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HP Elite Folio Review: Pleather for the Pros

HP Elite Folio
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Our Verdict

The HP Elite Folio is a long-lasting, quiet laptop/tablet combo, but it offers a middling performance for a high price.

For

  • + Versatile design
  • + Runs very cool and quiet
  • + 3:2 Display
  • + Full-sized stylus charges in keyboard
  • + Long battery life

Against

  • - Display could be brighter
  • - Windows on Arm has app compatibility issues
  • - Middling performance
  • - Few ports
  • - Pricey

There are a few laptops that fall into what I call an "executive notebook." These are high-end, sometimes overly designed business laptops that you rarely see the rank-and-file office worker use. The new HP Elite Folio ($1,747.20 to start, $2,063.36 as tested) seems destined, with its vegan leather exterior and high price tag, for the C-suite.

HP has gone with Windows on Arm here, which means that the laptop runs quiet and has excellent battery life. But even as Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors get more powerful and Windows on Arm slowly improves, there are still compatibility and performance sacrifices, so it's not always fitting for the best ultrabooks.

But for those who rely on a stylus for writing on-screen or want a versatile form factor for various situations, you may be able to overlook that as long as you don't use compute-heavy software. And if you value style, of course. 

Design of  HP Elite Folio  

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HP Elite Folio

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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HP Elite Folio

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HP Elite Folio

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

HP's new Folio means business. Or at least, it looks like it. The HP Elite Folio is a new, more professional take on a previous design. This laptop isn't clad in metal, but rather polyurethane vinyl — or, as you might call it, vegan leather. Or as I call it, "pleather." Unlike the old Spectre x360 13, which used real leather and came in brown, this is a more subdued black.

The result is a notebook that looks a bit like a briefcase, minus the handle, of course. If it didn't have an HP logo on the lid under some stitching, I'd expect to see an intern carrying their resume in it. There's no place to put your thumb to easily open the laptop, so I typically found myself requiring two hands to do so, which was a pain.

With the laptop open, it looks more traditional. There's a 13.5-inch, 1920 x 1280 display in a 3:2 aspect ratio with a surprisingly thick bezel on the top. The deck features a backlit keyboard and also includes a spot to store and charge the included HP Slim Pen. This is a page straight out of the playbook Microsoft used with the Surface Pro X.

But the Surface Pro X is a true 2-in-1 detachable, and the Elite Folio has a different trick up its sleeve. The screen is on a hinge, and it can be brought forward into an easel mode that covers the keyboard but leaves the touchpad clear. You can also slide it further forward to be a tablet. (You could, if you wanted, also flip the screen upside down on the back of the device and use the display to watch videos or give presentations. This isn't listed among HP's options, but it works.)

The laptop looks like leather, but it doesn't feel like it. It's soft to the touch but definitely has a plasticky feel. For those wondering, yes, I did smell the laptop. While it pulls off a leather look, it can't match the real thing's fragrance.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

I can't speak to how well this will hold up over months and years of use. In the immediate sense, it did manage to pick up minor scuffs or schmutz on my desk, but I could wipe it off with a damp cloth.

Port selection is extremely minimal, with a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C port on either side of the laptop and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right side.

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HP Elite Folio

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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HP Elite Folio

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HP's notebook is 2.92 pounds and measures 11.75 x 9.03 x 0.63 inches. That's similar to the Lenovo Flex 5G (2.9 pounds, 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches), a convertible 2-in-1. The Microsoft Surface Pro X is 2.4 pounds (with the keyboard attached) and 11.3 x 8.2 x 0.3 inches. An Intel-based clamshell, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, is 2 pounds and 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches.

HP Elite Folio Specifications

CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2
GraphicsQualcomm Adreno 690 (integrated)
Memory16GB LPDDR4-4266 SDRAM
Storage512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
Display13.5-inch, 1920 x 1280 touchscreen
NetworkingQualcomm QCA639X Wi-Fi 6 Dual Band and Bluetooth 5, Qualcomm Snapdragon X20 LTE Cat 16
Ports2x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, nano SIM card slot
Camera720p IR
Battery46 WHr
Power Adapter65 W
Operating SystemWindows 10 Pro
Dimensions(WxDxH)11.75 x 9.03 x 0.63 inches / 298.45 x 229.36 x 16 mm
Weight2.92 pounds / 1.32 kg
Price (as configured)$1,998.72

Windows 10 on Arm 

The HP Elite Folio uses the latest Windows on Arm platform, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2. That comes with its benefits (long battery life, quiet), but in terms of performance and app compatibility, it's certainly lacking. 

To be clear, that's the case on all Windows on Arm laptops at the moment. Apple has used Arm too on its most recent laptops with its M1 chips, with far greater success.

Windows on Arm can run 32-bit apps, but not 64-bit apps. That functionality is coming but is currently limited to Windows Insider builds, which you're unlikely to see in a business environment. An increasing number of apps are running natively on Windows on Arm, including Office, browsers like Edge and Firefox, and some of Adobe's, but the rest require emulation. Others that run natively include the popular media player VLC, Netflix, Twitter, Skype, and Windows Terminal.

