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]

Gadling Gear Review: HP EliteBook 2570p Laptop

HP EliteBook 2570p laptopOver the past few years the trend in laptops has been to get thinner and lighter, often at the expense of power and features. The result has been a host of ultra-portable notebook computers that are sleek and stylish but don’t necessarily meet the needs of travelers who require a full-featured option when hitting the road. Fortunately, HP hasn’t abandoned those road warriors who require more from their laptops than just a pretty exterior. Their new EliteBook 2570p provides a great combination of performance and functionality in a package that still manages to remain relatively thin and lightweight.

While the EliteBook 2570p doesn’t fall into the category of an ultrabook, I was still very impressed with how thin and lightweight it is for such a full-featured laptop. Most ultrabooks achieve their diminutive stature by making compromises to the internal chipset and by omitting an optical drive altogether. HP hasn’t made those same compromises with this computer, however, delivering a system that includes a DVD drive, 12.5″ widescreen display, 500 GB of internal storage, 4 GB of RAM and an Intel Core i5 processor (i7 available as an upgrade) while still managing to keep the weight and bulk to a minimum. The EliteBook tips the scale at just 3.6 pounds and is a little more than an inch thick, which are pretty impressive dimensions for a computer that includes this much hardware.

Of course, all of that internal technology doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the battery power to keep it up and running for very long. But HP has managed to deliver in that department as well, giving the laptop plenty of juice. Out of the box, the EliteBook 2570p comes with a standard 6-cell battery that delivers more than nine hours of life. The unit I tested came with an extended 9-cell battery, which brought that time up to an astounding 15 hours. That’s enough to keep travelers productive and entertained for an entire trans-Pacific flight without needing a recharge, something that isn’t possible on most ultrabooks.
HP EliteBook 2570p laptopBuilt from the ground up to withstand the rigors of the road, the EliteBook 2570p is rugged and durable. It isn’t in the same class as something like the Panasonic Toughbook series of laptops, but then again HP’s offering isn’t nearly as big or as bulky as those machines either. This is a computer that will hold up well to the challenges of travel and you’ll never have to worry that it is too fragile to accompany you on a trip to just about anywhere.

This laptop implements a nice mix of legacy technology and new features. In addition to the aforementioned DVD drive and a fingerprint scanner, it also includes gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, an SD card reader and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. It even has an option for a 56k modem, something that is seldom found on any computer these days. Business users will appreciate the ability to dock the computer while seated at their desks and everyone will enjoy the SRS premium sound package, which provides clear audio for watching videos, listening to music or chatting via Skype.

Since this laptop is aimed primarily at business-oriented travelers, HP has added some impressive levels of security to protect the contents on the hard drive. In addition to the usual password protection that comes standard on any Windows PC, the EliteBook 2570p’s included fingerprint scanner provides a slick way to authenticate as well. But this system also has a third option that combines Bluetooth technology and facial recognition to provide unprecedented protection for those that need it. When the laptop is paired with a mobile phone via Bluetooth it then takes a snapshot of the users face through the built-in webcam. When the computer’s owner attempts to log in using this system, the EliteBook first checks to see if the user’s phone is within range and then activates the camera to compare his or her face with the image on file. If they match, the system grants entry. This security option sounds complicated, but once it is configured, it works flawlessly and provides a measure of protection that goes well beyond what is found on most notebooks.

While overall I found the EliteBook 2570p to be an excellent full-featured laptop for travelers, there were a few areas that I wouldn’t mind seeing improved. For instance, I wasn’t overly impressed with the touch pad, which was smaller, and sometimes less responsive, then I would have liked. The laptop does come with a track stick, however, which helps to mitigate this issue for those that prefer that option. The integrated Intel graphics chip will be a bit disappointing for some as well, although if you don’t play 3D games or edit video, you’ll probably find it adequate for your day to day needs.

HP offers the EliteBook with your choice of either Windows 7 or Windows 8, and my test model came preloaded with the latest version of Microsoft’s iconic operating system. After putting it through its paces for several weeks, I’d have to say that if I were ordering one of these laptops for myself, I would probably prefer Windows 7. That isn’t to say that Windows 8 doesn’t bring some new and interesting things to the table, but its interface seems to work better on a touchscreen device, something that this laptop most assuredly is not. Windows 8 runs flawlessly on the 2570p, but I found it a bit awkward to use at times, especially with the smaller touch pad.

