HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1

There are budget laptops that pretend to look expensive. You find them everywhere. And then there are expensive laptops that not only look the business but act it as well. The HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 is just such a product, a premium-priced and beautifully constructed ultraportable that stands above almost every other Windows laptop in sheer quality.

It's a 14-inch lightweight model based on the MacBook Air template, just 17 mm thick and weighing little over 1.5 kg. Like very few others, it is made almost entirely from real metal, using an Apple-like unibody aluminium construction. This seems to be anodised to give a dark lustre, more like a gunmetal finish. Only the underside appears to be of the more usual plastic we find on Windows laptops, with a slightly soft surface which aids grip. Yet even this is forged from sturdy yet lightweight magnesium alloy, with a thin polymer coat.

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review: Components

Powering this top version of the EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 is an Intel Core i7 running at 2.1 GHz, although the laptop can also be found with the more affordable 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 that's the popular fitting in more mainstream ultrabooks.

For memory there is 4 GB fixed in place, and an additional SO-DIMM slot that here is filled with another 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, to provide 8 GB total. Storage is courtesy of SanDisk, with the flash specialist's X110 SSD used in its next-generation form-factor (NGFF) M.2 format.

Two USB 3.0 ports are included, one each side, along with some less familiar connector options. On the left is a long slot for a smart card, historically used by some larger businesses for user authentication. Next in line is a memory-card slot – not for the typical full-size SD card, but a tiny microSD card. To physically tether this covetable portable to the desk, a Kensington lock slot is milled into the metal casework at the rear corner.

To the right is a DisplayPort video output, and again HP here has gone off-piste by fitting the full-size version that is never normally found on notebooks.

Another miniature slot on this side holds a Micro-SIM card for use with the integrated 4G LTE modem, sprung-loaded like a smartphone's slot, and the card end lies flush with the body when installed.

There is no ethernet nor VGA built-in, but these are covered together by an included dongle adaptor which fits into a wide multi-pin slot next to the power inlet. Disappointingly given the impeccable construction and attention to detail elsewhere, the power port takes a regular right-angle plug with a barrel that wobbles in its socket.

What truly separates this laptop from most others is the high calibre of the display, the keyboard and the trackpad. These are the key human interface elements that are rarely promoted from spec sheets, and almost invariably are given very short shrift by less thoughtful manufacturers.

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 review: Display

Thanks to the onward march of smartphones and tablets, better quality displays – usually based on IPS technology – are now finally becoming more readily available in laptops, even if only at the high end of the market. The EliteBook Folio uses just such a display, and it's one of the finest we've seen fitted to any laptop.

It's a 14.0-inch 16:9 panel, a common size for business portables, but with full-HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. That provides a decent pixel density of 157 ppi, and to make the interface more clearly legible HP sets the laptop's Windows 7 Professional operating system with 125 percent scaling. We also experimented with 150 percent scaling which worked well here too.

In our lab tests, this display could cover 93 percent of the sRGB colour gamut, and 70 percent Adobe RGB. Contrast ratio, the bugbear of budget LCDs, was at a decent level of 610:1 with the screen at full brightness (295 cd/^2), and still 550:1 at a more usable '75 percent' brightness setting (136 cd/m^2).

Colour accuracy was superb, with an indicated Delta E average of just 1.19. And luminance variation was very well controlled, within 4 percent for most of the screen at various settings, rising to a still insignificant 11 percent on the left edge of the screen.

Beyond just the test numbers though, this screen looks superb to the eye. There is a gentle matt anti-glare coating which allows easy viewing near windows or artificial light, and this treatment does not add any perceptible grain. As an IPS panel it can be viewed from every angle with next to no drop in image quality. And the bezel surround is a sympathetic matt black that doesn't visually intrude on your window into Windows.

When simply reading, text looks very sharp and type is a clear, dark black rather than the charcoal grey as cheaper displays will render. The overall effect is not quite Retina-class but since Windows cannot work effectively with Retina-grade display, the 157-ppi pixel density and 125 percent scaling is a great compromise for a practicable interface.

The keyboard sits slightly rebated into the top deck, and thanks to the laptop's stiff metal construction there is no unwanted flex as you tap away on its short-travel Scrabble tiles. These are backlit if required, with two brightness settings toggleable from the Fn+F11 keys.

Completing the tactile experience is a particularly fine trackpad, which maker Synaptics calls a ForcePad. It closely resembles the large, glass-topped touch pads found in Apple MacBooks, a buttonless design with some barely perceptible movement possible to actuate mechanical clicks from the front left and right corners. But most of the time a tap-to-click action is all that's required.

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1

The silky trackpad top and its precise, predictable control combine to make a great user experience. The combination of slick surface and Windows 7's glassy Aero interface work particularly well together to give the effect of effortlessly sliding around the desktop interface.

Customisation options also allow reversal of scroll direction to follow current thinking that's based on vicariously moving screen content with your fingertips, rather than pulling just the scroll bars.

Other features to be found around the notebook's body include an NFC reading area, just to the left of the trackpad, its presence only indicated by a removable sticker on the wrist-rest area. Over to the right is a fingerprint reader, with a glassy black solid-state sensor that just stands proud of the chassis. Two hardware buttons in the top right corner allow sound muting and radio-silent mode, the latter switching off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LTE.

For Wi-Fi there is up-to-date 11ac wireless, a two-stream arrangement that is specified for up to 867 Mb/s circuit speeds.

We tried the EliteBook with a live Debian Linux OS booted from USB, and essential points such as Wi-Fi, trackpad and display/volume F-button controls all worked without additional drivers or intervention.

Next section: Lab report