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Grow Your Business Technology

HP EliteBook Folio 1020 Laptop Review: Is It Good for Business?

HP EliteBook 1020, business laptops The HP EliteBook 1020 earns 4 out of 5 stars. / Credit: Jeremy Lips

HP's EliteBook Folio 1020 combines enterprise-worthy security with the good looks of a MacBook. It's the slimmest and lightest business-class notebook on the market, measuring just over half an inch thick and weighing well under 3 lbs. Of course, the sleek design comes with some tradeoffs, like mediocre battery life and performance that lags a bit behind competing systems. 

So are those worthy tradeoffs for a work system this portable?

Business notebooks don't get sleeker than this. The EliteBook 1020 sports a sleek silver body, with clean lines and nice, rounded corners. The lid and deck are made from study aluminum, and the soft-touch magnesium alloy bottom makes the machine easy to hang onto when you're toting it around.

Compared with its closest competitors, the EliteBook 1020 feels ridiculously portable. Measuring 12.2 x 8.27 x 0.62 inches and weighing 2.68 lbs., it's both thinner and lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air (0.68 inches, 2.9 lbs.), the Dell XPS 13 (0.7 inches, 3.3 lbs.) and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga (0.76 inches, 3.5 lbs.). 

There are plenty of thinner, lighter notebooks out there, though. For example, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is just 0.5 inches thick and a scant 2.6 lbs., but it lacks the EliteBook 1020's business-class durability.

Slim doesn't have to mean flimsy. The EliteBook 1020 feels really solid and well-built, and meets military-grade MIL-STD-810G durability standards. That means it's built to withstand dust, extreme temperatures, dings and short drops. That's a big perk for frequent travelers who need a work laptop that can withstand a bit of abuse.

The EliteBook 1020's keyboard is shockingly good, considering the machine's slim profile. The keys are large and well-spaced, and offer about 1.65mm of travel, which is above the 1.5mm average. That's a good thing, since deeper keys offer a more desktoplike feel. Keys feel snappy, too, offering a good amount of feedback when pressed.

There's even a hidden number pad that can be activated using the "Fn" function keys at the top of the keyboard, effectively turning the left side of the keyboard into numerals. That's good news if number- crunching is part of your job.

The EliteBook 1020's clickless touchpad -- dubbed the "ForcePad" -- will be a polarizing feature for some users. Instead of physically depressing when you push on it, the relatively small 3.75 x 2.2-inch touchpad uses pressure sensitivity to detect how hard you're pressing down with your finger. When you press down, the notebook actually emits a low click noise to help you know that the click has been registered, which is a nice addition.

It took some getting used to, but with a little practice I found the ForcePad to be intuitive and easy to use. Click-and-drag and highlighting text are performed by pressing down a bit harder on the pad, and right clicks are achieved by pressing in the bottom right corner. You can also adjust how much force is required to register as a click, but I thought the default settings were fine. For standard single and double clicks, meanwhile, lightly tapping on the touchpad works just fine.

Basic navigation with the touchpad feels fine, too. Mouse movement felt crisp and responsive, and gestures like two-finger scrolling felt responsive.

How much power do you need to do your job? The EliteBook 1020 offers good performance for daily tasks, but it's not as powerful as many competing notebooks. That's because it runs on Intel's low-power Core M processor, which is designed for thin, fanless devices like this one. 

Specifically, our review unit came equipped with a 1.2-GHz Core M-5Y71 processor with 8GB of RAM. It felt pretty zippy during everyday use, even when I streamed HD video from YouTube and edited a spreadsheet with more than a dozen browser tabs open in my Firefox Web browser.

On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the EliteBook 1020 scored 3,814. That's decent, but trails behind the ThinkPad Yoga (5,057), the XPS 13 (5,153) and the MacBook Air (5,393).

The EliteBook 1020's 12.5-inch display is nice and sharp. Our review unit came with an extra-crisp 2560 x 1440 touch screen, though HP also sells a cheaper model with a lower-res, non-touch display.

