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Grow Your Business Technology

HP Z Book 15u G2 Laptop Review: Is It Good for Business?

HP Z Book 15u G2 Laptop Review: Is It Good for Business?
The ZBook 15u earns 3.5 out of 5 stars. / Credit: Jeremy Lips

HP's ZBook 15u G2 is a nice, full-size workstation that offers a durable design and good performance, but it's missing one key feature you'll find on competing business-class laptops: a 10-key number pad next to the standard QWERTY keyboard. That's a glaring omission in a 15.6-inch work notebook, especially when there's plenty of room to accommodate it on the keyboard deck. Can the ZBook 15u make up for it with an otherwise well-rounded feature set?

[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]

The ZBook 15u earns 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The ZBook 15u's simple design is understated but not boring. The brushed-aluminum lid looks nice and feels just as sturdy as the rest of the magnesium-reinforced body. Overall, it's a machine that looks and feels right at home in a conference room.

It's also tough enough to stand up to a bit of abuse. The ZBook 15u is certified with a MIL-Spec 810G rating, which means it's been built to survive drops of up to 3 feet, as well as pressure, dust, shocks and extreme temperatures. And the keyboard is spill-resistant, so it can withstand small amounts of liquid. These durability features are pretty much standard in business-class laptops, but they're nice perks for business users who need a notebook that's dependable.

The ZBook 15u feels about as hefty as you would expect from a 15-inch workstation, but competing machines are actually bulkier. Weighing 4.23 lbs. and measuring 14.78 x 9.98 x 0.84 inches, it's both lighter and smaller than the Lenovo W550s (5.47 lbs., 15 x 10.2 x 0.92 inches) and the MSI WS60 (4.36 lbs., 15 x 10.5 x 0.78 inches). 

Like most business-class notebooks, the ZBook 15u comes with a matte finish on the display that does a nice job of blocking annoying reflections from overhead office lights, even if it makes colors look a bit dull.

Fortunately, the screen is nice and bright, topping out at 307 nits of brightness, which is higher than average (250 nits), and it slightly edges out the ThinkPad W550s (312 nits). You also get nice, wide viewing angles.

The 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution is fine for a screen this size. There's plenty of room for screen-intensive work tasks like editing spreadsheets, and split-screen multitasking feels comfortable.

There's no touch screen here, and that's just fine, since touch screens aren't very useful for traditional business tasks. Plus, touch panels add weight and cost more, while reducing battery life.

The "u" in the ZBook 15u's name stands for "Ultrabook," which indicates that this machine represents the slimmer side of HP's ZBook line of workstations. The standard ZBook 15 model is a bit thicker and pricier, but it also offers more powerful hardware than the 15u, as well as a 10-key number pad that's crucial for efficient number crunching.  

So is the number pad simply a premium feature that only comes on pricier notebooks? Not so fast. Lenovo's ThinkPad W550s costs about as much as the ZBook 15u when similarly configured, while fitting a number pad to the right of the standard keyboard. That's a disappointment, since there's plenty of room for one on the ZBook 15u's keyboard deck.

Otherwise, the ZBook 15u offers a pretty nice keyboard that's comfortable enough for all-day typing. Keys offer a good amount of feedback, but they're a bit on the shallow side, with just 1.42 mm of travel (1.5 mm is average). The MSI WS60 offers exactly 1.5 mm of key travel, while the ThinkPad W550s delivers a whopping 2.3 mm of travel, providing the most desktoplike typing experience in its class. The W550s is about a tenth of an inch thicker than the ZBook 15u, though.

You also get keyboard backlighting on the ZBook 15u, which makes typing in low lighting easier.

The ZBook 15u's 4 x 2.6-inch trackpad is nice and roomy, with a smooth finish that lets my finger glide easily over its surface. Mouse navigation felt responsive and precise, and so did gestures like two-finger scrolling. Dedicated mouse buttons are located below the touchpad, which are more precise for left and right clicks than the built-in buttons you'll find on ThinkPad notebooks.

A pointing stick is positioned between the G, H and B keys. It gives you precise control over the mouse cursor without you having to move your hands from home row, which is a nice perk for touch typists. I'm not a fan of the concave design of the pointing stick, though; the rounded tops of the pointing sticks on ThinkPad notebooks feel better to me.

For a workstation, the ZBook 15u G2 actually offers pretty good battery life. It ran for about 6 hours and 44 minutes in our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set to 100 nits of brightness. That's about an hour longer than the average mainstream notebook (6 hours and 12 minutes). And while the ThinkPad W550s ran for an incredible 15 hours and 54 minutes in the same test, that machine weighs about 1.3 lbs. more than the ZBook 15u, in part due to its high-capacity dual batteries.

Expect good performance out of the ZBook 15u for daily business tasks. I reviewed the higher-end model, which comes with a fifth-generation 2.6-GHz Core i7 processor with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). The machine proved extremely quick during my testing period, and never slowed down during heavy multitasking.

On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the ZBook 15u scored a solid 6,892, edging out the ThinkPad W550s (6,860). The ridiculously powerful MSI WS60 destroys the competition in this category with a score of 13,003, though that machine is pricier and boasts a pitiful 3 hours of battery life.

The ZBook 15u fared equally well on the Open Office Spreadsheet Test, which tasks notebooks with matching 20,000 names and addresses as quickly as possible. The ZBook completed the test in 4 minutes and 15 seconds, which is speedier than the ThinkPad W550s (4:42), but not as fast as the MSI WS60 (3:53).

HP sells the ZBook 15u in four distinct configurations, with varying degrees of processing power — from an Intel Core i3-5200U chip to the top-end Core i7-5600U model. The lower-end model ($1,119), which has a Core i5 processor with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive, is probably sufficient for the average business user. All models come with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel display and dedicated AMD graphics.

Most of the ports you could want in a work notebook are here. That includes three USB 3.0 ports for connecting accessories, an SD card slot for expanding the notebook's internal storage and an Ethernet port for linking to wired Internet or company networks. You also get a DisplayPort for connecting to external monitors and a VGA-out port, which will come in handy for connecting to older projectors.

Additionally, the docking port on the side of the notebook lets you link the ZBook 15u to HP's UltraSlim Docking Station. The dock adds a slew of extra ports, and more importantly, it lets you connect the notebook to all your desktop accessories just by setting it down.

While most Windows PCs come with Windows 8.1 preloaded, my ZBook 15u review unit came with the older Windows 7 instead. The legacy operating system actually makes a lot of sense, since Windows 8.1's more touch-friendly interface won't add much utility on a business notebook that lacks a touch screen. You can still opt for Windows 8.1 at any time; an installation disk is included with the notebook.

The ZBook 15u G2 is a solid workstation with good performance and a durable design, but competing machines do some things better. The bulkier Lenovo W550s, for example, offers comparable specs, longer battery life and a 10-key number pad for around the same price. But if you want something a little more portable, the ZBook 15u is a pretty good option.

[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]

Brett Nuckles
Brett Nuckles

Brett Nuckles has been a working journalist since 2009. He got his start in local newspapers covering community news, local government, education and more before he joined the Business News Daily staff in 2013. He graduated from Ohio University, where he studied Journalism and English. Follow him on Twitter @BrettNuckles.

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