Perhaps the most reliable place to get apps that work on the processor, native or not, is through the Windows store, which largely filters apps that don't work with Arm. 

Productivity Performance of HP Elite Folio 

Here, we're comparing the Folio, which has an 8cx Gen 2, with two other Arm laptops, the Lenovo Flex 5G with the last-gen Snapdragon, and the Microsoft Surface Pro X with SQ1, Microsoft's entry-level offering. We also tossed the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano in the mix for a business notebook using an x86 platform, namely Intel's 11th Gen processors. 

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HP Elite Folio

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HP Elite Folio

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On Geekbench 5, which measures overall system performance, the HP Elite Folio notched a single-core score of 792 and a dual-core score of 3,115. The Lenovo Flex 5G's  729/2,923 suggest the newer chip has its advantage in multi-core workloads, though this test is run through emulation, which has to be kept in mind. The Surface Pro X isn't in this test, as we were still running Geekbench 4 when we tested it. The ThinkPad X1 Nano's scores were 1,473/5,155, with the test running natively.

The Elite Folio transferred 25GB of files at 666.5 MBps, faster than both the Flex 5G and ThinkPad X1 Nano. The Surface Pro X was run on an older, 5GB version of the test, and that was the slowest of the batch.

Our Handbrake test currently doesn't run on Arm chips, though it is starting to be included in early "nightly" builds. Our Cinebench R23 stress test is also incompatible with Arm. These will change when 64-bit support becomes a finalized part of Windows 10. 

Display on HP Elite Folio

I'm glad that HP went with a 3:2 display on the Elite Folio. Simply put, 3:2 is the best aspect ratio for productivity laptop displays because the extra height lets you see more content on your screen at once. This 13.5-inch touchscreen has a resolution of 1920 x 1280.  

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

I found the laptop to be bright enough for productivity, but when you switch to multimedia, it's a mixed bag. In the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of  the Ten Rings, the color red popped in car paint, lights and a number of outfits. But a series of dim scenes in a montage made me wish I could turn up the brightness (though the dimness made for great contrast in a scene with purple backlighting).

HP's screen covers 70.7% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, which is just about in line with the Surface Pro X and ThinkPad X1 Nano. The Lenovo Flex 5G was more vivid at 81.4%

The Folio was the dimmest of the bunch with an average of 390 nits. The Surface Pro X was the brightest, measuring 448 nits.

Keyboard, Touchpad and Stylus on HP Elite Folio

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HP Elite Folio

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HP Elite Folio

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HP has implemented a keyboard with 1.3mm of travel into this small device. I didn't have any issues with travel, but when I typed, I felt that the keys were a bit too stiff. It didn't stop me from typing quickly; I hit 110 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test. But accuracy suffered slightly.

The 4.2 x 2.6-inch touchpad uses Windows precision drivers, and with a smooth, metal surface, I found it responsive and easy to glide my fingers against. Simple navigation and more complex gestures worked on the first try. It clicks a bit louder than some other touchpads, but I can get over that.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

HP's Slim Pen lives in a dock above the keyboard, which also keeps it charged. It's long and flat, more like a carpenter's pencil than your standard writing instrument. It has a rocker on the side, which can be unwieldy because of how thin the buttons are. The button on the top, however, is easy to access. That comes at the expense of using it as an eraser like the Surface Pen, however.

I found that the Elite Folio's screen offered solid palm rejection. The Pen uses Wacom drivers and offers 4,096 degrees of pressure sensitivity. HP claims it fast charges in 30 minutes, though in my use, it's home in the laptop meant it was always topped off.

Audio on HP Elite Folio

HP's partnership with Bang & Olufsen on its speakers continues to bear fruit. While there's no software to tune the speakers yourself, they sound decent considering how thin this device is.

For instance, when I listened to Chvrches' "He Said She Said," the crashing drums, synths melodies and vocals were loud, clear and crisp. There was, however, a distinct lack of bass, which is a problem on many laptops.

One downside, however, is that the speakers vibrate a lot, and I could feel it under my hands on the touchpad and keyboard. While this isn't unique to this laptop, it was far more distracting on the Folio than other devices.

Upgradeability of  HP Elite Folio 

In theory, the HP Elite Folio is upgradeable. HP has a video showing the process:

This is aimed at service technicians, and for good reason. The design means you have to do things in a weird order, like removing the pen slot from the keyboard before opening the chassis.

The RAM is soldered to the motherboard, but the SSD is upgradeable. The only rub there is that to actually change out the storage, you have to remove the entire thermal system. Some enthusiasts may be comfortable with that, but for most people, that's a step too far.

Battery Life 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Elite Folio's Arm processor excels in the one place you would expect it: battery life. On our test, which involves browsing the web, running OpenGL tests and streaming video over Wi-Fi, all at 150 nits, the Folio lasted for 15 hours and 21 minutes. It was outclassed only by the Lenovo Flex 5G, using a last-gen Snapdragon processor, which ran for 17:30.

