Arm-based Snapdragon CPU still struggles with performance and compatibility
The HP Elite Folio is lightweight and stylish, with all-day battery life. Its performance still can’t compete with that of modern AMD Ryzen or Intel Core processors, and software compatibility issues persist. These shortcomings may still be hard to swallow considering the Elite Folio’s premium price tag.
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The HP Elite Folio wraps vivid display options, 4G/5G connectivity options, and all-day battery life within a lightweight, stylish design. It clearly wins on mobility.
The 2-in-1 laptop’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G processor has its caveats, though. Its performance still can’t compete with that of modern AMD Ryzen or Intel Core processors, and software compatibility issues persist. These limitations may be tough to tolerate considering the Elite Folio’s premium price tag.
This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.
Operating system: Windows 10 Home/Pro (Windows 10 Home as tested)
Dimensions: 11.75 x 9.03 x 0.63 inches
Weight: 2.93 pounds, 3.57 with charger
While the Elite Folio looks like a clamshell laptop, it’s closer to a 2-in-1 Windows tablet. The keyboard does not detach, as it does with Microsoft’s Surface Pro X or Surface Pro 7+. Instead, it can rotate flat into a tablet mode. A “hybrid” mode allows it to pull forward, hiding the keyboard for streaming video and using the screen as a primary interface. HP also includes a pen, an additional cost with rival tablets.
The Elite Folio’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G is an Arm processor that mimics the customized Arm chip used inside the Surface Pro X and the Lenovo Flex 5G. Those tablets, however, used a slightly earlier version of the Snapdragon 8cx, the Gen 1.
These Arm chips come with trade-offs. Historically, they’ve run more slowly than an Intel Core or AMD Ryzen chip, in part because of the need to emulate traditional x86 instructions. That’s less of a concern now, as more applications can either run on native Arm code, or via the web. Just don’t expect to play games on the Elite Folio—it’s an optimized Office or web browsing machine first and foremost.
The Elite Folio may look a lot like the 2019 Spectre Folio. There’s one major external difference: Unlike the Spectre Folio’s real leather cladding, the Elite Folio is wrapped in “vegan leather,” which is just a fancy name for polyurethane. That material conveys a luxurious look while being animal-friendly. Inside, the keyboard deck returns to a more traditional, plasticky surface.
The low-power Snapdragon chip allows the Folio to run completely without a fan. You can clearly feel the warmth that the CPU puts out at the bottom of the screen, though it never even approaches uncomfortable temperatures.
The HP Elite Folio’s display is pleasing: bright, with vivid colors that cover 99 percent of the SRGB color gamut, though only 74 percent of AdobeRGB and 75 percent of sRGB, as measured by our colorimeter. You might not buy a laptop to work outside, but if you do, the Elite Folio’s ready with two bright display options: a base model with a maximum 400 nits of brightness, and a 1,000-nit higher-end option, which we didn’t review. Turning up the display brightness will run down the integrated 46Wh battery more quickly, of course.
The Elite Folio includes built-in 4G LTE capabilities, with a SIM slot in the pen cubby, which we’ll talk about below. HP tells us there will be 5G options in the future.
Port selection is sparse—two USB-C (not Thunderbolt) connections, one on either side of the chassis. Connecting to a Thunderbolt dock enabled work on a single external 4K display, which satisfied our productivity needs.
HP offers some of the most comfortable keyboards in the industry—but not on the Elite Folio. Although its keys are almost aggressively springy, the shallow (1.3mm) travel is best suited for gentle tappers rather than forceful mashers. The layout is fairly standard, with a narrow row of function keys at the top and cross-shaped cursor keys to the lower right. The F2 key entirely lacks a secondary function, a rather unusual omission.
The Elite Folio trackpad, while not overly large, boasts the glossy glass smoothness of a premium offering. Windows classifies it as a Precision touchpad, meaning that Microsoft and Windows can manage its drivers, add gestures, and improve it over time. It’s clickable almost all the way to the top.
