The type of situational security awareness that once seemed to be the exclusive domain of the paranoid has become depressingly mainstream. Hackers, phishers and various bad actors threaten your email, financial information and even online reputation, through a wide palette of blackhat tools.
Besides malware and tricky lookalike emails from faux banks and social network imposters, it's also important to be on guard against visual hacking. That's the simple act of physically looking over at someone's laptop while there's sensitive information up on the screen. It can happen anywhere, from coffee shops to airplanes to open offices, and it's one of the reasons people sometimes lug clunky polarized privacy screens around with them.
A clever integrated solution to the visual hacking problem is the main selling point of this HP EliteBook x360 1020 G2, a sharp-looking 12-inch business 2-in-1 laptop that borrows from both HP's excellent Spectre x360 line and ultraportable products like Apple's 12-inch MacBook.
Keep your secrets safe
HP introduced its SureView technology in 2016, but this is the first laptop I've tested with the feature built in. Developed with 3M, it adds a privacy filter to the display, activated by hitting the F2 button. With the SureView feature off, it looks like a normal laptop screen (mostly). Activate the feature and the view turns white, becoming more opaque as you move farther to the side, thanks to a light-controlling film built into the screen.
It's a very cool effect, and an effective one, as long as you keep your expectations realistic. Depending on what information you have on the screen, much of it is still readable from a closer over-the-shoulder view, and it does very little for a viewer seated directly behind you.
There's about 70 degrees of reasonably clear viewing, after which the screen fades into white. It's certainly opaque enough, even at closer angles, to prevent a casual quick glance from stealing a password or account number.
Even when the filter is turned off, the display is a little more muted than other similar laptop screens, and there's a tighter sweet spot for optimal viewing before the image degrades. I'm sure I'd get used to this minor irritation in time, but compared with the half-dozen other laptops I've used recently, it's definitely noticeable. It's not a deal-breaker, but it doesn't do the 1,920x1,080 display any favors.
It is, however, a fun and attention-getting party trick to turn the SureView feature on with a quick tap of the F2 key, and a heck of a lot easier than toting a removable privacy filter screen around.
HP EliteBook x360 1020 G2
|Price as reviewed||$2,049|
|Display size/resolution||12-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch display|
|PC CPU||2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7600U|
|PC memory||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz|
|Graphics||128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)|
Small and solid
The EliteBook line has always been one of my favorite business/consumer crossover choices. The design is slim and sharp, and can pass for a pre-level version of Apple's 12-inch MacBook, but with more corporate security features, more customization options and better processors.
The 7th-gen Intel core i7 in this unit was more than powerful enough, although many slim laptops are switching to newer 8th-gen chips already. The pricey configuration we tested also included 16GB of RAM and a big 512GB SSD, for $2,049, or about $700 more than the least-expensive configuration.
Similar configurations are available in the UK for £1,439 or in Australia for AU$2,549.
If you'd like to do some note taking or drawing on the 360-degree hinged touch screen, HP's very good Active Pen stylus is another $60 (£58 or AU$109).
The keyboard has deep, responsive keys, especially for a 12-inch laptop, but on the model I used, the touchpad (with a built-in NFC sensor) could have been more responsive. It even hitched and froze up a few times, which is a frustrating fumble, even if just for a few seconds.
Two USB-C Thunderbolt ports are paired with an HDMI output, bridging the gap between older port-filled laptops and newer Type-C-only ones. The system supports a double dose of Windows Hello login security, with facial recognition and a fingerprint reader.
Battery life is where a slim business laptop may need to shine most, but in this case it was merely OK, running for 7 hours and 39 minutes in our video playback streaming test. Ten hours or more is not unusual these days, and turning on the SureView filter knocked a little more than an hour off, to 6:20.
The EliteBook family is a great way to get the higher-end construction and security features of a business laptop in a package that's still cool-looking enough for non-suits, although your IT department is probably more interested than you are in things like TPM, vPro and SureStart (an HP feature to protect against Bios problems). And I've liked the EliteBook line even more since it added 360-degree hybrid hinges.
The SureView screen feature is the most forward-looking thing here, and as this is one of the only ways to get it right now (aside from a few other HP laptops), it's a good thing that it's available in a highly professional laptop you won't mind using every day.
|HP EliteBook x360 1020 G2||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD|
|HP EliteBook 1040 G4 (2017)||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 630; 512GB SSD|
|HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2017)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2017)||Apple macOS 10.12.5 Sierra; 1.2GHz Intel Core m3-7Y32; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD|
|Dell XPS 13 2 in 1 (2017)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-7Y75; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD|