More than $2,000 is a lot to spend on a non-workstation business laptop, but HP makes a case for doing just that with its new EliteBook 1040 G4 (starts at $1,379; $2,099 as tested), a 14-inch ultraportable with remote management and security features that will appeal to IT departments. It's got serious power, too, with an Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a full HD touch screen. The EliteBook 1040 costs a lot less than our top choice for mobile workstations, the HP ZBook 15 G4, but is also much more expensive than our Editors' Choice business ultraportable, the Lenovo ThinkPad T470. It's not really a substitute for either one, though, which makes this ultra-premium configuration of the EliteBook 1040 a bit of an odd duck. It's still a very capable machine, but not a must-have for most businesses.
HP has refreshed the EliteBook line's styling to more closely resemble its Spectre consumer ultrabooks and 2-in-1s. Although it's nowhere near as gorgeously sleek as the snow-white Spectre 13, the 14-inch EliteBook 1040 shares a similar speaker grille placed above the keyboard, hiding some of the system's six Bang & Olufsen speakers. That's a sizeable complement, up from the two speakers in the EliteBook 1040 G3, and it includes two discrete amplifiers that help the system reach a maximum of 80 decibels, according to HP. That's great for videoconferencing, and while the speakers did not manage to pump audio into every corner of our kitchen-sized sound testing room, their output was at least very well-rounded, delivering a pleasing range of highs and lows during the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The EliteBook 1040 G4 weighs 3.37 pounds, certainly not out of the ordinary for a 14-incher, but a couple of ounces heavier than the ubiquitous 13-inch ultraportables that come in around 3 pounds. It measures 0.63 by 12.95 by 9.17 inches (HWD), which is thin enough that you can fit it in a briefcase or handbag—no need to bring a backpack or a dedicated laptop case on your next trip. The dimensions remain virtually unchanged from last year's model.
Perhaps the best aspect of the laptop's styling, especially for corporate types who want to buck the boring black trend that the ThinkPad popularized, is that the entire EliteBook 1040 is covered in a matte silver finish, with a new stylized HP logo etched into the display lid and the EliteBook moniker on the back edge. The whole thing looks sturdy, sleek, and, well, elite, at least compared with the stodginess of the black plastic on the ThinkPad T470$783.20 at Lenovo. It's even sleeker-looking than the more rounded chassis of the previous EliteBook 1040 G3.
Despite its angular lines, the bottom of the chassis still tapers slightly from back to front and is removable, although the components are unfortunately not easy for IT departments to upgrade or replace (the memory is soldered in place, for example). What's more, configuration options aren't very numerous: You can choose from 8GB or 16GB of RAM and 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of SSD storage. The bottom also contains a fan exhaust outlet, two more downward-firing speaker grilles, and four generously sized rubber feet to keep the laptop from sliding around on your desk.
The full HD (1,920 by 1,080) touch screen on our review unit is gorgeous. The only downside is a glossy finish that reflects glare from ambient lighting. Colors are brilliant and can be seen from virtually any angle thanks to In-Plane Switching technology. At 700 nits, it's also one of the brightest laptop screens we've seen. It's almost—but not quite—bright enough to be used comfortably in direct sunlight. Beware, though, that HP offers a total of eight different screen options, each of which will have an effect on battery life. Going with a non-touch model will improve it slightly, while opting for a 4K display or one with a built-in privacy filter will degrade it. Choose wisely based on your needs: Unless you frequently use your laptop while flying in coach and edit 4K video, you probably don't need the 4K version or the privacy filter.
One thing most business users need, however, is a robust port selection, and the Elitebook 1040 does not disappoint. The left edge features a slot for connecting to an external lock, a USB 3.1 port, and a headphone jack. On the right side are an HDMI port (crucial for connecting to an external display during a presentation), a second USB 3.1 port, and two USB-C ports. One USB-C port even supports Thunderbolt 3 for speedy connections to external hard drives, and either one can charge the laptop using the included USB-C power adapter. The move to USB-C charging is new on the 1040 G4; The G3 has a dedicated power jack.
The keyboard and touchpad on the EliteBook 1040 G4 are wonderfully comfortable and precise, which is not always the case on HP laptops (the HP Spectre 13's touchpad, for instance, is woeful). We particularly like that the island-style keyboard has extremely sturdy backlit keys and virtually no flex, even when your fingers strike forcefully. There are also dedicated buttons for muting the microphone and starting and ending Skype calls, which could come handy if your workplace is devoted to video conferencing. Our favorite laptop keyboard remains the one on the ThinkPad T470, but this one is a close second. Likewise, the touchpad is generously sized and quite responsive even without customizing sensitivity settings. It doesn't come close to the luxurious, humongous pad on the 15-inch MacBook Pro$2,199.00 at Amazon, but it's one of the better Windows touchpads out there.
