Review

HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 review: It's nearly perfect

There are very few laptops that I'd put into the "nearly perfect" category. Up until now, the only PC I've ever said might be the perfect laptop is the 2017 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga with its OLED display. But the HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 gets that title as well. This thing is just phenomenal.

Elite is HP's business brand, so obviously this is a business laptop. x360 means that it's a convertible, 1040 means it's the 14-inch model, and G5 means it's the fifth generation. But the fifth-generation model is a huge departure from the EliteBook 1040 models from generations past.

I reviewed the EliteBook 1040 G4 just over a year ago. It was a clamshell, and this year's is the first x360 from the 1040 lineup. It also had a 45W H-series CPU, a strange choice given the lack of dedicated graphics, and that also impacted battery life. With the new x360 model, it uses a 15W U-series chip, which is better for productivity tasks, and it also has some big improvements along the keyboard and the display.

Specs

CPU Intel Core i7-8650U
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 620
Display 14" diagonal Anti-Glare LED UWVA IPS eDP+PSR FHD (1920x1080) Touchscreen with Corning Gorilla Glass 5
Body 32.21x21.49x1.68cm (12.65x8.46x0.66in), 1.35kg (2.98lb)
RAM 16GB DDR4-2666 SDRAM (2 x 8 GB)
Storage 512GB PCIe Gen 3x4 NVMe SS TLC
Ports

(2) USB 3.1 Type-C with Thunderbolt support
(2) USB 3.1 Gen 1 (1 charging)
(1) HDMI 1.4
(1) External micro SIM for WWAN
(1) Headphone/microphone combo jack

Battery

HP Long Life 4-cell, 56.2 Wh Li-ion polymer
100%; supports HP Fast Charging (up to 50% in 30 minutes)
65W USB Type-C power adapter

OS Windows 10 Pro
Color Natural Silver
Price $2,349


There are also lots of options to upgrade with a Sure View or 4K display, up to 32GB RAM, 4G LTE, and up to a 2TB SSD. This machine maxes out at $3,975.30.

Day one

Design

The HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 comes an an aluminum unibody design, with a Natural Silver color. To me, this is the biggest and one of the only downsides of the PC. HP only makes its EliteBooks in Natural Silver, but you just have to look across the board to its consumer Spectre PCs to see just how much better they could look. HP's Spectre laptops are among the most beautiful on the market, and I really wish that they would bring some of those designs over to the Elite lineup.

Don't get me wrong. The EliteBook is a fine-looking machine, and if HP didn't make such beautiful consumer PCs, I wouldn't even bring it up. I do like the feel of the chassis though. It feels very comfortable to touch and hold, as it's not too smooth.

HP also shrunk down the body by quite a bit, and it has a 10% smaller footprint than the 1040 G4. In fact, it's more similar to that of a 13-inch convertible. Just look at the EliteBook x360 1030 G2 from 2017, which was just 12.48x8.6x0.59 inches. While thinner, it was just 0.17 inches narrower, and it was actually 0.14 inches taller. And that's a 13.3-inch laptop.

This machine is also very light, at 2.98 pounds. It's clear that HP was trying to hit that three-pound mark, and I think that's an important one. When you put this device in a backpack, you don't want to feel like your shoulders hurt after a while. It's definitely a comfortable PC to carry around.

Most of the ports are on the right side of the device, and those include a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, two Thunderbolt 3 ports - either of which can be used for charging - and HDMI 1.4. Sadly, it's not HDMI 2.0, so if you want to attach a 4K display, you'll probably want to use one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports, either of which can support up to two 4K displays, and data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps.

There's also a volume rocker on the right side, which is key for convertibles. If you're using the PC as a tablet, you'll definitely want to have that hardware button.

On the left side, there's another USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, a 3.5mm combo audio jack, and the power button. The optional pen attaches to this side magnetically, and there's a minor flaw in the design here. If you attach the pen to hastily, it can tend to hit the power button and put the EliteBook to sleep.

You'll find Bang & Olufsen speakers both on top and on the bottom of the keyboard. This is something that I've always appreciated about HP convertibles (along with the volume rocker, which not every company has). The speakers on the left and right sides of the keyboard fire right up at you when you're using the EliteBook as a laptop. If you're using it as a tablet, those speakers would be firing away from you, so there are speakers on the bottom of the unit for that very purpose.

While the footprint of the device is smaller, it still does have a larger top and bottom bezel than some competitors. Above the display, you'll find a webcam and an IR camera for Windows Hello. Personally, I don't mind a slightly larger top bezel if it means that there's facial recognition. HP also includes a fingerprint sensor right under the keyboard, so you have a choice in how you want to use Windows Hello.

