In and Around the HP Folio 13

After reviewing nothing but wedge-shaped ultrabooks, the HP Folio 13 is actually a bit of a breath of fresh air. HP's design here doesn't actually deviate all that much from the rest of their notebook lineup; aesthetically it sits right between their consumer and enterprise lines (much as it's intended to), and as I mentioned before they eschewed the wedge shape and kept the build right at the 18mm cusp of Intel's ultrabook spec.

The top lid and interior surface of the Folio 13 are aluminum, while the screen bezel and bottom of the notebook appear to be either carbon fiber or a rubberized treatment on matte plastic; either way, it's soft, light, durable, and attractive. In fact the only gloss on the Folio 13 is surrounding the keyboard and on the screen's interior bezel (which houses the webcam.)

Where HP can claim a major victory with the Folio 13 is the keyboard proper. Ultrabook keyboards, by virtue of the form factor, tend to be very shallow and can be difficult to use. Since HP's engineers seem to have gone in reverse and tried to see how big they could get the Folio while keeping it thin, light, and within spec, the result is a keyboard that has much better depth and travel. It's still not perfect and feels a little on the mushy side, but compared to the others I've tested it's much more comfortable. And as a special bonus: it's backlit.

Unfortunately, despite having an excellent keyboard for an ultrabook, the Folio 13's touchpad is another poorly implemented clickpad. As we've mentioned before and as Anand has even said to me personally, PC vendors still can't seem to get this part of the design down. Honestly I'm at a loss as to why they keep trying, as I have yet to use one that provides a tangible benefit over just using a traditional touchpad and pair of mouse buttons. At this point the only vendor with dedicated mouse buttons on their ultrabook is Toshiba. During testing I found the clickpad had such a hard time detecting misclicks that I was largely forced to use an external mouse.

Gallery: HP Folio 13

Finally, the screen on the Folio 13 is another poor-quality 768p TN panel. It's not really worth going through the full rigamarole for something that bothers all of us; suffice to say it's "competitive" with the majority of what's out there in this class, though hopefully the days of dismal notebook screens are drawing to a close as tablet screens push things forward.

LCD Analysis - Contrast

LCD Analysis - White

LCD Analysis - Black

The remainder of the results are available in Bench, but you can tell the Folio 13's screen isn't very good even by ultrabook standards. The best in an otherwise bad bunch are the ASUS Zenbook UX31E, which at least sports at 1600x900 resolution, and the vastly more expensive Sony Vaio Z2, which runs at full 1080p but costs nearly twice what some of the other ultraportables do.

Introducing the HP Folio 13 System Performance
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  • Jamezrp - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    I agree with pretty much everything said, but what about comparing the scores to the MacBook Air? That's probably the most popular ultrabook available, and frankly all of these tests were done on it. I hate to have to go back and forth to see the comparisons, especially since I own a MBA and am thinking of trading it in, potentially for a different ultrabook, or maybe just for the next model.
  • Pneumothorax - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    Just keep your MBA for now. With the exception of exception of sonys $2000 overpriced ultra book, you have the best screen, keyboard, and trackpad currently. It's funny how everybody claims apple is overpricing their stuff and claiming they're making 50% profit, but how come no pc manufacturer has released a sub $600 ultra book with a hi res screen, decent trackpad, and blacklit keyboard?
  • snuuggles - Thursday, April 19, 2012 - link

    Agreed. I personally despise OSX, but the hardware is quite clearly superior to anything I've seen. It's not even a close call.
  • ImSpartacus - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    Unless you have the $2000 original MBA, you should keep your machine.

    Wait another year, then Win8 Ultra-Mega-Tablet-Books will be reasonably mature.

    You have a solid machine, don't waste it.
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    I'd rather get a refurbed MacBook Air for $1099 than this. Much better screen, and thinner and lighter. I've never owned a Mac in my life, but I have to give them credit for making a product that still sets the standard.
  • jabro - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    This is really not a mystery:

    "HP also inexplicably uses only one memory channel on the i5's controller...."

    HP is being cheap, just like most laptop makers. These days a 1 x 4GB DDR3 DIMM configuration is cheaper than a 2 x 2GB module configuration, and the "upgrade" option to 2 x 4GB comes with a very premium price. In fact, you are seeing the 1 DIMM configuration in TONS of the laptops on sale today. The prevalence of the single DIMM/single memory channel configuration is just another example of why, in many ways, PC laptops today are not as good as they used to be a few years ago (just like the dearth of true 8-bit color LCP panels, or 16:10 ratio screens, and decent keyboards, etc.). Yes, PC laptops are cheap, but there seems to be less and less differentiation in the market with each year. While I do acknowledged that there are some exceptions at the high end of the price range, I think that this is also partly why Apple has cleaned up in the high end of the laptop market (bless them, they still ship 16:10 monitors in the MB Pro line).
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    The difference is there isn't any way to configure the Folio 13 in dual channel, and that's what I'm getting at.
  • jabber - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    HP/Compaq have a history of doing this. Even back as far as 2004/5 they were producing AMD and Intel based laptops only using single channel ram setups when dual channel was available.

    I know, I had a couple of them over the years. Bizarre.

    It's annoying when you know that your prized laptop is missing it's last 5% of performance due to HP not spending 5c to allow it.
  • arthur449 - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    What's really impressed me lately about HP's notebooks, compared to others, is their keyboard. Starting with the HP DM1Z (AMD E-350 "Brazos" debut) they've had surprisingly large and capable keyboards in their smaller laptops. The fact that this ultrabook includes a backlit version is also somewhat impressive as, last I checked, that HP only made that option available on their ENVY product line.

    And, while I don't have any physical experience with this particular computer, the lack of SATA 6Gbps and dual channel memory don't seem like they're hurting its overall usability.

    You're right Dustin. There are no perfect ultrabooks on the market right now. They're all creatively finding some way of shooting themselves in the foot. But, if I had to choose one, it would probably be this one, simply for the keyboard and cool ('n quiet) operation. That is, I would choose this one if it didn't have that hilariously awful LCD panel. As it stands now, this ultrabook and those that include panels like it can go die in a fire.
  • apinkel - Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - link

    I agree that the folio is the best of the PC ultra-book lot at this point in time.

    Every ultrabook keyboard has been a non-starter for me. Sounds like this one actually has a bit of travel and is decent enough. I also need an ethernet port so I'm glad they included that here. I've currently got an x301 with a ULV 1.4ghz chip and since it's performance is enough for my needs I'm sure this machine would be more than sufficient.

    The screen (16:9 and too low-res) and the clickpad are the only knocks I have with this machine.

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