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HP Elite Folio Review: A Twist On the Pull-Forward 2-in-1 | Digital Trends


“If you need a 2-in-1 that you can take anywhere and get work done, albeit a little more slowly, then the Elite Folio is a good choice.”

  • Comfortable construction thanks to vegan leather
  • Solid build quality
  • Pleasant display in 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Excellent keyboard and pen
  • Innovative 2-in-1 design
  • Performance limited to undemanding productivity
  • Battery life not as good as some ARM laptops
  • Only one angle in media mode

Laptop designs can be generic, but every once in a while, something breaks the mold. That describes the HP Spectre Folio when it launched in 2018.

It was a unique 2-in-1 — a leather-clad “pull-forward” design that stood out for its elegance and class. You can’t buy that machine any longer, but if you liked the form factor and the unusual materials, then HP has a new option for you, the Elite Folio. This new device follows the same design cues while being aimed at HP’s commercial customers.

But it’s not just a cookie-cutter copy of the Spectre Folio. The Elite Folio is notable for its use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2, the latest ARM processor available for Windows 10 laptops. My review unit was configured with said processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), a 3.5-inch IPS 3:2 display, and 4G LTE WWAN support. It’s an expensive laptop at $1,890, putting it solidly in premium territory. It’s an interesting design with unusual materials —  but is that enough to compete in the crowded business 2-in-1 market?

Design

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One of the biggest differences between the Elite Folio and the Spectre Folio is that the former is made with “vegan leather” rather than the genuine leather used in the latter. What’s “vegan leather,” you ask? Well, in a word, it’s plastic — technically, polyurethane. It’s called “vegan” because it’s not animal-based — obviously, a marketing rather than a technical distinction. Frankly, I don’t think the Elite Folio feels as warm and inviting — nor as supple — as the Spectre Folio. It’s just not as elegant.

The Elite Folio still looks a little like a leather-bound paper notebook, but the Spectre Folio emulates that feeling far better. However, the Elite Folio is still quite unique, and its all-black color scheme works well with the vegan leather, making for a laptop that’s not just another silver wedge.

Incidentally, the primary reason HP cites for using the vegan leather is that it bonds better with the magnesium frame. This allows for a tighter fit along the edges — the Spectre Folio’s leather wrapped around and added to the width and depth — and a slightly smaller chassis. I see the reasoning, but the vegan leather just doesn’t hold the same appeal.

Otherwise, the design is identical. The display flips in the middle thanks to the flexibility of the vegan leather material and can be pulled forward over the keyboard, forming a media mode. Pull it further forward, and it becomes a tablet with a slight angle. It’s a different take on the 2-in-1 and it works well, albeit with only one angle rather than the many angles available with a 360-degree convertible or tablet with a kickstand.

I found the display to be a little wobbly in clamshell mode, enough so that I noticed it while typing. Most 360-degree convertibles I’ve used, like the HP Spectre x360 14, have firmer hinges. And as with the Spectre Folio, the power button is on the keyboard and hidden in all but clamshell mode.

The Elite Folio feels quite robust, with no flexing or bending anywhere in the chassis. In this department, it’s the equal of the Spectre x360 14 and Dell XPS 13. That puts the Elite Folio in fine company, and you won’t feel like you need to baby the laptop just because of its unique materials and design. Only time will tell how the vegan leather holds up to wear and tear, though.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

In terms of its size, the Elite Folio is 0.63 inches thick and weighs 2.92 pounds. That compares to the Spectre x360 14 at 0.67 inches and 2.95 pounds and the XPS 13 at 0.58 inches and 2.8 pounds. While the metal portion of the Elite Folio’s base is quite thin, the lid is a bit thicker and the vegan leather adds additional bulk. The Elite Folio is therefore not as small as it might be if it were constructed purely of metal.

Connectivity isn’t the Elite Folio’s greatest strength. You get two USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 ports, one on each side (either will power the laptop), and a 3.5mm audio jack. That’s it. Thunderbolt isn’t supported, of course, because of the Qualcomm chipset. Wireless connectivity is robust, however, with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5. You can also choose between optional LTE 4 or 5G WWAN support, and there’s a SIM slot located next to the pen (more on that later). HP chose to go with 5G Sub6 here and not mmWave.

