite of business management apps.

Not so with the 1040. Here, we see only the HP Client Security app, HP SoftPaq (which is used to manually download drivers and other software from HP), HP Privacy Settings, and HP System Information. Some of this will seem superfluous to the individual, but none of it is truly objectionable.

Pricing and configurations

The HP EliteBook x360 1040 is a premium PC and is priced accordingly.

The line starts at $1499 for a version with an Intel Core i5-8250U processor, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of SSD storage, and a Full HD (1920 x 1080) touch panel with 400 nits of brightness.

There’s a mid-tier version with an upgraded Intel Core i5-8350U processor with vPro, 16 GB of RAM, 256 GB of SSD storage, and that 700 nit Full HD panel with Sure View, etched-glass, and anti-glare, which starts at $2079.

And at the high-end, you can step up to an Intel Core i7-8650U with vPro, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of SSD, and a 400 nit Full HD panel with etched-glass and anti-glare for $2349 and up.

Each of these configurations can be upgraded as required, including to 32 GB of RAM, which is very unusual in business-class portable PCs.

Recommendations and conclusions

While convertible PCs aren’t for everyone—indeed, I almost universally use such PCs in traditional laptop mode—the versatility of this design combined with HP’s quality and the single-best keyboard I’ve ever used really puts the EliteBook x360 1040 over the top. Some may complain about the bland design, but those who prefer substance over style will appreciate the understated elegance of this portable PC.

Yes, it’s expensive. But I think the build quality and resulting durability, the future-proof specifications, the versatile form factor, and business smarts and security place the 1040 in rare company for many small and medium-sized business customers as well as entrepreneurs, professionals, and power users.

The HP EliteBook x360 1040 is highly recommended. I can’t stop using it myself.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Best-ever typing experience on a portable PC
  • Excellent performance and upgradeability
  • Firmware and driver updates don’t require a third-party app
  • Versatile form factor with touch and smartpen support

Cons

  • Somewhat awkward USB-C port locations
  • Can be a bit loud at times
  • Webcam quality is middling; no privacy shade
  • 16:9 display

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