If you're in the market for a Windows 8 laptop, you're looking in the wrong place. The HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 can handle Windows 8, but the lack of a touchscreen and the steadfastly clamshell form factor beg for Windows 7. Fortunately, Windows 7 Pro is readily available as an "automatic downgrade" from Windows 8 Pro.
Technical specs on the Folio 1040 won't shake any rafters, but they're solid, starting with a fourth-generation "Haswell" Core i5-4200U CPU and Intel HD 4400 graphics. The low-end machine I tried (list $1,299) had 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, 2x2 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a 720p webcam, and a decidedly lackluster (1,600 by 900) 14-inch screen. Other options include faster processors, more memory, a bigger hard drive, and a significantly higher-res 1,920-by-1080 screen. A Core i7-4650U model with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and the 1,920-by-1,080 screen lists at $1,979.
The new EliteBook is noticeably thicker (0.63 inch) and heavier (3.3 pounds) than the comparable 13.3-inch Acer Aspire S7 (0.48 inch, 2.3 pounds). It's thinner and heavier than the new 14-inch, touchscreen Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (0.79 inch and 2.8 pounds).
If you're comparing standard checklists, the EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 looks like an overpriced, but thin, version of a standard midrange notebook. But when you get your hands on it, your perspective changes.
The rock-solid brushed-aluminum cover withstood 12 different MIL-STD 810G tests for dropping, vibration, dust, operating temperature, and so on. The backlit keyboard has a spill-resistant drain, decent key travel, and a no-nonsense key layout. There's a fingerprint reader and NFC sensor. Around the sides you find a microphone jack, two USB 3 slots, a DisplayPort 1.2 slot (which supports a very respectable 2,560-by-1,600 resolution and 30-bit color depth at 60Hz), a MicroSD card reader, and a proprietary docking port, which can be configured with VGA output and an RJ45 Ethernet connection.
The star component only looks like a regular, old, everyday trackpad. It's anything but. The EliteBook Folio 1040 is the first commercial notebook bearing one of the new Synaptics ForcePads. I've heard rumors that other manufacturers (including Apple) are going to start using this type of pressure-sensitive trackpad in their new machines, but with the EliteBook Folio 1040, you can start using one now.
It took me a day to get used to the ForcePad and several days before I started accessing all the features. Now that I've crossed the pad-pressure Rubicon, there's no turning back. This is a spectacular new way to work with a trackpad. And it works just fine with good old Windows 7 -- Windows 8 not required.
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