The monochrome, sunlight-readable displays remain largely synonymous with e-readers, but they're moving into other devices large and small.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
The HP EliteBook Folio 9470m is technically an ultrabook, but you could be forgiven for neither noticing nor caring. Its 14-inch screen makes it large enough for serious working, its build quality is solid and you can specify either Windows 7 or 8. There's even a legacy VGA port if you need to hook it up to an ageing monitor or projector.
Starting at £1,133 (ex VAT), the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m can't be described as "affordable". But does it justify the price tag?
We don't often describe business notebooks as good looking, but that's precisely what we say in this case. Even before you open it, HP's EliteBook Folio 9470m looks good. Its mercury-silver shell is a shade different from the norm, and HP's branding on the lid is gratifyingly subtle.
There is a slightly sticky feel to the lid thanks to its soft-touch finish. This extends onto the bottom of the chassis and makes the EliteBook Folio much more secure to hold than notebooks with shinier surfaces.
Open the system up and the silver theme continues on the keyboard surround, sans soft-touch finish here. It's made from brushed aluminium and feels tough — it's difficult to depress the wrist rest area, for example. The lid section does bow fairly easily though, and you'll need a protective case if you're likely carry this notebook far or frequently.
The EliteBook Folio 9470m has a reasonably svelte footprint at 33.8cm by 23.1cm by 1.89cm. There's no tapering towards the front — this notebook is uniformly shaped, which we find rather pleasing. It's no lightweight at 1.61kg.
The black screen bezel strikes us as a little old-fashioned, and the 14-inch display is a little disappointing: our review sample, like most of the preconfigured models on HP's website, had a resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels. We'd rather see the higher-end option — 1600 x 900 pixels — as the standard across the range.
The panel has a matte anti-glare finish, so there's no problem with reflection from nearby windows or overhead lighting that you have to contend with when using more consumer-focused notebooks. Horizontal viewing angles are good, but in the vertical plane isn't so good.
The keyboard is fantastic to type on. The keys deliver a slight click and there's a lot of travel, which we appreciate, while the weighting is perfectly tuned to our preferences. Everything feels extremely solid and responsive as you type, allowing us to reach our maximum touch-typing speed.
The cursor keys to the right of the keyboard are relatively large, although they have no secondary media control functions — in fact, there are no media controls anywhere on the keyboard. The small row of keys above the number row lets you switch power plans, control sound volume, toggle the internal microphone (a tiny orange light on the key is an indicator of its status) and manage the keyboard backlight — which can be bright, dim or off. We found the dim setting perfectly satisfactory at all times.
Our only problem with the keyboard is its Enter key, which is very thin. Outside it sit the PgUp and PgDn keys, part of a column that also includes Delete, Home, End and the right arrow key. We found it took a little while to get used to hitting Enter accurately; it's not a disaster, but might take some getting used to.
Above the keyboard on the left is the thin, wide lozenge of the notebook's on/off switch. On the right are two tiny circular buttons, one for muting or unmuting the speaker and another for disabling or enabling wi-fi. All are backlit white by default, and there's no ability to turn off the light; when wi-fi is off the light turns orange. All these lights are small and subtle,l and don't cause undue distraction.
The trackpad is large, responsive and smooth to the touch. It's well recessed and therefore easy to locate by touch. The built-in scroll bars and zooming work well, and HP has built huge physical buttons that don't look particularly pretty but are easy to use. This arrangement is much preferred to the integrated buttons that are so fashionable these days.
Above the trackpad is a second set of buttons designed for use with the pointing stick that sits between the G, H and B keys. The nubbin is relatively large, rubbery, concave and stippled: it should be controllable by most fingers. The whole arrangement is very business-like and ergonomic.
You can disable the trackpad by giving it a double tap in its top left corner. Do so and a tiny orange (the third and final time the colour is used) light comes on in that corner. You re-enable the trackpad by double tapping again. This double-tap convention stops you accidentally turning the trackpad on and off, and we're happy for the control to be here rather than on a FN key.