Display

The model that HP sent me has a 14-inch 1080p anti-glare display that goes up to 400 nits of brightness. You can also get it in a 500-nit 4K UHD option, or a 700-nit 1080p option with HP's Sure View Gen2 privacy display.

Let's talk about the one that HP sent me first, because it's awesome. This is hands-down the best anti-glare display that I've ever seen. Other anti-glare displays that I've used tend to have washed-out colors or just look somewhat blurry, but not this one. This display maintains its vibrant colors.

HP used chemical etching for its anti-glare display, and what's really cool is that it is so comfortable to write on with the pen. It's probably the closest to feeling like I'm writing on paper that I've seen.

Seriously, HP did a great job with the display on this laptop. Very rarely does something like a display go above and beyond my expectations - since I pretty much know what to expect in most cases - but this one did.

And then there's Sure View, which was not included in the unit I received. Sure View is HP's privacy display technology. Here's how it works. You press a key on the keyboard (usually F2), and the privacy display is turned on. Anyone trying to look over your shoulder won't be able to see what you're working on.

This is called visual hacking, and the vast majority of visual hacks are successful, mainly because it's so easy. HP representatives have told me that there are two kinds of people, those that need Sure View and those that don't realize they need Sure View. It's an awesome feature and I've used it on other devices.

The 4K UHD model is not offered with Sure View, and that's a real shame. The EliteBook x360 1040 G5 uses Sure View Gen2, and Gen3 will support 4K displays, so if you want a 4K display with Sure View, you might want to wait for next year's model. It's also worth noting that Sure View Gen2 looks white if you look at it from an angle, while Gen3 will look dark.

Premium Collaboration Keyboard

I've had some issues with HP's EliteBook keyboards in the past, but this one is just about perfect. The keys are incredibly accurate, and they're solid. HP put a lot of work into its Premium Collaboration Keyboard, which it says it two times quiter, reducing noise by 10dB. And yes, it is a very quiet keyboard, with HP even comparing it to Lenovo's ThinkPads.

Another thing that HP improved is that it's less wobbly, with a slant angle of 2.4 degrees and a wobble of 0.72mm, comparing it to competitors with a 4.4-degree slant and 2mm wobble. That's what I mean by solid. It doesn't feel shaky at all when you type on it.

The keys have just the right amount of resistance, making them comfortable to press but at the same time, not being so loose that they're not accurate. I actually reviewed the EliteBook x360 1030 G3 in December, and that keyboard felt very similar, but I did not like it. I found that the keys would miss strokes, implying that there might have been a bit too much resistance. I've not had that problem with the 1040 at all. This keyboard is perfect.

Typically, my favorite keyboards are always found on Lenovo ThinkPads. This is the first PC that I've used that's on par with, or at the very least, close to on par with ThinkPads, which are renowned for their keyboards.

I type for a living, so this is without a doubt the most important feature to me. I can say without a doubt that I wouldn't mind using this keyboard all the time.

Performance and battery life

The unit that HP sent me has an Intel Core i7-8650U CPU, 16GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD. The CPU is from the Kaby Lake R lineup, so it's essentially a seventh-generation chip but quad-core instead of dual-core. The 14nm CPU has a 15W TDP, which is standard for an ultrabook/convertible processor. It doesn't come with the newer Whiskey Lake CPUs, which are also eighth-gen, but that's really not a big deal.

As far as day-to-day performance goes, the EliteBook did great. My normal work flow is through Google's Chrome browser, and then of course, I always have other apps open like Skype, Slack, OneNote, and Microsoft To-Do. Apps like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign did quite well, although editing video in Premiere Pro is when it started to choke a bit. All of this is pretty standard for a U-series chip without dedicated graphics. These machines are built for productivity, and if you're looking to edit video or play games, you'll probably want a dGPU.

HP says that this unit can get up to 17 hours of battery life, but as is the case with all OEMs, that's not simulating real-world usage. In real life, doing real-life things, you'll get a solid 10 hours out of the EliteBook x360 1040 G5. To me, the biggest barrier with battery life is if you can go through an eight-hour workday and leave your charger at home, and that also means that you can have a good 20% battery left over so it's not dying at the last second. The EliteBook absolutely passes that test.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, as usual. This offers three tests: Home, Creative, and Work. First up is the Home test, which checks common tasks like video chatting, web browsing, casual gaming, and more.

The results are about where you'd expect given the hardware. It beats out most average notebooks by quite a bit, but it doesn't have the power of a gaming PC. Next up is the Creative test, which checks more GPU-intensive tasks like video editing, mainstream gaming, and more.

Once again, this PC does quite well for a machine without a dedicated GPU. Finally, the Work test checks productivity-related tasks like writing and spreadsheets.

