HP Folio 13 review: HP Folio 13

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The Good The HP Folio 13 has everything that matters most in an ultrabook: very good battery life, an excellent backlit keyboard, all the requisite ports for mobile use, and a very comfortable feel, along with a competitive entry-level price.

The Bad The Folio 13 is no looker compared with other ultrabooks, and is a bit thicker and heavier than thin laptops such as the MacBook Air. The clickpad's just a bit too finicky for our tastes, too.

The Bottom Line When it comes to Windows ultrabooks, the HP Folio 13 is the best of the bunch in terms of performance, price, and ergonomics, provided you can live with a less-than-razor-thin design. This laptop is targeted at small businesses but it's really for anyone who wants a reliable ultrabook that isn't a MacBook Air.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 9
  • Support 7

As ultrabooks become a major part of the laptop landscape this year, the key to finding a good one won't be specs--since so many have identical innards--so much as look, feel, and bang for the buck. The HP Folio 13 is a small business-targeted ultrabook that should be equally at home in the hands of a mainstream consumer. Aside from TPM support, the "business" differentiation is cosmetic and arbitrary: the HP Folio 13's hardware--a Core i5 low-voltage CPU, 128GB SSD storage, 4GB of RAM--befits any laptop in the 13-inch ultrabook universe circa 2012.

The Folio 13 is a thicker laptop, and a heavier one, too, than the MacBook Air and any of last year's ultrabooks, but not by much. It's a little over 3 pounds, and still thinner than any standard laptop. It's just not wafer-thin. However, the HP Folio 13 only costs $899, which undercuts a lot of the ultrabook competition by at least $100. And consider the battery life: in our tests, the HP Folio 13 had the longest battery life among Windows ultrabooks thus far. I'd give up a bit of thinness to gain more battery life any day, and at 0.7 inch thick, the Folio 13 is still plenty svelte enough for compact travel.

Are there sexier ultrabooks, and even laptops, than the HP Folio 13? Certainly. I'd be hard-pressed, however, to find one as practical, affordable, and solidly performing as the Folio 13. And, if I were currently picking an ultrabook out of a lineup to go to war with, the HP Folio 13 is the one I'd take in my backpack.

Starting price / price as reviewed $899 / $1,049
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 128GB SSD
Chipset Intel UM67
Graphics Intel HD 3000
Operating system Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.5x8.7 inches
Height 0.7 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.3 pounds / 4.1 pounds
Category ultrabook

On a whole, the sense of deja vu I felt when using the HP Folio 13 is justified: it comes across as an evolved sibling of the HP Pavilion dm4, a laptop I loved just a year or so ago. To lovers of superslim laptops such as the Samsung Series 9, the HP Folio 13 may seem thick and less responsive. To mainstream laptop owners, the HP Folio 13 will feel sleek, fast, and very portable. It's all a matter of perspective.

In fact, I'd say that the whole laptop looks a little bit like a Hewlett-Packard throwback. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, especially since I've liked the feel of HP's recent designs. It's not likely to grab the eye on a table at Starbucks--its brushed-aluminum back lid and palm rest and black keyboard will probably blend right in amid a jungle of laptops and venti lattes--but to those who don't want to treat their laptops like Ferraris, that might be a good thing.

Brushed aluminum gracing the back lid gives the Folio 13 a "professional" air, while the smoothly opening lid and rigid construction makes it feel safe to wedge in a backpack--the Folio 13 has barely any flex in its chassis.

A rubberized bottom surface feels smooth to the touch, and has excellent grip on a desk surface. Heat vents along the bottom might get uncomfortable during lengthy use on a lap, but I never noticed a problem in my week or so of lap and desk typing. That, combined with the smooth palm rests and comfy keyboard, make this a laptop to love working on. No, it doesn't feel like an ultrabook...but credit HP with the decision to stay with its own design philosophy and not bend over backward to make its own version of the MacBook Air.

