HP EliteBook 865 G9 First Impressions

Posted on September 20, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 11 with 5 Comments

With 16-inch laptops all the rage this year, HP decided to do most of the industry one better and ship its EliteBook 865 with AMD componentry too. It looks to be a great combination.

From my perspective—I feel like I’m more familiar with HP’s premium brands than most—this machine is sort of a unicorn, familiar and yet quite unique. The look and feel are pure EliteBook, from the aluminum body to the black keycaps. But look a bit closer and there are differences, some—like the 16-inch display and numeric keypad—big and some more subtle; for example, the display lid is made of magnesium when you order a version with cellular broadband (it improves reception), and the keyboard has a wonderful matte feel. And the differences magnify when you look inside at this PC’s AMD Ryzen 5 and 7 processors, each mated to AMD Radeon 660M Graphics. This is an EliteBook, but it’s also a different kind of EliteBook.

Of course, HP has used AMD parts in some EliteBooks in the past, and the EliteBook 865 G9 is, in fact, an update to a previous model, the EliteBook 855 G8, that I never reviewed. That PC featured a 15.6-inch 16:9 display, and it had HP’s Dual Point, its ThinkPoint-like dual pointing system. The EliteBook 865 lacks both, opting for more productive 16:10 display panel choices and a more traditional touchpad with no in-keyboard nubbin. Both changes were the right decisions.

This time around, all of the display panels are what I’d called Full HD+, and what the industry calls WUXGA, meaning they offer a resolution of 1920 x 1200 with various other attributes and capabilities depending on your configuration. There are always too many choices here, I think, but most do not offer multitouch but come with antiglare coating, two more good decisions. There are low blue light versions and privacy screen capabilities in some configurations as well, but no higher resolution 4K/UHD+ panels. The review unit shipped with a non-touch panel that outputs 400 nits of light. I normally like this sort of thing, but 16-inches might be too big for a Full HD+ display, as some of the text has a bit of jagginess to it, especially at smaller point sizes. I will literally keep an eye on that.

Internally, you can choose between AMD Ryzen 5 6600U, Ryzen 5 PRO 6650U, Ryzen 7 6800U, Ryzen 7 PRO 6850U, and Ryzen 7 PRO 6850HS processors, each with AMD Radeon 660M Graphics; 8, 16, 32, or 64 GB of fast DDR5 RAM; and 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, or 2 TB of NVMe SSD storage (with OPAL2 capabilities in some configurations). The review unit has 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage.

Connectivity looks modern, with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 or Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3, depending on the configuration. And cellular broadband is optional via an Intel XMM 7560 R+ with LTE-Advanced capabilities. I’m happy to see that the review unit did include that option.

Externally, all EliteBook 865 models provide a good mix of legacy and modern ports. You will find a full-sized HDMI 2.0 port, a full-sized USB 3.1 port (5 Gbps), and two USB4/Type-C ports, each with 40 Gbps of data transfer speed, power delivery, and DisplayPort 1.4, on the left.

On the right, there is a second full-sized USB 3.1 port, a nano lock port, and, if configured, a nano-SIM card slot, plus a combo headphone/microphone jack.

The larger display results in a larger body and, thus, a 38 percent larger touchpad. I didn’t experience the previous generation or its touchpad, but this is a big one on a very large and deep wrist rest. There is a square fingerprint reader to the right, and, oddly, too rubber-like spacers on either side of the touchpad that I assume are designed to keep the screen from the touching the keyboard deck. Normally, this kind of thing is placed such that it connects with the bezel, not the display, however. Not sure what that’s about.

The keyboard, as noted, is everything that’s right about past EliteBook keyboards—to be clear, they are nearly perfect—but combined with a new, matte surface texture that I really like. In the bad news department, the numeric keypad will be tough on sloppy typists like me, but I know many people prefer this layout. I’m dreaming here, but I’d love to see a keyboard layout choice at purchase time.

There are some solid AV upgrades, as one might expect of this hybrid work era: the 5 MP webcam offers a much clearer picture than its 720p predecessor, with better low-light performance and a cool auto-frame feature that will keep you centered even if you like to move around a bit.

There is a dual-array microphone positioned on either side of the webcam for maximum performance. And the bottom-side firing speakers—the bottom edges are angled—are now boosted by discrete amplifiers and offer dynamic voice leveling and AI-based noise reduction capabilities. There’s no Dolby anything, however.

From a sustainability perspective, the EliteBook 865 arrives in a 100 percent sustainably-sourced box and packing materials, and it uses recycled materials throughout: the display lids are 50 percent recycled, the bezel uses 75 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, the keycaps are made of 50 percent recycled DVDs and CDs, and the speaker enclosure is made of 5 percent ocean-bound plastics. And just as good, the machine is user serviceable, with simple screws on the bottom and removable/replacement RAM modules and SSD.

HP promises up to 22 hours of battery life, which seems like a stretch—half that would be amazing—but there is a bigger 76-watt-hour battery, which is charged over USB-C via a hefty 110-watt power adapter that amusingly has a full-sized USB-A port on it for charging a phone or whatever. I don’t believe it connects back to the PC, but it’s an interesting option I don’t believe I’ve seen before outside of Microsoft Surface.

The EliteBook 865 G9 starts at about $1310 for a configuration with an AMD Ryzen 5 6600U processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of SSD storage. The review configuration costs $2190.

More soon.

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