HP's Elitebook Folio 1020: Worthy Competitor to MacBook Air

PRODUCT REVIEW: If you're sure of your priorities, this is an excellent business notebook that holds its own with the best from Apple, Dell, Lenovo and others.

Off the top, you should know I'm a product reviewer who always takes a lot more time in doing research than most folks. I simply want to see the product perform in all kinds of situations -- expected and unexpected -- and over a period of time.

After all, if you're going to invest $1,200 or more in any personal PC, you need to know about it from as many angles as possible. About the only place I didn't take the HP Elitebook Folio 1020 is underwater.

I've had the HP Elitebook Folio 1020 for six months, and the little guy (12.5-inch screen) has earned a key spot in my trusted personal device lineup. This is the one I take with me on the road, because it has all the features I need to get the job done.

Slimmest, Lightest Windows Notebook in Years

The EliteBook 1020 is the slimmest, lightest and most responsive Windows notebook I've come across in the last several years. It was obviously designed by HP to compete head-on with the MacBook Air, and it's a worthy option.

Personally, responsiveness is the most important attribute I look for in a laptop or notebook. It's okay if the machine is a little smaller or heavier or doesn't look as cool as somebody else's, but when I need it to do something, I don't want to have to wait for it. The solid-state EliteBook 1020 gets an "A" in this department.

However, it's also a plus that the EliteBook 1020 happens to be light, thin and cool looking -- lighter and thinner, in fact, than a similar-sized MacBook Air. That's right. Check the specs: The EliteBook 1020 (12.5 x 8.27 inches x 0.62 inches, 2.68 pounds), is both thinner and lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air (0.68 inches, 2.9 pounds), Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga (0.76 inches, 3.5 pounds), and Dell's XPS 13 (0.7 inches, 3.3 pounds). Similar notebooks by Toshiba, Acer and Asus aren't in the ballpark with these.

The Elitebook 1020 is light, but it certainly is not flimsy. It feels sturdy, and having been taken to a number of locations over the last several months, it's had its share of short drops and bumps, but it's never wavered in performance. This is a huge plus for travelers who require a portable work PC that can take what life gives it.

Fanless Operation a Plus

Powered by Intel's Core M processor -- which isn't the company's most powerful chip, but one that's more than adequate for this size notebook -- the EliteBook 1020 has a bevy of premium-type features: a fingerprint scanner, fanless operation, optional docking station, and high-end ForcePad touchpad, among others.

By the way, some of HP's previous hard-drive-based notebooks and portable workstations have had some issues with fan operation -- they're either way too loud and annoying, or both loud and simply inefficient. When a PC becomes so hot underneath that you cannot touch it, yet the fan is still whirring away, well, there's a serious problem. I've experienced that. This will never be the case with the EliteBook 1020. Grade: A.

This is a handsome business notebook. From the outside, the only apparent difference from a MacBook Air is the logo. The EliteBook 1020 has a smart-looking silver case, with the cover and deck made of brushed aluminum; the undercarriage is constructed of a soft-touch magnesium alloy. Grade: A-.

I would describe the EliteBook 1020's 12.5-inch display as crisp and adequately bright. Mine has a sharp 2560x1440 touchscreen; HP does offer less-expensive, lower-res, non-touch displays. Grade: B+.

Keyboard: Keys Large and Well-Spaced

Since I'm an old-school, physical keyboard preferred user with big hands, I look carefully at keyboards and how they play. The EliteBook 1020's is well-designed, with keys that are large and well-spaced. Again, responsiveness is what I'm most after, and this keyboard is wonderfully responsive. Grade: A.

HP has thrown in a thoughtful feature here, one that may users perhaps will never discover unless specifically told. The Elitebook 1020 has a hidden number pad that can be activated using the function keys at the top of the keyboard, which converts the left side of the keyboard into numerals. If you're a spreadsheet, scientific or general ledgers person, this is a very welcome time-saving option that other notebooks won't have.

I'm more of a mouse user myself, but for touchpad users, HP has upgraded it in this laptop. The EliteBook 1020's ForcePad, as it's called, may not be liked by everyone, however, because it will take a little getting used to it. Personally, I like clicks -- they tell you exactly what you've done or where you are. Clickless operations can be an issue, especially when you're in a hurry to finish something.

The Elitebook 1020 may have found a happy medium here, because it's both clicky and clickless. When you work lightly on the 3.75 x 2.2-inch ForcePad, no clicks. When you press harder, you get low-volume clicks.

Battery Life Still a Problem

If there's an attribute with which I'm not satisfied, it's battery life. I've never experienced more than 5 hours of unplugged time on the Elitebook 1020, and I don't even stream a lot of video. HP has, in fact, improved this during the last six months by adding a larger battery option, so if you decide to get this laptop, I'd advise going for the larger battery. Most small notebooks get 6 or more hours of battery life.

The Elitebook 1020 has a good number of ports: two USB 3.0's for peripherals, a full-size HDMI slot for linking to a larger monitor, and a microSD card slot for expanding the notebook's internal storage.

An optional docking port (for an additional $160) is available to hook up the EliteBook 1020 to HP's UltraSlim Docking Station. The dock enables VGA output, two full-size DisplayPorts, an Ethernet port and four additional USB 3.0 ports. It also enables a user to link the laptop to all desktop accessories through one connection. You will not find this on consumer notebooks -- including the MacBook Air.

Security-wise, the EliteBook 1020 comes equipped with built-in hardware encryption, and HP's Client Security application enable users to restrict access to individual drives and hardware ports to authorized users.

Pricing: Anywhere from $1200 and up, depending on distributor, configurations and options.

In summary, the EliteBook Folio 1020 is a worthy competitor to the MacBook Air. It's thin, light and looks good in a meeting, or anywhere else, for that matter. The responsiveness is excellent, the keyboard well-designed and very functional, and the 12.5-inch display is beautiful. it's got plenty of power under the hood. It's a highly recommended business laptop; you just have to know your priorities and make sure this one fits them.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...