If you’re the kind of traveler that needs to carry a laptop that doesn’t compromise features and performance in favor of a slim design, then the EliteBook 2570p is a great option for you. The computer provides everything that business travelers need to stay connected and productive while on the road, while still managing to remain relatively lightweight and thin. Yes, HP could have pulled out the DVD drive and a few other features to cut weight and bulk, but that would be completely missing the point. Some of us still need those options while on the road, and those are the types of travelers who are going to appreciate what this laptop brings to the table. Those same users are also likely to appreciate the EliteBook’s price tag, which starts at just $949. That’s an excellent price for a computer that delivers this much versatility and performance in such a small package.

[Photo Credit: HP]

Gadling gear review – HP Mini 5101 netbook

In this review I’m going to introduce you to one of the newest netbook computers from HP. The Mini 5101 is a very compact machine designed with the business traveler in mind. When building a computer for business use, HP obviously put a lot of time into making the machine able to stand up to the rough environment.

Because of this, the entire machine is built around a magnesium frame, it also features an aluminum screen lid, near full size keyboard, hard drive drop protection, a special keyboard coating and an easy to upgrade memory bay.
The basics

Lets start with the basics – inside the entry level HP Mini 5101 is an Intel Atom N280 1.6G6Hz processor, 1GB of ram and a 7200RPM 160GB hard drive. These specifications are nothing special, and are what you’ll find in almost any netbook nowadays.

Design

The design of the 5101 is where you start to notice major differences between most other netbook computers. As soon as you pick the 5101 up, you know that it isn’t just another all plastic computer. A metal screen lid, rubberized bottom, and not a squeak to be found (many cheap machines squeak a bit due to all the poorly joined plastic pieces).

On the bottom of the unit is a memory slot and the battery compartment. One the left side is the power port, a VGA D-SUB monitor connector and 2 USB ports. On the right is where you’ll find the Kensington lock port, 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a high power USB port (for devices like a DVD drive), audio in/out and an SD memory card reader.

Once you open the Mini 5101, you find the real treat this machine has to offer – a 95% full size keyboard. For the first time (as far as I can tell), the HP designers were smart enough to design the keyboard without any bezel around the edges. This means all the keys come up right to the edge of the machine. Typing on this thing is absolutely amazing, and I can honestly say that it has the best keyboard I have ever used on a laptop. Not just on a netbook, but the best on any laptop.

The trackpad is equally well designed – for some reason, many manufacturers manage to screw up the trackpad design (I’m talking to you Dell). The Mini 5101 has the perfect trackpad – not too big, not too small, buttons on the bottom with a nice click. Seriously – the combination of the great keyboard with the well designed trackpad means you can actually get some work done on this machine. Above the display is a 2MP camera, which is also a step above the crappy low res webcams found on many other machines.

Software and OS

Because the Mini 5101 is targeted towards business users, it is only available with Windows XP Home or SUSE Linux. A third option delivers the machine with nothing but the FreeDOS operating system, which is great if you want to put your own operating system on it.

In addition to XP, the machine I reviewed also came complete with Corel Home Office (a very decent word/spreadsheet/presentation package) with full Microsoft Office compatibility. This package normally retails for $69.99, so it really does provide a good value for your money.

Also included is the HP 3D Driveguard monitor software. This application works alongside the built in accelerometer to protect your hard drive in the event the Mini 5101 falls.

And finally, the Mini 5101 also comes with a file syncing application, designed to help keep the files on your netbook in sync with those on your (home) office desktop PC.

Battery life

On my Mini 5101 review unit, a 29Wh 4-cell lithium-ion battery was included – when running the machine as normally as possible (WiFi on, browser open), I reached 3 hours 25 minutes before it shut itself down. This is very normal for a battery with those specifications. The 6 cell battery increases power to 55Wh (and just over 5 hours of use).

The battery has a small status button and a couple of LED’s to show its current power level.

Expansions and optional extras

In its basic form, the Mini 5101 features a 1024×600 matte display, 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and 1GB of memory. Once you start thinking about getting one, you can order it from the HP site with a whole host of extra features.

The following are some of the options available when you pick a customized Mini 5101:

  • HD display (+$25) – increases the screen resolution to 1366×768
  • HP Mobile Broadband adapter – (+$125) powered by GOBI – allows for 3G (GSM and CDMA) connections
  • Bluetooth adapter (+$18) – integrated inside the machine
  • 6 cell lithium-ion battery (+$25)

Of course, the site also lets you order a variety of additional software, chargers and cases. The only memory configuration available from HP is 1GB, but you can upgrade that memory module to 2GB in a matter of seconds, thanks to the easy-access memory port. Unlike other machines, you do not need a screwdriver to access the memory bay on the 5101.

