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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 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.
|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)|
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.)
HP cleverly includes a tiny elastic loop connected to a plastic card -- it holds the included active stylus and fits into the mostly unused smart card slot. It's not a true substitute for having an integrated pen slot, but it's better than nothing.
The stylus pen works as well as models we've seen included with other pen-based hybrids, although the simple plastic nib doesn't feel as finely crafted for drawing and writing as the best examples from Microsoft, Apple or Samsung. Clicking the button on the back of the stylus to launch the built-in Windows inking apps was also inconsistent.
Business laptops have one big focus that consumer models lack, and that's something called remote management. That means a central IT person can monitor the system remotely, install patches and updates, and make sure everything is running smoothly. That doesn't mean much if you don't have an IT department, but I liked the idea of the companion HP WorkWise app you can install on an iOS or Android device. Once paired via Bluetooth, it acts as a remote security device and monitoring station for the laptop.
A dashboard view provides battery level, internal temperature, and other PC health info, while the Secure PC feature allows you to use your phone as a proximity lock for the laptop. Get close to the system with your phone, and it unlocks. Step more than a few feet away and it locks itself, and records any attempts to log in manually.
It's great in theory, but in practice it took several attempts to pair my phone with EliteBook x360. Once I managed that, it was quick to lock the system when I walked away, but very slow to unlock it when I returned. After the first day, the sync between the two devices was somehow lost due to a Bluetooth connection error. The only recommended remedy was to unregister and re-register my phone, which was a buggy process in the first place.
Trading up to an Intel Core i7 processor gave the EliteBook a great performance boost, but certainly didn't hurt battery life. It beat several other high-end professional-class laptops (although most of those have Core i5 processors) in our benchmark tests. More importantly, it also had one of our best overall battery life scores of the past year, at 11:34. Besides the very efficient U-series Intel processor, the EliteBook x360 benefits in this area from having a standard 1,920x1,080 HD display. Climbing to a QHD or even 4K display has serious trade-offs for battery life.
HP does offer a 4K screen option, but I'd suggest sticking with FHD. Generally, any time you get screen options, your best bet for balancing usability and battery life is a 1,920x1,080 touch display.
There are a lot of good reasons to look for a business laptop or hybrid instead of a pure consumer model. As in the case of the excellent EliteBook x360, you can get rock-solid construction, lots of security options, a real emphasis on battery life, and almost zero bloatware. The keyboard here is also excellent, with a satisfyingly deep click for such a compact system.
On my small list of lowlights, especially for consumers, the audio may be well-tuned for Skype and conference calls, but it's painfully thin for music and movies. The display, while perfectly fine, lacks the punch and brightness we see in some consumer laptops when viewing video.
And of course, because you're getting all these professional features, you're also paying professional prices. To save a bit, you could always shift over to the also-excellent consumer HP Spectre x360, and even trade up to a 4K screen in the process.
|HP EliteBook x360||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB decicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD|
|HP Spectre x360||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD|
|Dell XPS 13 2-in1||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|
|LG gram (13-inch, 2017)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch)||Apple macOS Sierra 10.12.1; 2.9GHz Intel Core i5-6267U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM2,133MHz; 1,536MB Intel Iris Graphics 550; 256GB SSD|