HP Elite Folio: Quick Follow-Up

Posted on May 6, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 31 Comments

Yesterday, I posted my first impressions of the Elite Folio ahead of my briefing with HP because I knew there would be a lot of interest. And what the heck, first impressions are, after all, first impressions. But now that that briefing is behind me, I’d like to add some more details about this intriguing Windows 10 on ARM- (WOA-) based PC.

First up, it’s expensive. Like prohibitively expensive. The very cheapest configuration—with 8 GB of RAM and just 128 GB of storage—is $1700. But configured as is the review unit, this PC will set you back over $1800. And you could spend an incredible ~$2327 if you opted for the Sure View privacy screen, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, and 5G networking. We live in a world in which you can get a tremendous premium laptop or convertible PC for $1000 to $1500, so justifying these kinds of prices is tough to impossible.

That said, the Elite Folio does have that special something when it comes to the build materials—a faux leather called vegan leather and magnesium—and the unique pull-forward design, and I could see some combination of both winning over well-heeled executives who expect to be traveling in the near future.

The vegan leather is a marvel, and it’s much smoother and more pleasant to hold than the bumpy, hard, and brown leather that HP used on the Spectre Folio. HP tells me it’s also lighter and provides a smaller footprint than the real leather used by its spiritual predecessor.

But the vegan leather is also quite durable, having passed 19 MIL-STD durability tests. It doesn’t require any holes for venting heat, thanks in part to the relative coolness of the Qualcomm chipset. And it remains cool to the touch even during regular use.

And the form factor is both unique and well-considered and is, I think, a better hybrid PC option for most people than a Tablet PC like the Surface Pro or a convertible/360 PC like the Spectre x360 family. That’s because you can pull the display forward to transition the PC into a media mode—which is ideal for an airline tray table—or a thick sort-of tablet without having to physically move the PC around, it can just happen in place.

HP says that 3:2 is the perfect aspect ratio for a display on this kind of device, and is “perfect for productivity,” and that makes sense: In addition to offering more vertical real estate in the normal clamshell (laptop) mode, 3:2 displays look and feel more normal when the device is used as a tablet. There’s something weird about 16:9 displays that make them seem overly tall and awkward when used in the portrait orientation.

There are actually two display choices as well, a 400 nit option used by the review unit and a very bright 1000 nit version that supports HP’s Sure View Reflect privacy shield technology.

In a “making lemonade” maneuver, HP is selling the port-constrained Elite Folio as having a “clean and simple port configuration.” But even those who can live with just two USB-C ports—with no Thunderbolt capabilities of any kind—should know that you’re looking at a paltry 5 Gbps of data throughput. More modern USB ports offer 10, 20, and even 40 Gbps of throughput. This part of the PC is not particularly future-proof.

In the good news department, the webcam offers a manual privacy shield. And I like how HP has hidden the nano-SIM card slot inside of the smartpen’s charging well at the top of the keyboard. That’s a good use of space. That smartpen, called the HP Elite Slim Active Pen, has a nice carpenter’s pencil-like form factor that’s a joy to hold, if you need such a peripheral. It has three customizable buttons, one on the top and two on the barrel, and has all the modern smartpen functionality—4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt support, and fast charging—you should expect.

The keyboard is likewise a joy to use. HP says it offers a crisp 1.3 mm of key travel, but what really gets me is how quiet it is in use. HP claims it has a better key feel and key stability than all of its Qualcomm-based competition and the iPad Pro (with the keyboard cover).

Performance is a concern given how lackluster the 8cx series has proven in real-world use. I feel like it will be fine for everyday productivity work—HP says it is “competitive”—which is of course this machine’s goal. But it’s going to be an issue when emulating Intel-type Windows apps, especially x64 apps whenever that capability goes live. And in particular with higher-end creative apps such as those made by Adobe. We’ll see, but it’s telling that HP only compared the performance to other WOA-based PCs and not to Intel-based PCs.

Battery life should prove to be excellent, though again that Intel emulation requirement will deliver a hit. HP is claiming up to 20 hours of battery life in video playback. That’s not a real-world measurement, obviously, but it’s also below the 24.5 hours that HP claims on its website. And below the 20+ hours that previous generation Qualcomm-based PCs delivered; I suspect this is due to the Intel emulation performance improvements offered by the 8cx family. But only the Lenovo Flex 5G, with its 26 hours of battery, offers longer longevity.

From a connectivity perspective, the Elite Folio can be had with Wi-Fi 6/Bluetooth 5 only or, optionally, with gigabit LTE or 5G networking. You need to choose at purchase time because the cellular options each require a unique Qualcomm modem. Speaking of configuration choices, you can also choose between 8 and 16 GB of RAM; 128, 256, and 512 GB of storage; and Windows 10 Home or Pro, again, at purchase time.

The speakers are nothing special, whether you’re watching videos or listening to music. But it looks like the headphone jack supports Windows Sonic for Headphones, which provides spatial sound capabilities, so that might be the better solution.

