HP ZBook 14u G6 Mobile Workstation review: Slim and speedy, with a bright 4K screen

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  • Editors' rating
    8.2 Excellent

Pros

  • High-end CPU and discrete graphics
  • 4K screen option with touch support
  • Mobile broadband
  • Full-size Ethernet port on-board
  • Easy access for upgrades and repairs

Cons

  • Relatively heavy
  • Lid flexes too easily
  • Unprotected SIM card slot
  • 4K screen is a battery drain at high brightness

The ZBook 14u G6 Mobile Workstation is a mid-ranking member of HP's ZBook workstation lineup, which ranges from a 17-inch desktop replacement model to the detachable 14-inch ZBook x2. Billed by HP as its thinnest, lightest ZBook, the 14u G6 is designed for "people who push their typical office computer past breaking point". To that end, it features an 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor, discrete Radeon Pro graphics and up to 1TB of SSD storage.

At first glance the ZBook 14u G6 looks like an ordinary laptop. Despite HP's claim, it's not particularly light at 1.48kg, but the 326mm-by-234mm desktop footprint is unexceptional for a 14-inch system, and it's reasonably thin at 17.9mm.

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The 14-inch ZBook 14u G6 looks like a regular laptop, but features some powerful components and a tough build (although the lid section does flex).

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Although this laptop meets the MIL-STD 810G robustness standard, there is a fair amount of flex in the lid -- to the point where I was able to distort the screen with some ease. You'll probably want a carry case or bag with a protective padded pocket when you're toting this laptop around.

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A key feature of this mobile workstation is easy access for upgrades and repairs. There are screws on the underside of the chassis that should make it easy to get to components to upgrade or replace elements like RAM, SSD, WLAN and WWAN modules.

The screen sits in fairly narrow short bezels, but there's a deep top bezel. Inside the latter is a 720p camera with that can handle face authentication via Windows Hello. There is a sliding privacy cover for the camera.

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You might think, from the bezel size, that this is a 360-degree rotating laptop can be used in tablet mode, but in fact the hinges don't even rotate far enough to let the screen lie flat on a desk.
 
The screen boasts 100% Adobe RGB colour reproduction, which will be important for those wanting to use it for graphics-heavy work. It also meant that video content looked great. Digital creative type and media consumers should be pleased, too. 

Various screen configurations are available. My review sample had a 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel), matte-finish, non-touch display that was exceptionally bright. While this would make it easier to work outside in bright conditions, I found it rather a strain on the eyes unless the brightness was turned down. 

The keyboard comprises well-spaced keys that are large and easy to hit accurately at touch typing speed. I found the addition of a column of keys to the right of Enter irritating at first, as I tended to miss the Enter key and stab at PgDn instead before acclimatising. The keyboard has a very light touch, with good bounceback. The Fn keys are rather narrow, but still easy to hit. This row includes Call and End keys, microphone mute and manual control for the two-level backlight.

Where it's configured (and it was not on my review unit), there is also a key to invoke HP's screen SureView privacy system. This significantly reduces the viewing angles of the screen, making it difficult for anyone sitting to your side to see what you're doing. I've tried SureView on other HP laptops such as the EliteBook x360 1040 G5 and it has proved very effective.

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The audio subsystem is designed in partnership with Bang & Olufsen.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

HP, like Lenovo on its ThinkPads, includes a pointing stick between the G, H and B keys for fine control of the mouse pointer -- HP calls this the 'Pointstick'. Its concave, dimpled surface is tactile and is effective for moving the cursor around. There are two buttons on the top of the touchpad which can be used in conjunction with the Pointstick. The touchpad has an NFC zone built into it. Where configured, the fingerprint sensor sits to the far right side of the wrist rest.

Above the keyboard is a familiar-looking grille housing the speakers. These deliver good quality sound, with strong bass tones. Top volume could be louder, but at least there's no loss of fidelity at 100%.

The CPU/RAM/GPU mix is what really helps this laptop zip along, which of course is what a 'mobile workstation' is all about. There are three iterations of the ZBook 14u G6 available on HP's UK website, all running on an 8th generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor with 16GB of RAM and discrete AMD Radeon Pro WX 3200 graphics. Storage ranges between 512GB and 1TB. Other variables include touch and non-touch screens. Price variation is not very great, with two models costing £1,198.80 (inc. VAT) and one costing £1,258.80 (inc. VAT).

These high-end core specifications present a problem for the 50Wh battery. When I switched from mains to battery power the laptop set itself at 100% screen brightness and on its 'best performance' power mode -- everything running at full pelt. This may well be what those opting for this laptop want: you buy a workstation, you expect workstation functionality.

But coupled with the 4K screen resolution this really challenges the battery: my first 2.5 hours of working with this setting depleted it by a massive 47%. I recharged the battery, taking advantage of the fast-charging capability which HP says can deliver 50% of battery charge in 30 minutes. I went from 42% to 71% in that time frame -- a gain of 29%. While short of the 50% claimed, this is still a welcome feature.

Later, back with 100% charge, I dropped the screen brightness to a workable 75% and set the power mode to 'better battery'. Now that same 2.5-hour working period ate just 20% of the battery, which was much more satisfactory. Interested to see if my earlier experience was an anomaly, I went back to 100% brightness and 'best performance' mode, and in one hour the battery dropped 18%.

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Mot of the ZBook 14u G6's ports are on the right side. They include an RJ-45 Ethernet port with a sprung bottom edge to accommodate the laptop's slim profile.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The ZBook 14u G6 Mobile Workstation is designed for corporate environments that rate security highly, and to that end there's a smart card reader on the left edge, alongside a single USB 3.1 slot. The right edge has most of the connectivity: a round-pin power input, USB-C Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1, full sized HDMI, 3.5mm headset jack, dock connector, Ethernet and a SIM card slot.

Those last two are interesting. The Ethernet port is full size RJ-45, and requires a little more height than the chassis allows, so has a sprung bottom edge that's forced out by the jack when it's in place. This doesn't interfere with the laptop sitting flat on a desk, and is a clever solution. The SIM slot is unprotected, rather like a MicroSD card slot, which some might feel makes the SIM card vulnerable.

Conclusions

While it looks like a standard laptop, HP's ZBook 14u G6 Mobile Workstation packs a punch thanks to its high-end Core i7 processor and discrete AMD Radeon Pro graphics. The option for a 1TB SSD should suit creatives who need plenty of storage, while a full-size Ethernet port is also welcome.

It's a shame the lid isn't more robust, the SIM card slot is not covered, and the screen doesn't hinge to 180 degrees. But this laptop's biggest problem is that if you run it at full tilt with the 4K screen at high brightness, it won't last long on battery power.

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