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HP Elite Folio: Quick Follow-Up

Posted May 6, 2021 | Hardware | HP | HP Elite Folio | Mobile | Snapdragon 8cx | Windows | Windows 10 | Windows 10 on ARM

Yesterday, I posted my first impressions of the Elite Folio ahead of my briefing with HP because I knew there would be a lot of interest. And what the heck, first impressions are, after all, first impressions. But now that that briefing is behind me, I’d like to add some more details about this intriguing Windows 10 on ARM- (WOA-) based PC.

First up, it’s expensive. Like prohibitively expensive. The very cheapest configuration—with 8 GB of RAM and just 128 GB of storage—is $1700. But configured as is the review unit, this PC will set you back over $1800. And you could spend an incredible ~$2327 if you opted for the Sure View privacy screen, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, and 5G networking. We live in a world in which you can get a tremendous premium laptop or convertible PC for $1000 to $1500, so justifying these kinds of prices is tough to impossible.

That said, the Elite Folio does have that special something when it comes to the build materials—a faux leather called vegan leather and magnesium—and the unique pull-forward design, and I could see some combination of both winning over well-heeled executives who expect to be traveling in the near future.

The vegan leather is a marvel, and it’s much smoother and more pleasant to hold than the bumpy, hard, and brown leather that HP used on the Spectre Folio. HP tells me it’s also lighter and provides a smaller footprint than the real leather used by its spiritual predecessor.

But the vegan leather is also quite durable, having passed 19 MIL-STD durability tests. It doesn’t require any holes for venting heat, thanks in part to the relative coolness of the Qualcomm chipset. And it remains cool to the touch even during regular use.

And the form factor is both unique and well-considered and is, I think, a better hybrid PC option for most people than a Tablet PC like the Surface Pro or a convertible/360 PC like the Spectre x360 family. That’s because you can pull the display forward to transition the PC into a media mode—which is ideal for an airline tray table—or a thick sort-of tablet without having to physically move the PC around, it can just happen in place.

HP says that 3:2 is the perfect aspect ratio for a display on this kind of device, and is “perfect for productivity,” and that makes sense: In addition to offering more vertical real estate in the normal clamshell (laptop) mode, 3:2 displays look and feel more normal when the device is used as a tablet. There’s something weird about 16:9 displays that make them seem overly tall and awkward when used in the portrait orientation.

There are actually two display choices as well, a 400 nit option used by the review unit and a very bright 1000 nit version that supports HP’s Sure View Reflect privacy shield technology.

In a “making lemonade” maneuver, HP is selling the port-constrained Elite Folio as having a “clean and simple port configuration.” But even those who can live with just two USB-C ports—with no Thunderbolt capabilities of any kind—should know that you’re looking at a paltry 5 Gbps of data throughput. More modern USB ports offer 10, 20, and even 40 Gbps of throughput. This part of the PC is not particularly future-proof.

In the good news department, the webcam offers a manual privacy shield. And I like how HP has hidden the nano-SIM card slot inside of the smartpen’s charging well at the top of the keyboard. That’s a good use of space. That smartpen, called the HP Elite Slim Active Pen, has a nice carpenter’s pencil-like form factor that’s a joy to hold, if you need such a peripheral. It has three customizable buttons, one on the top and two on the barrel, and has all the modern smartpen functionality—4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt support, and fast charging—you should expect.

The keyboard is likewise a joy to use. HP says it offers a crisp 1.3 mm of key travel, but what really gets me is how quiet it is in use. HP claims it has a better key feel and key stability than all of its Qualcomm-based competition and the iPad Pro (with the keyboard cover).

Performance is a concern given how lackluster the 8cx series has proven in real-world use. I feel like it will be fine for everyday productivity work—HP says it is “competitive”—which is of course this machine’s goal. But it’s going to be an issue when emulating Intel-type Windows apps, especially x64 apps whenever that capability goes live. And in particular with higher-end creative apps such as those made by Adobe. We’ll see, but it’s telling that HP only compared the performance to other WOA-based PCs and not to Intel-based PCs.

Battery life should prove to be excellent, though again that Intel emulation requirement will deliver a hit. HP is claiming up to 20 hours of battery life in video playback. That’s not a real-world measurement, obviously, but it’s also below the 24.5 hours that HP claims on its website. And below the 20+ hours that previous generation Qualcomm-based PCs delivered; I suspect this is due to the Intel emulation performance improvements offered by the 8cx family. But only the Lenovo Flex 5G, with its 26 hours of battery, offers longer longevity.

From a connectivity perspective, the Elite Folio can be had with Wi-Fi 6/Bluetooth 5 only or, optionally, with gigabit LTE or 5G networking. You need to choose at purchase time because the cellular options each require a unique Qualcomm modem. Speaking of configuration choices, you can also choose between 8 and 16 GB of RAM; 128, 256, and 512 GB of storage; and Windows 10 Home or Pro, again, at purchase time.

The speakers are nothing special, whether you’re watching videos or listening to music. But it looks like the headphone jack supports Windows Sonic for Headphones, which provides spatial sound capabilities, so that might be the better solution.

One final note. I’ve used this PC more than I should have over the past 24 hours, given how many PC reviews I still need to finish. And I think that might itself be an interesting conversation because I review a lot of premium laptops and am rarely emotionally swayed by any of them. And I understand better than most the many compromises that WOA brings to the table.

And yet. There is something going on here. As I noted upfront, the build materials are amazing. Just transporting it, closed like a folio, is pleasant because of how nice the vegan leather feels. And even Windows 10 on ARM, despite its limitations, has its own minimalist vibe that I really enjoy. There’s no crapware to speak of, as I noted in my first impressions post, and while some issues are hard to deal with for now—I can’t use Affinity Photo, which I rely on, for example—I find myself willing to work around that.

This is confusing. On the face of things, I can’t possibly recommend a machine that’s this expensive and has so many limitations. And I certainly wouldn’t spend $1800 on it, or any other PC, for that matter. And yet. Hm. I really like it.

More soon.

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