Business Ultrabooks don't have to be homely. In fact, they don't even have to run Windows 8, if Windows 7 is your company's cup of tea. The HP EliteBook 820 is a good looking Ultrabook that shares a hint of design DNA with HP's attractive consumer Ultrabooks like the Spectre 13. Unlike consumer models, the EliteBook is extremely easy to upgrade--heck it's designed to be opened up for upgrades. No need to fiddle with obscure tiny screws or adhesive strips. It also has more ports than you'll find on the average consumer 12.5" to 13.3" Ultrabook. Even better, while business machines are often priced much higher than consumer models, a decently equipped 820 costs just $874. So what's the catch? Like many business laptops, the screen lacks the boldness and clarity of consumer models, and there's no touch screen on most models (HP does list it as a build to order option). We get the feeling that HP aims the 820 at Windows 7 users, so the lack of a touch screen isn't the end of the world, but we'd love to see better looking displays on business laptops. Since this is a business model, HP includes security features like HP Trust Circles that will only allow assigned contacts access to files on your PC and HP SureStart, which offers BIOS protection and healing. The laptop also has a fingerprint scanner and TPM.
Design and Ergonomics
The EliteBook 820 is a surprisingly attractive Ultrabook with a tapered design, contrasting lid and side colors and a magnesium casing. The laptop passed a number of MIL-STD 810G tests for things like dust, drops and vibrational shock. It feels solid and it should appeal to those who feel that ThinkPads are dull matte black blocks.
Perhaps the most enchanting thing in a sea of similarly spec'd and sealed Ultrabooks is the removable bottom panel. This grants easy access to all internals including the battery, socketed WiFi + Bluetooth card, 2.5" SATA HDD/SSD drive bay, a flash cache slot (optional for HDDs to speed them up) and a WAN card slot. HP offers 3G HSPA+ and 4G LTE broadband cards for $109 and $229 respectively. Even better, there are two RAM slots (most 13.3" and smaller Ultrabook RAM is soldered on board and is thus not upgradable). For do it yourself types and IT departments, this sort of easy repair and upgradeability is rarer than platinum and every bit as valuable. Note that the CPU is still soldered on board, as is the case for most all laptops except some big gaming rigs.
The HP has ample ports by 12.5" laptop standards. It has a VGA port (still popular in business settings where old equipment like VGA projectors hang around forever), a DisplayPort for driving modern, greater than full HD monitors, three USB 3.0 ports (two on the right and one on the left with charging), Ethernet RJ-45, a smart card reader, docking port, SD card slot and a 3.5mm combo headphone-mic jack. The laptop has dedicated buttons for wireless and audio mute above the keyboard.
Deals and Shopping:
HP EliteBook 820 Video Review
This isn't the happy part of our review. The display is somewhat washed out and murky compared to today's sharp and clear consumer oriented panels on similarly priced laptops. When you get close to $1,000, we expect lots of clarity and a wide color gamut... something that the Acer Aspire S7 (both generations), HP Spectre 13, Sony Vaio Pro 13 and Flip 13, Dell XPS 12 (often selling for $799 or less) and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga and Yoga 2 13" give us. Granted the EliteBook is about $100 cheaper than the $1,000 average for Ultrabooks with great screens, but we do wish that HP offered a good upgrade option. The display resolution is 1366 x 768, and while that might sound low to those accustomed to 1080p Ultrabook screens, for a business laptop I have no complaints: text, graphics and icons are all readable without display scaling and at 12.5", the resolution is perfectly adequate. Viewing angles are limited, but business users might count that as a plus given the privacy it offers, and we love that this is a matte display.
Keyboard and Trackpad
HP makes a good keyboard, though not as good as Lenovo ThinkPads and Dell XPS models in terms of tactile feel. Still, it's more tactile than the Spectre 13 and Sony Vaio laptops, to name a few. This is a standard keyboard with a normal layout and for those who are defecting from ThinkPad land, there's a TrackPoint style eraser stick pointer embedded in the keyboard. The keyboard is water resistant with drain holes and it has very even backlighting. The trackpad is pleasant and predictable and it has mechanical buttons top (for the pointing stick) and bottom (for the trackpad). Those of you who hate the now more common buttonless trackpads will no doubt enjoy HP's more "traditional" trackpad design. We like that the buttons don't require lots of force, as do some buttonless trackpad underlying click mechanisms.