HP’s Elite Folio includes a 720p webcam, mounted at the top of the PC’s display bezel, which offers average graininess and color balance. You do have to wonder whether, after over a year working from home, HP at least considered a more premium 1080p webcam option.
The Elite Folio offers a bit more in the sliding webcam shutter. Run your finger or thumb over a rough ridge of plastic at the top of the screen to opens and close the shutter manually. Rival Lenovo offers this in its ThinkPads and does a slightly better job by visually indicating that the shutter is closed with a tiny, red, opaque panel. HP uses a white dot with slashes through it, which is hard to differentiate from the open shutter.
The HP Elite Folio’s audio projects from a pair of speakers mounted in the palm rest area and upward-facing speakers midway up the keyboard, pumping out enough volume to fill a quiet to slightly noisy room. Tuned by Bang & Olufsen, the sound quality competently fills the midrange and high end, though the bass unsurprisingly lacks oomph. I couldn’t find any audio controls besides the Windows defaults.
One of the showcase features of the Elite Folio is the two-button, 5.5-inch Wacom AES 2.0 pen, which nestles in a cubby very much like the one in the Microsoft Surface Pro X—another Arm-powered device. Microsoft’s Surface Pro X conceals the pen cubby, but the Elite Folio’s is exposed, tempting you to use it.
Overall we prefer the inking experience in the Surface Pro X. The Surface Pen is a bit thicker and rounder, more comfortable to hold than the flattish Elite Folio pen. The Surface Pro X’s kickstand also offers more options for reclining the tablet. The HP pen’s end button is a bit too discreet: Because it sits flush with the end of the pen, it’s harder to depress. (There’s another button midway down the shaft.) There’s noticeable lag when inking with the pen. HP’s own configuration utility assigns both pen buttons optional functions.
On the plus side, the Folio’s pen offers built-in charging capabilities, which kick in when the pen is re-inserted in its cubby. Like the Surface Pro X, the magnetized cubby will automatically rotate the pen longitudinally to align the pen’s charging contacts with the cubby’s own. The pen’s charge lasted all day; it’s rated for 30 hours of use or ten days of standby, with a 30-minute recharge cycle. HP also uses the cubby to house the SIM tray.
How does the Elite Folio perform? Find out on the next page.
HP Elite Folio performance
By now, you should be familiar with the pros and cons of Arm and Snapdragon-powered laptops. The Elite Folio supports applications written for 32-bit and 64-bit Arm processors. These include the native Edge browser, the traditional Office (Microsoft 365) applications, and others. Most games are not included. Currently, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G will emulate, or translate, 32-bit apps written for the X86 instructions set used by Intel Core and AMD Ryzen processors.
Most standalone apps, however, are written for 64-bit X86 processors, the PC standard for two decades. That means that you may be unable to use utilities, or a VPN, or some other app that you once took for granted, on the Elite Folio. Even with x64 compatibility supposedly turned on, we couldn’t complete all of our traditional benchmarks, specifically the older Cinebench test.
You can minimize the 64-bit issue by joining the Windows Insider program and selecting the most advanced Dev Channel. This is currently the only way of allowing an Arm PC to run 64-bit x86 apps, and Windows 11 comes with it. At the time of this review, Microsoft would not comment on x64 app compatibility for either Windows 10 and Windows 11. In some cases, you may be able to find a web-based service to replicate the standalone app.
On the vast majority of “ordinary” tasks you’d perform on the Elite Folio—Office and web browsing, and streaming media—the available native Arm-powered apps work fine. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu all have Windows that run natively on Arm. The exception is Disney+, which is encoded only for 64-bit X86 processors. To play Disney+ movies on the Elite Folio, you’ll need to use your browser.
