If you are like me (an early-adopting, tech-savvy super-user of cutting-edge technology), you’ve spent the last decade traveling a winding and bumpy road in search of the perfect portable device.
My kids would say that a better description of me and my journey would be “a middle-aged geek who is not happy unless he has the newest toy.” I must confess, I’ve ended up with a few toys along the way, but with the introduction of the new class of ultrathin laptops, branded as Ultrabooks, my journey may be coming to an end. At least for a while.
In preparing this column, my inaugural product review, I scanned the Ultrabook landscape for a device that would be interesting to a diverse reader group and for one that just might change how we work and the items we carry with us on a daily basis. The HP Folio13 appeared to fit the bill.
HP, with the introduction of the Folio, was not the first on the Ultrabook scene. There are many to choose from, including offerings from Acer, Dell, Toshiba and Lenovo. As with any “hot” technology, new choices seem to be hitting the marketplace on a weekly basis. However, the HP Folio, priced just south of $900, is a great entry point. From the moment you first lay your hands on it, you will feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth. The Folio’s design is clean, and despite its size, the unit feels solid and well-built. Its lid and deck are covered with brushed aluminum, both of sufficient thickness as to maintain a rigid (not flimsy) feel. The bottom of the Folio is covered with a rubberized plastic that makes the unit feel secure in your hands during transport. The design is aesthetically pleasing, with slightly rounded corners and edges. At just 0.7 inches wide (slightly wider than a dime standing on edge), the Folio is clearly an ultrathin laptop. It may not be the thinnest, but it is sized to be extremely portable and comfortable to carry.
THE FOLIO VERSUS A TABLET
For many, the appeal of tablets, beyond their size, is their responsiveness. Press a button and they are on; press it again and they are off. Over the past year or so, I’ve traveled with my tablet because my Windows laptops have been painfully slow to boot up. The Folio snaps to life in mere seconds when initially turned on or awakened from sleep mode. Even after the IT folks at my firm installed their start-up scripts, the time from power-on to complete network logon was minimal. The Folio’s speed at start-up, combined with its portability, has caused me to strongly reconsider which device I grab when heading off to a meeting. Given the outstanding battery life of the device, I don’t have to worry about bringing along its charger. In my tests, the Folio’s standard battery lasted just over eight hours with the device on but not in use. With a movie continuously looping, the battery lasted just over six hours. Not quite the longevity of a tablet, but certainly enough to get you through a typical day. If you do decide to travel with the Folio’s charger, or brick, you will find that it is smaller and lighter than those that come with most conventional laptops.
PORTABILITY? CHECK. START-UP SPEED? CHECK. BATTERY LIFE? CHECK.
So how about connectivity? The Folio sports two USB ports (one 2.0 and a faster 3.0), an HDMI jack (no VGA), an Ethernet jack, a headphone/microphone/speaker combo jack and a media card reader. The presence of USB ports, missing from today’s most popular tablets, makes it much easier to transfer large amounts of data (measured either in file size or quantity) to and from the device. In addition to the typical wireless adapter, the device is also Bluetooth equipped.
MOBILE NIRVANA AT LAST
The greatest attribute of the Folio is its ability to truly support mobile productivity. With previous devices, including my current tablet, I have had to rely on third-party applications to produce and manage my data, communications, calendar, etc. Not so with the Folio. Loaded with Windows 7, it provides seamless integration with my desktop applications. And unlike with my tablet, I am not constrained to an on-screen, virtual keyboard. The Folio’s full-sized keyboard is of comfortable design and placement. The raised, chiclet-styled keys are very responsive and spongy. An added plus to the Folio’s keyboard is that it is backlit. It’s hard to believe that this feature has taken so long to make it to prime time. The top row of the keyboard includes controls for screen brightness, keyboard backlighting, media playback and WiFi antenna. The controls are activated by a single press of the key, as opposed to a simultaneous pressing of the Fn (Function) key, as on traditional laptops. The device’s touchpad is solid-surfaced and somewhat similar to that of an Apple MacBook. Instead of having individual buttons, the left and right clickable areas are marked on the touchpad’s surface with light, silver lines. The surface is responsive, especially when tapping to click. When a full click is required, the touchpad does feel a bit stiff. Multitouch gestures are supported, including two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom, and they are reasonably fluid. The Folio’s 13.3-inch HD BrightView display (1366 by 768) provides for comfortable viewing in most interior lighting situations. The display’s mid-class brightness and glossy surface can create challenges when viewing with a light source behind you or outdoors. Just above the display, HP included its HD TrueVision webcam, aptly suited for online communication and collaboration.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Folio was not built for supercomputing or intense gaming. With that said, the device, with its Intel Core i5 processor and 128GB solid state drive, is quick and responsive. There is ample horsepower for the typical (and even slightly advanced) business user. An attorney working off-site would have no issue with the Folio’s ability to multitask. For presentation purposes, the onboard Dolby Advanced Audio system produces a decent volume level and sound quality. For larger audiences, I recommend using the Bluetooth feature to connect to an external speaker. As a bonus tip, I recommend the Bose SoundLink mobile speaker. It’s easy to connect and delivers a deep, rich sound. The Folio is cooled through vents on the bottom of the device. Though some heat is thrown off, I did not find using the device in my lap to be uncomfortable.
The HP Folio13 Ultrabook is the closest thing to the perfect portable device that I have used to date. At the price of an upper-end tablet, you can have comparable portability, speed and battery life, plus the benefit of greater compatibility and enhanced functionality. If I were looking to invest $900 in the next leg of my journey, I’d gladly spend it on the HP Folio. Who knows, I might even find that the Folio was my destination all along.