Review: HP's EliteBook Folio 1040 Earns Points for Speed


Hewlett-Packard has shed its bulky-but-rugged commercial laptops in favor of sleek-but-rugged ones. Its latest, the EliteBook Folio 1040, is as handsome as it is durable, thanks to Intel's Ultrabook spec and HP's adherence to MIL-STD 810G endurance standards. It's also fast, offers long battery life, is reasonably priced and can be serviced by resellers with the right training and tools.

But the Folio 1040 isn't all upside. A new Synaptics touchpad left us feeling out of touch and its speakers were easy to overdrive to the point of distortion. There's also a two-port dongle that if lost deprives the system of Gigabit Ethernet and VGA connections. However, removing those ports from the body allows the new Folio to shed some weight and shave one-tenth of an inch from its thickness. "We're targeting the highly mobile user, so we're being aggressive about keeping the 1000-series EliteBooks sleek and thin," said Jeff Cowell, product manager for EliteBook Folio 1040. "To do that we had to remove those ports, but we added the dongle in case they sometimes require wired connections." An optional docking station also does the trick, adding four USB ports for good measure. Built into the unit is a (dongle-free) DisplayPort 1.2 port, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, two USB 3.0 ports (one for charging), a microSD slot and a backward-compatible docking port.

Enterprise IT and security departments will find favor with HP's high-end EliteBook. One recent addition to HP's security arsenal is Embedded Sure Start (ESS), a hardware-based boot-block protection scheme that resides in the BIOS and is invisible to the CPU (and therefore to viruses). "When we boot, we recognize if the BIOS has been tampered with and, if so, it restores the last known good BIOS," he explained. This enables administrators to conduct system BIOS updates without fear of power interruption. "We've always feared that," said Cowell, but added that its main benefit is for virus protection such as those that attack at the root. "Some of the attacks we're seeing get in before the OS and before virus protection kicks in. ESS prevents that from happening," he said.  

HP's built-in software further protects the device, its data and user identities by prompting to add a Windows password, activating HP's SpareKey feature (for forgotten passwords), enrolling fingerprints (using the included biometric scanner) and encrypting drive contents. There's also a secure shred option for file deletions and a toggle for preventing use of removable storage. Hardware drive encryption also is available. ESS is a part of all EliteBook products and some other HP commercial laptops.

Shrouded in machined aluminum, the handsome 13.3 x 9.2-inch Folio 1040 is a sturdy machine that feels comfortable to the touch and weighs just 3.3 pounds. A right-angle power connector protrudes minimally. A wide wrist rest gives way gently to a raised, backlit keyboard with average travel. Function keys perform the usual dedicated functions for activating an external monitor and sleep mode, controlling volume, keyboard and screen backlights, plus a lighted one for disabling the touchpad. Working the function keys is a two-key operation. Outside the keyboard are lighted buttons dedicated to power, Wi-Fi and mute.

The newest feature of the Folio 1040 is its 4 x 2.5-inch Synaptics ForcePad. This new type of multigesture touchpad is comfortable and responsive enough for cursor control, but we had trouble adjusting to its clicking method. Instead of tapping left and right buttons, clicks are made by applying pressure to the left or right side of the pad, which rocks in the corresponding direction. The rocking action on the tested unit seemed a bit too stiff. It might loosen over time, but this might take some getting used to. Helpful for getting started, a speaker sound plays whenever the pad is pressed hard enough to register a click. The pressure-sensitive pad enables features such as continuous scrolling for long documents and compatibility with pressure-sensitive apps. Pressure and movement settings are adjustable.   

For testing, HP sent a high-end unit with an Intel Core i7-4650U 1.7GHz dual-core Haswell processor running 64-bit Windows 7 Pro from a 256-GB SSD. A top score of 9,361 was good enough to land the Folio 1040 in fifth place on CRN's Top Ten Laptops list. As for battery life, the system played a digital video file continuously for 4 hours and 26 minutes with all radios on and the 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 screen cranked to full brightness. Graphics are controlled by Intel's HD Graphics 5000.

The EliteBook Folio 1040 is shipping now starting at $1,299. It's also available with an Intel Core i5 processor, and NFC and 802.11 ac wireless communications. A touch-screen option will be available starting March 26. For its performance, durability and serviceability by resellers in the field, the CRN Test Center recommends the HP EliteBook Folio 1040.  

PUBLISHED MARCH 6, 2014