Business users shopping for an Ultrabook want more than a sleek design and fast boot time. They need a chassis that can take a beating, strong security, and full docking capabilities. Oh, and don't forget Ethernet and VGA ports. HP's Elitebook Folio 9470m ($1,049, $1,349 as configured) offers all of the above, along with a Core i5 CPU and SSD. How does this 3.6-pound machine stack up to the competition?
The EliteBook Folio 9470m isn't the lightest Ultrabook around, but it is one of the most attractive. The top surface is made from lightweight magnesium that's been coated in a luxurious silver soft-touch paint that makes it a pleasure to grip. The bottom is coated in the same material, but is painted black while the deck sports a classy brushed-aluminum surface.
According to HP, the Folio 9470m's frame is as sturdy as it is good looking. The company says its notebook passed seven MIL-SPEC tests including those for dust, vibrations, shock and extreme temperatures.
At 13.3 x 9.1 x 0.75 inches and 3.6 pounds, the Folio 9470m is considerably heavier than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (3 pounds, 13 x 8.9 x 0.74 inches) but about the same thickness as the Lenovo's tapered edges are at their thickest point. Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display has significantly smaller dimensions (12.35 x 8.6 x 0.75 inches, 3.6 pounds) but weighs the same amount.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Pointing Stick
At first glance, the Elitebook Folio 9470m's spill-resistant keyboard has everything going for it, including large island-style keys, a cool aluminum palmrest and a two-setting backlight.
However, as with some other Ultrabooks, the 9470m's keys have too little vertical travel and don't provide enough tactile feedback for fast touch typing.
Because we had to be more deliberate with our keystrokes, we scored 76 words per minute with a 3 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor Test, lower than our typical 80 to 86 wpm / 1 percent rate. On the bright side, the Elitebook Folio 9470m's keyboard backlight was more than bright enough at its low setting and really vibrant at its full setting.
The 4.2 x 2.3-inch touchpad was accurate when navigating around the desktop, but inconsistent when executing gestures. For example, when we tried to pinch-to-zoom in several applications (IE, Chrome, Windows Photo Viewer), our gestures only registered about half the time. We had to be more deliberate than we'd like to rotate as well. Fortunately, we swiped in from the left to launch the Charms menu and from the right to switch tasks with ease.
On the bright side, the touchpad has two discrete mouse buttons with just the right amount of feedback; there's no jumpy clickpad here.
In addition to its touchpad, the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m has a pointing stick located in the area between the G, H and B keys. We liked the accuracy of the 9470m's stick, but found the rubberized cap a little uncomfortable because of its concave shape and sharp dimples. Unlike Lenovo and Dell, HP fails to include a scroll button to go with its pointing stick.
The HP Elitebook Folio 9470m stayed pleasantly cool throughout our testing. After streaming a video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured just 75 degrees, the keyboard was a mere 78 degrees and the underside just a cool 82 degrees Fahrenheit. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees comfortable.
Compared to its competitors' screens, the HP Elitebook Folio 9470m's default 14-inch display disappoints with its limited screen real estate, unimpressive color and mediocre brightness. Productivity workers will find themselves scrolling a lot because of the Folio's paltry 1366 x 768 resolution. By comparison, that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a 1600 x 900 display, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which costs about $300 more, has a 2560 x 1600 display and the ASUS ZenBook Prime UX31A has a 1920 x 1080 resolution for $1,149.
Though the screen is bright enough for most tasks, it measured just 165 lux on our light meter. That's well below the 227 ultraportable category average and the 290 offered by the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
When we stared at the default Windows 8 "sunflower" desktop, colors appeared extremely washed out until we bent the lid back approximately 135 degrees, a viewing angle that's difficult to achieve when using any notebook in an airplane seat. As long as we kept the lid bent back that far, colors stayed true at up to 45 degrees to the left or right, but washed out at wider angles.
When we watched 1080p Quicktime trailers for both "The Avengers" and "Star Trek: Into Darkness," colors such as a red patch of vegetation or Captain America's blue costume were reasonably accurate but didn't pop the way they do on similarly priced laptops such as the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the MacBook Air 13-inch or the ASUS ZenBook Prime UX31A. Because of the low resolution, fine details such as the stubble in Robert Downy Junior's beard weren't as sharp as we've come to expect on higher-resolution screens.
HP reps told us the company will start offering optional 1600 x 900 panels on the Folio 9470m later in Q1 2013. Potential customers may want to wait.
The Elitebook Folio 13 won't replace your stereo. Just loud enough to fill a small room, the notebook's two bottom-facing speakers produced flat, unpleasant audio. When we played the bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots," the music was as shallow as on an old-fashioned clock radio. Guitar and drum-heavy tunes like "Ace of Spades" and "Oh No! Not You Again" suffered from noticeable tininess.
Ports and Docking
Where competitors such as the ThinkPad X1 Carbon lack important connection options, HP's enterprise Ultrabook has just about any port a business user could want, including an Ethernet port for connecting to wired networks and a VGA port for attaching to older projectors and monitors. The left side has a Kensington lock slot, a smart card reader, a headphone jack and a USB 3.0 connector while the right side of the notebook houses two USB 3.0 ports, a DisplayPort, VGA, Ethernet, an SD/MMC card reader and a side docking connector.
While most Ultrabook users must either buy a USB docking station or detach all their peripherals each time they leave their desks, Folio 9470m owners can purchase the $149 HP UltraSlim docking station that connects to the right side docking port and provides 4 USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, VGA, DisplayPort and AC power. The bottom of the notebook has a second battery connector you can use to attach an optional battery slice.
