Review: HP Folio 13 is an Ultrabook for the masses

The new Folio 13 may be slightly thicker and heavier than the average Ultrabook, but it also may make more sense for the average user.

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HP's Folio 13, the first of a new product line designed to appeal to both mainstream and business users, isn't the thinnest or lightest Ultrabook around. But unless you're a fanatic about such things, it will probably fill your needs better than its thinner and lighter competitors. It offers excellent performance and battery life, a fetchingly minimalist design, and a typing experience that thinner units can't match.

Our $899 (as of February 20, 2012) consumer configuration of the Folio 13 revolves around an Intel Core i5-2467M, 4GB of 1333 MHz DDR3, and a performance-enhancing 128GB Samsung solid-state drive. The display is flawlessly backlit and crisp, at 13.3 inches with a resolution of 1366 by 768. The $999 business version adds features such as a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) for security, a cleaner software image, and Windows 7 Professional rather than Windows 7 Home Premium.

The Folio 13's WorldBench 6 score of 118 is good for a Core i5-based machine, and in informal use the unit feels quite snappy. The integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics contribute to weak gaming frame rates, which top out in the low 30s at 800 by 600 resolution with low quality settings. Video, on the other hand, is smooth as silk, even when playing 1080p files. The battery lasts a healthy 6 hours, 46 minutes. If you need more time, though, you'll need to locate a power plug: The Folio 13 doesn't have a user-replaceable battery.

The Folio 13 comes with one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port. Though both are black, the USB 3.0 port is marked underneath with the SuperSpeed USB logo. A single HDMI port is available to accommodate external displays, and there's an SD slot for loading photos and such. A mobile-device-style mini-jack that combines headphones and mic into a single plug handles audio input and output. The microphone next to the 1280-by-1024-resolution webcam also accepts audio input. Connectivity is top-notch with gigabit ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 3.0 on board.

The Folio 13's keyboard has a nice feel, primarily because the keys can travel farther than on ultrathin laptops, but there's little flex to the unit as a whole, which contributes to a more stable typing platform. The single-piece touchpad is appealing, too, but resistance--to dragging and to clicking--is a tad greater than on most laptops. The Folio 13 travels at 4 pounds including the AC adapter, as against an average of 3.7 pounds for the Ultrabooks PCWorld has reviewed.

HP displays a pull-quote (from another publication) on the Folio 13's Web page that calls the Folio 13's sound "fantastic". Listening through the headphones, one might conceivably make that argument. But the speakers? No way. Audio through them is loud but more than a tad muddy. Superlatives such as "fantastic" should be reserved for laptops such as the Toshiba Qosmio X775 3D, which has a subwoofer that can reproduce bass tones sans the headphones. Still, the Folio 13's audio is a cut above the horrible sound you get from the speakers on most Ultrabooks.

In stark contrast to the Folio 13's minimalist outward design is the busy Windows 7 Home Premium desktop you encounter when you first boot up. Shortcuts to eBay, HP Games (Wild Tangent), RaRa music, Zya music, and HP downloads--as well as a number of more staid HP utilities and Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition--look gaudy in contrast to the elegant externals. HP's background images don't match the unit's appearance particularly well either.

The Folio 13 is a solid effort from HP that, instead of blindly shedding features and usability in the name of thin-and-light, strikes a reasonable balance. It's probably a tad pricey for some shoppers, but including a solid-state drive always drives up a laptop's price. This model should definitely be on your short list of Ultrabooks to consider.

This story, "Review: HP Folio 13 is an Ultrabook for the masses" was originally published by PCWorld.

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