One of the dirty secrets of the laptop biz is that PC makers often put more time, care and attention into professional laptops for business users than into their sleeker, more eye-catching consumer laptops. Behind those plain grey or silver exteriors, you might find better materials and construction, less bloatware, and even a few of those classic ports and connections that get left out of high-design consumer laptops.
Exactly how this scenario plays out depends on the brand. Apple only makes one new non-Pro-branded laptop now, so that's just the mainstream for everyone. Lenovo makes a great many Yoga hybrids, but the hands-down best is the biz-oriented ThinkPad X1 Yoga, which offers an OLED screen option and a retractable keyboard. Dell often uses the same basic systems for both consumer and commercial audiences, so you can get a renamed XPS 13 that's IT-department-friendly.
And while HP still makes plenty of cookie-cutter business laptops, the high-end HP EliteBook Folio G1 was one of my favorite overall laptops of 2016. Despite running a low-power Intel Core M CPU (like the 12-inch Apple MacBook), it was slim, light, had a great display and a rock-solid overall design. It expertly straddled the line between form and function, and was a great example of a crossover laptop that was as good a choice for coffee shop consumers as for cubicle careerists.
The revamped new-for-2017 version is the EliteBook x360, which keeps a lot of the look and feel of the Folio G1 and converts it to a laptop/tablet hybrid with a 360-degree hinge. In some ways, it's a sister product to the new HP Spectre x360, which we just reviewed here. But that Spectre ($1,399 at Amazon.com) is slimmer, flashier looking, and aimed at consumers (and defaults to a 4K screen). The EliteBook x360 keeps the understated silver look of previous model, but also includes biz-friendly features such as full-size USB ports, an NFC reader, a smart card slot, support for Intel's vPro platform, and even a remote management app which allows you to monitor the system status and even lock the system from your phone.
It starts at $1,249 in the US, but our higher-end configuration costs $1,899. In the UK, a close configuration costs £1,918, and AU$3,421 in Australia (but that model includes a mobile broadband antenna).
Despite all this cool stuff, the EliteBook x360 didn't initially jump out at me the same way the EliteBook Folio did. That's because it's a little bit bigger and little bit heavier, and a little closer to almost every other hybrid. But, it's also much more powerful, swapping the limited Intel Core M CPU out for full Core i5 and i7 chips. But in the past year, we've seen so many impressive thin laptops and hybrids, from HP's own Spectre to Dell's XPS 13 and XPS 2-in-1, that the bar has risen for everyone.
Still, I give the EliteBook x360 a leg up over those other guys in many key categories, because it's built to be more universally useful (as a business laptop should be), while the slimmest consumer laptops often sacrifice utility to shave off a millimeter or two.
HP EliteBook x360
|Price as reviewed||$1,899 (similar configurations: £1,918, AU$3,421)|
|Display size/resolution||13-inch 1920 x 1080 Touch display|
|PC CPU||2.8GHz Inel Core i7-6600U|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz|
|Graphics||128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620|
|Networking||802.11ac Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)|
Slim-ish, not slimmest
The unibody construction here is similar in concept to a MacBook, and adds some diamond-cut accents. Like a Mac (but unlike even many high-end Windows PCs), it has an all-metal body. The "asteroid silver" color (personally, I'd just call it "silver") is conservative enough to pass as a business laptop, without being a boring dull gray.
At 14.9mm thick and weighing 2.84 pounds (1.29 kg), this isn't the thinnest or lightest laptop around. In fact, it's closer to the new 2016 MacBook Pro, while the absolute thinnest 12- and 13-inch systems dip just below the 10mm mark. But in that added bulk is room for both traditional USB-A and newer USB-C ports, plus an HDMI output -- all features rapidly falling away from consumer laptops.
It's also a tough hybrid, tested against MIL-spec standards for drops and spill resistance, and the display, in either full HD or 4K versions, is covered with Corning Gorilla Glass.
One new feature I was looking forward to, HP's new integrated Sure View privacy screen (which turns on with a keyboard command and obscures the screen image from side angles) sadly wasn't available yet when we got this review unit.
If you're a coffee shop websurfer or social media addict, this is probably more computer than you need. HP seems to acknowledge this, too, by repurposing one port you're unlikely to use. What are you going to do with a smart card reader slot when virtually no one in the US uses them? (Some companies in what we call the EMEA territories still use these cards for computer security.)