After the glass splendour of its Envy Spectre 14, HP’s other Ultrabook is much more understated. The Folio 13 drops the screen size down to 13.3in, does away with the stylish sheets of Gorilla Glass, and slashes the price to a seriously tempting $1126.
HP has got the look and feel of the Folio 13 just right. The brushed-aluminium lid contrasts with the smooth, solid-feeling plastics moulded to the underside, and the chassis’ tapered edges make for a deliciously designed laptop. In fact, every inch exudes luxury: build quality is excellent, without a hint of flex, and the combination of soft-touch plastics and cold metal feels great.
That pristine exterior hides a solid mid-range specification. The 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M processor is a familiar sight, as is the 4GB of DDR3 RAM, but we’re glad to see HP hasn’t scrimped on storage: the Folio packs in a 128GB Samsung SSD. It isn’t the fastest SSD we’ve seen in an Ultrabook – sequential read and write speeds peaked at a modest 208MB/sec and 190MB/sec, about half that of the best – but it’s fast enough, as proven by a solid 0.56 in our Real World Benchmarks.
That performance doesn’t come at the expense of stamina, either. Our light-use battery test saw the Folio 13 last for a perfectly good 8hrs 12mins. Of the Ultrabook competition, only the Asus Zenbook UX31E can better that significantly, with 8hrs 53mins.
HP hasn’t skimped on the essentials. A single USB 3 port sits next to a full-sized HDMI output, a Gigabit Ethernet socket and an SD card reader, while another USB 2 port and a combined headphone/microphone socket are pushed to the right-hand edge. The presence of only single-band Wi-Fi is disappointing, but you do at least get Bluetooth 3. Unlike most of the more affordable Ultrabooks, HP has fitted the Folio 13 with a backlit keyboard – a genuinely useful addition.
It all makes for a laptop that’s a pleasure to use. The keyboard’s Scrabble-tile keys depress with a soft, cushioned stroke, and the large right-Shift key and spacious layout make for fast, accurate touch-typing. The rubberised finish of the keys is worth a mention, too: in addition to feeling lovely under the finger, it provides some welcome grip.
The touchpad is fine. The buttons are integrated into the pad, with the left- and right-click zones demarcated by a grey border, but it’s possible to left-click across most of the pad, either by pressing down or with a light tap. Should you find your palms interfering, a double-tap in the top-left corner disables the touchpad, with a light letting you know it’s off.
Cursor control is responsive, and two-fingered zooming and scrolling gestures work well. Three- and four-fingered gestures are more erratic, but occasionally useful: horizontal swipes skip back and forth through web pages, and four-fingered gestures flick between applications or open Flip 3D. Thankfully, should you find yourself activating gestures by mistake, you can disable them in the Synaptics Control Panel.
If the Folio 13 has a notable weakness, it’s the display. It looks acceptable in isolation, perhaps due to the glossy finish, but closer examination reveals it to be as average as many peers. Brightness peaks at a modest 223cd/m2, and the low 193:1 contrast ratio leaves it struggling to reproduce fine detail in the brightest and darkest areas of our test photos. The resolution is none too impressive either, with a bog-standard 1366 x 768 panel. It’s usable, but those after a higher resolution and better image quality will need to look to Samsung’s Series 9 or Apple’s MacBook Air.
We didn’t expect HP’s latest Ultrabook to deliver a knockout blow for only $1126, but the Folio 13 punches well above its weight. Great build and looks go hand in hand with all-day battery life; the ergonomics are good, if not great; and only the display leaves room for improvement. It still doesn’t get the heart pumping quite like Dell’s XPS 13 or a Zenbook UX31E, but if you’re looking for an all-rounder the Folio 13 is unbeatable at this price.