Business travelers willing to give Windows 8 a spin have a noteworthy option in the HP Folio Elitebook Folio 9470m. Attractively slim and lightweight, this 14-inch Ultrabook delivers an assortment of business-oriented features, including a fingerprint scanner, a smart-card slot, and a solid-state drive that boosts performance on any task involving retrieval of data from storage. The battery life, while not outstanding, should get you through a cross-country flight.
The SSD, however, holds only 180GB, which is stingy by current standards. On top of that, the standard configuration's 4GB of RAM is tight considering that the machine's integrated graphics will commandeer some of that memory. And with a list price of $1349, the Elitebook Folio 9470m is by no means cheap.
Skinny, light, and handsome
The Elitebook Folio 9470m looks the part of a road warrior's faithful companion. Encased in a silvery magnesium alloy with a soft-touch finish, it measures only about 0.75 inch thick and weighs less than 3.75 pounds (without accessories), making it no great hardship to carry in a backpack or briefcase.
Flip open the lid, and you see a backlit island Chiclet-style keyboard with black keys set into a platen the same color as the case. HP provides all sorts of navigation options; my personal preference is the responsive, rubbery gray joystick set into the keyboard, but the laptop also has a multitouch-enabled touchpad with two sets of left and right mouse buttons (one set on the top edge of the touchpad and the other at the bottom). The keys are large and well spaced, but typing feels a bit mushy, and the keys lack sculptured contours to keep your fingers from slipping.
The power button resides above the keyboard on the left, and buttons for toggling airplane mode and audio sit at the upper right. Small LEDs on the left front edge show the status of wireless connections, power, the battery, and the hard drive (parked or accessible).
HP provides two security hardware features specifically designed to authenticate business users: a smart-card slot for companies that use such cards to identify authorized users, and a fingerprint scanner set into the right side of the platen below the keyboard. You can use the latter with HP-provided software to set up fingerprint IDs as login credentials. I've had problems setting up fingerprint authentication in the past--typically I've had to repeat initial scans multiple times--but on this laptop enrollment was easy, and I had no difficulty using my fingerprint to log in afterward.
On the left side you'll find a headset jack, a power-share USB 3.0 port (you can use it to charge peripherals even when the laptop is powered down), and a security lock slot. On the right edge, from front to back, are two more USB 3.0 ports, a DisplayPort connection, an SD/MultiMediaCard reader, a VGA port (handy for connecting to an analog video projector), a slot for an HP docking connector, and an ethernet port. A fourth USB port and HDMI support would be welcome, but HP has covered all the other business-productivity bases. The Elitebook Folio 9470m also supports dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11n Wi-Fi, a big plus over competitors that offer only 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.
Although the Elitebook Folio 9470m is not a multimedia maven's dream machine, it produces decent audio and sports an adequate HD (720p) webcam. In my test Skype calls, the webcam did a good job of compensating for low lighting and produced a satisfactory image. Surround-sound stereo speakers are located on the left and right sides of the laptop's bottom, where it slopes up to meet the edges. The speaker location isn't ideal, as some of the audio is inevitably muffled by whatever surface is supporting the laptop, but I found the audio quality acceptable for the Skype calls.
The 1366-by-768-pixel LED-backlit display is bright and visible at fairly wide angles from both sides; the field of vision is also pretty good from the top, but less so from below. Still, the Elitebook Folio 9470m should accommodate a small group gathered around a user seated at a desk or conference table.
Performance: The SSD really helps
The 9740m's benchmark performance was generally good, depending on how heavily storage speed figured into the tasks involved, as well as on how much the tasks depended on the power of the laptop's midrange Ultrabook chip (a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U), graphics hardware (integrated Intel HD 4000), and system memory (4GB of DD3 RAM).
Where storage mattered most, the 9470m knocked it out of the park, thanks to the SSD. Its PCMark 7 Storage score of 5299.5 was one of the highest we've seen, as was its PCMark 7 Productivity Suite score of 3903. Other scores were less spectacular, although all were at least average and many were above average, a result reflected in its WorldBench 8 score of 76. Its gaming scores were not particularly impressive, unsurprising considering the integrated graphics and 4GB of shared memory. The battery life--a bit over 6.25 hours--was strong, but not eye-poppingly great.
Business software extras
As befits a business laptop, the Elitebook Folio 9470m arrives without a bunch of crapware, and the software that is preinstalled is useful. CyberLink Media Suite, for instance, includes apps for viewing and managing multimedia, as well as apps for working with disk images and--when the laptop is connected to an optical drive--CDs and DVDs. PDF Complete provides simple PDF creation and viewing tools.
The HP ProtectTools Security Manager supplies apps for managing passwords and setting up credentials, including the aforementioned fingerprint scanner and SpareKey, an app that lets you authenticate yourself based on personal questions you set up in advance.
The Elitebook Folio 9470m satisfies a lot of business needs, offering a full range of connections and security features you won't find in most consumer laptops. It's attractive, compact, and reasonably lightweight, and it offers good--if not always outstanding--performance and battery life. HP could have provided a higher-resolution display option, a better keyboard, and a little more system memory; some users might wish for more storage space, too. The price tag is also a tad high--but not sufficiently so to deter business travelers from taking it into serious consideration.