Performance

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So far, Windows on ARM processors has been underwhelming, and nothing like the superb performance that Apple squeezes out of its M1 ARM chip. The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 is supposed to provide improved performance, and while I would love to quantify this claimed improvement, it’s difficult due to the lack of support for many Windows legacy applications. Most of our benchmarks won’t run on the Elite Folio, so I can’t give much objective data.

I could run Geekbench 5, and here the Elite Folio managed a meager 770 in single-core mode and a slightly better 3,028 in multi-core mode. That compares to the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 1 in the Lenovo Flex 5G at 700 and 2,802, respectively — not much of an improvement. And, of course, it’s nothing compared to the scores achieved by Intel’s 11th-gen Core CPUs, not to mention the Ryzen 5000 chips and the Apple M1. The HP Spectre x360 14 with its Core i7-1165G7 hit 1,214 and 4,117, for example, while the Ryzen 7 5800U-equipped Asus ZenBook 13 UX325UA scored 1,423 and 6,758. Apple’s MacBook Air with the M1 blew away the field at 1,727 and 7,585. Only the Acer Aspire 5‘s Core i3-1115G4 scored similarly at 1,214 and 2,544. Going by this benchmark alone, the Elite Folio is a slow laptop.

In actual use, I found it to be snappy enough for typical productivity work like using Microsoft Office applications (which run natively on the chipset), web browsing, and the like. I couldn’t run any of our more robust benchmarks, such as the Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265 nor Cinebench 23 or our usual PCMark 10 benchmarks. But I wager the Elite Folio isn’t a machine that you’re going to want to use for editing large photos or any video. It’s fanless and completely quiet, which is a plus and a boon for battery life.

I also couldn’t test the graphics using our usual 3DMark benchmarks, and Fortnite wouldn’t install, so I couldn’t run that test, either. The Elite Folio isn’t a gaming machine, which is fine because it’s not intended to act like one.

Display and speakers

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

I also couldn’t test the display using my colorimeter for lack of supported drivers. And that’s a shame because it’s a lovely 13.5-inch IPS display in the productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio that I’d love to be able to quantify. Resolution is lower than I’d like at 1,920 x 1,280, just slightly higher than Full HD, but I’m probably more concerned about higher resolutions than the typical productivity user. The screen was sharp, just not as sharp as I like.

HP advertises 400 nits of brightness, and I’m sure the display approaches that metric. I never found it too dim in my usual working environment, but it wasn’t bright enough to use outside in the sunlight (as is the case with most laptops). HP offers its latest Sure View Reflect privacy screen as an option, and it’s much brighter at 1,000 nits with the privacy function turned off — making it an option for anyone who wants a very bright display.

Colors seemed bright and natural and not oversaturated. I can’t attest to the accuracy, but I saw nothing amiss as I used the display next to a Dell XPS 13. Netflix and other streaming video seemed neither too bright nor too dark, so gamma seems to be on point.

Overall, I enjoyed using the display. Taller displays are so much more functional than old-school 16:9 panels, and so I can see the Elite Folio making short work of longer we pages and documents.

The two upward-firing speakers to each side of the keyboard put out sufficient volume for watching YouTube videos and the occasional Netflix show. Mids and highs are clear and pleasant, but the bass is almost no-existent. It’s a good sound system for such a small laptop, but you’ll still want a pair of headphones for longer binge sessions and music listening.

Keyboard and touchpad

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Elite Folio utilizes a version of the Elite keyboard, which is similar to the version HP uses on its Spectre line but not exactly the same. It’s engineered to be consistent across the keyboard and very stable — and it shows. There’s also sufficient travel at 1.3mm, with a comfortable bottoming action and a light touch. I don’t find it quite as springy as the Spectre Folio’s keyboard, and so I still prefer that one to the Elite Folio’s, but the latter’s keyboard still ranks up there with the best.

The touchpad on the Elite Folio is slightly larger than the one on the Spectre Folio, thanks to the taller display and the additional space on the keyboard deck. It’s not quite as large as the touchpad on the Spectre x360 14. It was as responsive as all Microsoft Precision touchpads are, providing precise and reliable support for Windows 10’s multitouch gestures.