A single, small power button above the keyboard boots up Windows 7, and if I have one complaint about this laptop's ergonomics it's that this small button is nearly thin enough to require using a fingernail.

The wide, raised backlit keyboard is excellent, beating shallower keyboards on other ultrabooks. This keyboard feels more generous in terms of its key space than the ones on the MacBook Air and Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, which are already excellent. The design is reminiscent of HP's ProBook laptops, with keys that are soft to the touch, but respond crisply when depressed. They feel like they have more travel. I'm a keyboard fetishist, and the Folio 13's surprised me with its quality. The top media-control function keys are function-reversed, so hitting volume up doesn't mean fumbling for the Fn key. All laptops should have this, and yet they still don't.

The touch pad, or rather clickpad, beneath is comfortable and easy to use in tap-to-click mode--my preferred way of working--but it's still not as good as the pad on a MacBook Air. I found myself making fewer errors than on other Windows laptops, but the pad was still prone to occasional sensitivity quirks that can slow down a highlight-cut-and-paste process. The touch pad has marked-off zones on the lower third for left- and right-clicking, which adds useful surface area to the pad, although I found locating and clicking by feel was more difficult than engaging tap-to-click. The responsiveness of two-finger scrolling is passable, but hardly what would be considered great.

The glossy, bright 13-inch display has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution and looks very good head-on. At side angles, the image deteriorates as on the average screen on the average mainstream laptop. For the price, the screen is more than adequate, although it's not a stunner.

Now, a word on laptop screen resolution: some might drool over 1,600x900-pixel, 13-inch displays, but 1,366x768-pixel resolution is standard for any mainstream laptop, and I've never wished for a better resolution. A larger resolution at this screen size would sacrifice text size for virtual desktop space, a compromise I don't need. I wish my iPad had a finer resolution for displaying full pages of text, but on a laptop, that isn't a concern at the viewing distance you're likely to be at from the screen.

A built-in Dolby Advanced Audio-branded stereo speaker bar above the keyboard is louder than I expected, and more than suitable for video playback or Web chat in noisy rooms. An HD Webcam offers better-than-average video quality (1,280x1,204-pixel capture).

HP Folio 13 Average for category [13-inch]
Video HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None DVD burner

The other aspect of the HP Folio 13 I appreciated was its ample selection of ports: a single USB 3.0 port, plus one USB 2.0, HDMI, an Ethernet jack (a rarity among ultrabooks), and an SD card slot. Bluetooth is also included--maybe not surprising in a $900 laptop, but it's a feature often inexplicably absent in many mainstream machines.

There are no upgrades available on HP's Web site per se--you can have any HP Folio 13 you want, as long as it has an 128GB solid-state drive, 4GB of RAM, and a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M CPU. There are no graphics options other than the included integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics, which are fine for most basic needs, photo editing, and even video editing and some casual gaming. As an ultrabook, the HP Folio 13 doesn't have a DVD drive. For $150 extra, you could always upgrade to Windows 7 Professional instead of the included Windows 7 Home Premium OS, but the typical consumer won't need to.

The HP Folio 13 feels fast in everyday use, and especially in terms of startup and wake-from-sleep time. A cold boot launched in about 20 seconds, and a lifting-the-lid wake from sleep took only 4 seconds. It felt just as fast as a MacBook Air, but wasn't as silent; I heard a gentle operating whine from the Folio 13 most of the time, although it's possible that toying with the HP CoolSense controls might have helped.

The included 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor is a bit slower than the Core i5 models we tested in the Asus Zenbook and Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, but faster than the Toshiba Portege Z835 configuration we reviewed. This second-generation processor fits right in the middle of the standard Intel ultrabook processor spectrum, enabling programs to launch quickly and making it possible to handle most everyday office tasks easily and efficiently. In terms of performance the Folio 13's closest ultrabook peer is the Acer Aspire S3, although most ultrabooks perform similarly. Anything I'd feel comfortable doing on a MacBook Air, I'd feel comfortable doing with the HP Folio 13.

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