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REVIEW: HP Elitebook 1040 G4

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Late in 2017 at its Reinvent event (HP’s largest global partner conference), the US-based company outlined its vision to design solutions for the way people now work and live, with the introduction of new premium laptops and all-in-ones, along with displays and accessories. Recognising the change of where and how business professionals operate (54 percent of work being done outside of the office), the fourth-generation Elitebook 1040 G4 laptop (starts at £1,179; £2,137 as tested, ex. VAT) is a 14-inch ultraportable with remote management and security designed to enable greater productivity beyond the office.

Design & standout features

As traditional boundaries between work and life blur, HP is focussed on designing customer experiences that allow users to seamlessly transition between the two. Gone is the boring laptop design of yesterday, replaced by a beautifully engineered machine that – although not as sexy as HP’s Spectre consumer ultrabooks and 2-in-1s – is both thin and light, but doesn’t compromise on security and manageability.

Being diminutive is great (329x233x15.9mm, 1.36kg) as long as it’s not fragile. Thankfully the Elitebook 1040 G4 is designed to pass MIL-STD testing for harsh environments. Another highlight of the silver-and-black laptop is its incredible 14-inch display. Similar to the HP EliteBook x360 1020 G2, the screen is ultra-bright (700cd/m2) and offers Full HD IPS (1920×1280) touchscreen technology with 100% Adobe RGB colour gamut. The non-reflective display is a joy to use, and 1080p content is bright and colourful. In fact, the screen is a waste on general office work like editing spreadsheets.

The backlit (two levels of light) low-travel keyboard is fine for touch typing, and the Microsoft Precision-certified trackpad works well with popular gestures including pinch-to-zoom, two-fingered scrolling and three-fingered window management. Unfortunately – and this is a big issue for me – the trackpad is noisy when clicked and will drive colleagues or commuters in close proximity crazy. As a business machine it would be much more practical to have separate buttons. The dedicated key to bring up an Outlook calendar is a nice touch, although it can’t be configured to work with any other calendar apps. The dual-array microphones and stereo speakers with Bang & Olufsen tuning sound great, allowing the Elitebook 1040 G4 to excel in both business and multimedia.

Specifications & connectivity

The Elitebook 1040 G4 is a well specified machine, but we’re disappointed it doesn’t offer the latest 8th-Generation processors from Intel, nor discrete graphics options. These omissions make it a poor choice for video editors or image professionals. It’s also crazy expensive considering the including technology isn’t cutting-edge.

The top-end model is available with a 7th-Generation Intel Core i7-7820HQ processor with vPro, up to 16GB of DDR3-1866 memory, Intel HD 630 GPU, and 1TB of solid state storage – decent specifications for such a diminutive machine, but a price of £2,527 (ex. VAT) is outrageous. Dropping the specifications to our review sample (Intel Core i7-7600U/Intel HD 620/512GB) costs £2,137 (ex. VAT). The only other high-end option is a 4K display (3840×2160).

The left edge of the machine houses a slot for connecting to an external lock, a USB 3.1 port, and a headphone jack, while the right side accommodate an HDMI port (for connecting to an external display), a second USB 3.1 port, and two USB-C ports. One USB-C port supports Thunderbolt 3 for speedy connections to external hard drives, and either one can charge the laptop using the included USB-C power adapter. There’s also optional 4G LTE for mobile working (the slot is easily accessible – although not secure – on the right-hand side of the machine), and the webcamera’s traditional placement above the display means you should get a more flattering angle of your face when you call client compared to other PCs that put the camera at the bottom of the screen to reduce bezel size. There’s no microSD card slot, which is not uncommon, but it’s easy enough to access microSD storage via a USB dongle. The wrist rest also houses a fingerprint sensor, should you specify one.

Security & performance

As the system is built for business, HP is advocating the security and manageability aspects of the laptop with features such as HP Sure Click (for protection from malware), HP Sure View (a 3M screen for enhanced privacy), HP Sure Start Gen3 (for enterprise-ready BIOS management) and HP Multi Factor Authenticate (for hardened authentication using a combination of hardware and software). It also uses Windows Hello in combination with both a fingerprint reader and an infrared camera, so you have a choice of login options. The PC uses TPM to encrypt biometric data and there is Intel vPro technology for remote management. The pre-installed HP Client Security app does a great job of explaining the device’s security features and also helps you to set them up.

The Elitebook 1040 G4 is also optimised for collaboration and connectivity with: built-in collaboration keys to easily manage calls at the touch of a button, Skype for Business certifications, audio by Bang & Olufsen (there are six built-in speakers and two discrete amplifiers), and HP Noise Cancellation for optimised audio and video calls. In addition, the laptop comes with HP PhoneWise, a Windows 10 solution to text and call from the PC across iOS and Android devices for easier transitions between devices.

Another superb feature is the 3M-developed SureView technology that adds a privacy filter to the display, simply activated by hitting the F2 button. With the SureView feature off, it looks like a normal laptop screen. Activate the feature and the view turns dark, thanks to a light-controlling film built into the screen. The end result is a display that’s almost impossible to read unless you’re sitting right in front of it – perfect for frequent business travellers working on confidential files on the go.

The EliteBook 1040 G4 generally ran quietly during testing but, on the rare occasions that the fan kicked in, it became relatively noisy for short bursts. The biggest gripe was a battery life of just 7 hours which is really disappointing, considering most of its Windows-powered competitors can manage over 10 hours and the MacBook Pro is good for around 15 hours.

Would we recommend the Elitebook 1040 G4?

The Elitebook 1040 G4 is a great looking laptop but is difficult to recommend. It’s too expensive for a business ultraportable and it lacks the horsepower of a workstation. It’s still a very capable machine for general business duties, but it’s not a must-have for most businesses. If you’re looking for a single machine (that’s not boring black) rather than a fleet it might be worth taking a look, but there are much better value options from other manufacturers. It’s also worth noting that HP’s website is a dog’s dinner, making building a machine to your exact requirements a slow, confusing and frustrating process. Offering 23 variations of the same machine is not an intuitive or pleasurable buying experience, and the fact that the search filters don’t work properly adds little confidence. The Elitebook 1040 G4 is not bad, but it’s not great either. Spend your money elsewhere.

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Christian Harris is the owner of BCW and PrizeTopia (an incredible prize giveaway site). Christian has over 20 years’ publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.