Despite the best efforts of PC manufacturers, none of them has quite matched Apple's MacBook Airs for sheer design desirability. Asus' Zenbook has come close, but another strong contender is HP's Folio 13. This is yet another sleek brushed metal ultrabook, with a particularly classy feel and build quality that could make it appeal more to the business user. Yet it's not priced accordingly, even if the specification doesn't quite match the latest Zenbook.
The Folio is certainly an attractive notebook, and for some tastes its two-tone looks might even appeal more than the unibody MacBook Air's singular slab of aluminium. This is definitely a more serious work-oriented machine than either the Airs or Asus Zenbooks. At 18mm thick, this is a much more portly system than either of the latter two, as well, but it's still no porker, and will slip easily into most bags. Weighing in at just 1.5kg, you will hardly notice it's there. There's a solid feel to the chassis overall, and even the thin lid has little flex, although attempting to twist it does occasionally bring discolouration to the screen.
However, our Folio sample isn't equipped with the very latest Intel technology. It incorporates an Intel Core i5 2467M, which is from the Sandy Bridge rather than Ivy Bridge generation. This dual-core processor runs nominally at 1.6GHz, but Intel Turbo Boost means a single core can increase to 2.3GHz when required, and multiple cores can run at 2GHz for short periods. Intel Hyper-Threading is also in evidence, so each core is split into two virtual ones for multi-tasking and multi-threaded application benefits. This is a decent processor, if not a powerhouse. Although it's not branded an ultra-low wattage CPU, it has the same 17W spec so should be just as good for miserly battery draw. The processor is backed by the now almost obligatory 4GB of DDR3, although this is the maximum available for the single-slot configuration.
The biggest drawback of the Sandy Bridge rather than Ivy Bridge processor is in the graphics department, however. Although the new Intel architecture is slightly faster for general tasks, its most significant improvement is the upgrade to HD 4000 rather than HD 3000 integrated graphics. Aside from being DirectX 11 compatible, the 4000 also has 16 execution units rather than 12, and is almost twice as fast. So the Folio 13 misses out on integrated graphics that's reasonably competent for gaming, but this is a business-oriented ultrabook, meaning it's not such a loss for the target audience.
Main storage is taken care of by a 128GB Samsung PM800 solid state disk, which will provide good performance and aid battery life, albeit a little on the small side by today's standards. There's no optical drive, but this is essentially universal with ultrabooks, due to the form factor. With the Folio's business focus, it's great to see that the port allocation includes Gigabit Ethernet on the left. This is accompanied by full-sized HDMI and USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader. On the right is a solitary USB 2.0 port and a headphone/microphone combo jack. This is a competent selection, especially for an ultrabook. Wireless networking includes 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 3, but there's no SIM slot for a 3G or 4G option. So you will have to stick to Wi-Fi or purchase a dongle.
The 13.3in LED backlit screen offers a run-of-the-mill 1,366 x 768 resolution. It's bright and clear, with decent viewing angles. Colour is rich and contrast good, making this a good screen for looking at photos or watching movies. The surface is glossy, but reflections are not too intrusive. There's the obligatory webcam on the top edge, too, for Skype meetings. Audio is lacking in bass, but can be relatively loud at the top volume. It will certainly be adequate for watching the odd TV programme on BBC iPlayer.
The Chiclet-style keyboard has a slightly soft action, but it's comfortable enough for touch-typing. There is backlighting (hit F5 to activate it), which will aid those who need to work in dark conditions. But the trackpad is reasonably responsive, with clearly defined buttons along the bottom edge. Overall, you will be able to use this notebook for hours on end without difficulty.
Performance is as expected for a notebook in this class. The result of 1.94 in the rendering portion of Cinebench R11.5 places the Folio 13 behind notebooks sporting an Ivy Bridge-based processor of similar clock speed – the 1.7GHz Asus Zenbook UX32 we reviewed recently managed 2.4. Similarly, the score of 8.06 in the graphics portion of Cinebench R11.5 is merely what we would expect for Intel HD 3000 graphics. The Futuremark 3DMark06 result of 3,297 is nothing spectacular, implying that limited occasional gaming will be possible at a resolution less than the native screen pixel count, but you won't be playing a recent title with detail and resolution turned up high – not even close.
Whilst performance is nothing to write home about, the battery life is phenomenal. The Folio lasted an incredible 226 minutes in our gruelling test, which works processor and graphics at 100 per cent until the battery is fully depleted. HP claims up to 9.5 hours from the 59WHr battery, and with light use we can see the Folio getting close to that. So it will easily see out a day of moderate office software work while away from the power socket, or play a couple of movies during a train or plane journey.
The HP Folio 13 doesn't quite have the visceral desirability of a MacBook Air or Asus Zenbook, but its slightly more sober looks are potentially more appropriate for the business user. It would be great to see this chassis with an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, which is surely on the roadmap, but even without it this is a very capable machine for a corporate user, particularly with the excellent battery life. If you're looking for an Office-oriented travelling companion with a dollop of understated style, the HP Folio 13 could be just the ticket, especially with a price close to £700.
Manufacturer and Product
HP Folio 13-2000
1.6GHz Intel Core i5 2467M
4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 3000
128GB Samsung PM800 solid state disk
13.3in TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0
HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, SD card reader, combo audio
Width x Depth x Height
220.2 x 318.5 x 18mm
Windows 7 Professional
1 year collect and return