Other niceties that business users will appreciate include a face-recognition-capable webcam and a fingerprint reader, both of which can be used to log into Windows, assuming your IT department's security standards allow it. The webcam's traditional placement above the display means HP isn't able to reduce the size of the bezel to microscopic proportions, which is all the rage in laptop design these days, but it also means that the camera is positioned to easily capture your face during video conferences. Some Dell laptops, including the XPS 13$799.99 at Dell, have their webcams at the bottom left of the display, which means they mainly get a view of your knuckles. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth come standard, and the EliteBook 1040 G4 can also be ordered with an LTE modem for greater untethered capability.
Since this laptop is designed to appeal to IT departments, it includes support options and remote management features they've come to expect, including Intel's vPro technology. HP also throws in its own software, like a Sure Click utility that is supposed to limit damage when an employee visits a malware-laden website There's also a still-in-beta PhoneWise tool, which lets you use the EliteBook to take calls and read and respond to text messages via a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone. Unfortunately, many of these features were glitchy in our testing, especially PhoneWise, which attempted and failed to automatically unlock an iPhone$699.99 at Verizon Wireless so it could read the texts and take the calls. Coupled with recent revelations of serious security flaws in HP software, we wish that the company would simply deliver laptops without additional tools or utilities.
Great for Business, Not So Good at Games
It's a bit odd that HP decided to outfit the EliteBook 1040 G4 with seventh-generation Intel CPUs, since eighth-generation ones are now available and quickly appearing in new desktops and laptops. The company continually and often quietly tinkers with its product lineup, however, so eighth-generation models could show up soon. In the meantime, an Intel Core i7-7820HQ processor running at 2.91 GHz powers our review unit, and while it may not be the latest and greatest, it's far from pokey, especially coupled with 16GB of memory and a 512GB SSD.
The result is a very respectable score of 3,554 on the proprietary PCMark 8 benchmark, which measures video conferencing, web browsing, and other common business tasks. That's better than other similarly priced business machines, including the Dell Latitude 7380 (3,189) and last year's EliteBook 1040 G3 (3,204). The EliteBook 1040 G4 is equally adept at specialized tasks like video encoding and image editing. It posted class-leading results on our Handbrake encoding test (1 minute, 3 seconds), and our Photoshop simulation (2:59). Those scores are even slightly better than the MacBook Pro (1:06 on Handbrake and 2:59 on Photoshop), which has the same processor and is the gold standard in portable multimedia-editing machines.
It's somewhat disappointing that high-end business ultraportables rely on graphics chips that are integrated within the CPU, rather than the discrete graphics that you'll find on similarly priced gaming laptops. The EliteBook 1040 G4 is no different, which means graphics-intensive gaming is mostly out of the question. The one exception is if you are willing to play the latest AAA titles at medium quality settings, which could result in frame rates around 30 frames per second, as we saw on our Heaven and Valley gaming simulations. Ultimately, a business laptop will rarely be used for gaming anyway, so the graphics capabilities aren't much of a concern.
Battery life is vastly improved from the EliteBook 1040 G3, which eked out a very short 6 hours and 55 minutes on our battery-rundown test, which involves continuously playing a local video file at 50 percent screen brightness. Despite its very bright display, the EliteBook 1040 G4 manages more than five additional hours of battery life compared with its predecessor, for a total of 12:35 on our test. Most of its competitors can manage in excess of 10 hours, so this is a sorely needed improvement, although it's still lagging behind the MacBook Pro (15:09) and the swappable battery system in the ThinkPad T470 (17:39).
More Affordable Alternatives
The HP EliteBook 1040 G4 we tested is a very capable business ultraportable, with sleek styling, a powerful processor, an excellent display, and long battery life. Unfortunately, all of those capabilities come at a high price, which makes it uncompetitive with mainstream business laptops like the Lenovo ThinkPad T470. The upshot is that most large businesses will want to spend a lot less for a T470 or equivalent. Meanwhile, businesses with mission-critical apps that need workstation features like EEC memory should probably spend a bit more for something like the HP ZBook 15 G4$1,929.18 at HP, our Editors' Choice for best mobile workstation.