While the benchmarks below make the Elite Folio seem slow, it’s important to note that web browsing and Office feel just as snappy as they would on a more powerful X86 machine. Browser performance is governed by the CPU and system memory—of which the Elite Folio has plenty. Just be sure to download a 32-bit version of whichever browser you choose. I was able to run our typical 4K video at 60Hz without a hitch (6 frames dropped out of 10,000 is excellent), even with a second video playing on another display.
In the performance graphs below, we’ve included results from our earlier tests of the HP Elite Folio, which tested apps we could run with the native Arm version of Windows 10. After running those tests, we upgraded it to Windows 11 via the Windows Insider Dev Channel to better understand its future potential—and run a few more benchmarks.
Microsoft continues to work on emulating x64 instructions, including in the upcoming Windows 11. Performance may improve, though the gap between the Snapdragon and X86 processors is still sizeable.
The older PCMark 8’s Creative test covers word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing, and light gaming, plus photo and video editing. We include it to compare with older generations of machine. Unfortunately, this first test sets the scene: The Elite Folio and its Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 improve over earlier Snapdragon laptops, but not enough to compete with rival Core-based laptops or tablets.
A subset of the PCMark 10 benchmark, PCMark 10 Applications, measures how well the notebook handles real-world Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and the Edge browser. PCMark 10 measures how quickly apps open, as well as spreadsheet processing. Again, the HP Elite Folio and its Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 processor is competent, though not competitive.
We’ve traditionally included some web apps in the mix, as they’re naturally cross-platform tasks indicative of how work is done today. Here, you can see how the Snapdragon 8cx has caught up to Intel’s Y-level mobile Core processors, which puts it in a strong midrange position.
As we noted briefly above, updating the Elite Folio to Windows 11 presented some compatibility hiccups. We had to forgo the older Cinebench R15 CPU test for the current R20 release. Compared to Microsoft’s Surface Pro X and Surface Pro 7+ tablets, plus a few others, the Elite Folio is eating dust.
We tested the Elite Folio using an older version of HandBrake, an open-source video transcoding tool. The results were horrendous: three hours to transcode a Hollywood movie into another format? Modern laptops based upon Intel’s Core and Ryzen processors handle this task in well under an hour. The most recent version of the app wouldn’t run on the Elite Folio.
Finally, we typically look at the integrated graphics capabilities of the laptops we test. Intel’s Core (and its Xe integrated GPU) and the Radeon cores found inside the latest Ryzen mobile chips don’t need to appear here—this comparison against older laptops still shows the Snapdragon lagging well behind in 2021. UL’s 3DMark “Night Raid” test was specifically designed for cross-platform comparisons, as it runs both on Arm as well as X86 chips.
Readers who are familiar with Arm processors know that their saving grace is typically all-day battery life. Here, HP’s Elite Folio succeeds. You could build a longer-lasting laptop with a chunky battery that adds thickness and weight, but a thin 2-in-1 that lasts 15.5 hours is a notable accomplishment and a terrific selling point.
The HP Elite Folio’s remaining sticking point is its price. Say what you will about Microsoft’s Surface Pro X—it uses a slightly slower chip, and the battery life wasn’t nearly what we hoped for. But, depending upon the configuration, it costs half as much as the HP Elite Folio. Even a 14-inch laptop like the $1,400 LG Gram is cheaper, lighter, and faster, though battery life suffers a bit. Our current champion of the thin-and-light category is the HP Spectre x360 14 1Q881AV, a $1,200-$1,400 alternative that folds back into tablet mode for inking.
You’ll need to think long and hard about what you’ll use the Elite Folio for. Is it the distinctive design? The weight and thinness? All-day battery life and connectivity? If the latter factors are your priority, the superb Dell Latitude 9510 offers both 4G/5G options and true 24-hour battery life for $1,599 at press time, though it also weighs a pound more. Our current pick for the best Windows tablet, the Microsoft Surface Pro 7+, may be priced extravagantly as well—about $1,650 at press time—but it’s significantly faster than the Elite Folio.
Clarification: We updated this story to more clearly call out that the Elite Folio’s pen ships as part of the Elite Folio.