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HP Dragonfly Pro Review: Portable Perfection

Posted May 30, 2023 | Hardware | HP | HP Dragonfly Pro | Mobile | Windows | Windows 11


The HP Dragonfly Pro is a powerful but reasonably priced premium laptop aimed at freelancers. It’s also one of the best laptops I’ve ever used.

Design

Where the original Elite Dragonfly felt like it came from an alternate universe in which the EliteBook 1030 was colorful and made of magnesium instead of being a boring slab of silver aluminum, today’s Dragonfly portfolio is more expansive and addresses a broader swatch of the market. And that portfolio has only gotten bigger with the Dragonfly Pro and its similar ChromeOS-based sibling, the Dragonfly Pro Chromebook.

The two Pros sit at the bottom of the Dragonfly product family from a pricing perspective, but they offer a premium look and feel with a magnesium and aluminum alloy chassis that can be had in either Ceramic White or Sparkling Black. The review unit arrived in the former, but both colors stand out nicely in the sea of silver and gray laptops out there these days.

The Dragonfly Pro also feels great to the touch, and it is one of the stiffest laptops I’ve used in recent memory, with no flex at all in the base and very little in the display lid. It’s quite thin at just 0.72 inches, and while it’s a little bit heavy at 3.5 pounds, that’s all about the quality of the construction.

Display

You can get any display you want with the HP Dragonfly Pro as long as it’s a Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS multitouch panel with an ideal 16:10 aspect ratio that outputs 400 nits of brightness. I found it to be a great choice for both productivity work and entertainment, with bright colors, inky blacks, and excellent contrast, and I suspect that this display choice contributes to the Dragonfly Pro’s stellar battery life numbers. But a higher resolution upgrade would be nice for those who need it.

The bezels are small all around, especially on the sides, with an 86.5 percent screen to body ratio. And in an unusual but fun Windows 11-friendly touch, the corners of the display are artificially curved to match the platform’s user interface and the curved corners of the hardware. Nicely done, HP.

The display does not lie flat. Oddly, it’s not even close.

Internal components

The Dragonfly Pro is powered by an 8-core AMD Ryzen 7736U mobile processor with integrated AMD Radeon Graphics, 16 or 32 GB of fast LPDDR5 RAM, and 512 GB or 1 TB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. And while none of that may seem particularly unusual, it is the combination of that hardware with the unique software in the PC that makes it so special.

First, consider AMD’s approach to chipset design. Unlike Intel, which is in the midst of a rather frantic shift to an Arm-like hybrid architecture with specific big (“Performance”) and little (“Efficient”) core layouts, AMD has so far taken a different tact where all of the cores in its chipsets can be optimized for performance or efficiency on the fly. Likewise, the Ryzen 7736U in the Dragonfly Pro can be configured to consume between 15 and 28 watts at any time, depending on the need. But a comparable Intel Core i7-1360P chipset typically runs at 28 watts, with a minimum of 20 watts, but its cores are all hard-coded for specific functions. (And the AMD chipset is also a 6 nm part, compared to 10 nm for Intel.)

To optimize performance and battery life for this unique architecture, HP worked with AMD to override the default power management functionality in Windows. That is, instead of manually configured Balanced, High Performance, and Power Saver modes that put the onus of optimization on the user, HP simply ignores those settings and optimizes performance and power consumption for you in real-time. The priority here is responsiveness, HP says: when you need more power to accomplish a specific task, the system allocates exactly the right amount of performance to accomplish it, and for just as long as is necessary.

And … it works. The Dragonfly Pro performed wonderfully whether I was engaged in my standard productivity tasks or pushing things a bit harder with Visual Studio 2022 code compilation or Adobe Premiere Elements video editing and rendering. As good, the system is always silent or nearly so, and it’s always cool to the touch regardless. Combined with the epic battery life noted below, the results speak for themselves: this is a PC that somehow manages to be both performant and efficient at all times. It makes one wonder why Intel is wasting its time—and introducing potential reliability issues—by trying to mimic Arm.

