HP Elite Dragonfly is too stylish for the boardroom

HP Elite Dragonfly is too stylish for the boardroom
HP Elite Dragonfly is too stylish for the boardroom

Corporate office drones need nice computers, too. For too long, they’ve had to put up with soulless utilitarian machines that, while very functional, didn’t exactly inspire joy or creativity. HP’s latest EliteBook, its line of high-end business laptops that are more likely to end up on a CEO’s desk than a rank and file worker’s, bucks that trend. The Dragonfly is a 2-in-1 convertible that’s as nice to look at as it is to use. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the most aesthetically pleasing machine in all of HP’s lineup, business or consumer.

The Dragonfly is not just about looks, however. It has the capabilities and features that corporate customers crave, such as an excellent keyboard, mil-spec durability, and a light and stiff chassis that’s easy to take on the road (or, more accurately, the business class section of a 737 or A320).

Since it’s part of HP’s business line, you won’t find the Dragonfly on the shelves at Best Buy, and you might have to jump through some hoops to order one without a corporate account. If you are able to purchase it, it’s available in a dizzying array of configurations, but the throughline between them all is they aren’t cheap. Prices start at $1,629 for a base configuration; the model I’ve been testing for this review tallies up to $2,169.

That’s a lot of money for a thin-and-light computer that isn’t wearing an Apple logo, but for that cash, you get an extremely competent laptop that’s beautiful to look at, a three-year warranty, and none of the software crap and cruft that is found on HP’s consumer laptops.

Our review of HP Elite Dragonfly

Verge Score 8 out of 10

Good Stuff

Light, durable chassis Lovely matte blue color that doesn’t collect fingerprints Quiet keyboard that’s very nice to type on Strong performance for productivity work Lots of configuration options

Bad Stuff

It really should have a 3:2 display Power button is in an awkward spot Sticker shock Some annoying system bugs Not available in all of the typical places you buy a laptop Buy for $1,629.00 from HP Buy for $1,578.00 from Amazon

The most striking thing about the Dragonfly is its color. Unlike the sea of black ThinkPads or gray MacBooks that dominate offices now, the Dragonfly has a lovely dark blue color with a matte finish. HP covered the surface of it with an oleophobic coating, which helps it repel fingerprints and grease much better than the matte finishes on other computers I’ve tested. (Looking at you, Razer.) The Dragonfly is sleek and modern-looking in ways that most consumer laptops can’t match, much less other business machines.

The other striking thing about the Dragonfly is how light it is. It starts at 2.2 pounds, or just about 1 kilogram, with a 2-cell battery, but you can opt for a 4-cell battery that bumps the weight up to 2.5 pounds. My review unit has the larger battery, and I’d definitely make the trade-off for its longer stamina, especially since 2.5 pounds is still very light and portable. HP says every part of the machine was designed with light weight in mind; even the keyboard and trackpad are 26 percent and 36 percent lighter, respectively, than the ones in the EliteBook x360 1030 G3 that the Dragonfly replaces.

That light weight is due to HP’s use of magnesium throughout the Dragonfly’s chassis. For better durability, HP used thicker magnesium on the lid, keyboard deck, and bottom of the machine, which allows it to withstand mil-spec drop tests without breaking. I didn’t drop my review unit, but I can say there’s no perceptible chassis flex on this computer. It feels incredibly solid, especially for how light it is.

The Dragonfly measures 16mm thick, well under an inch, yet it provides more port options than are typically found on a thin-and-light convertible. It has two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, a full-size HDMI port, and a 3.5mm audio jack on the right side. On the left, there’s a USB-A port, the power button, a Kensington lock port, and a slot for a SIM card to use with the optional LTE modem. All of those ports mean most people won’t have to carry dongles or adapters around with them to plug in accessories or displays. I do wish HP had put the power button on the inside of the computer, though, as I pressed it by accident more than once when moving or picking up the computer, causing the machine to go to sleep right in the middle of doing something.

The Dragonfly’s display is a 13.3-inch touchscreen that can be configured three different ways: a 1W, low-power 1080p display designed for long battery life; a 1080p SureView display that has HP’s integrated privacy screen and gets to 1000 nits of brightness; or a 4K panel with the most resolution. HP says the SureView screen gets roughly 22 percent worse battery life than the 1W panel, while the 4K screen demands a 43 percent greater power demand, making them cost a lot in both money and battery life.

My review unit has the low-power screen, and it’s mostly fine. It gets to roughly 400 nits of brightness at its peak, which is more than enough for an office environment, and it’s plenty sharp at this size. HP could do a better job tuning the curve on the brightness levels, though. By 50 percent brightness, it’s basically too dim to use. Most of the time, I had to use the computer at 70 percent to comfortably see the screen.

My bigger complaint is that it has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is not nearly as pleasant to use to work in documents or browse the web as a taller 3:2 screen or even a 16:10 display. Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 beats the Dragonfly’s screen with both a better aspect ratio and better brightness.