The Elite Folio’s display is touch-enabled and responsive. More interesting is the active pen that has its own dock and charging station above the keyboard. It’s a great solution for storing the pen, although it does make the pen flat rather than round. I found it quite comfortable in use, though. It supports 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt, and it works well with Windows 10’s inking capabilities. The 3:2 aspect ratio is also more comfortable for writing on the screen, being wider when held as a tablet in portrait mode and closer to a regular piece of paper in terms of dimensions. HP estimates that the pen’s charge will last for 10 days of three hours usage a day, but of course, you can keep it topped off just by storing it in its rightful place.

An infrared camera and facial recognition provide windows 10 Hello support, and I found it fast and reliable. HP built in a physical privacy shutter for the webcam, and so you’ll need to make sure that it’s open if you want to log in using your face.

Battery life

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

HP packed a 46 watt-hour battery into the Elite Folio’s diminutive chassis, which is less than some competitors. The Spectre x360 14, for example, has 67 watt-hours available. The Qualcomm CPU is supposed to be very efficient, however, and so I was expecting battery life to excel.

Once again, I was limited in the number of benchmarks I could run. The PCMark 10 tests wouldn’t run on the Elite Folio, so I was limited to just our web and video tests. In web testing, which runs through a series of popular webpages, the Elite Folio managed just under 11 hours, compared to the Lenovo Flex 5G with the previous-generation Snapdragon 8cx that went for 17 hours. The Elite Folio’s longevity on this test was barely better than average for recent Intel 11th-gen Tiger Lake laptops — and many lasted for far longer. The Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 with a Core i7-1165G7, for example, lasted for more than 1.5 hours longer. I expected better performance from the Elite Folio on this test.

On our video test that loops through a 1080p movie trailer, the Elite Folio lasted for 19-and-a-half hours. That’s a strong showing, but again, it’s well behind the Lenovo Flex 5G’s 28 hours. The Galaxy Book Pro 360 made it to 17.5 hours, and again the Elite Folio underwhelmed given its efficient ARM CPU.

There’s no doubt that the Elite Folio will last a full day of work, but it doesn’t quite live up to its processor’s promise. That might be due to the relatively small battery capacity, which is a function of the laptop’s diminutive base portion. Whatever the case, the HP Elite Folio lasts longer than your average Intel-based laptop, but it’s far from being the longest-lasting among the other Snapdragon-based laptops we’ve tested.

Our take

The Spectre Folio was a standout machine when it was introduced in 2018. Its leather was luxurious, and its design innovative. The Elite Folio offers the same design, modified slightly to be even more effective thanks to the display’s 3:2 aspect ratio. I’ll note that the vegan leather material isn’t as viscerally pleasing as the genuine leather on the Spectre Folio, but it’s still more comfortable than bare metal.

The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 underwhelmed. Its performance wasn’t much improved over the previous generation, and it remains a slower CPU that complicates things with limited application compatibility. And the Elite Folio’s battery life is competitive with Intel-based laptops, but it should be better. It’s not bad; it’s just doesn’t live up to its potential.

Overall, the laptop is pleasant to use, with a great keyboard and pen, and it offers fast always-on connectivity options. If you need a 2-in-1 that you can take anywhere and get work done, albeit a little more slowly, then the Elite Folio is a good choice.

Are there any alternatives?

The Lenovo Flex 5G might use the previous-generation processor, but it performs almost as well as the Elite Folio and gets far better battery life. As with our other alternatives, it’s also several hundred dollars less. You’ll just have to give up the pull-forward design and the vegan leather.

The HP Spectre x360 14 is a superior 2-in-1 in terms of performance and, with a lower resolution display, competes in battery life. We reviewed the model with the OLED display, and that machine is less expensive than the Elite Folio while offering a vastly superior visual experience.

The Dell XPS 13 9310 is a solid choice if you don’t need a 2-in-1. It’s just as well-built, also has an excellent keyboard, and outperforms the Elite Folio. Get the Full HD display and you’ll see similar battery life while spending hundreds less.

How long will it last?

The Elite Folio should last for years thanks to a robust build — as long as the vegan leather material holds out, which we won’t know until it’s been subjected to the usual treatment. There’s only a one-year warranty, which is industry standard and disappointing for a commercial laptop.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if you need to work anywhere and you like the pull-forward 2-in-1 design.

Editors’ Recommendations






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