HP: Best and Worst Laptop Brands
HP fell from third to sixth overall this year because some really poor products brought its reviews score down to near the bottom. (Only Toshiba did worse in this category.) In 2015, HP had a number of very disappointing systems that suffered from poor battery life, including its Spectre x2 2-in-1, Envy 13t and EliteBook 745 G3. While HP has some of the best-looking systems in the industry, its lackluster products and poor tech support suggest that the company is heading in the wrong direction.
Like a designer during fashion week, HP isn't afraid of showing a variety of looks. The company does have a few laptops that are Apple-like in their silver-colored presentation (the Pavilion x360 11 and the Envy 13t). But some, like the HP Spectre x360, escape the stereotype by virtue of being undeniably stunning in their lightweight, silvery glory. HP adds some brawn to its beauty, ensuring that the sleek-looking EliteBook Folio 1040 G2 and EliteBook Folio 1020 Special Edition can pass MIL-SPEC 810G durability tests including those for extreme temperatures, dust and vibrations. Laptops that don't get the aluminum treatment get a splash of color, like the cerulean 15t Touch and the frost-white Pavilion x2 10t.
Last year, HP was tied with Acer in seventh place for product ratings, but the brand has moved down two places to a disappointing ninth-place finish in this category. Both the EliteBook Folio 1020 Special Edition and the EliteBook 745 G3 earned 2.5-star ratings due to their dismal battery lives — a weakness shared by a number of the HP systems we reviewed this year. The Spectre x360 13t, however, was one of the best 2-in-1s we saw from any company in 2015.
Tech Support (17/20)
Once second-best, HP's customer support fell down the ladder this year, as its agents handed us incorrect answers over the telephone and via live chat. One agent incorrectly told us to uninstall Windows 10 to solve a minor issue — a problem the company told us it is addressing with better training. HP's online support database had the answers we were looking for, but we had to dig deep to find those solutions. On the positive side, the agents running HP's Facebook and Twitter accounts pointed us toward helpful answers.
MORE: HP Tech Support Rating
HP also pays for the shipping when you send in a laptop to be serviced. The company blankets all of its systems with a standard one-year limited warranty that isn't voided when you upgrade your RAM or hard drive.
HP has been including questionably useful software from CyberLink — specifically, PowerDVD and YouCam for media management — in its machines. The company also has been offering 25GB of Dropbox space for six months on a few models, including the Pavilion x360 11 and the Envy 13t — which is nice to have, even if it's for a limited time.
On consumer laptops, you will likely see bloatware such as Snapfish and Candy Crush Soda Saga. Business systems get handy apps like HP Recovery Manager and SimplePass (for the fingerprint scanner).
HP didn't break a lot of new ground in the past year, but it did make credible entries into established categories. The company introduced some attractive, bend-back laptops in the Spectre X360 13t and 15t. It also jumped on the detachable bandwagon, offering a sexy Surface Pro alternative in the Spectre x2. In 2016, HP is adding a built-in 3M privacy-screen feature to some of its business laptops — an industry first.
Value and Selection (14/15)
Like Dell and Lenovo, HP tries to cover every laptop market segment, from low-cost Windows laptops, to Chromebooks, to mainstream systems, to premium 2-in-1s. The company offers a rich variety of business laptops, from the small-to-medium-size-business-oriented ProBooks, to enterprise-centric EliteBooks, to high-end ZBook graphics workstations. HP's line of Spectre 2-in-1s stands out for its attractive design and long battery life. The company has dipped its toe into the gaming market, though its handful of entertainment offerings aren't as powerful or as functional as those from the competition.
You can get some very inexpensive HP laptops, starting with the $210 Stream 13. The company offers some great values: Its least-expensive 1080p Windows laptop, the Pavilion 15z, goes for $439, while the very attractive Spectre x360 13t starts at just $899. If you buy through HP.com, you can configure some laptops to order.
MORE: Best HP Laptops
How HP Can Improve
HP needs to focus on building laptops with longer battery life. You can make great-looking products with strong performance, but if they run out of juice in the middle of the day, users won't be happy. The company needs to offer more fresh ideas, rather than just building on the functionality and designs pioneered by competitors like Apple, Lenovo and Microsoft. It should also back its products with more accurate phone support.