Review: HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 scores with snazzy trackpad

HP's buttoned-down EliteBook Folio 1040 has a lot going for it -- especially the multitouch, pressure-controlled Synaptics ForcePad

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.

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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.

HP has a video that takes you through the basic steps with the ForcePad on Windows 7, but the footage doesn't do justice to how smoothly and flawlessly it works. No need to "click" the trackpad any more; a slight increase in pressure does the job, and the pressure level is fully configurable. No need to double-click to move an icon -- just push a little harder than normal and drag. You don't run out of room for a pinch because you can continue a pinch (to keep making an object larger or smaller) by pushing harder at the end of the pinch. Similarly, you can continue two-finger scrolling by applying more pressure at the end of the pad. And both one-finger and two-finger drags speed up the harder you push. Once you get used to it, the actions are intuitive and quick.

On the business side, this EliteBook comes standard with Sure Start for BIOS protection and restoration and Trust Circles for file sharing, two proprietary HP packages. Your admin requirements may vary. Of course, there's a TPM chip, as has been the case with commercial HP laptops for years. And HP's 24/7 support draws very positive reviews, by and large.

I found only one aspect of the EliteBook 1040 that rankled: hard drive capacity. The machine I tested has a 128GB SSD, but when it arrived from HP, Windows Explorer showed the C: drive had a mere 69.8GB of free space left. That's with all Windows updates and Microsoft Security Essentials installed, and after a complete run of System Cleanup.

Rummaging around a bit, I found a few clues to the disk scarcity. The hard drive had three hidden partitions: 645MB for System, 1.3GB for D: HP_RECOVERY, and 1.96GB for E: HP_TOOLS. The Windows 7 hibernate file (D:\hiberfil.sys) takes up 4GB, as does the Windows 7 paging file (C:\pagefile.sys) -- both standard for a 4GB Windows 7 system. The sizes of both can be adjusted manually, with some reduction in speed. The Programs folder contains additional software for HP, Synaptics, a DVD burner, and the like. But in the end, Windows Explorer says there's only 69.8GB left.

If you're sitting on the sidelines, waiting for Microsoft to jump up to Windows 9, and you need a go-to Windows 7 clamshell for the interim, the HP EliteBook 1040 is a solid choice -- and the Synaptics ForcePad puts it over the top. Spring for the 1,920-by-1,080 screen and a 256GB SSD, and you may find this system good enough to carry for many years.

This article, "Review: HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 scores with snazzy trackpad," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in computer hardware and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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