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HP Elite Folio First Impressions

Posted May 5, 2021 | Hardware | HP | HP Elite Folio | Mobile | Qualcomm | Snapdragon 8cx | Windows | Windows 10 | Windows 10 on ARM


Announced at CES 2021, the HP Elite Folio is a spiritual successor to the HP Spectre Folio that I reviewed in late 2018, but running Windows 10 on ARM.

If you go back and look at my write-up of that earlier offering, you’ll see that the Spectre Folio featured a hybrid leather and metal body, a versatile and unique “pull-forward” form factor, and, perhaps most controversially, a Y-series Intel Core processor that, frankly, was quite adequate for typical productivity work.

So what’s changed this time around?

Well, aside from the new product family—the Elite family of products is aimed at business users, where Spectre is for prosumers—there are several substantive changes.

First, the Elite Folio is now powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G compute platform instead of an Intel chipset, and thus runs Windows 10 on ARM (WOA). If you’ve been following the WOA saga, you know that Qualcomm released the 8cx Gen 2 in September 2020 as a very minor upgrade to the first-generation 8cx and that doesn’t really advance the state of the art from a performance perspective. And that the firm didn’t announce the expected major new chipset in December 2020 as has usually been the case with previous generations.

Microsoft is working to add Intel x64 emulation to WOA, but that work isn’t ready yet, and so it puts potential Elite Folio buyers in somewhat of a compatibility bind from a timing perspective. But that update is at least coming, and those who wish to take advantage of it now can, of course, do so via the Windows Insider Program.

The Elite Folio also features a new faux “vegan” leather exterior material, which is smoother than its predecessor, and perhaps more responsible and sustainable. It’s still quite attractive, and I like the black color, the accent stitching, and the feel.

HP has also made one of my most requested changes from the Spectre Folio, which featured a pedestrian 16:9 display. This time around, we get a nice 13.5-inch Full HD+ (1920 x 1280) panel with a 3:2 aspect ratio, optional HP Sure View Reflect privacy, and somewhat smaller bezels. (As I wrote in 2018, “but seriously, HP. 3:2. It would be a particularly good match for this PC.”) Very nice.

And where the Spectre Folio had a more traditional smartpen, which connected to the PC via a leather loop, the Elite Folio has an always-ready HP Elite Slim Active Pen with an integrated charging and storage cradle right at the top of the keyboard. (This is similar to how the Surface Pro X Type Cover works.)

There are other changes, of course, including more modern Wi-Fi 6 and optional 5G connectivity. But HP has kept the basic form factor from the Spectre Folio, which I really like. In fact, I almost prefer it to other convertible form factors, though the way the bottom of the display detaches so you can move it forward is awkward at first. You get used to it.

We have lost a little bit in the move away from Intel: Where the Spectre Folio had three USB-C ports, two of which had Thunderbolt 3 capabilities, the Elite Folio has just two and neither offers Thunderbolt 3 (or 4). At least HP was kind enough to put one on each side (as opposed to both on one side).

But there are also advantages to the move to WOA: Killer battery life—a claimed 24.5 hours in video playback— a silent, fanless design, and a complete lack of crapware because, let’s face it, no one is writing ARM native or universal apps anyway. But whatever. A clean Start menu is a clean Start menu.

I haven’t been briefed yet on this machine, but that will happen by the end of the week. More soon.

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