The only downside to this system, and it’s a minor one, is that Windows 11 does not yet allow HP and other PC makers to completely customize its power management user interfaces. So you will see an HP-optimized profile alongside the usual Windows options, and though power users may be tempted to twiddle with the settings, those changes will simply be ignored. In the future, Windows will allow for this kind of customization, rendering this minor nit moot.

Connectivity

Connectivity is as modern as it gets with Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2, but there’s no cellular data option.

Ports and expansion

The Dragonfly Pro’s expansion capabilities are modern and minimalistic, with a curious layout in which there are two USB-C ports on the left and only one on the right. In the good news department, two of those USB-C ports, one on each side, provide Thunderbolt 4/USB4 capabilities (40 Gbps data transfer, power delivery, DisplayPort 1.4, and HP Fast Charge).

But the second USB-C port on the left is a SuperSpeed USB 3.2 port (10 Gbps data transfer with HP Fast Charge).

And … I’m mostly OK with this, and though I will voice the obvious complaint about the lack of legacy USB-A and HDMI ports, I suspect that HP is counting on its customers to be largely young and hip enough not to care.

Audio and video

For audio output, the Dragonfly Pro provides four speakers, two upward-firing and two downward, in stereo and tuned by Bang & Olufsen. There’s no Dolby Atmos, unfortunately, and it took me a while to figure out that audio configuration occurs through the myHP app. But the audio is bright, crisp, loud, and distortion-free, even at the highest volumes, with terrific stereo separation in both music and movie content. This is one of the best-sounding speaker systems I’ve ever experienced on a laptop.

For your hybrid meeting needs, the Dragonfly Pro offers background noise removal from the speakers, background noise reduction from the microphone array, and a high-quality 5 MP web camera backed by a suite of HP Enhanced Camera features like auto framing, backlight and low light enhancements, appearance filters, background blur and replacement, and more. It’s a terrific setup that should meet almost any communications need.

Note, however, that there’s no combo headphone/microphone jack, so you must either use the built-in microphones and speakers or turn to USB-C or wireless headphones or earbuds.

Keyboard and touchpad

HP has long made the best laptop keyboards—sorry, Lenovo—and that trend continues with the Dragonfly Pro’s terrific full-sized and backlit keyboard.

It’s almost perfect, with short, snappy key throws, in fact, but is let somewhat let down by a bizarre column of square special function keys on the right, each of which launches the myHP app to perform, well, some special function. These are described in the Software section below, but I don’t like that only one of them can be configured and would prefer traditional Home, PgUP, PgDn, and End keys there instead. So close, HP, so close.

The haptic touchpad is likewise excellent, and I’d never have suspected this wasn’t mechanical if HP hadn’t told me. It’s medium-sized, not too small and not too big, and incredibly accurate, though I did disable three- and four-finger gestures to improve reliability, but then I always do that.

Security and privacy

The Dragonfly Pro offers Windows Hello facial and fingerprint recognition, the preferred configuration, and if you prefer the former, you can speed up the process nicely by enabling presence sensing in the Settings app so that the PC wakes up when you approach it. (You can likewise have it turn off the display when you leave.) The Dragonfly Pro’s keyboard also has dedicated keys toggling the microphone and the camera, which I very much prefer as well.

Sustainability

HP used a lot of recycled materials to create the Dragonfly Pro, including 35 percent post-consumer recycled plastic in the display bezel, 90 percent reclaimed aluminum in the keyboard frame and keyboard base, 50 percent reclaimed aluminum in the outer display lid, and 50 percent post-consumer recycled plastic in the keycaps and speaker box. The outer packaging and corrugated cushions are 100 percent sustainably sourced and recyclable, and the Dragonfly Pro is EPEAT Gold and ENERGY STAR certified.

Portability

The HP Dragonfly Pro is a bit heavy at 3.5 pounds, but I enjoyed traveling with it and was impressed by its longevity: in over two months of daily real-world usage, I observed an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes of battery life per charge. That’s impressive.

