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HP EliteBook Folio G1 review: A slim business laptop you'll want to show off

This 12.5-inch 4K laptop feels like a Windows version of the 12-inch MacBook.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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5 min read

Some people want everything. They want a laptop that's small but powerful. One that has a high-resolution display and a touchscreen. A laptop that looks sharp enough to show off, but refined enough for serious business meetings. Decent battery life would help, too, as would a price that's not too much of a premium.

01-hp-elitebook-folio-g1.jpg
8.3

HP EliteBook Folio G1

The Good

The Folio G1 is very thin and light, with an upscale look and feel and a great keyboard for an ultraportable laptop. There are plenty of configuration options, including a 4K touchscreen.

The Bad

Battery life takes a hit in the 4K version, the hinge should be tighter, and both ports are USB-C.

The Bottom Line

HP's take on the 12-inch Core M laptop could use a few design tweaks, but it evokes the best parts of Apple's 12-inch MacBook, with better value and more options.

Apple came close with its 12-inch MacBook. It's a brilliantly designed machine, with a high-res 12-inch display, but it lacks touch, the shallow keyboard isn't ideal, and OS X doesn't always play nice with the IT needs in some business or school environments. And, of course, it has only a single USB-C port for power and connectivity.

01-hp-elitebook-folio-g1.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

HP has cooked up something that looks and feels a lot like the 12-inch MacBook, built for professional Windows users, but still stylish enough that anyone can feel comfortable using it.

Like the MacBook, it uses Intel's latest Core M-series processors, but unlike the MacBook, HP includes the fastest version, the Core m7, in its lowest-end model, which starts at $999 in the US, and which seems like a really good deal. That version has 128GB of storage and a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution non-touch display, but options for high-res touch screens, more solid state storage, and a couple of different processors can drive the price close to double that. Slightly different configurations available in the UK run from £1,222 to £1,498, and in Australia from AU$2,499 to AU$3,499.

For this review, we tested two different configurations, both built via HP's system configurator. One worked out to $1,412, with a Core m7, 256GB SSD, 8GB of RAM and a full-HD non-touch display. The other was a higher-end configuration, with the same CPU and RAM, but a big 512GB SSD and a 3,840x2,160 4K touchscreen display, which at the time of this review cost $1,737. Note that prices for custom-configured PCs can often change, as can the list of available components.

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The Folio G1 sits to the right of a 12-inch Apple MacBook.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Both of the Folio G1 systems stick with USB-C only, but unlike the MacBook, they include two ports (both on the right side), so you can easily keep the power connected while also using a USB accessory. Still, to even use a simple USB key, you'll need a sold-separately USB-A to USB-C adapter, which usually costs around $20.

Using both configurations side by side, the 4K display and the touchscreen on the more expensive one really jump out, compared to the lower-end model. Touch still feels like a necessity in Windows laptops, even on ones with decent touchpads like this, as no Windows laptop has yet matched the ease of navigation Apple pulls off by controlling every aspect of its hardware and software. But, the other wise of the trade-off is clear when it comes to battery life. As in other 4K versus FHD (full HD) comparisons we've tested, the 4K display takes a big chunk out of battery life.

HP EliteBook Folio G1 (4K)

Price as reviewed $1,737
Display size/resolution 12.5-inch 3,840x2,160 touchscreen
PC CPU 1.2GHz Intel Core M7-6Y75
PC memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel HD Graphics 515
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Similar to the MacBook, the Folio G1 is machined from aluminum. It has a very premium look and feel, although the shiny chrome-like finish on the hinge may not be to everyone's taste. The hinge opens a full 180 degrees, which means the lid can be pushed back to lie completely flat. I can't think of too many cases where you'd want to do that, but having some extra flexibility is always nice.

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The hinge always shifted a bit when picked up while open.

Sarah Tew/CNET

However, in both Folio G1 models we tested, the hinge itself tended to wobble or move back a bit when the open laptop is picked up and carried by its base. It just feels a little too loose, especially for a premium product.

The keyboard, however, is miles above the MacBook's very shallow version. The island-style keys are deep enough for satisfying and comfortable long-term typing, and only the up and down arrow keys suffer a bit of shrinkage (the left and right arrow keys are regular size). Like other HP laptops, the function keys have been reversed, so alternate commands, like adjusting volume and brightness, don't require you to hold down the Fn key at the same time.

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The shallow MacBook keyboard, compared to the Folio G1 keyboard.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Looking at the FHD and 4K displays side by side, the difference is clear. The 4K display looked brighter, and had deeper, richer colors. Both look good from side angles, and by itself the standard display looks perfectly fine, but there's a clear winner between them, as visible in our video at the top of this review.

Like other current HP systems, the speakers have Bang & Olufsen branding, which means the audio company listened to and provided tuning notes for the system (as opposed to designing and building the speakers). The audio is clear enough at moderate volumes, but you should only expect so much from tiny speakers in a tiny laptop.

In benchmark testing, the Folio G1 and its Intel Core m7 CPU was faster than Apple and Samsung systems with the Core m5 and Core m3 processors, but slower than other slim laptops with low-power U-series Core i5 and Core i7 processors. That's exactly what you'd expect looking at the specs, so no surprises there.

In hands-on use, the Folio G1 felt speedy enough for everyday multitasking, and played high-res video just fine. As is often the case with modern Windows laptops, the built-in Microsoft Edge browser felt a little smoother and more responsive than Chrome, as Microsoft has been able to optimize it for Windows 10.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The non-4K version of the G1 ran for 6 hours, 41 minutes on our streaming video playback test, which is decent, but not exactly MacBook territory. That dropped to just 4 hours, 34 minutes on the model with the 4K display, a sharp decline we've also seen in other laptops with 4K displays. The higher resolution looks great, but there's a definite price to pay.

Conclusion

Even though this is a PC that has great consumer appeal for style-minded laptop shoppers, HP does market it as a business/professional machine. That means you get some extra features, such as a MIL-Spec durability, including resistance to dust and short drops, specially tuned audio and mic placement for Skype calls, and a dedicated toll-free support phone line just for EliteBook customers.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Even without those extras, there's a lot to like about the Folio G1, and it's the closest thing I've found so far to a Windows version of Apple's excellent 12-inch MacBook. The main caveats to keep in mind are the extra cost and decreased battery life from the 4K screen, the slightly wobbly hinge, and possibility that HP's own upcoming super-thin Spectre might be even cooler.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Razer Blade Stealth 515Microsoft Surface Pro 4 519HP EliteBook Folio G1 (4K) 580HP EliteBook Folio G1 590Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) 702Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 856
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Razer Blade Stealth 6874Microsoft Surface Pro 4 6775HP EliteBook Folio G1 6595HP EliteBook Folio G1 (4K) 6543Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) 5879Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 4722
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) 608Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 563HP EliteBook Folio G1 401Microsoft Surface Pro 4 298HP EliteBook Folio G1 (4K) 274Razer Blade Stealth 192
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System Configurations

HP EliteBook Folio G1 (4K) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.2GHz Intel m7-6Y75; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 515; 512GB SSD
HP EliteBook Folio G1 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.2GHz Intel m7-6Y75; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 515; 256GB SSD
Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel m3-6Y30; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 515; 128GB SSD
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) Apple El Capitan OSX 10.11.4; 1.2GHz Intel Core m5-6Y54; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 1536MB Intel HD Graphics 515; 512GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Razer Blade Stealth Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5HGz Intel Core i7-6500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1024MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
01-hp-elitebook-folio-g1.jpg
8.3

HP EliteBook Folio G1

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 7
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