Final thoughts

The HP Mini 5101 starts at $399. This will get you a machine with Windows XP Home, 160GB hard drive, Bluetooth and a 4 cell battery. This is surprisingly cheap, as machines with these specifications, (but without all the extras HP includes) are normally around $350. You obviously pay a premium for the rugged design and other features, but considering how well this thing is built, I’m convinced that it is well worth it. Especially if you travel a lot, you’ll need a machine that can survive the airport. Design aside, what makes this machine well worth its price is the keyboard.

Of course, once you start configuring the Mini 5101 just how you like it, you’ll creep towards $750. This will add mobile broadband , the 6 cell battery and the HD display.

Product review – HP Mini-note 2133 ultra portable notebook

My review for today is of the HP Mini-note 2133 “Netbook”. When I first got my hands on the Mini-note, I had pictured myself writing a review comparing it with the machine that started the whole Netbook “revolution”; the Asus Eee PC.

Most of these new mini notebooks (netbooks) are designed to be light, cute and very, very affordable. Light and affordable usually means lots of plastic, and cutting corners in the features department.

The HP mini-note is different in every possible way – it’s a normal notebook, just smaller. It even looks and feels like a normal notebook. It has a large screen, a normal size keyboard and a usable size track pad, but it still weighs under 2.7 pounds (a little over 1 kilogram). And, at just 10×6 inches, it’s the perfect size for throwing in your carry-on bag and taking it along on a trip.

The model I’m reviewing here is the “HP 2133 Mini-Note PC model FF0099AA“. It comes with Windows Vista Business, a 1.6GHz Via C7 CPU, an 8.9 inch (1280×800 pixels) display, 2Gb ram, 120Gb 7200RPM drive, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a 6 cell Li-Ion battery. The list price is $829. Don’t let yourself get scared away by the price; this particular model of the Mini-note has every single optional extra added, from a 7200rpm drive to a larger battery. Lighter models of the machine start at just $499.

The outside

The outside of the machine instantly catches your attention. Forget cheap plastic – the HP is covered in sleek brushed aluminum on the top and bottom. This even extends around the battery.

The result is something that looks fantastic and is very durable (when talking to an HP product manager, I was told that they actually tried to scratch the thing with steel wool, but failed!).

On the outside you’ll find 2 USB ports (one with high power output, suitable for a portable optical drive), a VGA connector, audio out/in plugs, an Ethernet port, a Kensington lock port, an SD card reader and an Expresscard/54 slot.

With Expresscard, HP obviously understands that a lot of us currently travel with a wireless broadband modem, and that our modems are not always USB.

HP even put some thought into the power connector; it’s the same one used on all HP business class notebooks, which means you’ll be able to pick up tips for your universal power supply, or use an existing HP power brick you have lying around.

On the front of the machine is the power switch, a hard disk status light (with a special feature I’ll mention later) and a hardware wireless switch.

The inside

The inside is just as gorgeous as the outside. Once you open the 2133, you’ll find a (near) full size keyboard, a nice wide track pad and a spacious 8.9″ display with stereo speakers. Above the screen is a VGA webcam.

The keyboard is 92% full size, which means that the keys are spaced almost like on a desktop keyboard. There is a decent size space bar, 2 large shift keys and a row of function keys which also control things like volume, brightness, sleep mode and external display options.

The keys on the mini-note are treated with a special rub-resistant coating, which means you won’t end up with a “QRTY keyboard” after several years of use.
Protection

Once again it’s obvious that HP asked their business machines people to design the Mini-Note; they added several layers of protection in the design. Besides the already mentioned aluminum body, they also incorporated a magnesium frame which makes things strong and light. On the inside of the machine you’ll also find HP’s “advanced 3D DriveGuard protection system”.

HP has the following to say about their DriveGuard system: “A three-axis digital accelerometer senses sudden movement and instructs the system software to temporarily park the hard drive“.

3D DriveGuard isn’t just another buzzword; you can actually see it work. The front hard drive activity LED turns orange when the machine detects too much movement. An orange LED means the drive has parked itself while it waits for the Mini-Note to hit the ground, or for you to stop shaking it. DriveGuard only works on the Windows versions of the Mini-Note, so if you purchase the cheaper Linux version, you won’t benefit from it.

The display

Normally I stay away from number ratings, but if I had to rate the display on the Mini-Note, I’d have to give it a 6 out of 10. It’s clear, bright and very crisp, but it suffers from an extremely annoying glossy coating.

Any time light shines on the screen, it becomes nearly impossible to read, and you’ll find yourself fidgeting to turn it away from the light.

The resolution is a very acceptable 1280×800, which means you’ll be able to run any application you want without having to scroll around too much like on machines with a lower resolution screen. The brightness can be controlled though the power profile or by using the f3/f4 function buttons. If you suffer from poor eyesight, you might find the high resolution to be a little too much, especially on such a small screen.

