While the PC market is awash in low-cost laptops these days, a variety of PC makers—Microsoft, Lenovo and HP among them—are also pursuing the more lucrative high-end of the market. In doing so, they go head-to-head with Apple’s vaunted MacBook product lines, in particular the MacBook Air. A recent example is the HP EliteBook Folio 1020, which features MacBook-like build quality and a thin, light and silent design.
HP actually started shipping the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 to customers in January, which I’ll note is about two months before Apple announced its new MacBook. The two machines have a lot in common, actually: both split the difference on the two standard Ultrabook form factors and offer 12-inch-ish screens—12 inches for MacBook, 12.5 for the HP—and both are, as noted, thin, light and silent. More intriguingly, perhaps, both ship with innovative clickpads that support pressure sensitivity and multi-touch gestures. HP’s, which shipped first, is called ForcePad. Apple’s is called the Force Touch trackpad.
Interesting, right? The new MacBook was welcomed into the world with breathless headlines in mainstream publications—”it’s the future of the laptop!”, we were told. The HP? Not so much. And despite arriving first.
To be fair, the HP isn’t quite as thin or light as the MacBook. But to be further fair, the HP is also far more expandable, with real USB ports, microSD, HDMI-out and, get this, a real docking port, which means you can use it at your desktop without have to deal with a ton of cables. It has a truly excellent keyboard and fingerprint reader, unlike MacBook, and is also less expensive and far more configurable.
Here’s a breakdown of the relevant specs in the review unit, with some additional notes especially around the MacBook comparison.
Processor. 1.2 GHz Intel Core M (M-5Y71), which explains the silence, and is an excellent choice for a machine like this. This is the optional upgrade on the new MacBook.
RAM. 8 GB, non-upgradable. Same as the new MacBook.
Storage. 256 GB M.2 SE SSD, though there are models with 128 GB to 512 GB SSD and 180 GB M.2 SE SSD as well. (MacBook has comparable 256 or 512 GB PCIe-based flash storage, depending on the model.)
Display. 12.5-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) or QHD (2560 x 1440) anti-glare, ultra-slim LED; the review unit has the latter version, which helps this device compare more closely to the new MacBook (which features a lower-res 2304 x 1440 display at 12 inches).
Graphics. Intel HD Graphics 5300, which is integrated with the Core M chipset, same as MacBook.
Connectivity. Pretty standard, with Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC and Wireless-AN options and Bluetooth 4.0. Ethernet is available via an optional accessory dongle (for the docking port slot), and NFC is also optional; the review unit has NFC, which can be found under the left wrist rest.
Expansion. Two full-sized USB 3.0 ports with device charging (vs. a single pathetic USB-C port on MacBook) plus a microSD slot, which I love seeing, and full-sized HDMI-out. Plus, there is a docking port, to which you can attach a dongle (I received a dongle with Ethernet and VGA out) or a true Docking Station. (HP also sells a compatible Display and Notebook II Stand, which elevates both off the desk.) All of which are not available on the new MacBook.
Security. The HP sports TPM 1.2/2.0, full volume encryption, and a fingerprint reader. With the MacBook, you need to type your password.
Battery life. HP tells me that the Full HD version of the EliteBook Folio 1020 hits 9 hours on the MobileMark 12 benchmark, while the QHD version I’m testing gets a little less. Apple rates the MacBook at “up to 9 hours” of wireless web battery life, and reviews suggest the real world life is about 7-8 hours.
Software. Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit. A ton of HP utilities. Very little actual crap.
Size. Here is where the only real-world advantages to the new MacBook start to peek through. The HP is 1.57 cm thin at its thickest point, compared to 1.31 cm for the MacBook. Overall, the dimensions hit at 31 x 21 x 1.57 cm for HP, vs. 28 x 19.65 x 1.31 cm for MacBook.
Weight. The HP is 2.68 pounds, compared to 2.03 pounds for MacBook. So there’s a considerable advantage for the Apple product here, but I’d argue two things about the additional weight on HP. One, it lets the device have a lot more expandability, which is truly useful in the real world. And two, this device feels—no, is—solid and well made, and HP is rightfully proud that it meets MIL spec tests and can survive a four-foot drop.
Speaking of which. It’s not all about specs.
The keyboard on the Folio is superb, with a solid feel, and that stands in sharp contrast to the MacBook’s widely-reviled keyboard. The clickpad—sorry, ForcePad—is a revelation, with no moving parts and an astonishingly smooth feel. I do believe some people will need experience a short learning curve here, given how crappy most PC trackpads are. But the ForcePad is amazing, and is already in the running for the single best trackpad I’ve ever used. (The MacBook Air currently holds this spot.)
The build quality, as noted, is exemplary. HP tells me that the lid and top of the keyboard deck are aluminum, but then you can feel the quality. I’m almost more impressed by the rubbery, grippy bottom of the device, however, which makes it a joy to carry and, better still, keeps the HP anchored to whatever surface you place it on.
HP seems to be single-handedly bringing the PC out of the dark ages, and while the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 won’t meet everyone’s needs or budget, it is clearly a solid option for image-conscious executives, frequent business travelers, and those who prefer utility and versatility over an Apple logo. It doesn’t carry a premium over the new MacBook, though it can if you add enough options. The base price is $1299 (same as MacBook), with models that cost all the way up to $2999. Yikes.
I’ll be reviewing the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 after I’ve had a chance to travel with this device. More soon.
Tagged with Windows 8.1