I am an experienced graphic designer (Photoshop / Dreamweaver / In Design) and full-time internet retailer shipping about 100 $200+ orders daily, so I guess you could say I am a power-consumer from both sides of the curtain. I am on my machine(s) at least 8-12 work related hours / day updating my web site(s), communicating with customers and vendors and researching a wide variety of products and issues related to my business. Additionally, I get about all my news online and spend more time than average in social networking media promoting my business.
I own several (currently HP) desktop machines, as a small business owner with a handful of employees I am also my own IT guy, chief cook and bottle-washer, and have been so since 1996. I compare / purchase several computers annually as I personally like everyone to have the latest and greatest, not only is it fun but I can rationalize it as giving my company the edge over my competitors, and can also depreciate it on my taxes so it costs me a lot less to upgrade than the home user. Besides, communication is the key to a successful dot-com, we answer our inquiries and other customer service communications darn near real-time. I'm on my third or fourth Android device having migrated from Blackberry a few years back. I mention all this so you know where I'm coming from ...
This whole thing started when I got frustrated with my Kindle Fire's virtual keyboard, surfing and replying to emails. I have been doing a lot of that on my Samsung Stratosphere but being an old fart my vision isn't what it used to be and wanted a bigger screen. I mean, you can't communicate if you don't have a device with you, opening a 17" laptop in a vehicle or on the tarmac is doable but cumbersome because of its size; the phone is great for a quick note in the grocery store or waiting room - but locating a URL, cutting and pasting it into your response can be challenging on any smart phone and is far from ideal - this, I reasoned, is where the tablet will rule. This goes also for the sofa, bed, and yes, the commode. I am dead serious when I told you I'm always online and confess I even have a small computer table in the john. (Great place to read the news.) But one of the road blocks to handiness is the infamous power cord, I have always required several so I can avoid hauling it, and the computer, hither and yon. Sucks to be me.
So I've been patiently waiting for the Android 4.0 OS (Ice Cream) before handing the Fire over to the wife (I have a standard Kindle for e-books) when I saw that HP battery-in-the-airport ad ... bingo! The light bulb went on and I was on a mission.
I shopped hard before deciding on the Folio 13, studied, watched the videos, compared tech specs and did some power tab-clicking with all the customer reviews of the ultrabooks and 14" notebooks, factory web sites and other professional review sites like CNet, PC World, liliputing and/or whatever else is to be found in a Google search. I looked at the Samsung Series 9, the Acer Aspire S3 and the Asus Zenbook on-the-hoof at Best Buy before purchasing the HP on Amazon (these were the only ones on the shelf in my area). I buy a lot of stuff on Amazon and really enjoy shopping here.
What I was to learn is that you basically have many pretty good choices, but must make your decision based on anticipated usage and what size you are willing to put up with. Then there's the puny little solid state drives, long on performance (I upgraded my laptop to an expensive hybrid drive last year) but short on capacity. i looked on my 500 Gig VAIO and discovered I was only using about 250 (I keep most lesser-used photo and video files on a big external Seagate drive), and that's with a good deal of incidental duplication from the last upgrade. Still, the 70 gigs or so you have left on the ultrabook after loading the OS would fall quite a bit short eventually I reasoned, as I'd like to be able do an ad or site update should the need arise and would therefore require current photography and more recent ad files, in addition to the core Adobe CS4 software I swear by, loaded on the machine. Plus I am a part-time rocket scientist (hobby-level) so needed some of that stuff on it also.
I have been threatening to make the move back to Mac since abandoning that platform for price in 2004, so I did consider the Airbook. One chat session with Adobe however nuked that idea - I'd have to abandon my PC software if I were to get new OSX licenses, or spend another $1400 on CS5 for the Mac. That's right, Adobe wanted $1400 in fees if I wanted to run their design suite on a $999 Airbook. Adobe sucks.
This should give one some clarity - obviously I couldn't do all that with a Galaxy Tablet even though Adobe does now have Photoshop and such for tablets now so it is a possibility, but I'd have to fork out more cash for that as well. Rocksim however is Windows only (rocket design software). Be sure to consider these little whoppers or suffer the consequences!
