The most attractive Windows ultra-portable yet, HP's EliteBook Folio G1 also offers military-grade toughness.
It's possible the EliteBook Folio G1 is the ultraportable laptop you've been dreaming of. Ever since the sub-1kg MacBook arrived on the scene, Apple’s featherweight has been emptying bank accounts across the globe and competitors have been in short supply.
Now, finally, HP has provided a MacBook alternative that doesn't require you to move away from Windows.
Spending north of $2,600 sets a certain level of expectation, but the Folio G1 delivers. The look and feel is unashamedly luxurious, and HP has given the Folio G1 a sharply angled design. If polished diamond-cut CNC aluminium is your thing, you'll love it.
Build quality is impeccable. HP has subjected the Folio G1 to a barrage of military-grade tests – the MIL-810-STD certification – which consist of dropping the device 26 times from 76cm onto a hard floor, caking it with dust and subjecting it to extremes of altitude and temperature.
Suffice to say, this is a featherweight laptop that's certified to survive a battering. Rigid plates of metal are clasped together with a chromed cylindrical hinge, and the Folio G1 has a reassuringly solid heft to it.
It's not heavy, though: the 4K touchscreen version that we tested weighs only 1.07kg, and the entry-level Full HD model knocks that down to 970g by dumping the touchscreen and the protective layer of Gorilla Glass. That’s only 50g heavier than the Apple MacBook.
The most refined ultraportable yet?
Sitting down with the Folio G1 for the first time is a revelatory experience. The 12.5-inch 4K touchscreen is pin-sharp, bright and gloriously colourful, and that was confirmed in our testing. The display produced squint-inducing brightness levels, along with excellent results with contrast, colour accuracy and range of colours.
The ability to reach out to touch and interact with onscreen elements is a welcome bonus (and not possible on the MacBook, of course), and the keyboard and touchpad are also more than capable of giving the MacBook a run for its money.
The keyboard, in particular, is a highlight. Where the MacBook’s wide, short-travel keys aren't everyone’s cup of tea, the Folio G1 feels just like a good keyboard should. Each key gives roughly twice as much travel as the MacBook, and typing feels markedly more positive as a result.
The touchpad doesn't quite scale the same world-beating heights, but this is mainly because it lacks OS X’s intuitive array of gesture controls. The hardware itself works flawlessly, and the ability to disable it with a quick double-tap in the top-left corner is handy, too.
As for ports, HP has equipped the Folio G1 with just two Thunderbolt 3-enabled USB Type-C ports and a headphone jack. To be fair, though, that is 100 percent more connectivity than you get on the MacBook, and the MacBook's port is slower, supporting “only” USB 3.1.
And if none of this sounds remotely exciting, then get this: the Folio G1 has an infrared 720p webcam. No, this isn’t specifically to improve to your night-time selfies but is instead intended to take advantage of Windows 10 Pro’s facial-recognition login feature, Hello. Combine the webcam, TPM 2 authentication and your face, and you have a super-secure login mechanism that doesn't require you to type anything.
Performance and battery life
Fall for the charms of the Folio G1 and you’ll be presented with a few choices. The cheapest model (currently $2,635 at HP’s Australian online store) features a 1.1GHz Intel Core m5-6Y54 with 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD and a non-touchscreen Full HD display.
The top-end model, meanwhile, bumps up the price to $3,220, but offers a 1.2GHz Core m7-6Y75, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 4K touchscreen.
We tested the faster of the two and it was flawless. We’re fans of Intel's Core m processors, though. As long as you don't task them with heavy, extended workloads, they generally feel as quick as notebooks with higher-power Core i processors.
Of course, the Folio G1 was significantly slower than latest generation Core i7-equipped models in our tough video-encoding and multitasking tests, but it's right up there with rival Core m devices.
HP has dropped the ball in some ways, though. One disappointment is that high-speed NVMe SSDs don’t appear to be an option here in Australia. Instead, you'll have to make do with standard mSATA solid-state drives.
The SSD in our review unit didn't come close to the speeds of the drives in the Apple MacBook or even HP’s own ZBook Studio for that matter. Admittedly, the difference in most real-world tasks may be slight, but the ability to whisk around gigabytes of data in seconds can make a tangible difference when you’re really pushing a laptop to the limit.
But battery life is the biggest disappointment, as the 4K touchscreen in our review unit took its toll in our testing. With four times the pixels of the Full HD variant, power consumption soars, and in our video-rundown tests, with the HP lasted only 4 hours 41 minutes. That’s less than half as long as the Apple MacBook, which lasted 10 hours 12 minutes.
However, according to other online reviews, the cheaper Full HD version actually fares pretty well for stamina – not far behind the 2016 Apple MacBook.
In the midst of the 1990s, back when some marketing genius first coined the term "ultraportable", the technology simply was not up to the job. Achieving an acceptable balance between performance, usability, build quality and battery life was impossible; sacrifices had to be made. Slow processors, low-resolution screens and dreadful battery life were the norm.
Now, in 2016, HP is attempting to show just how far we've come with the EliteBook Folio G1.
It's beautifully constructed (with MIL-810-STD-certified toughness), light, and powerful enough to do almost everything you could ask of it. But while the 4K display is undeniably beautiful, the drain on battery life makes it hard to recommend unless you’re rarely away from mains power for more than half a day.
We’d go for the $2,635 Full HD version instead. But is it worth the premium over the $1,999 Apple MacBook?