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HP Elitebook Folio 9470m review: Big business ultrabook, hold the touch

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MSRP: $2,680.00
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The Good The HP Elitebook 9470m has a solid, lightweight design, great battery life, and lots of ports and security features.

The Bad There's no touch screen, it has a non-high-res display, and there's a general lack of unique features to justify its high price.

The Bottom Line The HP Elitebook Folio 9470m does a serviceable job at being a good thin all-around Windows 8 business laptop, but it doesn’t rise from the pack, and it doesn’t take any chances.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

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

Review Sections

Windows 8 in a business laptop: well, it needed to happen sooner or later, but in the case of the Elitebook Folio 9470m, the execution feels premature and expensive. It's a shame, because the 9470m is a direct descendent of last year's HP Folio 13 ultrabook, a device I considered at the time to be among the best in its class and recommended to everybody.

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A lot has changed in a year. Thin ultrabooks have given way to touch-screen, often convertible/tablet devices. And among ultrabooks, there are tons more to choose from. Touch isn't necessary to enjoy a Windows 8, but when a laptop lacks touch altogether -- as does the Elitebook Folio 9470m -- it feels like an omission that has to be made up with a superlative touch pad, and this Folio doesn't do that. Granted, this Folio came out at the end of last year, but this expensive albeit highly configurable laptop already feels a little outmoded. The HP Elitebook Revolve, coming out soon, feels like the Windows 8 business travel ultraportable of choice. This Folio is more of a workhorse ultrabook, if such a thing exists.

This 14-inch laptop is larger and thicker than you'd expect, although it does pack awfully impressive battery life. It feels constructed to be a slim road warrior, but its specs aren't incredibly impressive. It's an ultrabook without touch -- and a thickish, expensive one at that. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a lighter, similarly outfitted business laptop, with touch, too.

Price as reviewed$1,349
ProcessorIntel Core i5-3427U
Memory4GB, 1333MHz DDR3
Hard drive180GB SSD
ChipsetIntel QM77
GraphicsIntel HD 4000
Operating SystemWindows 8 (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD)13.3 x 9.1 inches
Height0.75 inch
Screen size (diagonal)14.0 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter3.6/4.4 pounds
CategoryMidsize
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That $1,349 is a lot to pay for a modern laptop. It makes the Elitebook Folio 9470 a more expensive product than the MacBook Air, and -- let's face it -- most executives would prefer the Air. But it also has a lot more ports and security features, not to mention Windows 8 Pro. Think of its real competition as a machine like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which bears a similar price tag and specs.

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That's not to say the Folio doesn't have its charms. Understand, the Folio looks like a business laptop because it is one: an elegantly compact one at that. The two-tone magnesium (silver on the top, black underneath) has a soft-touch finish. Everything from the cleanly inset matte 14-inch screen to the crisp black keyboard and its small set of tiny, LED-lit buttons above it feel part of a just-this-side-of-boxy industrialized-crisp look.

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It won't surprise anyone used to a MacBook Air or other slim ultrabook, but this feels nicer than an older, thicker laptop. Unfortunately, the Folio lacks an optical drive, and its internal specs really aren't much better than what you'd find on the smaller Dell XPS 13. At 3.6 pounds, it weighs less than most mainstream laptops, but it's heavier than your average 13-inch ultrabook. It feels like a slightly bigger, more mature version of the HP Folio 13, albeit, also without the same appeal or novelty of that previous machine.

A squared, chiclet-style backlit and spill-resistant keyboard feels very similar to Apple's design in terms of initial appearance, or what you'll find on many recent HP laptops. Tiny dedicated top buttons turn Airplane Mode on and off and toggle mute.

A rubberized concave pointer has been added between the G, H, and B keys, with additional buttons above the extra-large multitouch glass touch pad. Even on touch-oriented Windows 8, the rubber pointer wasn't such a bad way to go. Most would prefer the touch pad -- if the touch pad actually worked perfectly. The glass surface is certainly big and wide enough, but it was unreliable when I navigated around doing everyday work and Web browsing. It's not a click pad, either: separate buttons lie below (that makes four buttons framing the HP touch pad, all told). I wished I could reach up and touch the screen instead. Alas, I couldn't.

The 14-inch, touch-free 1,366x768-pixel display is antiglare, but that's about the only thing it does well. The brightness levels are relatively dim, the screen resolution is low-res for this price tier, and screen size compared with those on laptops such as Apple's Retina Display MacBook Pro and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The lack of a touch screen wouldn't matter if HP had nailed the touch-pad experience. It didn't.

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Additional bells and whistles include a fingerprint reader (on the right palm rest), a 720p Webcam, and a side docking port. HP also offers a suite of software security features, and the Intel platform includes vPro for enterprise and business use.

Ports and configurations
The Folio has plenty of connections -- a side docking port for business use to connect to sold-separately dock, dedicated Ethernet, an SD card slot, three USB 3.0 ports, and both VGA and DisplayPort. There's no HDMI, since this is a "business" laptop, but HDMI is so universal at this point I can't understand the omission. Bluetooth is included, and optional 4G broadband connectivity.

Our review configuration of the Elitebook Folio has a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427 CPU, the same as the recently reviewed ThinkPad X1 Carbon. In fact, every other spec is the same as that Carbon, too: 4GB of RAM, Intel HD 4000 graphics, and a 180GB SSD. You can configure the Folio with a 320 or 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive, too (self-encrypting, even), or up to 256GB SSD.


HP Elitebook Folio 9470mAverage for category [midsize]
VideoVGA, DisplayPortVGA, plus HDMI or DisplayPort
AudioStereo speakers, headphone jackStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data3 USB 3.0 (1 with charge), SD card reader2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
NetworkingEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile broadbandEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical driveNoneDVD burner
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Performance and battery life
In our tests, the Folio 9470m was a little behind the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, but it handled as well as any other ultrabook in its class. That's a pretty big class. There are no dedicated graphics options: Intel HD 4000 graphics are good enough for most everyday use and even some games, but it won't hold a candle to midrange Nvidia or AMD dedicated graphics.

This Folio shines when it comes to battery life: at 7 hours and 3 minutes using our video-playback test, it's well above the rest of the pack. Web surfing or extended video streaming would lower that number, but it's really hard to do much better right now than this in a mainstream laptop.

HP includes a standard one-year warranty, extendable up to three years, plus a one-year battery warranty and toll-free 24-7 phone support.

Conclusion
The Elitebook Folio 9470m is a light, full-featured variation on the business ultrabook, with all the security extras, ports, and solid construction you'd want and a killer battery life. It lacks originality, and has a high price tag. The lower-res screen lacks touch, and the entire laptop feels too traditional for its own good. Traditionalists may love it, but keep in mind that more flexible computers are available, including forthcoming models from HP; the Elitebook Revolve bears serious consideration.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch w/ Retina Display (October 2012)
193

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

430

Sony Vaio T13

465

Toshiba Satellite P845t-S4310

467

HP EliteBook Folio 9470m

536

Acer Aspire M5-481PT

581

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
174

HP EliteBook Folio 9470m

178

Acer Aspire M5-481PT

179

Sony Vaio T13

183

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch w/ Retina Display (October 2012)

186

Toshiba Satellite P845t-S4310

188

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