So if you're deciding between a tablet or an ultrabook, whether or not you want your core productivity software on the little machine comes first. With these babies you can run most Windows software, unlike tablets, so they are far more flexible and for this reason may eventually emerge to dominate the tablet-portable category.
Now there's the issue of storage capacity. Few ultras have 256 gb of storage (see the Dell XPS), those that do are 25-40% more ($1299 Dell), although that is likely to change as the category evolves. If you go over 256 you are in hard drive (HDD) versus solid state drive (SSD) territory so performance would suffer somewhat, that's kind of heretical anyway. What to do?
Then I discovered the new Lexar 128 GB SDXC Flash Memory Card LSD128CRBNA133
. Viola! For $175, considerably less than the $300 Dell wants on the upgraded drive XPS 13 ... problem solved as long as the ultra I chose has an SD slot! (Optionally, the 64gb card is $100)
Decisions, decisions .... The XPS 13 and Samsung Series 9 sure are sexy, I would have loved having one of those on my flight's drop-tray, why didn't I go with one of them? Almost did, oh man they look good! Then it dawned on me - my #1 requirement, the starting point of this whole endeavor, was not style, it was battery life. Ah, battery life, everything I can find on the black-boxed beauties indicated they were far from ideal in this regard. Then there was the issue of the SD card, no slot at all on the Dell, Micro SD on the Samsung so capacity would suffer immensely. Practicality has to preside as much as I wish it not be so.
By the way, the read-speed of the Lexar is FASTER than the onboard SSD drive, though the write is much slower, so you're not giving up much and have the additional benefit of reading your camera cards.
Now my requirements were taking shape, and there is a HUGE variety of I/O port availability on these various and sundry ultrabooks, but currently the market requires you to choose between a selection of I/O schemes and design. I went for the 'book with the most options and that meant the Folio 13:
- USB 3.0 Port (much faster for devices that support it)
- USB 2.0 Port (most USB devices)
- Bluetooth 3.0 (excellent way to connect headphones, mouse and other peripherals)
- Ethernet RJ 45 Jack (I shy from those public hotel networks)
- SD Card Slot - greatly expanded storage options
- Full HDMI jack (Dell has a mini)(I use these often for larger monitors and TV viewing)
- Backlit keyboard (careful with this one, many ultrabooks don't)
- Headphone / speaker / mic jack (this should be handy for VOIP apps like Skype and Google Phone)
- Battery Life (Folio allegedly has an hour lead over the Dell)
Sure, there's sexier 'books out there but sensibility won out. If you, however, don't need all that and are simply looking for a stylin' communication and Microsoft Office system, I'd take a hard look at the Dell. Now there's a CNet review comparing them. They agree - advantage HP (but no one could blame you for getting the Dell.) [...]
Here's my impressions on Day Three of Folio 13 ownership ....
As usual my Amazon shopping experience was flawless. I don't sell on Amazon or Ebay anymore because they take too large of a percentage off the top, but I have in the past so understand the entire fulfillment process well. Amazon is the best especially when you purchase from Amazon as opposed to a third-party vendor so I generally pay attention to who is doing the selling for best results. This was another flawless Amazon Prime transaction, I highly recommend it.
It took me about 2 minutes to set up the machine when it was unboxed. No challenges whatsoever. Basically name it, enter your wireless router info in the step-by-step wizard and you're live. Loading the Adobe suite and copying files from the main machine was a breeze with the hi-cap SD card. I put the software on the built-in solid state drive and the graphic files and other documents on the Lexar SD card. Let's see how long it stays that way ....
I would describe the HP Folio 13 as a professional's ultra-portable machine. The outside top cover and the case surrounding the keyboard is brushed aluminum; strong, clean and neat but otherwise unremarkable. The "soft-touch" surrounding the screen and on the bottom gives the entire package a very inviting, user-friendly feel one will likely notice immediately and surely will outlast the machine unless I do something stupid.
It boots at a blazing-fast speed, you will be amazed. Restarts will no longer be coffee breaks however, so take your java to your desk on the way in. Recovering from a closed lid or other sleep related states can me measured in single-digit seconds, I just timed it at 3 or 4. Very cool.