As you can see, the Work test is where the EliteBook really shines. As I mentioned earlier, this PC is engineered for productivity.

Another thing that's worth noting is that there's a 4G LTE option for the EliteBook x360 1040 G5. Personally, I think that this is always worth investing in. Yes, I know you can use your phone as a hot spot. Yes, I know that public Wi-Fi is available in many places. But cellular connectivity is just so convenient. It's so nice to open up a laptop in the airport and not have to look for a Wi-Fi password, agree to a bunch of terms and conditions, or sign up for a mailing list.

4G LTE is also more secure. Public Wi-Fi networks are renowned for not being secure, so that's something that you don't have to worry about. In a business laptop, that's key.

x360 and pen

As I've mentioned a few times, there's an optional pen with the EliteBook x360 1040 G5. It supports 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, and it really feels great to write on the anti-glare display. Also, the pen charges via USB Type-C, so that's always nice as you don't have to worry about changing batteries.

But if you've never used a convertible PC before, you might be wondering why you need one at all. The convertible aspect of the PC generally means that you can use four different form factors. There's laptop mode, which is pretty standard and obvious. There's also tablet mode, which is when you fold the display all the way back and use it as a tablet.

And then you have tent mode and presentation mode. Tent mode is exactly what you see above. It's great for watching movies, and the speakers on this machine are great. Since you have those speakers under the base, those are now firing at you.

And then presentation mode is when the keyboard is facing down and the display is facing up. This is good for watching movies as well, or more obviously, presentations. However, you might be presenting to a larger screen and you'll probably want to use the built-in HDMI or Thunderbolt 3 ports.

But for me, I like to use laptop mode and tablet mode, for the most part. While Windows 10 still has a long way to go in actually being a good tablet OS, one thing that it's really good at is inking. More often than not, I'll bring a convertible to an event or a meeting and I'll take handwritten notes in OneNote. It's also really nice when someone sends me a document to sign and I can just open the PDF in Edge and sign my name, rather than printing it out, signing it, and scanning it back in like a savage.

But you can also use Windows Ink to draw on photos in the Photos app, gets routes in Maps by drawing a line from one place to the other, mark up webpages in Edge, and more. I think this is a real value proposition to getting a Windows 10 convertible. Even if you don't use it 99% of the time, it's nice to have when you do use it.

Software

While HP has hardware security features like Sure View, there are also some nice software security features, which have always been a unique value proposition of EliteBooks as commercial PCs. For example, Sure Start Gen4 promises a self-healing BIOS. It has a master copy of the BIOS, and when you start up the PC, it checks the BIOS against the master copy, and if it's corrupted, the PC replaces it.

HP Sure Run to protect critical processes from malware, and it will attempt to shut them down if there's an issue. Sure Click works on the browser side, protecting you from malware on the internet.

One thing that's missing is WorkWise, a feature seen on some previous EliteBooks. This allowed you to pair your PC with your phone (these days it only supports Android), and it would give you a notification if your PC has been tampered with. You could also check the status of your PC, install drivers, and more.

But what the EliteBook x360 1040 G5 does support is PhoneWise. PhoneWise is a way to send and receive texts, make and receive calls, and more from your PC. It's similar to Dell's Mobile Connect; however, PhoneWise has an awesome feature for iPhones. You see, every client that works with iPhones requires your iPhone to be awake and have the app open to send a text. At that point, why not just send the text through your phone, right? HP's PhoneWise will actually let you enter your iPhone PIN into the app, so it can wake your phone, unlock it, launch the app, send the text, and put your phone back to sleep.

Conclusion

The HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 is one of the best PCs that I've used in a long time. It's really just phenomenal. I refuse to call any laptop perfect, because in a world of billions of devices, there's always something better out there. But this is one of those that I really want to call perfect.

Even the things I came up with as cons for the PC are really trivial, like how there aren't more color options. I'd have liked to have seen Sure View Gen3, but to be fair, Gen3 wasn't out yet when this was first introduced at the end of last year. We can also say that HP knew Gen3 was coming in a couple of months, but that's neither here nor there, and I digress.

This is an awesome PC. It's not just an awesome commercial PC. If you're a consumer, you'll love this machine. It's got a great keyboard and a beautiful display, along with the performance that comes along with a 15W Core i7.

It has all of the trimmings as well. There's an IR camera for Windows Hello, four B&O speakers (two on top and two on the bottom) for great audio quality, and more. The pen is so comfortable to write with that if you've never been comfortable writing on screens before, this might change that.

For $2,349, I actually think this is a good deal, because this PC is that good. I'd recommend spending a few extra dollars for Sure View and 4G LTE though, because those features are totally worth having.

To check it out on HP.com, you can find it here.

 

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