Text looks crisp and colors look vibrant on the EliteBook 1020, though I wish the screen got a bit brighter. It tops out at 224 nits of brightness, which trails the 259-nit category average. That's still perfectly adequate for indoor use, though.

What good is a super-portable laptop if its short battery life keeps you chained to the wall outlet? Thankfully, the EliteBook 1020's battery life isn't that bad, but it is below average. The machine ran for 6 hours and 49 minutes in our battery life test, which is shorter than the ThinkPad Yoga (8:01), XPS 13 (8:38) and MacBook Air (12:00). The average battery life for ultraportable notebooks is about 7 hours and 48 minutes.

Even with its slim profile, HP managed to cram a good number of ports into the EliteBook 1020. That includes two USB 3.0 ports for connecting peripherals, a full-size HDMI slot for linking to a larger monitor and a microSD card slot for expanding the notebook's internal storage. 

You also get a docking port for connecting the EliteBook 1020 to HP's UltraSlim Docking Station, which is available to purchase separately for $159. The dock adds extra connectivity options like VGA output, two full-size DisplayPorts, an Ethernet port and four additional USB 3.0 ports. Even better, it lets you instantly link your laptop to all your desktop accessories with one connection. That's a feature you won't find on consumer notebooks like the XPS 13 or the MacBook Air.

As you'd expect from a business-class notebook, the EliteBook 1020 comes equipped with some excellent security features, including built-in hardware encryption. Additionally, the HP Client Security apps lets you restrict access to individual drives and hardware ports to authorized users. It can also securely store passwords for frequently accessed websites, letting you log in with a master password.

Here's another feature you won't find on a consumer notebook. The EliteBook 1020 has a fingerprint reader, located just under the keyboard. Once you register a fingerprint – I registered all five on my right hand – you can use it to unlock your computer with one swipe. Setup was painless and the reader itself proved reliable during my testing period.

HP's fingerprint software goes above and beyond what other manufacturers offer, though. For example, each time you log into a new website, you'll be automatically prompted to pair your fingerprint to the password. That way you can access all your profiles without memorizing complex passwords. It worked quite well, letting me log into Twitter and LinkedIn with a swipe of my thumb.

A good webcam isn't the most important thing to look for in a notebook, but it's a nice bonus for video chat sessions with clients and colleagues. The EliteBook 1020's front-facing camera is good enough for basic videoconferencing, though photos looked a bit washed out, with a fair amount of visual noise. On the bright side, the notebook's top-facing speakers produce loud, clear audio, so you should have no trouble hearing the person on the other end of a call.

HP sells the EliteBook 1020 in a couple of different configurations. The cheapest model, which starts at $1,199, is probably more than adequate for the average business user, with an Intel Core M-5Y71 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a 1920 x 1080-pixel non-touch display. 

Our review model was the pricier version, which has double the internal storage and a sharper 2560 x 1440-pixel touch display, but the same processor and memory as the entry-level model. It costs $1,499.

Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga can fold into a tablet thanks to its flexible hinge, and it also has longer battery life than the EliteBook 1020. It's thicker and heavier, though.

Dell's XPS 13 packs a 13-inch display into a machine with a smaller footprint than the 12.5-inch EliteBook 1020. It also offers longer battery life and faster performance, but it's thicker and heavier, and lacks business-class security and durability.

Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air lasts nearly twice as long on a charge as the EliteBook 1020, but it has a lower-res display, as well as fewer ports and security options.

The EliteBook Folio 1020 is a stunner, with a thin and light design that won't weigh you down, as well as a good keyboard and a sharp 12.5-inch display. That makes it a great pick for commuters, especially those who don't need the power of a Core i-series processor.

On the other hand, the notebook's relatively short battery life makes it a questionable choice for travelers who need a work machine that that will last through a long business flight with a layover. In that case, the MacBook Air might be a better choice, since it offers twice the longevity. Dell's XPS 13, meanwhile, is a great alternative for Windows users, even if it doesn't last quite as long on a charge as the Air. Neither machine is as portable as the EliteBook Folio 1020, though, so your decision ultimately depends on your priorities.

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.