Close your eyes and imagine a world where business laptops are beautiful. Gleaming ingots of metal pared to perfection, all precise curves and metallic sheen; silent and lightweight, secure and well connected. The envy of any boardroom. Now open those peepers, and behold: the EliteBook Folio 1020 makes those reveries a reality. At a price.
My colleague caught his first glimpse of HP’s EliteBook Folio 1020 back in January. It left its mark, his eyes lighting up each time HP teased his inbox with the prospect of an impending review unit. And I can see why he was smitten. It’s not the most individual-looking laptop out there – you’d quickly recognise it as an Ultrabook, sporting the familiar uniform of matte black and grey metal – but the Folio 1020 treads just the right line between understated and handsome. By business laptop standards, though, it’s gorgeous.
The workmanship that’s gone into crafting the Folio 1020 is outstanding. At 1.26kg, it’s nowhere near as feathery-light as Apple’s MacBook, but HP’s Folio 1020 feels exactly as a flagship laptop should. The combination of granite-tough build, smooth metals and a grippy, rubberised base are a delight.
Why mention the MacBook? For good reason. Despite one being focused on business, the other on pared-back simplicity, the Apple MacBook and the Folio 1020 have plenty of similarities. First, HP has followed Apple’s lead by opting for the Core M family of processors, surprisingly foregoing the Core i5 or i7 CPUs more commonly found in other high-end Ultrabooks.
Less controversial, however, is the decision to equip the Folio 1020 with an optional high-DPI touchscreen, one that promises to be every bit as captivating as the MacBook’s Retina display.
That, admittedly, is where the similarities end. For one thing, the HP is made of much hardier, more versatile stuff than its Apple cousin. How so? The Folio 1020 has survived the MIL-STD 810G tests for high and low temperature, altitude, humidity, dust vibration, shock and accidental falls. The two drain ports on the underside of this laptop allow liquid spillages to seep through the keyboard tray without doing irreparable damage. An occasional, ill-advised meeting with a glass of water or cup of tea won’t turn the Folio 1020 into a paperweight.
And where Apple has shorn the MacBook of all connectors bar a USB Type-C port and a headphone socket, HP has made no such compromise. A brief scout around the HP EliteBook Folio 1020’s predominantly metal shell reveals a pair of USB 3 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, microSD slot, headset jack and a proprietary docking connector. It’s thicker and heavier than the MacBook, but far more practical.
Wondering where the all-important Gigabit Ethernet and VGA connections have got to? Look in the box. You’ll find an adapter that hooks up to the 1020’s docking connector, providing both. Other all-important business essentials such as TPM 2 and a fingerprint reader have also made the cut. This is an ultraportable with few compromises.
Those who crave power, even in tiny packages, may rue HP’s decision to employ a Core M rather than a low-voltage Core i7, but it’s a sensible choice. You could argue that efficiency, rather than power, should take priority in a 12.5in chassis.
Few will even notice. Task a Core i7 and a Core M processor with brief, fleeting workloads, and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the two machines apart. The Core M architecture is designed specifically to open the throttle just long enough to meet brief spikes in demand, time enough to fire applications into life, or speed compute-heavy operations along, before easing back to its nominal clock speed to keep heat under control.
The combination of 8GB of RAM and speedy flash storage do a good job of masking the 1.1GHz Core M-5Y51’s limitations: it’s rare that the HP feels out of its depth. Not until you push the EliteBook with sustained workloads such as video editing or transcoding does it show signs of struggle – but these are jobs you’re unlikely to perform on a business laptop with any regularity.
The Folio 1020’s benchmark results eloquently prove the point. In our image-editing tests, which involve multiple short bursts of image processing, the HP is only 25% slower than a Core i5-powered 13in MacBook Air. In other words, it’s certainly no slouch.
In tests presenting a more sustained load – such as video transcoding – however, the HP is 39% slower. Understandably, though, it’s the sustained, multithreaded loads that really floor the Core M hardware. Here, the low-voltage design quickly reaches the limits of its capabilities: it was a whopping 85% slower than the Core i5-powered 13in MacBook Air in the multitasking tests.
If performance is a priority, then you can spend extra on a model with the faster Core M-5Y71 CPU, but don’t expect miracles. With a nominal clock speed that’s only 100MHz faster than the Core M-5Y51, and a Turbo Boost speed that’s only 300MHz faster, it won’t make a night-and-day difference.
The Core M has its positive points, however. No matter how hard you push the HP, there isn’t a whisper of noise: the Folio 1020 is completely fanless. Even then, the HP doesn’t get particularly hot. After several hours of chewing through our brutal multitasking test, the Folio 1020 was no more than warm to the touch. HP’s engineers have obviously done their homework.
Battery life is another plus point. With the screen brightness calibrated to 120cd/m² and Wi-Fi switched off, the Folio 1020’s 5,000mAh battery kept the laptop going for 6hrs 58mins. That’s more than long enough to survive a working day.
HP knows a thing or two about making a great display, and the Folio 1020 is no exception. I’m pretty fussy when it comes to image quality – I’ve seen more than my fair share of high-end monitors – and the HP’s high-DPI, 2,560 x 1,440 touchscreen is extremely good. Colours are natural and believable, and the high pixel density delivers pin-sharp text and images.
Put to the test, the HP’s display is on a par with the Apple MacBook’s Retina screen. Brightness reaches a respectable 354cd/m², contrast soars to 1,084:1, and the panel covers 93.6% of the sRGB colour gamut. Colour accuracy is on point too, with an average Delta E of 2.4 and a maximum deviation of 4.7. It’s one of the best displays I’ve ever seen equipped on a business laptop.
You could save cash by dispensing with the touchscreen altogether and opting for a Full HD display instead, but would I recommend it? No. At the time of writing, the price difference is around $340 – for that money, I’d take the Quad HD display every time.
There’s little to criticise about the Folio 1020’s keyboard: it’s superb. HP has combined a sensible, spacious layout with backlit keys that deliver a responsive feel and oodles of feedback. This might not be a big laptop, but the keyboard doesn’t feel cramped in the slightest. It really is as good as it gets; and it feels noticeably better than the 13in MacBook Pro I have in front of me.
The touchpad may divide opinion, however. Built on Synaptics’ ForcePad technology, the Folio 1020’s glass touchpad doesn’t actually move at all when you press it. Hear that click? It’s actually coming through the HP’s speakers; if you mute the audio, the touchpad is silenced. Unlike Apple’s Force Touch system, it provides no haptic feedback whatsoever.
It takes some getting used to, but in practice it works well; it feels smooth and highly responsive. If you want to click and drag an onscreen item, tap it to select, then simply maintain pressure on the pad, and drag it as normal. You can adjust the pressure required in the Synaptics control panel.
Would I prefer a traditional touchpad and separate buttons, though? Yes. Like me, you may miss the reassuring presence of a physical click, or even the haptic sensation of one. Make sure you try before you buy.
So that touchpad may end up costing the Folio 1020 some customers, which is a shame because this is a fantastic all-rounder. For me, there’s not one area where it falls short: it’s light, compact and capable, and it feels built to last. It’s a business laptop that’s as refined and desirable as a MacBook, yet there’s no compromise on connectivity or security.
If you need more power than the capable Core M can muster, that’s reason enough to look elsewhere, but otherwise there’s very little reason to criticise the HP EliteBook Folio 1020. The only problem is that you may not be able to afford it. I know I can’t.