HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 First Impressions

Posted on February 10, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 24 Comments

HP’s business-focused EliteBook x360 line has always impressed. But this latest 14-inch wonder is already a personal favorite. And that’s saying something in this golden age of premium PCs.

HP’s naming conventions are a little tough, so let’s step through the mouthful you see in the title of this article. The EliteBook line sits at the top of HP’s various families of business-focused laptops, much like Spectre does in its consumer offerings. The 1000 series, in particular, is an impressive set of premium thin and light portable PCs, and it consists of three members: The 13.3-inch EliteBook x360 1030, the 14-inch EliteBook x360 1040 (which is the focus of this write-up), and the 15.6-inch EliteBook 1050. The two “x360”-branded models are convertibles, meaning that the display wraps around the back of the PC, enabling multiple form factors. (While the 1050 is a traditional laptop.) And the G5? That means that this is the fifth generation of the product. It is the stablemate of the HP EliteBook x360 1030 G3 I wrote up last October.

EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (top), EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (bottom)

If you’re familiar with my personal laptop preferences, then you’ve probably already guessed that I was pretty excited to finally get my hands on a 14-inch model in the EliteBook 1000 series. The 13.3-inch 1030 is a fine portable PC, for sure. But there is just something special about the 1040 and its roomier 14-inch display. It’s my sweet spot, from a form factor perspective. It’s just right.

Aesthetically, the EliteBook lineup isn’t going to blow anyone away at first glance. It’s obviously of high-quality, is, in fact, made of a single piece of aluminum, but it’s just your standard bland gray business box. Aside from some polished edges, there’s nothing here to draw attention. It’s certainly not daring from a color or form factor perspective as are HP’s most recent Spectre laptops.

And that is almost certainly by design. But for those who purchase an EliteBook—or for those who are lucky enough to be assigned one at work—the excitement here is very real. It’s just a slow boil, and not an immediate and visceral thing. The more you learn about this PC, and the more you use it, the more you start to appreciate what HP has delivered. The EliteBook x360 1040 may look bland, but it is anything but.

For example, the 1040 is actually smaller than the previous-generation EliteBook x360 1030—remember, that’s the 13.3-inch model—and at 2.99 pounds and 16.9mm of thickness, it cuts a svelte figure compared to other 14-inch premium laptops. It is, in fact, the smallest and lightest 14-inch business convertible. (The current generation EliteBook x360 1030 and 1040 are shown below.)

EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (top), EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (bottom)

Compared to its own predecessor—yes, it was called the EliteBook x360 1040 G4—the new 1040 is 10 percent smaller, with 41 percent smaller display bezels. The “chin” (bottom) bezel is fully 39 percent smaller than that of its predecessor, which is a big deal: Thanks to its use of widescreen displays, the chin on most portable PCs is humongous. This one is far less objectionable. (That said, a 3:2 display would solve this problem and be more useful. And no, I will never stop hammering on that.)

Amazingly, HP still claims 17 hours of battery life, despite shipping a much smaller battery inside of the PC. I’m not sure how it did that—both devices utilize 15-watt U-series Intel Core processors—but HP claims it’s done a lot of work on the thermals to ensure smoother performance and battery life. As important, fast charging capabilities mean you can gain over 8 and a half hours of additional battery life with just 30 minutes of charging. Yes, that’s the best in the market.

As noted, the 1040—like the 1030—utilizes Intel Core U-series processors, and there are i5-8250U, i5-8350U, and i7-8650U options available. (The 1050 ships with more powerful H-series Core processors.) RAM runs from 8 GB to a full 32 GB, and the SSD storage can be had all the way up to 2 TB (!).

Expansion is excellent, and a step up from 1030: You get a full-sized USB port and the SIM card slot on the left and a full-sized USB, full-sized HDMI, and two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right. Power and the volume rockers are on the outside edges too, because it’s a convertible PC.

The display is insane, at least on the review unit. 1040 customers have a choice of Full HD and 4K displays, in both matte and glossy finishes, and with or without HP’s vaunted Sure View privacy technology. What you choose there will, of course, impact battery life. But the 4K version of the display delivers an astonishing 700 nits of brightness, so you should have no trouble seeing it, even outside on the brightest possible day. (Other display types land at 400 to 500 nits, depending on which you order.)

HP has you covered biometrically as well: The 1040 ships with both a fingerprint reader and an IR camera for Windows Hello, so you can choose which you prefer. (Or use both.) And as a business-class offering, the 1040 also comes with HP’s suite of security technologies, like Sure Start, Sure Run, and a unique option by which you can store a restore partition on a separate, encrypted, and hidden storage device for those times when something does go wrong.

Communications is modern, as you should expect, with HP’s Connection Optimizer and improved Wi-Fi range and throughput. And you can opt-in to gigabit-class 4G LTE for always-connected computing. Like other HP business offerings, the 1040 also ships with the firm’s premium collaboration keyboard—basically a handful of Skype for Business/Teams-compatible hot keys—plus an improved Full HD webcam and a new, world-facing microphone for clear calls from up to 12 feet away. The speakers offer more bass oomph, driven by four discrete amplifiers.

All of that is amazing. But what really got me going is the new and improved keyboard, which appears to split the difference, perhaps perfectly, between the dead-feeling new Apple MacBook keyboards and the squishier island-style keyboards we see on most other portable PCs. In keeping with my own preferences, HP has actually reduced the throw of each key while delivering less wobble and slant when keys are pressed off-center. The result is what Apple was trying to achieve with its butterfly design, but without any of the problems. And the keyboard is actually twice as quiet as before too. This may be a miracle.

Those with a smart pen inclination can also opt-in to the new HP Rechargeable Active Pen, which delivers all-week battery life and can obtain an additional 1.5 hours of life via just 15 seconds of charge. Like other modern smartpens, it’s tilt- and pressure-sensitive, with 4096 levels of sensitivity.

Pricing is about what you’d expect for a premium, business-class laptop: A base configuration with a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of SSD storage, and a 400 nit Full HD touch display runs about $1500. Step up to an improved i5 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, and a 700 nit Sure View anti-glare Full HD touch display, and you’ll pay $2080. A model with Core i7, 16 GB, 512 GB, and a 400 nit Full HD touch display with anti-glare comes in at about $2350. The HP Rechargeable Active Pen is an additional $76.

I have a meeting in New York on Tuesday, and my wife and I decided to make a night out of it, so I’ll have some good travel time with the EliteBook x360 1040 over the next few days. I’m looking forward to seeing how it fares out in the real world.

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