With 16 configurations of the EliteBook Folio 9470m available on HP's (UK) website, there's plenty of choice. At the entry level you get a 1.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3437U processor with integrated (HD Graphics 4000) graphics. The GPU remains unchanged throughout the range, but you can boost the processor to a 2.1GHz Core i7-3687U. You get either 4GB or 8GB of RAM as standard, expandable to a maximum of 16GB.
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit is available as a downgrade from Windows 8 Professional on 14 configurations and preinstalled on two. The HP EliteBook Folio 9470m doesn't have a touchscreen, so the merits of using Windows 8 are questionable to say the least. Out-of-the-box availability of Windows 7 Professional will doubtless chime with many current corporate IT policies.
Storage options include 128GB or 180GB SSDs and a 500GB physical hard drives. Some models also include 32GB of flash cache, which is designed to accelerate disk performance.
Gigabit Ethernet is a common feature throughout the range, and there's a full-sized RJ-45 port — not something you see in every ultrabook — on the right-hand side, by the screen hinge. Also ubiquitous is 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi via Intel's Centrino Advanced-N 6235 chipset, which also includes Bluetooth 4.0. Some models add mobile broadband (HSPA+ or EV-DO/HSPA) connectivity.
The EliteBook Folio 9470m has just three USB 3.0 ports, one of which supports sleep-and-charge. The charging connector is on the left edge, while the other two USB ports are side by side on the right. The left edge also houses a combined microphone/headphone combo jack and the power connector, along with a SmartCard reader.
Behind the two USB 3.0 ports on the right side, which are towards the front, sits a DisplayPort adapter, and behind it a VGA port — which will be welcome to those who need to use legacy equipment, either in their own offices or when visiting clients. Further back on the right side is a SD card slot, just in front of the RJ-45 Ethernet port.
In some models, the upper screen bezel houses an HD webcam capable of capturing 720p video. This can also be used for facial recognition-based login. Alternatively, there's a fingerprint scanner on the wrist rest. Another "corporate" feature on the EliteBook Folio 9470m is its docking connector, which when used with the optional £104 (ex. VAT) docking station, means you can leave your printer, external keyboard, display and other peripherals permanently connected at your office base.
Performance & battery life
The EliteBook Folio 9470m's Windows Experience Index (WEI) is a moderate 4.9 out of 9.9. The WEI corresponds to the lowest-scoring subsystem, which (as usual with integrated-graphics systems) is Graphics (desktop graphics performance). The top score of 6.9 goes to Processor (Calculations per second). In between are scores of 5.9 for Memory (RAM Memory operations per second) and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), while Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) gets 6.3.
Performance-wise, our review unit is solidly middle-of-the-road. It'll handle mainstream business tasks perfectly well, but if you need more disk performance, consider specifying a model with flash cache, a hybrid drive or an SSD. If you need the discrete-GPU-level graphics performance, you'll need to look elsewhere.
The HP EliteBook Folio 9470m may be an ultrabook, but HP has done the right thing and provided an accessible battery. The long, wedge like 52 watt-hour four-cell battery provides up to 8.5 hours of life with a hard drive or 9.5 hours with a lower-power SSD, according to HP. There is also an optional 60Wh 6-cell slice battery (£104 ex. VAT) for even longer life away from mains power.
We found that for low-level mainstream tasks (a mixture of word processing and internet access) we could get through a working day fairly easily on the standard battery. If you plan to work on the commute home, though, we suggest either a power boost towards the end of the day or an investment in the optional battery slice, Be aware, though, that the extra battery adds 780g to the weight.
Despite the incorporation of SRS Pro Audio and stereo speakers we weren't overly impressed with the Elitebook's sound output. There's quite a tinny overlay to the sound even at lower volumes; crank the volume to the maximum and it's palpable. Still, top volume ought to be loud enough to deliver presentations to small groups. The screen's colour rendering is far from vibrant, though, and this combined with moderate-quality audio suggests that if you do a lot of notebook-based presenting you might want to look elsewhere.
The HP EliteBook Folio 9470m is a well-made ultrabook-style system with a particularly good combination of keyboard and touchpad. We like the removable battery and the optional battery slice, but would prefer a higher screen resolution across the board. Windows 8 fans will also note the absence of a touchscreen option.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel