HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 Special Edition notebook

An expensive laptop for executives after a lightweight, easily portable Windows machine

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HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 Special Edition
  • HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 Special Edition
  • HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 Special Edition
  • HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 Special Edition
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Light weight for easy portability
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Vibrant screen
  • Silent operation

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Short battery life
  • Slow SSD write speed

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HP’s EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 Special Edition notebook has a 12.5in screen and weighs 1.04kg. That size and weight combination is a point of emphasis for this laptop, in addition to a strong build quality. Construction materials include magnesium-lithium alloy and carbon fibre (with carbon fibre seen only on the Special Edition, affording a lighter weight than standard models), and there is a spill resistant keyboard with a drain installed to help counter those early morning coffee spills.

Lightweight, yet well built

For all intents and purposes, it’s a beautiful laptop, both in terms of the way it looks, and the way it feels during everyday usage. There is a sleek profile that’s not unlike other laptops of a thin and light nature, and apart from a hint of burgundy on the spine, it’s an all-business, minimalist look that should appeal to many.

There is good balance to the build, with the base assuming most of the weight, and the screen doesn’t tilt back too far. You can lift the lid with one hand while the notebook is resting flat on a desk, so you don’t even have to put down that coffee before starting it up. That’s one part of the overall good user comfort that this laptop offers -- the others being an attractive screen, and a solid keyboard and touchpad.

The keys have soft travel, are backlit, and they reside in a sunken tray that doesn’t bounce, regardless of how heavy you type. The screen, which is of the 1440p variety (2560x1440), is a vibrant one with an anti-glare finish that’s easily viewable under office lighting. Even the ForcePad, which is a new experience for Windows users, feels smooth under the skin and was responsive to single and multi-finger movements.

The only drawback to the ease of use that we noticed during our review is the location of the fingerprint reader on the right palm rest. It always got in the way while we typed, registering swipes and bringing up the HP Client Security software. This went away after we registered our fingerprints, with subsequent accidental brushing of the fingerprint reader by our palm resulting only in a sound effect.

You can use the fingerprint reader to log in to Windows, and the HP Client Security software allows for drive encryption as well as just-in-time security for removable devices. On a company scale, Intel vPro is present in the CPU to facilitate fleet management tasks.

Configuration and features

Being able to make a laptop small and light, but also useful for everyday work, requires the implementation of a capable processor. Rather than stick with Intel’s Core i-series CPUs, which give the best performance, HP has based this EliteBook Folio on Intel’s Core M, which is a slower and lower-powered CPU with different advantages compared to the Core i-series products.

It’s a CPU that doesn’t require a fan for cooling (cooling is left to a thin heat spreader and heat pipe), and it can sit in a motherboard of smaller proportions than usual. These two things alone allow the weight and the size of the chassis to be kept to a minimum. The base of the laptop in this case is just 13mm at the rear when you include the rubber stops on the bottom panel, which stop the unit from sliding off too easily.

But the biggest advantages are silent operation due to the lack of a fan, and the minimisation of heat output, which makes for more comfortable usage when resting it on your lap. It’s telling that we’ve seen this CPU emerge in business products, as it highlights that the mobility and silent-running abilities of the CPU are virtues that can trump straight-line speed -- at least in this case.

In fact, the Core M isn’t all that powerful. It sits in a spot between an Intel Atom and a Core i3. As we’ve mentioned, it’s been designed primarily with efficiency and mobility in mind, rather than all-out performance. At best, it’s a CPU that’s fine for common office tasks, be they document creation, online communications, presenting, and light multimedia work, such as the basic editing of photos.

You wouldn’t want to use this laptop for CPU-intensive tasks, and even things such as Flash-heavy Web sites can have a tendency to reduce the system’s responsiveness as the CPU works to complete the Web-based task.

Gauging the performance of the EliteBook using our standard Blender 3D rendering test, the Core M-5Y71 CPU achieved a time of 1min 5sec, which makes it about 5sec slower than other business-centric devices we’ve seen, such as the Toshiba Portege Z20T hybrid, and Lenovo’s ThinkPad Helix 2 hybrid. Memory capacity in our test unit is 8GB (1600MHz), which is soldered onto the motherboard, and this is standard for all models in the range.

The EliteBook Special Edition does have a higher native resolution on its screen than usual, offering 2560x1440 pixels, rather than 1920x1080, and touch is available on other models. The higher native resolution is beneficial for viewing photos, as well as lining up windows side by side when you want to work on a couple of documents, or refer to a Web site while working on a document. The text can be a little small by default, but Windows 7 Pro’s text and icon size can be made bigger to offset this (there is a Windows 8.1 licence, but Windows 7 is installed by default).

Storage is via a solid state drive (SSD) with a long and thin M.2 form factor and a SATA interface. On our test Special Edition model, the capacity is 180G (150GB of that being usable space), though, curiously, 250GB is available on a couple of the non-Special Edition versions of this laptop. In CrystalDiskMark, the sequential read rate this SSD recorded was 425.4 megabytes per second (MBps), which is a fine result. Meanwhile, the sequential write rate was 173.6MBps, which is a slow result.

Long battery life is meant to be one of the traits of the Core M CPU, but with a 36 Watt-hour battery (which fills the available room in the front portion of the chassis) and a pixel-heavy screen, we didn’t get as much endurance as we hoped for. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop a Full HD MP4 video file, the laptop lasted only 3hr 33min. You can get more out of it when you dim the screen and rarely use CPU-intensive programs.

Connections around the edges include two USB 3.0 ports (one for charging devices even while the laptop is off), full-sized HDMI, a headset jack, and a microSD card slot. Docking is facilitated by a side connector that can be used for HP’s UltraSlim Docking Station, which costs $279 (at the time of writing).

Other features include 802.11ac Wi-Fi (using an Intel Advanced-AC 7265, 2x2 module), Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC. Speakers are located above the keyboard, but they are basic, and you might be better off using either wired or Bluetooth headphones for serious listening tasks. Integrated mobile broadband is not supplied. An Ethernet dongle is optional.

What’s the verdict

HP is charging an arm and a leg for this Special Edition laptop ($2799 for our specific review model), and this is way too much for what you get. We’re accustomed to business laptops costing a lot more than consumer models, but it’s not like this notebook has a killer configuration or any features that are out of the ordinary.

The differentiators to consumer-grade gear are mostly the use of lightweight materials military spec testing, the biometric security, docking capability, and vPro management. It’s very much an executive’s laptop: strong, slim, light and easy to carry, and with mostly regular connection options to allow for easier physical access to data.

Further benefits are its silent operation, good keyboard, and vibrant screen, but drawbacks include short battery life and slow SSD write speed (according to our comparative tests).

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