One final note. I’ve used this PC more than I should have over the past 24 hours, given how many PC reviews I still need to finish. And I think that might itself be an interesting conversation because I review a lot of premium laptops and am rarely emotionally swayed by any of them. And I understand better than most the many compromises that WOA brings to the table.

And yet. There is something going on here. As I noted upfront, the build materials are amazing. Just transporting it, closed like a folio, is pleasant because of how nice the vegan leather feels. And even Windows 10 on ARM, despite its limitations, has its own minimalist vibe that I really enjoy. There’s no crapware to speak of, as I noted in my first impressions post, and while some issues are hard to deal with for now—I can’t use Affinity Photo, which I rely on, for example—I find myself willing to work around that.

This is confusing. On the face of things, I can’t possibly recommend a machine that’s this expensive and has so many limitations. And I certainly wouldn’t spend $1800 on it, or any other PC, for that matter. And yet. Hm. I really like it.

More soon.

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Comments (31)

31 responses to “HP Elite Folio: Quick Follow-Up”

  1. djross95

    It's a great looking device. Just goes to show how much potential there is for ARM Windows devices if MS takes them seriously and gets their shit together. Not a guarantee, obviously! :-)

  2. dougkinzinger

    I too particularly dig the look of it, but the price/performance trade-off makes it a no-buy for sure.

  3. crunchyfrog

    WOA I personally find fascinating. Maybe it's the promise of supreme battery life or just the potential of simplifying the Windows OS. What I do not understand is why these laptops are so horribly expensive. Overall, these are laptops just like any other so what is it that makes them cost so much?

    It seems counter productive to keep releasing a new class of product that is cost prohibitive and continuously fails to deliver the goods on performance and compatibility.

    • bassoprofundo

      ^^^THIS^^^. I'm intrigued as well, but other than aesthetics and sheer curiosity, I can't find a single good reason to drop my hard-earned money on one. Slower performance & deal-breaking compatibility issues for a higher price than an x86/64 based machine? Ummm....no.

      On a side note, I picked up an M1 Macbook Air, and I'm super impressed with it. I've dabbled off and on but haven't been a full-time Mac user since the pre-OSX days, so I've been forcing myself to use it as a daily driver. The fact that they have nailed the compatibility thing with acceptable performance just blows me away. I would never know that many of the apps I'm running were non-native. I stuck my normal desktop rig in my daughter's room while she's away from school, hooked this thing to a Plugable 4k dock to drive 3 screens, switched to playing CyberPunk 2077 on Stadia, and I'm all good. Well-played, Apple...

      • sergeluca

        I have the same experience : having used Windows non stop since 1990, I switched to a Mac Book Air M1 last year. This ARM computer is incredibly great. For 1000$ I have a super machine, extremely fast, super battery experience,no single issue with emulation. I was not an Apple fanboy, but what they've done is more than awesome.

    • wright_is

      Probably the low volumes are what is keeping the prices high.

      The mass market Snapdragon chips for high end phones are pushing prices up over a thousand Euros - and that is with the manufacturers buying in less of over a million, to bring shown prices for bulk purchases.

      The laptop side is a customised chip, so even more expensive, and being sold in such low quantities, that it is hardly worth Qualcomm getting out of bed in the morning, so no discounts for high volume sales and a higher starting price. That probably makes them much more expensive than equivalent Intel chips.

      • solomonrex

        Not just equivalent Intel chips. This device costs twice as much as an overpriced iPad Pro, but has worse performance and software compatibility. I’d never buy an iPad Pro, but the comparison can’t be waved away. Windows cant go anywhere on ARM if Qualcomm is involved. It makes zero sense at this price.

      • wright_is

        To bring down prices... Damned autocorrect and no edit!

        • Paul Thurrott

          Just to be clear, we do have an edit function for comments. Are you not seeing this?
          • bettyblue

            Negative. On Firefox or Edge both on PC and Mac. None on Safari for iOS either

          • wright_is

            No, there is currently no edit function visible, either on desktop or mobile.

          • RobertJasiek

            Currently, on 2021-05-08, I

            • do not see Edit,
            • can Heart my own post,
            • would prefer "day(s) / hour(s) ago" in the Name row,
            • would prefer clicking on "x COMMENTS" to jump to the top (rather than the bottom) of all comments,
            • within the same level of alignment of replies, would prefer consistent sorting by newer dates further below,
            • for top level of alignment (new posts that are not replies), consistent sorting by newer dates further above,
            • would prefer the editing window of a reply to be right under the message to which I reply,
            • after posting a comment, scrolling should be where the message / reply appears,
            • if wright_is is right about there now being some AutoCorrection, would prefer none because automatic corrections create mistakes of forging contents.

            That said, putting all users back in the same place of discussion is great! Bullet lists are useful indeed, thanks!

      • wright_is

        Buying in lots of over a million.

  4. staggersteve

    I'm sure it's a beautiful device and looks great out in public. But for the lack of app support, the current limitations of WOA, assumingly average battery life, I don't understand why a company would waste resources on a product like this? Even at the price HP is asking, what consumer, pro-sumer, or enterprise would purchase this over an Intel Evo device knowing the limitations? I fear these 3:2 screens will be found in a landfill in two years. 