The entire strip above the keyboard, between the display hinges, is speaker. It's a LOT better than I expected from one of these little units, but since I haven't heard the others I have nothing to compare to. I wouldn't use it for a boom-box but its more than adequate for YouTube videos and the like. Certainly it's comparable to most other notebooks and there's a headphone / speaker jack if you need it. Connecting to my Logitech Surround Sound Speaker System Z906 (980-000467)
definitely rocks the entire building all out of proportion to size.
One other big plus, and one I compared to the Best Buy demos, is the keyboard. Love it, have absolutely none of the complaints everyone is discussing on other machines. The keys are sure-footed and lively. you don't have to hammer them yet they tell your fingers they've done the job when struck with a gentle touch. Even heavy phat-fingers like mine naturally relax when using it, they are of a size and in good position as far as I am concerned. The function keys are primo, you do not have to press and hold the 'fn' key simultaneously with the top key to instantly backlight the keyboard, turn off the wireless, fast forward video or adjust the volume & brightness, a nice feature in my book compared even to full-size laptops. In the lower right corner you have the four scroll keys, they work well and are intuitive in position and function. No, you don't nave a number pad or a 10-key lock but it is not to be expected in a box this small.
Another nice feature is a handy switch in the upper left corner of the trackpad to turn the pad off and on. When you read my trackpad review below you can see why it's there ...
The bottom remains very cool and there's no annoying fan noise that some are complaining about on competitive models. Also some people wonder if they can deal with life sans CD-ROM. I wondered also, mostly because of software discs I have laying about, plus I do watch the occasional movie while flying or RVing so I added the AmazonBasics USB 2.0 8x DVD Writer External Optical Drive (Black)
for $40 just in case.
Um, trackpad buttons are far too stiff. One almost has to pinch the box to get them to respond. Too bad and may be a deal breaker for some. I tend to spell badly and use the right-click spell-checking functionality a lot, so this is going to have be worked out for me at least. I'll be doing a lot of pad touching and two-finger scrolling in the mean time. I have never been big on trackpads however, much preferring a mouse, and one of the pluses is the aforementioned button to disable it in favor of another device. Maybe they'll loosen up with use, we'll see, but there's really no excuse to botch-up an otherwise very functional and useful overall input design. Shame on you H-P.
The only other small thing I noticed is the display itself - it is a bit flat, washed out if you will. In fact I noticed this on all the ultrabooks I could try, even the Samsung, a brand well known for their superior LED's. One would be best served to put them all side-by-side and hit the graphics controls to see what's what if that's a key consideration, anyway. Bear in mind that none of them are designed as primary Photoshop machines.
In all fairness it's such a minor point, even to a graphics guy like me, that I haven't taken the time to mess around with the color, brightness, gamma and contrast settings so that may help. Generally I hook-up to an external display when doing anything important anyway and the 13.3" LED screen onboard is plenty good for general browsing and email.
UPDATE: This situation was easily corrected in the Intel Graphics Control Panel (right click on desktop background > graphics properties > advanced options > display > color enhancement > saturation slider). Outstanding.
I'd have preferred they didn't affix the promotional stickers to either side of the track pad, they could simply put them in the box for attachment should that particular unit become a showroom demo. I don't need the pitch - I already bought it after all and they mess with my aesthetics.
I really like this unit, what it lacks in style it more than makes up for with functionality. Hard to think of a peripheral that wouldn't connect well, and there's enough variety to connect your choice of headphones, mouse, external monitors, networking options, printer and so on, simultaneously.
I booted it at 6am this morning after charging all night, it's now 11:21AM and I still have 2 hr 49 min left. * hours, exactly the reason I got it.
Expandability of the HP Folio 13 is the best of all the true SSD ultrabook entries at this point (Acer has the quasi-ultras with CD's, bigger HDDs and such), mainly due to the porting and SD card slot as mentioned and all of this comes at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. I got mine for $858 with a $100 gift card for a net of $758! Adding the $175 for the 128 GB card puts it right at $900, 40% less than the Dell (or or indeed any others I found with 256 gig drive) even considering the big SD card.
More connectivity, class-leading expandability, top battery life, all for for less money out-of-pocket: now THAT is a winning hand in my book! Stiff trackpad be damned. I'm getting more and more used to it with use, perhaps it is getting broken in. Anyway, I have a Bluetooth mouse hanging around here somewhere ....