The HP Elitebook Folio 9470m's 720p webcam captured low-quality images in both low and normal indoor light. When we shot photos of our face both in a dark area of our living room and directly under an overhead fixture, the results were dim and suffered from a ton of visual noise.
With its 1.8-GHz Intel Core i-5 3427U CPU, 180GB Intel SSD, 4GB of RAM and integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m provides solid but not spectacular performance. On PCMark7, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the 9470m scored 4,496, comfortably above the 3,208 ultraportable notebook category average, but behind the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon with the same CPU (5,297) and the 1.7-GHz Core i5-3317U-powered Toshiba Portege Z935-P300's score of 5,486.
The 180GB Intel SSD booted into Windows 8 in a fairly swift 21 seconds, which is much faster than 32-second category average, which includes many Windows 7 systems. However, the Windows 8-powered ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch booted in just 16 seconds.
The drive took just 43 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 118.4 MBps, much faster than the 78.7 MBps category average, but not quite as fast as the Toshiba Portege Z935's rate of 164.2 MBps or the MacBook Pro's mark of 195.7 MBps.
The HP EliteBook Folio 9470m is definitely fast enough to crunch video, as it took just 20 seconds to transcode a 5-minute HD video to iPod touch format using Cyberlink Media Espresso. This time is three times faster than the 1-minute and 6-second category average, but a bit slower than ThinkPad X1 Carbon (12 seconds).
The 9470m was not quite as fast as its peers when it came to crunching numbers on the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, which matches 20,000 names with their addresses. The notebook took a mediocre 8 minutes and 29 seconds to complete the test, a bit slower than the 7:12 category average and a couple of minutes behind the original X1 Carbon's time of 5:37.
With its integrated Intel HD graphics 4000 chip, the Folio 9470m is capable of playing HD movies, but fails to make even mid-range games playable. On 3DMark11, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess, the notebook scored a lackluster 594, well short of the 740 ultraportable category average, but a little higher than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 517.
When we tried to play "World of Warcraft" at autodetect settings, the Folio 9470m managed only an unplayable 23 frames per second, which dropped to 13 fps when we turned up the special effects. Those numbers compare poorly to the 43 / 20 fps category averages and to the 29 / 14 fps the X1 Carbon achieved.
MORE: Top 10 Ultrabooks
With its default battery, the HP EliteBook Folio 9740m lasted a strong 7 hours and 4 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness. That time is nearly an hour longer than the ultraportable notebook average (6:10) , but more than a half hour behind the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (7:45) and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display (7:38).
Unlike the MacBook or the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the Elitebook Folio 9470m has a removable battery so you can always carry a spare. Even better, you can purchase a $199 slice battery that HP says will add up to 10 additional hours of endurance.
HP bundles the Windows 8 version of the EliteBook Folio 9470m with a bare minimum of preloaded software and not even one piece of crapware. The notebook does not even have trial antivirus software installed, instead relying on Windows 8's built-in Microsoft Security Essentials package.
In addition to Intel's WiDi and Management and Security Status utilities, the company includes its Softpaq Download manager for installing system updates and its HP Client Security software, also known as HP ProtectTools.
While the Windows 7 version of ProtectTools has a wide variety of features including File Sanitzer for performing secure erases and Privacy Manager for protecting your identity, the Windows 8 package comes with only two utilities: Password Manager, which stores individual logins, and Credential Manager, which sets up the fingerprint reader.
An HP rep told us that the company is working on Windows 8 versions of File Sanitizer, Privacy Manager and DigitalPass, another identity protection tool that was available on previous EliteBooks but not on any version of the Folio 9470m.
In our testing, configuring the fingerprint reader was a breeze. We enrolled two fingers in just a matter of minutes then use our finger to log into Windows 8 instead of typing in a password. However, unlike the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, HP's fingerprint reader does not allow you to power on the system with a single swipe.
IT administrators will also appreciate the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m's support for TPM and smart card security. A free download, Device Access Manager, allows administrators to prevent users from connecting USB drives, Bluetooth devices or other peripherals.
HP backs the EliteBook 9470m with a standard one-year limited warranty. A three-year warranty is available at additional cost. See how HP fared in our latest tech support showdown and brand ratings.
Our review configuration of the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m carries an MSRP of $1,349. For that price, you get the notebook with a 1.8-GHz Core i5-3427U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 180GB Intel SSD. For $1,049, the base model offers identical specs, except it has a 500GB 7,200 rpm hard drive instead of an SSD. For $1,299 you can purchase the notebook with a 2-GHz Core i7-3667U CPU. You can also configure the system with up to 16GB of RAM, a 32GB flash cache, SSDs up to 256GB or integrated 3G/4G on any of the four major U.S. carriers.
Knowing that most enterprises have no plans to use Windows 8 anytime soon, HP makes the Folio 9470m available with either Windows 7 or Windows 8.
Business users shopping for an enterprise-friendly Ultrabook will find plenty to like in the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m, including its many connectivity options, strong battery life, TPM security and MIL-SPEC tested chassis. However, for around the same price, the 3-pound ThinkPad X1 Carbon provides a superior screen, keyboard, touchpads and webcam, but lacks the 9470m's port spread, docking capability and replaceable / expandable battery. If you're looking for a business system with equal parts portability and flexibility, the HP Elitebook Folio 9470m should be high on your list, but you may want to wait until the company offers a sharper screen.