Gadling Gear Review: HP EliteBook Folio 9470m Laptop

HP EliteBook Folio 9470mOver the past few years our expectations of what our laptops are capable of have changed dramatically. Not all that long ago we were content with simply having a reasonably fast portable computer that could help us get our work done and stay in contact with friends, family and coworkers while on the road. But now, that same laptop needs to be a mobile workstation with full multimedia capabilities, fast wireless Internet and a bright, clear, high-resolution screen. It should also come in a lightweight, thin – yet durable – package that looks good too. That seems to be the exact blueprint that HP used when designing the new EliteBook Folio 9470m, an ultrabook that meets all of those requirements while delivering a few nice surprises of its own.

The Folio 9470m is the kind of laptop that starts making an impression before you ever turn it on. Its casing is made out of a durable and lightweight, yet very attractive, magnesium alloy that conveys a sense of quality that isn’t always found in a notebook of this size. The laptop has been built to military grade specifications, which means it is capable of surviving all manner of abuse. HP tells me that in order to gain military spec certification the EliteBook had to go through a battery of tests, including surviving drops from a variety of heights, being able to withstand a wide range of temperatures and environmental conditions and withstanding vibrations, changes in atmospheric pressure and so on. The Folio 9470m passed every one of those tests with flying colors, which means it should be able to shrug off the typical wear and tear associated with day-to-day use both at home and on the road.

HP builds this notebook in a variety of configurations, offering something for just about every budget. The model I tested came with 4GB of RAM, a 2 GHz Intel i5 processor and a 14-inch backlit LED screen with a resolution of 1366 x 768. Each of those components can be upgraded further if you need higher performance, but I found that this standard config provides enough power for the average user. A higher quality screen capable of a resolution of 1600 x 900 is a tempting upgrade though.Putting this laptop through its paces I was continually impressed by the overall excellent performances. For standard, day-to-day tasks such as email, browsing the web and listening to music, the EliteBook won’t even break a sweat. More demanding tasks such as photo editing, video conferencing and watching streaming movies went off without a hitch as well. Those processor intensive activities were more likely to activate the laptop’s internal fan however, which was a bit jarring at times, especially considering how quiet this machine is most of the time.

I was impressed with how much I liked both the keyboard and touchpad that HP uses on the Folio 9470m. Both are very responsive and have a high quality feel to them. The keyboard is very easy to adapt to and I liked the “clicky” nature of its movement. The backlit keys, with two levels of lighting, are a very nice touch too. The fact that it is also spill resistant will be much appreciated by anyone who has ever managed to knock over their morning coffee as well.

HP EliteBook Folio 9470mSimilarly, the touchpad is highly sensitive and easy to use and while it’s not quite on par with the brilliant trackpad on Apple’s MacBook line, it’s about as close as I’ve found on a Windows notebook. It seemed to have some issues recognizing Windows 8 gestures however, which was a bit confounding considering how well it performed otherwise. For those who aren’t fans of the touchpad, HP has also included a pointing stick as an alternate method of interacting with the EliteBook. I’ve never been a big fan of that type of input device, but this one was accurate and easy to use.

HP has wisely gives users the opportunity to purchase the Folio 9470m with either Windows 7 or 8 installed. Many have resisted upgrading to Microsoft’s newer operating system and I’m sure this laptop delivers an excellent Win 7 experience should you choose to go that route. My test model came with Win 8 and unlike many other peope, I have actually enjoyed Microsoft’s new OS for the most part. As I’ve said in the past however, the Windows 8 interface is best used in a touch environment and since this laptop doesn’t use a touch screen, it can feel a bit clunky at times. The excellent touchpad helps to alleviate this to a degree, but there was more than one occasion when I found myself tapping on an unresponsive screen, before I reminded myself that this laptop didn’t feature that technology. If Windows 8 is truly the future of the operating system, the ultrabook reference design should mandate touch screens in my opinion.

The EliteBook Folio 9470m was designed with the business traveler in mind and as a result it has some nice touches that aren’t always found on other ultra-thin laptops. For instance, it has a built-in VGA port as well as a Displayport which provides a great deal of flexibility when connecting to external monitors, television sets or LCD projectors. The laptop also features an Ethernet port, two very fast USB 3.0 ports and an SD/MMC card reader. Finally, it also has a docking port that allows it to quickly and easily connect to HP’s new universal docking station which works across the entire EliteBook line. That comes in very handy for quickly and easily connecting to external monitors, keyboards and networks when at a desk.

One of the key elements to how useful any laptop is to a traveler is how well its battery performs. The Folio 9470m doesn’t disappoint in this area either as its standard 52w battery is good for a solid 6+ hours of performance. For $200, road warriors can add a slice battery that adds a little bulk to the notebook but provides an additional 10 hours of battery life. Imagine being able to cross the Pacific using your computer for the entire flight. That’s the kind of performance we’re talking about here and I’m not sure how you could possibly ask for anything more.

This notebook isn’t without a few quibbles however. For instance, the built-in webcam doesn’t perform all that well in low light conditions and as mentioned the trackpad wasn’t as accurate as I would like when using Windows 8 gestures. The standard display is a bit on the lackluster side as well, particularly for a laptop in the EliteBook’s price range. But those minor issues aside, it’s hard not to like everything that this notebook brings to the table.

If you’re a business traveler who needs a lightweight and rugged laptop that can handle your entire workload while on the road, it’s tough to beat the Elitebook Folio 9470m. It weighs in at just 3.6 pounds and is just .75 inches thick. Despite those svelte figure however, it packs quite a bit of power under the hood. Base configurations start at $1049 and go up from there depending on added features. That puts it at the top end of the ultrabook line, but considering the performance and military grade durability displayed by this laptop, I think it is an excellent choice for the on-the-go business traveler.

[Photo Credit: HP]