The Dragonfly’s keyboard and trackpad are both excellent.

The Dragonfly’s keyboard, on the other hand, is a complete joy to use. It’s backlit, well-spaced, has sufficient travel, and is very quiet, so you can type all night long on that red-eye flight without disturbing your neighbor. HP even has a software-based noise-canceling feature when you’re on a video call using Google Hangouts or Zoom (coming soon for Skype and Microsoft Teams) so that you can take notes during a meeting and the other participants won’t be distracted by your incessant typing. In my tests using Zoom, the other participants said there was still some sound when I used the keyboard, but it wasn’t recognizable as typing.

Similarly, the glass trackpad on the Dragonfly is excellent. It’s large enough, smooth without being too slick, and solid, but not loud, when clicked. It uses Microsoft’s Precision drivers, so it has excellent tracking for two-finger scrolling and other multifinger gestures as well as excellent palm rejection. Between the excellent keyboard and great trackpad, HP nailed the input devices on the Dragonfly.

HP has equipped the Dragonfly with a four-speaker system that is loud and clear for both conference calls and media. It’s not as impressive as the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s speaker system, but I don’t really have any complaints about it. The Dragonfly’s microphones also work well for video calling, which is how they will likely be used most often.

No tape needed: the Dragonfly has a built-in webcam cover.

Finally, the Dragonfly comes with both a Windows Hello-compatible webcam and fingerprint sensor, so you can choose which biometric login method you prefer. (Both worked exactly as they should in my tests.) The webcam also has a built-in privacy shutter, so you don’t need to stick an ugly piece of tape over it to block it.

Agree to Continue: HP Elite Dragonfly

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

As with other Windows 10 computers, the HP Elite Dragonfly presents you with multiple things to agree to or decline upon setup.

The mandatory policies, for which an agreement is required, are:

Windows 10 License Agreement A Microsoft account for sign-in (this can be bypassed if you don’t connect the computer to the internet during setup)

In addition, there is a slew of optional things to agree to:

Activity History OneDrive back up Office 365 Cortana (which allows Microsoft to access your location, location history, contacts, voice input, speech and handwriting patterns, typing history, search history, calendar details, messages, apps, and Edge browsing history) Device privacy settings: online speech recognition, Find My Device, Inking and Typing, Advertising ID, Location, Diag data, Tailored experiences HP has another request for your name, region, and email address upon setup, which is then used for support, product improvement, personalized offers, and news updates. All of these are optional.

Add it all up, and you have two mandatory agreements and 15 optional ones.

Inside, the Dragonfly has an 8th Gen Intel Core processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of internal storage. My review unit is equipped with a Core i7-8665U chip, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage, which contributed to its $2,169 price tag. (The other options that brought the price up were the 4-cell battery, Intel LTE modem, HP’s rechargeable active pen, and HP’s leather sleeve.) Though the Dragonfly doesn’t have the latest 10th Gen Intel chips (HP says it chose the 8th Gen because the new chips don’t support Intel’s vPro features for commercial deployments), it had no performance issues in my tests. It easily handled my workload of lots of Chrome tabs, Word documents, Slack, email, and social media. The biggest upgrade in the 10th Gen chips is better-integrated graphics, which likely won’t be appreciated by the average office worker who primarily lives in Microsoft’s Office suite.

The Dragonfly is not a fanless computer; the fans will come on from time to time depending on your workload. But they don’t spin up that often, and when they do, they aren’t obnoxiously loud.

Battery life with the low-power display and larger battery cell isn’t exactly mind-blowing (despite HP’s ridiculous claims of up to “24.5 hours”), lasting about seven hours between charges with my typical usage. That’s about average for modern 13-inch thin-and-light computers in my experience, though it is just shy of a full workday.

As you’d expect with a business laptop, the Dragonfly comes with Windows 10 Pro, instead of Home. It also has a handful of HP utilities preinstalled, but it doesn’t have the annoying nagware (like McAfee) that you get on the company’s consumer laptops. There were some annoying software bugs in my time with the laptop, though: the LTE modem would randomly disappear from the network options, and the brightness controls would get stuck at 100 percent. Both issues are resolved with a reboot, but they are annoying nonetheless and not something you should have to deal with on a $2,000 laptop.

The Dragonfly’s light weight makes it easy to carry around everywhere.

The Dragonfly proves that corporate business machines don’t have to be boring and soulless. In fact, they can be more desirable than their consumer-focused counterparts. It even has a cool name, unlike the jumble of letters and numbers most laptops are bestowed with. The biggest issue with the Dragonfly might be its price. At this cost, it’s not likely to become a standard-issue computer at most companies, and it will likely be reserved for the C-suite. But if you do have the budget for it, the Dragonfly is an excellent productivity laptop with few issues marring its experience.

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