Computer performance

Inside the model I’m reviewing is a VIA C7 processor. This 1.6GHz CPU is quite sufficient for most of the things you’ll do on the road. During my review, I installed all the applications I normally need;

  • Office 2007
  • Firefox
  • Skype
  • Magicjack
  • Trillian Astra (IM client)
  • Media Player Classic
  • iTunes
  • HAVA Player (for remote TV viewing).

All these applications ran fairly well, but I always had a little bit of a lag when switching between applications, or when trying to do some video playback on full screen. The 1.6GHz processor is the top of the line, cheaper versions are sold with a 1.2 or 1.0GHz chip, which in my opinion will probably be too slow for the applications I listed.

There is however one other issue I need to mention with the processor; heat. The exhaust on the side of the Mini-note blows the heat away from the processor and the motherboard. The air coming out the vent reaches almost 120F when the machine is running in full speed mode. You really need to be careful what you place around the vent, and will certainly have to be sure you don’t block it.

Battery life

As I mentioned earlier, the version I am testing is equipped with a 6 cell battery. The standard battery is a 3 cell version, so this larger version doubles the battery life. To get a fairly reliable battery test, I set Windows Vista to the “balanced” power saving mode and changed the setting to keep the display on. I then started playback of a video file (with repeat) off the hard drive. When I checked back after 2 hours, it was still running fine, and continued to do so until the 3 hour 22 minute mark, at which point, Vista turned the machine off. Three hours is not too bad for a machine like this, but it does involve a larger battery. If you purchase the smaller 3 cell battery, you’ll probably get around 2 hours which is also quite acceptable. Thankfully, many airlines are working on installing power ports for their seats.

Wireless performance

The Mini-Note is equipped with an 802.11 internal wireless card with support for A, B and G networks. While most home users won’t need the support for A, it is a fairly common system in corporate environments.

The model I’m testing also has Bluetooth, which in my opinion is a “must have” in any notebook nowadays. It enables the use of devices like a Bluetooth headset, mouse, or allows you to wirelessly connect with your mobile phone.

In my case, I’ve added my trusty MoGo mouse to the Mini-Note, and they really do feel like they are made for each other. The MoGo mouse stores neatly inside the Expresscard slot and charges when I’m not using it.

The Bluetooth adapter supports Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, which increases the range and data speeds. In real life this means you’ll be able to connect a Bluetooth headset and walk around your hotel room without your call crackling or dropping every 5 seconds.

The Wi-Fi adapter picked up plenty of access points and once connected I had a rock solid connection which never dropped, which about all you can ask of a Wi-Fi adapter.

The HP Mini-note for travelers

So, how well does the HP travel? Quite well thankfully! The machine is light enough to not bother you, and powerful enough to give you the feeling that you are carrying an full blown laptop.

The ability to use most existing HP chargers, as well as power tips on most universal power chargers means you shouldn’t run into any power issues. The webcam has a fairly low resolution, but is quite sufficient for a basic video call with your friends or family. And finally, the sturdy magnesium frame and DriveGuard protection feature mean you won’t end up with a dud if a clumsy TSA agent drops it.

Final thoughts…

This HP Mini-note is a beautiful machine. It has every feature you could possible need to do some work on the road. But all those features come at a price; $749 is almost twice as much as a low end Netbook like the Asus Eee 4G.

It’s a decision you’ll have to make based on your needs; if you need an Expresscard slot, Bluetooth and a high resolution display, then you will immediately end up in Mini-note land.

If you are just looking for something to do a little web browsing with, then a $349 Eee will probably suit you fine. That said; there are cheaper versions of the HP Mini-note. Their $499 version comes with a 1GHz C7 processor, 4GB of storage and 512MB of ram. In this model, you still get the Expresscard slot, but you lose Bluetooth. All in all, I found the HP Mini-Note 2133 to be close to perfect; the only 2 things that let me down were the slightly slow CPU and the glossy screen.

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Touring America’s Northeast with HP

VanJust wanted to give everyone here a quick update on my whereabouts since I haven’t sat still all year. Over the next couple of months you can find me riding around parts of America’s chilly north east as one half of Hewlett Packard’s Color Works dynamic tour staff. I’ll be hanging around the local Staples, Office Max, & Office Depot in places like Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia demonstrating how laser jets and ink jet printers can benefit small and medium business owners. Why am I telling you about all this? Mostly because I’m hoping to see some of the Gadling readers pop into a store from time to time to say “hi!” With a van like the HP Color Works one I’ll be pretty hard target to miss, so if you see it parked in a parking lot come on inside and I’ll give you the 411 on printers and other HP items.