Microsoft's Surface Pro X with the SQ1 ran for 9:30, while the Intel-based ThinkPad X1 Nano lasted for 12 hours flat.

Heat on  HP Elite Folio 

Because we couldn't run our Cinebench R23 workload due to compatibility issues, we took the HP Elite Folio's skin temperatures following 15 minutes of streaming video from YouTube. The fanless system was quiet and kept very cool.

The center of the keyboard, between the G and H keys, measured 27.8 degrees Celsius (82.04 degrees Fahrenheit). The touchpad was cooler at 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

The hottest point on the bottom of the laptop measured 30.3 degrees Celsius.  

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HP Elite Folio

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HP Elite Folio

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A 720p webcam in an executive notebook after more than a year of white-collar workers have been doing their jobs from home? Excuse me?

Stills and trial video from my desk, even in good lighting, were grainy. And colors, like a blue shirt I was wearing, were overly dark.

There is a physical webcam privacy switch, which covers the camera but doesn't cut power to the hardware like some other HP laptops. It's very small, and you need to use your fingernail to move it in either direction.

There are also IR sensors to log in to Windows 10 with facial recognition. This worked well, with the exception that you need both the cameras and the IR sensor for this to work. If you close the privacy cover, you can't use it to log in. That's a choice you have to make between privacy and convenience.

HP has limited the amount of software it includes on this laptop, which is a benefit, especially on an enterprise laptop. There are no crappy antivirus software trials or ports of phone games.

The two big pieces of software are HP Pen Settings, which lets you pair the included stylus and customize its functionality; and HP QuickDrop, which lets you send files and photos across your laptop and smartphone.

HP Pen Settings has a number of clever options, including assigning commands that would be useful to go through slides or play media while giving presentations. There's also a way to get a virtual dial on the screen when holding a button down.

While this laptop has Microsoft Office preinstalled, at least it doesn't include links to sponsored Microsoft Store applications. 

HP sells the Elite Folio with a 1-year warranty. It can be boosted to three years for an extra $75.

As of this writing, HP is selling the Elite Folio in both a ready-to-ship configuration and customizable configurations.

The quick-ship one is $1,889 with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2, 16GB of RAM and 256GB SSD, as well as an LTE modem.

We reviewed it with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB storage and an LTE modem. That runs for $2,063.36.

If you want a 1,000-nit display with HP's Sure View privacy, that's an extra $169. A 4G modem is $201, while a 5G modem is $444.

The base model, with Windows 10 Home instead of Pro, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD and no mobile connection is $1,747.20.

Prices on the Folio seem to be fluctuating on HP's website, so they may vary after this article was published. 

Bottom Line

 The HP Elite Folio review has a versatile design and, if you're into the office chair aesthetic, a fake leather exterior that fits in any office.

HP's Slim Pen is nice, and the fact that it is full-sized and can still charge by sitting in the system is a big plus for anyone who does a lot of writing on screen. The different screen modes will also be helpful for people who use touch screens a lot.

But while relying on the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 means long battery life and quiet operation, there are a series of small sacrifices that are made, largely based on Windows on Arm and app compatibility. Some apps work, some are emulated and 64-bit apps, while coming, aren't ready for prime time right now, without downloading a beta version of the OS. These aren't problems unique to the Elite Folio -- they're the same on the Lenovo Flex 5G and the Microsoft Surface Pro X.

If the chassis, touch screen and functionality allowed by the display-on-a-hinge design will make your job easier, this is worth considering. But for many, an x86 business notebook, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano with an Intel processor, can run more software, do it faster, and is cheaper in some configurations. 

  • Howardohyea
    Personally I'd say there isn't much to this laptop. It is enough for some basic office tasks with the ARM processor but even a single glance at the Geekbench scores told me it isn't for me (I need the processing power).

    But anyways excellent review, I wonder will ARM gain traction and bring the competition to high end notebooks or even desktops?
    Reply
  • srimasis
    Windows on ARM is really stupid. Windows don't have the luxury of APP integration like MacBooks have. Plus many Windows software can't even run properly on the weak ARM hardware even if they make it ARM compatible.

    AMD must make a fanless x86 CPU to rival the M1 apple CPUs using the 5nm process. A 5watt 6c12t cpu with 5nm RDNA 2 or 3 graphics with less CUs to fit the power budget should do the trick. This setup will make ARM Windows Laptops obsolete.
    Reply
  • wr3zzz
    I am still using the original Spectre Folio, the last notebook to rock a fanless Y-series CPU. Performance is a bit lacking occasionally because the Y but not having any fan noise is worth the tradeoff having the notebook in meetings. However, I would not trade fanless for ARM Windows. If Y is lacking there is no way ARM can do better in emulation mode.

    The brown leather on the Folio has aged extremely well. I only wish it came with 16:10 display rather than 16:9. 3:2 might be the current trend but hardly anyone makes 3:2 desktop monitors and most of the time the notebook is used in docking mode.
    Reply