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HP ZBook 15u G2 review: A Windows ultrabook workhorse

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Written by Zack Whittaker on
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8.4/10

HP ZBook 15u G2

Excellent
$679.46 at Amazon
Pros
  • Runs high-performance apps with minimal difficulty, doesn't run the fan too hot
  • Despite it's size, the ultrabook surprisingly light and sturdy.
  • In-built fingerprint reader works well, helps to boost security
Cons
  • The price is difficult to swallow, particularly compared to similar models
  • Aesthetically unpleasing and noticeably hefty, thanks to its large display
  • 1080p screen resolution could be sharper, clearer for graphics-based tasks
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs
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HP's newest ZBook ultrabook, the 15u G2

(Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive)

NEW YORK -- It's hard to be productive when you're chained to your desk. HP reckons it has a safe middle-ground, by combining mobility and a low cost for businesses while still providing workstation-class performance.

Announced at this year's CES show in Las Vegas, HP's ZBook 15u G2 is a Windows-based ultrabook that balances portability with performance, while retaining a simple design and customizability based on a person's needs.

HP has pegged these notebooks for users of the heavier professional apps: graphic design, engineering, and product development.

The ZBook 15u G2 is not a consumer-oriented ultrabook, nor should it be. It stumbles on high-end games, but it's wasted in the entry-level media and entertainment category.

The ultrabook has that mid-range sweet spot often missed in the enterprise. It's not as glamorous as some of its rival devices on the market. It may be thicker and at the heavier end of the ultrabook spectrum. But it's capable of running high-performance applications without breaking a sweat (or, in computer terms, running a hot fan.)

CPU

Intel Core i7-5500U (dual-core)

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GraphicsAMD FirePro M4170
Storage 256GB solid-state Z-Turbo drive
Memory 16GB 1600 MHz (2 x 8GB)
Display 15.6-inch LCD (1,920 x 1,080 resolution)
Networking802.11 ac wireless networking; Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system


Windows 8.1 Pro Update 64)
(can be downgraded to Windows 7 Professional)

Price (at publication)

$1,549.00 upwards

The ZBook 15u G2 is thinner, lighter, and cheaper -- three important marked improvements on its sibling rival, the 15 G2. But it's no MacBook Air, nor is it an Acer Aspire S7, or a Lenovo ThinkPad Helix., or an HP Spectre 13 -- none of which need a "u" in the name to tell you they're ultrabooks (or some variant thereof).

Compared to its bulkier sibling, the HP ZBook 15 G2, it's almost half the thickness and about one-third lighter, starting at just 4.2 pounds. It's also cheaper than its predecessor. (The model we tested was the mid-tier model landing in at around $1,549.)

Granted the earlier model wasn't exactly a "toss in a bag" notebook. Where it could probably leave a hole in the ground if dropped, the ZBook 15u G2 fits snugly in a large satchel bag. But make no mistake its large 15.6-inch display adds to the device's noticeable heft. (You can thank HP's decision to bump out the outdated and near-defunct optical drive, it still packs in a great deal of power.)

Hands-on with the new HP ZBook 15u G2 ultrabook

Hands-on with HP's ZBook 15u G2 ultrabook: in pictures

The 15.6-inch non-touch LED is acceptably so-so, but it's hardly revolutionary, and borderline disappointing. It lands in a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, a fully-fledged 1080p high-resolution screen. It's noticeably better than a MacBook Air's display, but it's nowhere near as sharp and clear as a Retina display, which has dark contrasts and deep color depth. It's not a bad screen, but if it's got graphic design in mind, those extra pixels count. There is a perk: the display is anti-glare display the screen easy to read in bright environments.

Its innards are fairly impressive. The laptop lands with Intel's latest Broadwell processors, which require far less power than the Haswell range. The low-end model comes with 8GB of RAM, while the mid-tier and upper-tier models come with up to 16GB of RAM.

The ZBook 15u G2 comes Windows 8.1, but you can downgrade to Windows 7 Professional for those who need to run legacy apps. The new graphics engine replaced Nvidia with an AMD FirePro M4170 graphics card. (The ZBook 15 G2 still comes with a range of AMD and Nvidia graphics cards).

But its speed and performance prowess can mostly be attributed to the solid-state disk, which offers 256GB of flash storage. The drive offers a significant performance boost over ordinary hard drives (the top-tier model comes with a traditional 500GB drive). HP calls is the Z Turbo Drive. The operating system is markedly faster compared to similar ultrabooks.

The slimmed-down notebook also comes with three USB 3.0 devices, one DisplayPort slot, an Ethernet connection, and a VGA output for legacy displays and projectors, and a smart card reader.

Embedded in the bezel around the edge of the screen is a 720p-resolution webcam for video-calling on select models. There's also a SIM card tray under the rear-cover for mobile broadband on the go.

HP's also included a swipe-over fingerprint sensor (which activates with HP's built-in security software) that's positioned to the right-hand side of the trackpad. The ultrabook also comes with a trusted platform module, which Windows will detect and offer additional security features, like BitLocker full-disk encryption.

The ZBook 15u G2's battery life, like its predecessor, isn't great, but there has been an improvement. In mid-to-heavy use on a medium display brightness setting, the battery lasted just over six hours. (At the time of writing, HP was still finalizing the battery benchmarks).

Conclusion: A drab design, but a good effort

It's a good performing Windows-based laptop, but it lacks aesthetic appeal. To call this an ultrabook (at least compared to its rivals on the market) might be a push. But for the price you pay, it's a solid entry-level workstation on-the-go.

Bottom line? There are probably better devices out there for a cheaper cost and better performance. But you'll struggle to find one for the power and its size.

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