HP Folio: Battery, backlight and a beat

The latest Ultrabook in my collection is the HP Folio. The HP Folio is a slim, business-focused 13” notebook with a rich, glossy display, and incredible battery life. Like other PCs built for business, the HP Folio comes with Windows 7 Professional, TPM, on-board Ethernet, and business-level service and support options. The HP Folio has some great user experience aspects for both work and play. For work, the keyboard and battery life are exceptional. For play, the Dolby Advanced Audio provides some of the best sound that I have ever experienced on a notebook PC. All of this comes in a 3.3 pound, 0.7” package that can be found for under $1,000. The model I tested comes with Windows 7 Professional, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD, TPM and an Intel Core i5 processor. If you’re already sold on these specs alone, the HP Folio is broadly available from HP and HP resellers (including the Microsoft Store, of course).

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Performance

Similar to past reviews, my test of a PC is not around specific benchmarks, but personal experience in using the device as my daily work machine for a period of a few weeks and seeing how it copes with a professional workload. Additionally, my performance characteristics will vary slightly as Microsoft’s security policies require different default programs – like antivirus – compared to the programs shipped in HP’s image.

One very nice aspect of the HP Folio for customers who do not use a custom image is that the default HP image is very lightweight. By that I mean that there are very few applications pre-loaded by default or that run automatically. The unit I tested came through HP’s business channels, which comes with a different default image than Folios sold through consumer channels. If your experience differs from what I had, you probably bought the computer through a different channel partner.

During a two-week period, the HP Folio performed nimbly and stably, using the set of applications I typically use for work, including Microsoft Office applications such as Outlook, PowerPoint, Lync, Excel, and standards such as Internet Explorer 9. The Windows Experience Index below is a rough indicator of the performance of the HP Folio.

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One of the key indicators that many PC buyers look to is startup/shutdown/restart times, and the Ultrabook performed in-line with my expectations. A cold boot startup took roughly 20 seconds, doing well compared to other Ultrabooks. I recommend users to sleep/resume in Windows 7 rather than shutdown, but if you choose to power down, that process takes roughly 10 seconds. Like newer PCs equipped with SSDs, resuming from and going to sleep take less than two seconds. (As usual, I don’t typically cite times below two seconds because I don’t trust my precision with a stopwatch with such short times.)

Where the HP Folio truly shines is in its battery life. With an eight hour workday, some users may not need to plug the device into A/C power. For me, with 15-30 minutes back in my office in the middle of the day, I was able to use the HP Folio during a typical workday without needing a charger. For one working weekend, I was able to work from cafes for several hours, despite forgetting the charger at the office. HP advertises a nine hour battery life, which you might achieve by optimizing power settings. Regardless, PC buyers looking for the most battery life in a small package should investigate the Folio.

Look, Feel and Features

From the outside, the HP Folio is unmistakably an HP business PC. The brushed metal casing is shared with the EliteBook line, providing a more classic appearance. The rubberized bottom of the PC felt nice in the hand when toting around the notebook, and also clung well to most surfaces, including the glass table you see in some of the pictures I took.

The HP Folio weighs in at 3.3 pounds, which is light for a 13” notebook PC, but on the heavier end of the Ultrabook spectrum. The Folio is also a little thicker (0.7”) than some of the thinner Ultrabooks on the market. But, this form factor allows for a large battery and a robust build quality; this is a PC that feels like it will last. The hinges are sturdy and opening/closing the lid is a solid movement, and the chassis exhibits very few signs of flex.

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The HP Folio provides a nice array and selection of ports given its small size. The Folio is one of the few Ultrabooks with an Ethernet port (another reason for its thickness versus other models). A multi-format memory card reader is a nice expansion option (visible to the right of the USB port). Other ports include: HDMI, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and a combined headphone/mic jack. Some users may miss an onboard VGA port; however, even on business PCs, this is increasingly unavailable.

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Opening the HP Folio portrays some of the consumer personality of the PC. One of the first visible items is the long speaker bar between the hinges – certainly not a common feature for a business machine. The smooth metal surface, chiclet-style keyboard and clickpad-style trackpad are closer to HP’s ENVY PCs than to the company’s EliteBook business PCs. But that’s the point with the HP Folio, a PC that works for both business and the user.

First, a word on that speaker bar. The speaker bar advertises Dolby Advanced Audio. While I’m not sure how that differs from the Beats Audio found on other HP PCs, the HP Folio has loud sound and great quality for an Ultrabook – certainly a best-in-class for a business PC. Audio/video conferencing sounded great as well, and I can imagine the HP Folio being used for the occasional movie or album in a hotel room. While the HP Folio won’t replace my external speakers, there were a few times that I didn’t feel the need to plug in speakers or headphones.

The keyboard and trackpad were very nice to use on the HP Folio. I found the keyboard to be a delight to use. The keyboard is roomy, with plenty of travel in the keys to register feedback. Touch typists should have no trouble adapting to the HP Folio keyboard. In the picture above you can see the strong backlighting available via a hotkey (F5 or FN+F5 depending on how you set the HP to use the function keys). The trackpad is a clickpad-style, meaning that it has no physical buttons. After adjusting the default settings to become less sensitive to the touch I found that I had little trouble with registering unintended touches. There are also some handy multi-finger gestures available in the trackpad settings for scrolling, window management and other features.

The display of the HP Folio is closer to the consumer-personality of this machine. The glossy display adds to richness, but at first it can take a little fiddling to find the right angle to maximize image quality and also avoid viewing yourself in the screen reflection. Like most PCs, the screen will also pick up some impressions from the keyboard. The glossy screen can accentuate that issue. Overall the display is not remarkable, but certainly serviceable.

Fan noise is sometimes a concern on smaller units. I’m happy to say that while the Folio does have an audible noise it’s not too distracting and will blend in with any background noise. This did require some modification on my part. I’m not sure why, but the BIOS setting defaults to “Fan Always On”. After adjusting this setting, the fan cycled on far less often.

Final Thoughts

The HP Folio is a great choice for someone looking for the feel of a full notebook in a thin and light package. HP has combined a solid build with a very usable keyboard, great battery life and affordable price to deliver an experience that should satisfy most users.

But if you’re looking for something with a little more power, HP recently released three new Ultrabook options for business users: the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m, the HP SpectreXT Pro and the HP ENVY Pro. The HP EliteBook Folio is only a fraction heavier and thicker, but packs a bigger punch with 16 GB RAM, up to 256 GB SSD, and even comes with the VGA port the HP Folio is missing. If you are a small business professional, Leigha’s blog post describes the new HP ProBook S-series and EliteBook 2170p that are designed to help small businesses become more efficient, tech savvy, and successful.

In the coming months I’ll continue testing some of the business-focused Ultrabooks available on the market. Ask me questions and request reviews here in the comments or on Twitter @Sabowtage13.