It can be fast-charged to 50 percent in just 30 minutes using the bundled 96-watt power adapter, which is a unique design with a wall mount. I like the minimalism of it, but it might be a tight fit with some receptacles.

Software

The HP Dragonfly Pro ships with Windows 11 Home and a crapware-free collection of 6 HP-branded utilities plus AMD Software: Adrenaline Edition for customizing the graphics display. But one of the primary selling points of this device is its hardware and software integration by which four special keys in a column on the right side of the keyboard are used for one-click access to special features like launching the myHP app, accessing 24/7 Pro Live Support (also in myHP), adjusting the camera settings (also in the myHP app), and a user-programmable key that can be configured to launch one or more applications, websites, files, and/or folders. (And, yes, you configure that in, wait for it, the myHP app.)

Given my sloppy typing skills, you won’t be surprised to discover that I inadvertently launched the myHP app dozens and dozens of times during the review period. But it’s worth noting that Dragonfly Pro customers get one year of free 24/7 Pro Live Support that includes live assistance with trained HP support staff via voice or chat in addition to a virtual assistant, links for user manuals and guides, a virtual repair center to check on device repair status, warranty, the product support center, and more. The idea here is that freelancers don’t have access to the types of support staff that knowledge workers inside a company do, and so this service is supposed to make up for it.

The free year is obviously a good deal, but Dragonfly Pro buyers can also extend support for up to 36 months at $10.99 per month, and this Subscription Care Pack brings with it accidental damage protection with timely repairs or device replacement with one incident every 12 months for a total of up to 3 over the 36 months. That may seem expensive, but the roughly $400 it would cost over three years would pay for itself if you ever needed to replace the laptop. It’s optional, of course.

Pricing and configurations

While the Pro moniker suggests a more expensive product line, the Dragonfly Pro costs several hundred dollars less than other laptops in the family like the Elite Dragonfly and the Dragonfly Folio. It’s available in two colors—Sparkling Black and Ceramic White—both of which can be had in two configurations, 16 GB of RAM with 512 GB of storage for $1399 and 32 GB of RAM with 1 TB of storage for $1549. That’s it. And God love HP for drawing a line on what seems like an infinite number of configurations for many PC models.

Recommendations and conclusions

Every once in a while, a PC comes through my home that causes this jaded, long-time reviewer to sit up and take notice. The HP Dragonfly Pro is such a PC, and it seems almost purposefully designed and configured for my exact needs. I have no problem writing reviews for products that aren’t exactly what I want, but this HP was so right, so perfect, that I started to doubt my ability to be objective about it. That is, I understand the obvious complaints that one might render here, but with rare exception—I would much rather see standard Home, PgUp, PgDn, and End keys where those special function keys are, for example—I just don’t care. I love this thing.

But stepping outside my own needs for a moment, I’ll say this. Yes, the Dragonfly Pro is a bit heavy for a 14-inch laptop, yes, I do think there should be a higher resolution display option, and, sure, a three USB-C port configuration is a little odd. But whatever: you just don’t see this kind of performance and uptime together in a PC, period. And with a welcome assist from AMD, HP has achieved what I thought was impossible with regard to performance and battery life.

Even the Ceramic White color of the review unit defied my experience and expectations: I would never buy a white laptop, and I had assumed that this thing would be marred by scuffs and smudges by now. But after two months of heavy usage, including a three-week trip to Mexico City, it has not been dulled or sullied in any noticeable way. I’d rather have the Sparkling Black version, sure, but Ceramic White has held up admirably.

The HP Dragonfly Pro isn’t just highly recommended, it’s one of the best laptops I’ve ever laid my hands on. And when the time comes later this year for me to upgrade, I’ll be buying one for myself. In Sparkling Black, of course.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Premium look and feel
  • Excellent performance
  • Epic battery life
  • Offers both facial and fingerprint recognition
  • Terrific hybrid work features
  • Impressive audio

Cons

  • Unnecessary special function keys
  • Strange port configuration



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