Hot on the heels of Dell’s second-place finish, HP takes the bronze in this year’s Best & Worst Brands showdown, up one spot from its fourth-place finish last year. The laptop maker definitely knows what it’s doing when it comes to design and audio. It also provides very good technical support to customers and offers good value and selection. Mediocre displays and a lack of exciting innovation are the only things really holding this brand back.
While three of its notebooks (the EliteBook Folio 1040, Chromebook 14 and EliteBook 850 G1) received 4-star reviews, HP’s overall reviews score was brought down by the SlateBook 14, an awkward Android notebook, and the Envy x360 15t Touch, a 15-inch convertible with poor endurance and a lackluster display.
Tying for second place in this year’s tech support survey, HP improved more than any other company within the last year. We received satisfactory answers to our questions from all three phone calls, both social networks (Twitter and Facebook) and live chat. We would have preferred less emphasis on extended warranties and premium support, but overall, HP’s support is among the best.
HP has gone all-in with unique laptop designs. In fact, the brand has the best notebook design of the year thus far in the angular, fire-stained HP Omen. The PC maker also isn’t afraid to embrace color, releasing a virtual cornucopia of hues and tints, as evidenced by the Stream 13, Stream 11, Pavilion x360 and Chromebook 14.
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The company is far from perfect, though. Stiff hinges and a bulky frame were the Achilles’ heel for the Envy x360, while the top-heavy Spectre 13 x2 and its resultant wobble kept HP from scoring higher.
The company’s keyboards and touchpads are usually better than average, but in the past year, the quality of many of HP’s notebook input devices has suffered. From the EliteBook Folio 1020’s annoying, clickless pressure pad to the Spectre 13 x2’s mushy key feel, HP’s lineup is filled with uncomfortable typing and navigation experiences. Several touchpads were particularly disappointing, such as the SlateBook 14’s, which suffered from a sticky cursor. The Stream 11 couldn’t always tell the difference between left and right clicks.
With a fairly low 229 nits of brightness and a standard average color gamut (80 percent), the average HP screen looks merely OK. However, a few models stand out. The EliteBook Folio 1020 is a bit dim but stuns with a 2560 x 1440-pixel resolution and 95 percent color gamut, while the Folio 1040 is also bright and colorful. For gaming and media streaming, the Omen’s full-HD panel is colorful (98 percent gamut) and quite bright (269 nits).
HP has expanded into new laptop categories as of late, but with mixed results. One of its more impressive new offerings is the Stream 11, which offers Chromebook-like affordability without sacrificing the versatility of Windows. The company brought Android to the laptop with the SlateBook 14, but our struggles with the notebook prove that Google’s OS is best kept on mobile devices. HP made a solid entry into the gaming space with the superslim and speedy Omen, but, looks aside, the laptop doesn’t do anything we haven’t already seen from the likes of Alienware or Razer.
HP’s Pavilion x360 is one of the company’s first hybrids to feature a 360-degree rotating hinge, though it lags behind Lenovo’s Yoga series in slickness and performance. The upcoming Spectre x360 looks better.
HP’s laptops delivered good audio across multiple price ranges. The $200 Stream 11 has one of the best speakers we’ve heard on a budget laptop, and the $1,499 HP EliteBook Folio 1020 pumped out sound with fidelity and strong volume. On average, HP notebooks measured 86 decibels in our testing, which is the same as the category average. HP continues to provide DTS Studio Sound software on some models, as well as integrates Beats audio on Pavilions and Envy laptops.
Like Dell, HP has an impressive lineup of traditional laptops and 2-in-1s. The recent release of its HP Stream 11 and 13 notebooks provides great budget options for everyday computing, while its Envy line offers premium designs and powerful performance. Unfortunately, its Omen gaming notebooks are priced higher than notebooks with similar specs from Dell and MSI, and offer only Nvidia GTX 860M graphics, instead of more powerful 870M and 880M GPUs.
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HP also offers a wide range of business laptops, such as its EliteBook 1020 and 1040 Ultrabooks, and its ZBook mobile workstations. All of HP’s systems are on sale directly from its website, with the bonus of letting you individually configure many of its consumer laptops online.
HP did not change much of its software selection in the past year. It offers the same Connected suite of apps for file sharing across devices and SimplePass to configure fingerprint readers to work with specific programs and sites. CoolSense detects your computer’s performance and conditions to automatically adjust internal fan settings and keep your laptop cool.
HP made some upgrades to its apps, though, improving performance and aesthetics, as well as offering better integration. Business notebooks also come with HP Touchpoint Manager, a cloud-based management system that can work on any Android, iOS or Windows device. The company includes, on all of its Windows 7 or 8 laptops, the HP Support Assistant that helps with PC maintenance and troubleshooting.