Performance and Horsepower
The EliteBook 820 is a standard Ultrabook that runs on Intel 4th generation Haswell ULV Ultrabooks CPUs. It's available with the 1.7GHz Core i3-4010U, 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, 2.9GHz Core i5-4300U and 2.1GHz Core i7-4600U CPUs, all with Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics. There are two standard SODIMM RAM slots (1600mhz DDR3 RAM required) and you can order it with 4, 8 or 16 gigs of RAM. Note that if you order it with Windows 7 32 bit, you can only order 4 gigs of RAM since 32 bit operating systems can't address more memory. Go with Windows 7 64 bit or Windows 8 64 bit if you intend to install more than 4 gigs of RAM.
Storage options are unusually versatile with the EliteBook 820. The laptop is available with conventional spinning 2.5" SATA HDDs in varying capacities (both 5400 and 7200 RPM drives are available) and a 32 gig caching drive is optional. Alternatively you can order it with an SSD drive (again in a variety of capacities), or get a 120 gig M.2 solid-state drive plus an HDD. The laptop has both a 2.5" SATA drive bay and an M.2 slot for a caching drive or M.2 SSD.
Performance on our fairly middle of the road Core i5-4200U with 4 gigs of RAM and a 180 gig SSD was par for the course among current generation Ultrabooks with Intel HD 4400 graphics. Honestly, there's little difference among Intel Haswell 4th generation Ultrabooks equipped with a Core i5 and SSD. You're buying the design, display, ports and features rather than a performance edge. HP's software load on business machines is minimal, so the EliteBook isn't plagued by bloatware that might slow it down. Likewise, it's a fairly cool and quiet machine. You'll hear the fan ramp up when plugged in and doing demanding tasks like HD video export, but otherwise it's fairly quiet.
Yes! The EliteBook 820 has a removable battery, another rarity on an Ultrabook. Our review unit has the larger 46 Wh battery, and it averaged 7 to 7.5 hours on a charge with average use and brightness set to 50%. We tested in a mix of tasks including email, web browsing, working in MS Office, social networking and streaming a 45 minute episode of House of Cards via Netflix. That's average among Ultrabooks where the MacBook Air lasts the longest at 12 hours and the Sony Vaio Pro and Acer Aspire S7 manage 6.5 hours.
No doubt the HP EliteBook 820 will appeal to those who appreciate an Ultrabook with upgradable internals and a removable battery. Once staples of the laptop world, these useful features have largely gone away with the drive toward thinner and lighter Ultrabooks. Even better, your employees won't groan when you hand them a bulky and ugly clunker: the EliteBook G820 is a slim and light 3 lb. machine that's good looking. The keyboard is competent, performance is par for the course and Windows 7 is there for companies who haven't made the switch to Redmond's latest OS. We only wish the matte display was IPS class rather than TN.
Display:12.5", 1366 x 768 LED backlit TN display. Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics. DisplayPort and VGA port.
Battery:46 Wh or 26 Wh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is removable.
Performance:Intel Haswell 4th generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 ULV Ultrabook CPUs. 4 to 16 gigs of DDR3 1600MHz RAM, two standard SODIMM slots. Available with SSD or HDD with optional 32 gig flash M.2 caching drive.
Size:12.2 x 8.48 x 0.83 inches (31 x 21.5 x 2.1 cm). Weight: 2.94 pounds.
Camera:Optional HD webcam.
Audio:Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
Networking:Integrated dual band Intel
WiFi 802.11b/g/n (802.11ac optional) with WiDi and Bluetooth 4.0.
Software:Windows 8.1 with downgrade rights to Windows 7.
Expansion and Ports:3 USB 3.0 ports, VGA, DisplayPort, Ethernet RJ-45, smart card reader, docking port and
SD card slot.