HP Zbook 14 Review: The Workstation That Thinks It’s an Ultrabook

by Michael Epstein Reads (93,561)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Software & Support
    • 8
    • Upgrade Capabilities
    • 9.5
    • Usability
    • 8.5
    • Design
    • 8.5
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Features
    • 8
    • Price/Value Rating
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 8.36
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Powerful and portable
    • Sturdy
    • Great display
    • Good connectivity and features
  • Cons

    • Trackpad buttons
    • Thick for an "Ultrabook"
    • No Thunderbolt port

Quick Take

The HP Zbook 14 lives up to its Z-series namesake as a workstation capable of delivering high-quality graphics work and more, but with an Ultrabook's size and portability.


zbook1Build and Design

The HP Zbook 14 is the only 14-inch mobile workstation on the market, and it’s a beauty of a computer. Sized about the same as a slightly thick Ultrabook, and weighing only 3.57 lbs out of the box, it is very portable for a workstation. The Zbook features an all magnesium and aluminum body, with soft-touch paint on the top edges for comfort when holding the computer while closed. The hinges are quite tough and durable-feeling: opening this computer is definitely a two-hand job.

The screen back is thicker than other Ultrabooks we’ve tested recently such as the Toshiba KIRAbook, but this was welcome as it provides a very sturdy feel to the display. The screen featured almost no rippling, even with hard pokes and presses and attempted bends of the it.

Probably the most notable physical feature of the Zbook 14 is its easy-open back which allows for fast add-ins or removal of components such as RAM, a mobile SIM card, and even a second battery. Secured with a single heavy-duty sliding latch, the bottom comes away when opened to reveal the ports. Inside, the computer is quite densely packed, with the RAM being the most accessible piece of electronics. All major components besides the SSD can be removed without any tools, and even that only needs simple ones.

zbook bottom zbook open

‘The Zbook features a biometric fingerprint scanner below the right arrow key for easy password entry, both when unlocking the computer and on websites where you’ve stored login credentials in the HP Client Security application. Setting up the scanner was easy and fast, requiring only a few swipes of two fingers for storage, and the scanner remained responsive during use. Its placement directly under the keyboard did make for a few accidental inputs, however.

Display and Speakers

The matte finish, ultra-wide viewing angle, 1920×1080 full HD display looks excellent, crisp and clear. Blacks are warm and deep, (though not quite OLED-deep), and colors are distinguishable even at the lowest brightness setting. The advertised wide viewing angles were definitely present as well. The Zbook 14 is optionally available with a 10-point multi-touch 1600 x 900 HD+ screen, but that increases the thickness and weight of the device, and is glossy as opposed to the non-reflective screen featured on our review unit.

zbook forward zbook down
zbook back zbook side

The speakers can get very, very loud. Even at only 10% volume, they were loud enough for personal use or with a few people gathered around. At higher volumes they can fill an entire apartment or home. Their quality was pretty good overall for laptop speakers, and HP includes specialized audio settings for various speaker effects. This combination of good screen and speakers makes the Zbook 14 suited to the role of a media machine as well as a workhorse.

zbook keyboardKeyboard and Mouse

The backlit keyboard of this device was very usable, with good travel length on the keys and a soft volume when in use. The only complaint we have about this standard Ultrabook keyboard was that the space bar was a bit wobbly to the touch. A much more minor issue is that the backlighting doesn’t come through the keys’ letters, and is only really visible from a somewhat shallow angle, so it’s a bit of a wasted feature.

The Zbook’s trackpad does respond to two-finger swipe and pinch gestures well, but rather than featuring a fully clickable surface, the chemically strengthened glass touchpad has two slightly noisy buttons at the bottom for right and left clicking. There is also a rubber pointer nub in the center of the keyboard between the G, H, and B keys that has a good texture and is very responsive. Two more mouse buttons are placed directly below the spacebar as well for use with this pointer.

Ports and Connectivity

The HP Zbook features a plethora of connectivity options, ranging from DisplayPort 1.2 with 4k capability and VGA for legacy display support, to four USB 3.0 ports, (one of which is charging). Unlike many Ultrabooks, this one features a wired internet RJ-45 connection alongside its dual-band wireless networking and Bluetooth 4.0 capabilities. HP also offers an external, ultraslim docking station for their laptops that adds another two DisplayPorts, meaning that along with the native 14” display and the VGA adapter, five screens can be supported at once.

left right
Left: Lock Port, VGA, Charging USB 3.0,
USB 3.0, Smart Card reader
Right: Headset jack, SD card reader, DisplayPort 1.2,
USB 3.0 x2, RJ-45, Side docking port, AC adapter

While these features make the Zbook 14 a highly connective device, one port that is missed from this model versus the 15 and 17-inch Zbooks is a Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt technology is great for transferring large amounts of data. such as what you might find in a 3D CAD model file. The lack of this port on the 14-inch Zbook may make it a slightly tougher sell than the larger models for certain power users.

Software and OS

As this is primarily a work machine, and Windows 8 still doesn’t fly for most businesses or many applications yet, the Zbook 14 comes installed with Windows 7 Professional. This gives it a crisp operating system experience that runs reliably and supports programs for graphics, CAD and other 3D applications, and it thankfully comes with very little bloatware. The few pre-installed applications that exist on the Zbook include HP Connection Manager (useful as this computer can have a SIM card installed for mobile 4G LTE use), HP’s workstation-specific Performance Manager, (which can advise users on how to improve performance while computing), and HP Client Security, (a password and fingerprint secure storage app that makes use of the biometric scanner).

HP also includes their Remote Graphics Software (HP RGS) free with all workstations, which allows for one-to-one server to client graphics transfer. This means that users can perform more strenuous activities on their workstation but view the results (and even manipulate them via touch or other input) on less powerful devices like tablets or other computers, which can be a great benefit when displaying work or collaborating in real-time.



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3 Comments

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  1. HiDesertNM

    Looks to be a winner. Biggest drawback? Price. Ouch, over 2K in this day of age is a bit hard to swallow. Is it really that much better then a MB Pro? Now that Lenovo killed off its mobile processors on the X240, this seems to be a decent replacement for those that want something reasonably light with some muscle.

  2. HiDesertNM

    My bad, the Intel Core i7-4600U is also a ULV. This is not a full mobile processor. My Intel 3380M i5 that is 2.9 GHz that turbos up to 3.6 on my X230 ThinkPad has more CPU power then this i7 ulv. Grant you, this HP has better graphics. Oem’s sure do like using the ulv’s these days. You have to get into the 2.5KG monsters before you see mobile processor options.

  3. skasgorgis

    Hello Michael,
    Good write up. Is there an Audio benchmark to help evaluate audio quality and power consumption? If yes have you run it for any exiting platforms, I would be interested in seeing the results.

    Thanks,