HP Inc's ultra-slimline EliteBook Folio we wrote about recently seems like an attempt to create as tiny a 12.5in laptop as is humanly possible, but the EliteBook 1040 G3, due for release in late January, is a more balanced machine. It's still thin, but not to the extent that it's missing a load of ports or can't make room for an Intel Core i5.
We had the chance to try out the EliteBook 1040 G3 at CES 2016, and found that this balance between portability and capability could well see it outshine its more stylish stablemate.
There's only one major aesthetic difference between this laptop and its EliteBook Folio 1040 G2 predecessor: the trackpad, which keeps its large footprint while rounding out the bottom corners. There's been a more functional update underneath, namely new mechanisms for the left- and right-click buttons which provide a nicely tactile click when pressed.
We also like the laptop's portability; at 1.3kg it's on a par with other high-end machines like the Lenovo Yoga 900 and the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12, both of which we've been happy to carry about town over our shoulders. Even so, the EliteBook 1040 G3 still manages to squeeze in a great selection of ports, including one USB-C, one HDMI, two USB 3.0, an SD card reader and even a SIM slot for 4G LTE connectivity.
Another welcome bonus is the optional fingerprint scanner, which appears to use the same fast, reliable and discreet design as that of the Elite x2 1011 G1. This works in tandem with HP's Client Security software to guard the laptop's stored data with biometrically-backed encryption.
All of this is housed in a diamond-cut aluminium chassis which has an elegantly understated look and a reassuring rigidity.
Our first complaint does, sadly, need to be directed at the display - not so much the 14.1in screen itself but the anti-glare coating, which hampers the EliteBook 1040 G3's respectable colour balance with a nasty, grainy overlay effect. We appreciate the effort to reduce reflectivity, especially when the EliteBook Folio suffers from it so much, but it's a measure that could easily irk anyone who needs their screen to look crystal clear.
Fortunately, the actual detailing is pretty good; we tested the FHD version, which runs at a respectable 156ppi, and we had to squint to make out any individual pixels. A touch-enabled QHD resolution option will also be available, which we're in two minds about. More pixels is always good, but an always-on touchscreen seems a little unnecessary for a non-convertible laptop. In our experience, this feature doesn't add much besides a drain on battery life.
Operating system and software
The EliteBook 1040 G3 will launch with Windows 10 Pro pre-installed, and with Windows 7 Professional and Windows 8.1 Pro available through downgrade rights.
This offers a commendable amount of flexibility to firms that might use one of the older operating systems exclusively, and thus would want any new devices to conform. We're most fond of Windows 10 Pro for its UI improvements as well as what looks to be a more frequent and longer-running update schedule. Windows 7, by contrast, will reach end-of-life in 2020.
Adding to Windows 10 Pro's BitLocker encryption and Windows Hello authentication is HP Client Security, HP Inc's excellent mix of anti-malware and encryption tools. It's one of the better inclusions in a smattering of pre-installed applications, ranging from the useful - like Client Security and HP Touchpoint Manager - to the questionable, like HP Image Assistant.
Our time with the EliteBook 1040 G3 was limited so we couldn't run benchmarks, but there was little to fault about its general speed and responsiveness when multitasking. It has strong specs to thank for this, at least in the case of the unit we used, which featured an Intel Skylake Core i5-6300U vPro plus 8GB of RAM. For reference, that's the same 2.4GHz dual-core chip and RAM set-up found in the Surface Pro 4 we tested, which produced great benchmark scores of 256.0ms in Sunspider and 1,303.7ms in Kraken.
The full range of processors is yet to be confirmed but we're sure that the EliteBook 1040 G3 can be even more powerful, considering that memory options go up to an ample 16GB.
One shared characteristic between the EliteBook 1040 G3 and the EliteBook Folio is their good but not great cameras. Like the smaller laptop, the EliteBook 1040 G3's webcam suffers from noisy stills and video, but can still act as an adequate conferencing tool with slick, fuzz-free capturing.
The EliteBook 1040 G3 already looks like the wiser choice of HP Inc's two new business laptops. Better specs, more hardware features and even a longer predicted battery life - 11 hours to the EliteBook Folio's 10, though such estimates are often extremely optimistic - easily outweigh the benefits of the EliteBook Folio's slimmer profile.
The EliteBook 1040 G3 is far from cheap with a starting cost of £1,000, but from what we've seen it goes a long way towards earning that price tag.
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