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The HP Folio 13 ultrabook was a one of the last first-generation ultrabooks to market. But like other late entrants, it was worth the wait. By now, though, the second-generation ultrabooks are starting to come out, and they make the Folio 13 look pretty underpowered by comparison.
If you can find a good deal on a Folio 13, grab it. Otherwise, it’s worth waiting a few months for a second-generation ultrabook running Windows 8.
Price and features
The HP Folio 13 has a 13″ 1366 × 768 screen, a 1.6 GHz Core i5 processor, and 4 GB of memory for $999, which is par for the course for last year’s crop of ultrabooks. Those specs are a bit dated compared to the Fujitsu Lifebook U772 I also have on my desk, though. The Fujitsu comes with a 14″ screen (at the same lackluster resolution) and a 2.6 GHz processor for only $150 more.
So although the Folio 13 would have been a compelling ultrabook 6 months ago, this review is more of a look back at the technology of (literally) yesteryear than the cutting-edge ultrabooks of today.
Hardware and design
The Folio 13 is attractive, but still corporate-looking, somehow. Still, it’s massively better-looking than the Toshiba Portege Z830 I reviewed. Like the Dell XPS 13, it has an aluminum lid and keyboard surround, but it doesn’t have the Dell’s gorgeous carbon fiber bottom. In other words, it looks good but not great.
The screen is nice and bright, with good horizontal viewing angles and acceptable vertical viewing angles. The 1366 × 768 resolution is the same as much of the competition, but 768 vertical pixels really does feel cramped for working on documents. Then again, widescreen displays are meant for watching video, not composing documents. This isn’t HP’s fault, of course; widescreen has become standard-issue. Higher-resolution displays are available, though, and more vertical pixels make editing documents much easier on a widescreen display. Lawyers who do a lot of writing or drafting on a laptop may want to get something like the Asus Zenbook or the Macbook Air for a little more working room.
It’s a little hard for me to judge keyboards right now, since I am typing one-handed at way below my normal speed. But this one seems excellent. The keys have enough travel and great feedback. Plus, the backlighting makes typing a pleasure even in dim light. While the screen may not be optimal for editing documents, the keyboard is great for any typing you may be doing.
The touchpad, on the other hand, is barely usable. Like the Zenbook, it was a bit flexy, which contributed to its overall vague feel. Clicking and dragging requires luck and perseverance, as does right-clicking. Vagueness is really the hallmark of most buttonless touchpads on Windows PCs, and the Folio 13 is no exception. It gets the job done, but no more. I gave up on the touchpad and plugged in a mouse after about an hour.
Like most ultrabooks, the Folio 13 does not have a lid latch; instead, the lid has a magnetic closure. Only I could barely tell on my test unit. It felt like there was nothing holding the lid shut at all, which made the lid feel a bit floppy when I was carrying it around.
Overall, though, the Folio 13 is a solid, well-constructed ultrabook. The touchpad is weak and a pain to use, although for what it is worth, so are most of the touchpads in this category.
On the upside, the Folio 13 comes with Windows 7 Professional, which makes it the only ultrabook I have tested thus far to do so. If you are going to use this for business, you will want Windows Pro, so that’s a nice bonus.
On the other hand, the Folio 13 came loaded down with bloatware. The desktop had 7 worthless shortcuts, 6 to worthless software (the 7th is to Office 2010 starter, which I’m guessing you would find just fine on your own, if you needed it. The HP Launch Box (that bar with Skype, etc., at the bottom of the screenshot) even ensures that stuff you won’t use clutters up your taskbar until you figure out what the HP Launch Box is and uninstall it. While you are uninstalling things, you probably want to remove the Bing toolbar, something called Blio that doesn’t seem to do anything but open your My Documents folder, Norton Internet Security, and many of HP’s utilities, which will pop up unexpectedly to annoy you from time to time if you leave them installed.
HP does include the usual update utility — the HP Support Assistant — for its own software updates. Like most vendor-provided software, it shuns the Windows user interface paradigm, making it unintuitive to use. As far as I can tell, this mostly includes reminders like “Learn how to clean up your desktop,” which should be handy for removing all the crap HP put on it in the first place (which HP recommends that you do).
Little of the software that ships with the Folio 13 is necessary or useful; most of it is just there so HP can get kickbacks from the vendors at the cost of the time it takes you to clean up the mess on your new ultrabook. Have fun.
Movies played smoothly in HD on Netflix, and programs started quickly, if not quite as quickly as on my trusty (but substantially heavier) ThinkPad. That is the same performance I experienced with other ultrabooks of this vintage, though. It is definitely quick enough to replace a laptop for all but the most power-hungry users (read: gamers, video editors, and graphic designers).
The Folio 13 wakes from sleep quickly, but it also goes into hibernation (or maybe it is some kind of deeper sleep) fairly quickly if you leave your computer alone for a few minutes. Waking it from sleep is as easy as opening the lid. Wait too long (again, a few minutes), and you have to wake it with the power button, which takes much longer. As a result of this behavior, I didn’t get to experience the speedy wake times very often.
Battery life is excellent. The Verge clocked just over 7 hours on a charge, and I had no trouble spending the morning working from a local coffee shop.
Fan volume is quite loud, especially with prolonged use. I mostly used the Folio 13 on a smooth surface in cool weather (60–70°F) for my review, and the fan was a constant, noisy whirring in the background. It kept the keyboard surface cool, tough, and the bottom never got uncomfortable when I used the Folio 13 in my lap.
Speaking of volume, the speakers are surprisingly good for an ultrabook. Located up near the screen hinge, they aren’t likely to get blocked and muffled. You won’t have any trouble hearing music or video, although obviously they aren’t going to power your next post-trial office rave.
Overall, the Folio 13 is well dialed in and pleasantly quick — as long as you don’t compare it to the second-generation ultrabooks now hitting the market for similar prices.
Who should buy the HP Folio 13?
If you need an ultrabook today and you want a sort of corporate-looking one with an excellent keyboard, then the HP Folio 13 is a great choice. But if you aren’t on a tight timeline, you should probably wait a couple of months for the second generation of ultrabooks — even the next-generation Folio 13, if you like.
HP Folio 13
Reviewed by Sam Glover on .
Summary: The HP Folio 13 is a solid, well-rounded ultrabook. Unfortunately, second-generation ultrabooks are already here, making the Folio 13, unfortunately, something of a relic already.
- Price and features: 3
- Hardware and design: 4
- Included software: 3
- Performance: 4
Overall score: 3.5 (out of 5)