$949 (Currently $835.99 from Amazon.com)
In this column I have reviewed several Ultrabooks—the latest ultra-thin, highly portable notebook PCs attempting to take on Apple’s Macbook Air. This week, I take a look at HP’s offering—the Folio 13. While HP is positioning the Folio 13 for enterprise (business) use, it offers a good combination of portability, performance and value that appeals to consumers, too.
After looking at several Ultrabooks over the last few months, they kind of all blend together. It would take a lot at this point to really set one apart from another, at least in terms of look and design. As I have written in the past, I am not looking for a work of art from a notebook PC. I am looking for functionality and utility, and the HP Folio 13 delivers that in an understated package.
Taking it out of the box, I was surprised to note that the Folio 13 is “heavier” than the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook I reviewed last month. It tells you how far technology has come when we start quibbling over a few ounces (four, to be exact). The Folio 13 tips the scales at 3.25 pounds, versus 2.99 pounds for the XPS 13 and 2.5 pounds for the Toshiba Portege. A comparable Macbook Air weighs 2.96 pounds.
The Folio 13 measures 12.54 inches by 8.67 inches by 0.7 inches, giving it a slightly smaller footprint than the Macbook Air. As its name suggests, the Folio 13 has a 13.3-inch display surrounded by a black matte bezel. The display is one of the more solid I have run across on an Ultrabook; there is no wobble to it. It has the samestandard 1366 by 768 resolution you will find on most other Ultrabooks. The display is glossy, which I am not a big fan of. However, the glare isn’t too annoying in bright-light situations. My biggest complaints with the display are that it is comparatively dim, even at its highest brightness, white backgrounds have a hint of gray to them and colors aren’t as sharp as what I have seen on other Ultrabooks. It doesn’t make for a horrible viewing experience, but it is definitely middle-of-the-road. The other knock is that colors quickly fade once you go off-center. Change the angle of the screen and the image quality drops off dramatically. While that may make it difficult for the person sitting next to you on the plane to see what you are working on, it cuts the other way when you want to show someone what’s on the screen.
The touchpad is one of the better I have seen on an Ultrabook and would probably be the best if it wasn’t for its rubberized coating. The touchpad is responsive, supports multi-touch gesturing, and it even has an on/off button to help avoid “mishits” when typing. But after a while, the rubberized coating collects grease from your fingers, making it significantly less responsive. I had to wipe it down every few days (and I wanted to wash my hands after using it).
It is amazing how much Ultrabook makers talk about their keyboards. Since it is the primary input device, it makes sense that it’s not treated as an afterthought. Yet each Ultrabook I have tested claims to have “the best” keyboard. Well, based on my experience, I think HP can rightfully stake that claim. Typing on the HP Folio 13 is a delight. I prefer clicky-key keyboards, mainly for the tactile response I get when typing. With the HP Folio 13, you get a satisfying sound and feel when typing, letting you know your keystrokes are true. Furthermore, HP has been kind enough to offer backlighting, which you can toggle on and off with the F5 key (which doesn’t require using the Fn key). The keys are proportioned and laid out well. The positioning and size of the arrow keys takes a little getting used to, but overall, this keyboard is by far the best I’ve seen on an Ultrabook.
The Dolby Advanced Audio speaker bar runs the width of the Folio 13 and provides an adequate listening experience. I was a little disappointed by how “thin” music sounded, but it didn’t suffer from any distortion at high volumes. Unlike the Dell XPS 13, there is no preinstalled equalizer software that may have allowed me to beef up the sound.
Unlike the Dell XPS 13, the HP Folio 13 is bristling with input ports. On the left side are full-sized connectors for 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, and USB 3.0. Furthermore, there is an SD/MMC memory card slot. If you have read any of my previous Ultrabook reviews, this seemingly innocuous feature is overlooked by most manufacturers. On the right there is a USB 2.0 port and 3.5mm headphone/microphone plug. Despite this relatively robust collection of ports, I still would like to see more manufacturers put side-by-side USB ports on their systems. In addition, it is missing a VGA port for plugging in an older monitor or projector.
For wireless connectivity, the Folio 13 offers 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth. As mentioned, the Folio 13 also has an Ethernet connection for wired networking. However, the Folio 13-1020us does not support Intel’s Wireless Displayfor beaming video/audio to an enabled HDTV set. You can find this option on built-to-order models from hp.com.
The HP Folio 13-1020us comes with a second-generation Intel Core i5-2467M 1.6GHz processor, standard fare for most Ultrabooks, as is the 4G of memory and 128G solid-state drive).
For video conferencing and chat, the Folio 13 comes with an integrated webcam.
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) comes standard with the Folio 13 and a fair amount of bloatware, including a number of HP utilities that I promptly deleted. The Folio 13 comes with Microsoft Office Starter, Windows Live Essentials, Adobe Reader, Evernote, Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer and Skype, among others.
Like the other Ultrabooks I’ve reviewed, the Folio 13 is great for pretty much anything you want to do with a PC, except gaming. Looking at the performance tests on various sites, the HP Folio 13-1020us is in the middle to upper range among its peers. From a cold boot, it takes the Folio 13’s hard drive (a Samsung PM 810 SSD) roughly 20 seconds to start and three seconds to resume from sleep mode.
The six-cell 59WHr lithium-ion polymer battery built into the HP Folio delivers plenty of power so you don’t have to constantly hunt for an outlet. The six-cell battery makes the Folio 13 a bit beefier than other Ultrabooks, but I think the heaviness is a worthwhile trade-off for the extra power.
HP claims up to nine hours of battery life, which you can probably achieve by turning everything off while it’s not in use. But what really matters is real-world experience. In my testing, I was able to get nearly seven hours of “typical” usage, including wireless usage, on the most frugal power settings. Disabling the Wi-Fi would increase the battery life. Looking at other performance tests, the HP Folio 13’s battery is one of the best around.
After being disappointed by the last few Ultrabooks I’ve reviewed, the HP Folio 13 may be benefitting from my reduced expectations. But, in truth, it has earned my praise. My only real complaints are with the display, which most Ultrabook makers are grappling with.
The HP Folio 13 is a well-built system that delivers more than enough power for the typical PC user. Its battery life is perfect for road warriors and its weight, although not the lightest, eases the load when traveling. Throw in a superb keyboard and such attention to detail as a backlit keyboard, an SSD/MMC slot and Ethernet connector, and you have a well-rounded, full-featured machine. Lastly, with a suggested retail price of $949, the HP Folio 13 offers tremendous value for all that it delivers (and chances are you will find it for less).
In closing, the HP Folio 13 has jumped to the top of my list as the best Ultrabook I’ve seen thus far.
- Excellent battery life
- Best-in-class keyboard
- SSD/MMC slot
- Ethernet connection
- “Heavy” relative to other Ultrabooks
- Underlit display
$949 (Currently $835.99 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.