Every notebook PC maker is coming to a store near you with the best and brightest technologies inside "ultrabooks" (thin and light premium notebooks using the latest Intel technologies). HP's current contribution to the ultrabook market is the Folio 13, a 13-inch aluminum-wrapped notebook packed with an Intel Core i5 processor and 128GB solid state drive for a price of just $899. Can this HP ultrabook compete against higher-priced ultrabooks with higher specs? Read on to find out.
Build and Design
The Folio 13 might look at first glance like an average addition to the ultrabook category with its aluminum construction and 13-inch screen size. It's not the thinnest ultrabook with a maximum thickness of 0.7 inches and it's not the lightest ultrabook with a weight of 3.3 pounds (4+ lbs. with AC adapter), but HP engineers didn't sacrifice important features (like a media card reader) just to make the Folio 13 an extra 0.1 inch thinner.
The lid and top half of the chassis (palm rest area) are all made of aluminum. The remainder of the notebook uses tough plastics wrapped in a soft touch rubber paint similar to a Lenovo ThinkPad. The entire frame is extremely solid and there is no flex whatsoever in the chassis (very impressive considering the thin dimensions of this 13-inch laptop).
The screen hinges are very strong with enough tension to give the ultrabook a more rugged feeling (you'll need two hands to open this laptop). The aluminum lid offers good protection for the screen and there is little in the way of screen distortion even when significant pressure is applied to the back of the screen. It's clear that HP worked hard to find the perfect balance between a thin and light design without sacrificing durability.
As with most ultrabooks, the bottom half of the chassis is pretty well sealed. You'll find a fan intake vent and plenty of screws if you're the type of IT professional or tech enthusiast who wants to completely disassemble the notebook. Unfortunately, there's no way to easily upgrade components like RAM, wireless cards or the mSATA SSD. Likewise, you're stuck with the built-in 6-cell battery ... so if you have an issue with battery this ultrabook will have to go back to HP.
Ports and Features
People buy ultrabooks because they want a thin and light laptop with good performance and superior construction ... but the down side to the thin and light design is that you usually don't get much in the way of ports (and certainly no optical drive). That said, the HP Folio 13 manages to deliver one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI, Ethernet, and the extremely important media card reader (which many ultrabooks sacrifice in order to make the laptop even thinner). The Folio 13 also includes a single headphone/microphone combination jack (headset jack) but that's all you get in terms of audio ports.
Back: Fan exhaust
Left: AC power jack, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, media card reader
Right: USB 2.0 port, Headphone/microphone combination jack
Screen and Speakers
The 13.3-inch display is ... what's a better word than "average" ... oh yes, lackluster. I suppose the term lackluster is only applicable to the colors--which are pale without much contrast--and the unimpressive 1366x768 (720p) resolution. The glossy screen surface, on the other hand, is full of luster. The glossy screen is so full of luster (or reflections) that you'll often have to move the screen forward and back to find a viewing angle that isn't obscured by reflection from room lights or sunlight if you're working outdoors. Since HP considers the Folio 13 to be a hybrid of a premium consumer laptop and a business laptop for road warriors, there really needs to be a matte or anti-glare screen option.
As with all TN panels, the viewing angles on the Folio 13's screen are pretty average: The screen looks great when viewed from straight on or from a modest horizontal angle, but the colors appear washed out when viewed from above and colors look inverted when viewed from below. Maybe someone at HP will get the memo about offering a matte IPS screen option for premium notebooks like this.
On a happier note, the Folio 13 does a pretty impressive job with audio performance for a thin and light ultrabook. The two stereo speakers are located above the keyboard and between the two screen hinges. These speakers carry the "Dolby Advanced Audio" branding and it's fair to say there's something more impressive about the sound quality coming from these speakers than what we hear coming from even the speakers found in the HP ProBook 5330m which carries the Beats Audio label. Part of the sound quality comes from the fact that HP was smart enough to place the speakers so the sound is directed up and toward the user, and serious audiophiles will still want to use headphones or external speakers, but HP clearly put a premium on the built-in speaker performance.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size chiclet-style keyboard is quiet and features a simple layout. The individual keys are matte black but the keyboard surround is glossy (which is prone to collecting nasty-looking fingerprint smudges while you type). The keyboard support structure is fine, but there is a hint of flex or "bounce" in the middle of the keyboard if you type with significant pressure. Individual key travel and feedback (the difference you feel between when a button is pressed or not) is quite good and makes typing a breeze.