  5. wright_is

    That is the thing with performance, benchtests aren't real-world.

    At the end of the day, as long as the device is fast enough to keep up with how you work and doesn't make you constantly pause mid flows, it is irrelevant, whether it is faster than an Intel equivalent or Apple silicon. If you never drive over 30 in heavy traffic, what is the point of driving a Ferrari everywhere, when a Smart or Polo would be more comfortable and more economical?

    I think it will come down to workload and application availability at the end of the day... In theory. In practice, for those manager types, if it isn't a Core i7 with bags of RAM, which never gets used, or it doesn't have a fruity logo on the front, they still won't buy it.

    • t-b.c

      "If you never drive over 30 in heavy traffic, what is the point of driving a Ferrari everywhere."

      Because it's a Ferrari. You have obviously never driven one, or you would know that even at 30 miles an hour there is something special about the car -- maybe even more special as more people get to see it and share in its aesthetic gravitas.

      Otherwise your point is a good one, introducing new products that fail in compatibility and price are only useful as market indicators and not as computing platforms.

      • wright_is

        They are certainly better to drive than Lambos, but I'd still prefer a classic Healey. They are great on the track or on mountain roads, but I'd never choose one for every day driving. Yes, they are fantastic to drive hard, but the ones I drive weren't something I'd want to drive through traffic every day.

        For every day, I'd still take my Qashqai, given the money to buy a Ferrari, if still buy something more practical, unless it was a second or third vehicle and I could use it on the track.

  6. tboggs13

    We really thought the Spectre Folio was an intriguing device and purchased 4 of them for our executives. They all loved them until they broke. The trackpads were horrible and tended to die. The only things worse was HP's support. They returned the units still broken.

    The aesthetic design really was great except for the 16:9 aspect ratio.

    This device seems to address a lot of that. And for the target market, I think they are a perfect fit as long as they have improved the durability.

  7. RobertJasiek

    So HP says that 3:2 was the perfect aspect ratio for a display on this kind of device. If so, it would have four display edges with the same width instead of thicker upper and lower edges. Whether display edges should be narrow or wide is also a matter of preference (higher display to body ratio for more efficient use of the area versus better protection against sunlight in the background). Since HP has opted for relatively narrow left and right edges, it would have been consistent to also have narrow upper and lower edges. For the current form factor of the whole device, this means that the display ratio might have been circa 1.41 (the DIN ratio of SQRT 2) instead of 3:2 = 1.5.

    It is not HP's PR that decides the enduser's perfect aspect ratio. Different users have different preferences, which may depend on types of devices. E.g., my preferred display ratios are 4:3 = 1.33 to 5:4 = 1.2 also for this kind of device. For me, the 3:2 = 1.5 is not the best but merely the bare maximum ratio I might accept (or still reject because the compromise is not good enough in view of the other product specifications, such as the price).

  8. jgraebner

    Just from the pictures in yesterday's post and the description in today's, this machine strikes me as incredibly appealing from aesthetic standpoint. I wouldn't even remotely consider spending that kind of money for a device with those limitations, but if HP wants to give them away in a contest or something, I'd gladly enter. :)

  9. Scsekaran

    "I can’t use Affinity Photo, which I rely on"

    Affinity photo works with Windows insider preview and x64 emulation

    • Paul Thurrott

      Right. Which I'm not installing on a review laptop, is not supported, and is tied to no version of Windows 10.
    • wright_is

      And this is a review unit, which comes with the release version of WoA.

      Also, if you are relying on the device as your main work device, you aren't going to be running beta software on it... Once it gets from Preview into release, it could be a game changer for WoA, going forward.

  10. JH_Radio

    I'd never even consider such a PC (not that I need or want a laptop right now as I have more than one sitting here not being used as I use my desktop and haven't been out much.)

    For me to even consider it, i'd need to be able to emulate Intel X86 apps. That is an absolute for me.

    When I do start using my laptops out places, I'm going to go with the oldest one I have here first until it breaks. Not sure How long the original Surface Pro will be supported by Windows 10, but its the oldest device I've got here, and works fine at last check.

  11. rmlounsbury

    It seems to me that the Surface Pro X is still the best value in the tiny world of WOA. My understanding is the SQ1/SQ2 are moderately bettern than the 8cx when it comes to graphics performance and the Pro X is far less expensive clocking in at $1499 for an SQ2/16GB/512GB Pro X.

    Ultimately, the ball remains in Microsoft's court when it comes to optimization of x86/64 apps to ARM. If Microsoft can't figure this bit out then ARM is somewhat irrelevant for Windows.

    I use a Pro X with the SQ1 variant and it works fine for all my use cases. Battery is still disappointing given it is a ARM based device and I mostly use ARM optimized applications.

  12. ajbrehm

    As I am a fan of Windows, HP, and the ARM architecture, the only question that is always on my mind is

    Will HP sell this in Europe?

    Because if the answer is the usual "no", it's not interesting. I have seen this often that new devices simply aren't available in Europe and are then by vendors considered failures because too few people bought them.

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