HP EliteBook Folio 1020 review: Fabulously beautiful, painfully expensive

Price when reviewed

Close your eyes and imagine a world where business laptops can be beautiful. Gleaming ingots of metal pared to perfection, all precise curves and metallic sheen; silent and lightweight, secure and well-connected. The envy of any boardroom. Now open those peepers, and behold: the EliteBook Folio 1020 makes those reveries a reality. For a price.

HP EliteBook Folio 1020 review: Fabulously beautiful, painfully expensive

My colleague caught his first glimpse of HP’s EliteBook Folio 1020 back in January. It left its mark, his eyes lighting up each time HP teased his inbox with the prospect of an impending review unit. And I can see why he was smitten. It’s not the most individual-looking laptop out there – you’d quickly recognise it as an Ultrabook, shod in the familiar uniform of matte black and grey metal – but the Folio 1020 treads just the right line between understated and handsome. By the standards of most business laptops, though, it’s bloody gorgeous.

HP EliteBook Folio 1020 review: The attention to detail is stellar - this is one gorgeous laptop


The workmanship is superb. At 1.26kg, it’s nowhere near as feathery-light as the Apple MacBook, but the Folio 1020 feels exactly like a flagship laptop should. The combination of granite-tough build, silky-smooth metals and a grippy, rubberised base are a delight.  

Why mention the MacBook? For good reason. Despite one being focused on business, the other on pared-back simplicity, the Apple MacBook and the Folio 1020 have plenty of similarities. First, HP has followed the Apple’s lead by opting for the Core M family of processors, somewhat surprisingly forgoing the Core i5 or i7 CPUs more commonly found in other high-end Ultrabooks.

Likely to be less controversial, however, is the decision to equip the Folio 1020 with an optional high-DPI touchscreen, one that promises to be every bit as lovely as the MacBook’s Retina display.

HP EliteBook Folio 1020 review: HP's ultrabook has a fingerprint scanner and an Intel Core M processor

That, admittedly, is where the similarities end. For one thing, the HP is made of much hardier, more versatile stuff than its Apple cousin. How so? The Folio 1020 has survived the MIL-STD 810G tests for high and low temperature, altitude, humidity, dust vibration, shock and accidental falls. The two drain ports on the underside of this laptop allow liquid spillages to seep through the keyboard tray without doing irreparable damage. An occasional, ill-advised meeting with a glass of water or cup of tea won’t turn the Folio 1020 into a paperweight.

And where Apple has shorn the MacBook of all connectors bar a headphone socket and USB Type-C port, HP has made no such compromise. A brief scout around the HP EliteBook Folio 1020’s predominantly metal shell reveals a pair of USB 3 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, microSD slot, headset jack and a proprietary docking connector. It’s thicker and heavier than the MacBook, but far more practical.

Wondering where the all-important Gigabit Ethernet and VGA connections have got to? Look in the box. You’ll find an adapter that hooks up to the 1020’s docking connector; this provides both. Other all-important business essentials such as TPM 2 and a fingerprint reader have also made the cut. This is an ultraportable without compromise.

HP EliteBook Folio 1020 review: Ports on the left edge


Those who crave power, even in tiny packages, may rue HP’s decision to employ a Core M rather than a low-voltage Core i7, but it’s a sensible choice. You could argue that efficiency, rather than power, should take priority in a 12.5in chassis.

Few will even notice. Task a Core i7 and a Core M processor with brief, fleeting workloads, and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the two machines apart. The Core M architecture is designed specifically to open the throttle just long enough to meet brief spikes of demand, time enough to fire applications into life, or speed compute-heavy operations along, before easing back to its nominal clock speed.

The combination of 8GB of RAM and speedy flash storage do a good job of masking the 1.1GHz Core M-5Y51’s limitations: it’s rare that the HP feels out of its depth. Not until you push the envelope with sustained workloads such as video editing or transcoding does it begin to struggle, and these are jobs you’re unlikely to want to perform on a regular basis on a business laptop.

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