The Folio 13 features a bright LED-backlit keyboard that helps you see what you're typing in a dark room or on a dimly-lit airplane. This is a very nice feature but it would have been better if there were two brightness settings (high and low) rather than just an "on" and "off" setting. Something for HP to consider for the next generation Folio.
The Synaptics touchpad is actually a Synaptics "clickpad" (a touchpad surface which lets you press down anywhere to produce a click). There are no dedicated left and right mouse buttons but HP marked the button area with gray lines so you know where to press for a traditional left and right click. Of course, this only matters if the left and right click work ... and they don't. At least they don't work easily using the default settings.
If you are an "old fashioned" touchpad user like me (call me a traditionalist) who uses one finger to move the cursor and another finger or thumb to press the touchpad buttons then you'll constantly have the cursor jumping to the wrong spot or not registering a left or right click most of the time. Those traditional touchpad users will need to open the Synaptics driver settings and change the settings. If you are a more modern touchpad user who uses a single finger for both cursor movement and "tap to click" and uses two-finger scroll then the clickpad isn't so bad.
Our HP Folio 13 review unit has the following specifications:
These specifications are "middle of the road" for an ultrabook; the dual-core i5 processor is fast but other ultrabooks offer faster Core i7 options and the 128GB SSD is nice, but there are faster 256GB SSDs inside other ultrabooks (more on that later). On a brighter note, the HP Folio 13 is modestly priced for an ultrabook; $899.99 is a very fair price and discounts from HP Academy bring the price down to just under $860 at the time of this writing.
PERFORMANCE AND BENCHMARKS
The Folio 13 delivers exceptional performance for everyday use and basic office productivity like working through documents in Microsoft Office. However, this HP ultrabook is packed with a mixture of mid-grade (for an ultrabook) processor, graphics and storage which means it doesn't deliver such impressive performance in Adobe Photoshop or Premiere compared to ultrabooks like the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s or ASUS Zenbook UX31E. Still, the Core i5 processor is more than fast enough for most home and business users, so unless you work in serious photo editing and HD movie production you'll be fine.
Speaking of speed, the HP Folio 13 uses a Samsung 128GB mSATA solid state drive (SSD) for storage and it's a mixed blessing in terms of speediness. For starters, this tiny SSD is much faster than a typical laptop hard drive so you'll be able to start Windows quickly, resume from sleep mode in a flash, and launch applications almost as quickly as you can click the touchpad. This is good, but the CrystalDiskMark tests suggest this drive is slightly slower in terms of read speeds than the JMicron SSD found in other ultrabooks like the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark which measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
The single, centrally located fan inside the Folio 13 stays running most of the time but is quiet and isn't likely to be heard over typical office white noise. At maximum speed, it develops a high-pitched whine that isn't so easy to ignore. We only managed to get the fan running at the highest setting during benchmarks and while transcoding HD video, so typical office users probably won't be bothered by fan noise.
External temperatures are all pretty modest with the exception of a hot spot near the fan intake (the heat sink for the CPU is located in this area). All temperatures shown below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit.
The Folio 13 delivered six hours, 51 minutes of battery life during our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This isn't quite as good as the Lenovo U300s but it is better than the ASUS UX31E and Toshiba Portege Z835 ultrabooks. We have little doubt that the Folio 13 will deliver more than seven hours of battery life if you turn down the screen brightness.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
We have a number of great things to say about the HP Folio 13 after spending a few weeks using this modestly-priced ultrabook. For starters, the build quality is second to none in the ultrabook category. The aluminum construction makes the Folio 13 extremely solid without making it too thick or heavy. Not only that, but HP didn't sacrifice something important like a media card reader just to save a fraction of an inch or an extra ounce of weight. Yes, it stinks that you can't easily replace components or swap the battery, but these are pretty standard issues with ultrabooks.
The LED-backlit keyboard is quite nice and the battery life is more than enough to get you through a typical work day (particularly if you let the notebook go to sleep during lunch). Combine all that with a price tag of $899 or less and this is a pretty good deal for an ultrabook.
However, the Folio 13 isn't perfect. The glossy screen with average resolution and contrast combined with an annoying clickpad makes for a frustrating user experience. The fan is quiet most of the time but develops an equally annoying high pitched whine if you push the Folio 13 with extremely stressful applications.
Bottom line, if you can live with the average glossy screen and twitchy clickpad the HP Folio 13 is an very solid, affordable ultrabook with a good balance of performance and features.