- Good build quality
- Good performance
- Long battery life
- Easy access to internals
- Excellent connectivity options
- Display could be more colorful
Quick TakeA business-oriented Ultrabook, the HP EliteBook 850 provides solid performance, usability and connectivity in a well-built package with a lofty price tag.
HP caters to the exclusive market for premium thin-and-light business notebooks with its new EliteBook 850. Its key features include a 1080p anti-glare display, good keyboard and touchpad, Windows 7 availability and support, solid build quality and enterprise-level features like Intel vPro, a Smartcard reader, a docking station port and user-serviceable internal components.
The EliteBook 850 has a professional-looking black and silver aluminum exterior. The chassis is exceptionally thin at 0.8-inch and the whole notebook weighs just over four pounds; this would have been unheard of for a 15.6-inch notebook several years back.
The base of the notebook is impressively rigid, barely flexing at all when I tried to twist it by its corners. All surfaces on this notebook are flex-free even under abnormal pressure. The EliteBook 850’s lid is strong and resists twisting motions. The display panel itself is well-protected – I failed to get ripples to appear on the screen by applying pressure to the back of the lid. This notebook was clearly designed with durability in mind.
Fit and finish is overall excellent; the gaps between parts are even and smooth. The build materials appear to be of high quality through and through.
One truly unique aspect of the EliteBook 850 considering its status as an Ultrabook is how easy it is to access the internal components. The entire bottom panel on the notebook comes off by sliding the latch on the bottom of the chassis – no tools required. This large panel provides access to the battery, storage device, wireless card, mSATA slot, both memory slots and the cooling fan. Consider that the majority of Ultrabooks provide no access whatsoever to internal components; the game’s a little different when catering to the business market however.
Input and Output Ports
Sub-one inch thin notebooks typically skip on ports but the EliteBook 850 manages a respectable variety including a docking station connector. Picture descriptions are left to right.
Screen and Speakers
Our EliteBook 850 review unit is equipped with a 1920×1080 (1080p) resolution display. This is the pricier of the two available displays; the standard choice has an anemic 1366×768 (720p) resolution. For comparison the 1080p display has approximately twice the working space; you can comfortably use two windows side-by-side and see almost 1.5x as many vertical rows in an Excel spreadsheet; it’s a no-brainer upgrade. Touch capability is not offered.
The anti-glare display surface is a welcome attribute; it eliminates reflections from ambient lighting sources which can be a distraction no matter what kind of work you’re doing.
The display is unfortunately underwhelming outside of its resolution and anti-glare surface. The picture quality appears washed out; color saturation needs a boost and combined with the average contrast ratio, fails to give much depth or life to pictures and other non-text media. Viewing angles are typically poor as expected for a TN-type display like this one; the picture quickly distorts if the display is tilted 15-20 degrees beyond facing it straight on. Colors shift when viewed side-to-side as well. Brightness is plenty adequate for indoor environments.
The EliteBook 850’s twin stereo speakers produce surprisingly decent volume levels and clarity for most types of music – considering this is a business notebook, that is; these don’t hold a candle to the branded speakers available in consumer notebooks. There’s little distortion up to approximately 80% volume. Bass is lacking. The speaker placement above the keyboard is ideal except if the lid is closed which muffles the sound. Like most notebooks, you’re better off investing in an external audio solution; these speakers will do in a pinch if you’re trying to show a video to two or three people.
The EliteBook 850 features a Chiclet-style keyboard with extra spacing between the keys. The white LED backlighting has two brightness levels and improves usefulness in darker conditions (especially considering the keyboard is black). I like how the keyboard is inset into the chassis making the key surfaces flush with the surface of the chassis.
Tactile feedback is a little light for my preference; this is mostly due to the short key travel distance. The keys have a cushioned feel. There’s no noticeable flex while typing and key presses are quiet enough to not attract attention. The keyboard’s layout is practical with dedicated home/end/pgup/pgdn keys arrayed along the right side and all other keys in their expected positions (this makes headlines because it’s surprisingly difficult to find an Ultrabook without a compromised keyboard layout).
The Synaptics touchpad is downright spacious; it has a pleasant anti-glare surface and excellent response and accuracy out of the box. It thankfully has dedicated buttons as opposed to a ‘clickpad’ setup we’re seeing in too many Ultrabooks. Dedicated buttons are more predictable and have no learning curve, an important consideration in a business environment. These buttons are quiet and have a great feel. The EliteBook 850 also features a pointing stick in the center of the keyboard which has its own set of dedicated buttons. It works but has HP has never had as intuitive of a pointing stick solution as Lenovo does on its ThinkPads. Here’s a tip if a pointing stick is important: you can replace the EliteBook 850’s eraser head with a Lenovo version.
Overall HP did a respectable job on the EliteBook 850’s input devices; it’s definitely usable on a daily basis.