HP have kept extremely tight-lipped about their Ultrabook plans, but today the veil has lifted off their first offering, and thanks to HP Australia we have a sample to look at in detail, along with the specs. These 13.3” Ultrabooks are due in late December.
Using a slimmed-down DM3 chassis and following that series’ lines and design sensibilities, the HP Folio, as it is called, adopts a conservative aesthetic approach, maintaining its appeal to the commercial sector and HP loyalists. In fact, opening the lid and seeing the layout and colour scheme, you can see where HP have retained the overall look and feel while slimming down the overall dimensions.
HP will have two models on offer, with the only variation being a choice of a low voltage i3 at 1.4GHz, or an i5 at 1.6GHz turbo boosted up to 2.3GHz. Other than that, all other vital statistics are the same. 4GB of RAM is taken up by one Dimm slot, and the spec sheet says expandable to 8GB RAM, so this may be the first Ultrabook with user upgradable components – a big plus for those looking to boost their performance. Both models come with 128GB solid state drives.
The HP DM3 Ultrabook is also the first to have a two-tone body, with brushed metal finish on the lid and keyboard area, and a black rubberised base. The feel of the base is quite nice, not slippery plastic but a softer, more textured surface that enables excellent gripping when transporting by hand.
The dimensions of the DM3 are 31.8cm wide, 22cm deep and 1.8cm thick, with a weight of 1.49kg, so HP weren’t setting out to break records in the lightest or thinnest departments. Rather, it feels like a sturdy unit with good connectivity in a comparatively lightweight and thin body. Based on some of the flowing lines that reach from the sides and wrap around the front of the unit, I do get the feeling that HP could have gone with a thinner, wedge-based front if they wanted to, but it would have opposed their design principles.
The lid is nicely refined, with the HP logo stamped on in outline, leaving the brushed metal to fill in the letters. A small strip at the top of the lid includes a small tab for thumb-opening to reveal the inside.
The black rubber of the base reaches up to the sides of the DM3, where all the inputs and outputs live. On the left hand side, the power, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, USB 2.0 port and memory card slot line up neatly. All of these inputs are full-sized. Two subtle LEDs indicate hard drive use and power.
There is nothing on the back except for the fan outlet and the two hinges which keep the monitor in place, which is notably stiff. A headphone/mic combo jack and USB 3.0 port are all that is on the right hand side.
The monitor is a bright 1366 x 768 LED, with good side viewing angles and as mentioned before, looks pretty much bolted to the base from the two side hinges. A small unobtrusive webcam sits within the glass panel, along with a digital mic. The black framing of the screen is in line with the DM3 series DNA.
The touchpad is a one piece component that will pick up finger movements from corner to corner. The delineated click spaces work well, and right clicking in particular is quite accurate all the way to the middle of the wide “T”.
The keyboard is nestled within a glossy black space that is sunken into the base to keep it flush with the rest of the brushed steel base. There is good tactile response to key pressing with a fair bit of depth and key separation. A small square on the touchpad can be double pressed and disables the touchpad to avoid palm-created inaccuracies with the cursor.
There is a function button that activates and de-activates the backlit keyboard, the second Ultrabook to offer this added feature. In darkness the keys are bright and defined. Like its competitor, it’s a thoughtful add-on for those who might need it in low light or dark conditions.
The Altec Lansing speakers that sit between the hinges are clear at higher volumes, but without much low end response. Perhaps HP could throw in a pair of Beats headphones to seal the deal from a portable entertainment sound point of view, given their brand association.
As it was stressed to me that this unit is a pre-production sample and does not fully represent performance benchmarks, the timings I recorded on wake up and boot up are not expected to be the final performance results. The 5 second wake up and 20 second boot up is a little slower than other Ultrabooks I’ve tested but this is sure to improve with the final production units.
The HP Folio is the most ruggedised Ultrabook I’ve come across so far. The rubberised base and sides where the connections are certainly give it a lot of grip and it doesn’t feel like a delicate unit. The stiff motion of the lid which encases the monitor reinforces that impression. In essence there are no surprises, and the build quality is first class.
Like the Toshiba we looked at a few days ago, the inclusion of the Ethernet jack hints at an enterprise and business customer. Its sturdiness should be a plus as it can be thrown around a little more if it is used on the road and places outside of an office environment. At under 1.5kgs it’s still way under most standard notebooks and just squeezes into the Ultrabook criteria.
After looking at a few Ultrabooks, there definitely appears to be a fork in the road where some brands like Acer and Asus have chosen to be more brash and thrilling in their form factor executions, to attract the purchaser whose notebook is an extension of their personality. Travelling down the other fork are brands like Toshiba and HP who have not deviated massively in style or design, but have taken advantage of new technology to offer a reason to upgrade to slimmer, lighter models that retain the reliability and sturdiness that businesses demand.
The Ultrabook category is the most exciting development for Windows-based portable PCs in many years. Out of their negative publicity and uncertainty, HP have stuck to their brand image and design approach and adapted the Ultrabook to their own blueprint. For a company that seemed to be on the cusp of an unfortunate fate not long ago, it’s a solid entry.
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