The HP Dragonfly released late in 2019 is one of the smallest, lightest HP EliteBook class, x360, Intel Core powered notebooks. It is also one of the best performers and certainly the best looking.
Apart from the HP Dragonfly beautiful iridescent dragonfly blue finish, it has one of the largest (86%) screen-to-body-ratios. It fits a 13.3” screen into a svelte 12” magnesium alloy body (30.43 x 19.75 x 1.61cm – smaller than A4 sheet) and under 1kg (slightly more with a larger four-cell battery option).
Why is the HP DragonFly so special? It is HP’s first Intel Project Athena device. The second was the HP x360 Spectre 13 2020 which we rated 4.9/5 and called it ‘Pretty Perfect’.
In fact, we will tell you right now – consumers and small business should buy the x360 Spectre. Enterprise and Government – well anyone that can afford it – should buy the HP DragonFly. They are both exceptional, but the DragonFly is for serious business.
The HP Dragonfly review (9PK38PA#ABG)
Intel Core i5-8365U 1.6/4.1Ghz vPro
Intel UHD Graphics 620
16GB (2x8GB LPDDR3-2133Mhz soldered to the motherboard)
256GB M.2 SSD (options to 1TB) – user upgradable
13.3” 1920×1080, 60Hz, HP Sure View Gen 3 Privacy, 1000nits, 72% NTSC
2 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 and PD 3.0), USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, HDMI 1.4, 3.5mm combo audio
Of course, you have options for an FHD 400nit screen or a 4K 550nit screen and more storage. Prices range from $2770 to $4210. I am guessing that the review model is around $3500.
In the interests of brevity, we use FAIL, PASS, EXCEED against all test parameters.
HP Dragonfly first impression – EXCEED
You want one. I suspect it is the Dragonfly blue colour, but the SureView screen (1000nit) just pops, and the small bezels all around look great.
It is obviously a premium device, the x360 hinges work beautifully (clamshell, tent, presentation, and tablet) and the device is stable on the desk although the touch screen rocks a little. The lovely blue does not attract fingerprints – bonus.
And it is unusual to have an HDMI port and a USB-A port as well as two Thunderbolt/USB-C ports. If you are a traveller, you will appreciate that you don’t need a dongle or dock.
HP SureView Gen 3 Screen (one of three options) – EXCEED
HP claims 1000 nits, and this must be the brightest laptop screen I have ever seen. I am comfortable at 70-80% brightness – 100% is retina-searing.
The panel is an IVO857E with a native brightness of 887nits, a contrast of 2280:1, covering 91% SRGB with colour accuracy of Delta E 4.1 (below 4 is better). I will not argue with HP spec here because it may have custom hardware and drivers to beat the native specs.
It achieves such high brightness by using an RGB+W (white LED), and that helps all versions to achieve 72% NTSC. In our language, that is 91% sRGB and about 60% Adobe RGB. Pretty good for all but creatives and film/still editors.
SureView simply means you can decrease the field of view. Press F2 and the screen becomes unreadable from any angle (off-axis more than 45°). Gen 3 allows you to tweak the brightness if you need a little more.
Viewing angle (SureView off) is excellent, and a reasonably low-reflective Gorilla Glass 5 covers the touch screen.
I understand that the 1080p, 400nit, WLED, 72% NTSC, 1W low power, IPS screen is pretty good as well. And I saw the 4K on the HP x360 Spectre, and it is to die for but uses more power.
Processor – EXCEED on mains power and PASS due to throttling on battery
Our unit has a 14nm 8th Generation Core i5-8365U 1.6/4.1GHz vPro (for fleet use to install and maintain remotely). It is four-core/eight-thread and has a TDP of 10-15W that can go to 25W on mains power.
Passmark gives it a rating of 6561 (similar to an AMD Ryzen 5 2500U). Interestingly it is not much slower than the Core i7-8665U at 6641.
Fan noise is low – ranging from 30dB to 32dB. It achieves this by heavy processor throttling when on battery to reduce power consumption and to keep it cool. We discovered internal settings that on mains power throttle to 18W for a maximum of 28 seconds and 25W for 2.44ms. Otherwise, it throttles to about 70% on battery.
In our stress test on mains power, the CPU core temperature reached 72° and the top deck 40.5°. On battery, it reduces to 64° and the top deck to 36°. – all well within expectations.
This processor is the same as on the 2020 Dell Latitude 5300/5400/7200 series.
RAM – PASS
RAM is 16GB of LPDDR3 dual-channel (2×1067=2133Mhz) (soldered to the motherboard), so you need to order it as 8 or 16GB.
SSD – PASS we would have preferred a 4 x lane SSD
It has a Toshiba KBG30ZMV256 SSD which is PCIe NVMe 3.0, 2 x lanes. We understand that the M2.2280 slot supports PCIe NVMe 3.1 4 x lanes so you can upgrade to a faster SSD.
Speed-wise the 2 x lanes means it is about half as fast as a 4 x lane like the Samsung 970 EVO or WD Black. While its speeds are three to four times as fast as a SATA 6 hard disk, it is a little disappointing that HP did not spend the extra here. The device also supports the Hybrid Intel Optane SSD.
Still, it has a decent cache keeping up with large file copy so unless you need breakneck SSD speed, it is fine.
GPU – EXCEED
The Intel UHD Graphics 620 (like a GeForce 920M) supports up to three displays (internal and two external) and given the right Thunderbolt dock/monitors you should get [email protected] It certainly supports [email protected] The HDMI port is V1.4b and supports one [email protected] – not quite the refresh rate we expected but fine for a traveller and a hotel TV!
And it supports HVEC encoding and the Google VGP9 codec for playback.
Backlit Keyboard and trackpad – EXCEED
I like the HP EliteBook keyboard, and this is excellent. It has a 1.3mm throw and 40g actuation for an almost perfect touch-type response. The two-stage backlit shines through the white lettering – a nice touch. It is also spill-resistant.
The Precision glass touchpad is 110 x 65mm – slightly larger than the x360 Spectre and it can move the cursor from top right to bottom left in one stroke – no need for a mouse here.
HP Active Pen 3 (Wacom) is USB-C rechargeable and is a delight to use. The 1.8mm tip is more for on-screen note-taking than art or design, although it is Wacom compatible and has 4096 pressure levels.
The Pen connects via Bluetooth. This version has two side buttons as well as an eraser button. It is magnetic, but there is no dock on the device.
AV – EXCEED
It has dual array mics and a 720p/IR Windows Hello webcam with a security slide. The camera and mics are fine for Skype.
Speakers are B&O tuned. It has two upwards firing (L/R) on the side of the keyboard deck and two downwards firing at the under front section.
We test everything in a neutral (auto) mode. You can adjust the B&O app that has a +/-12db EQ. It makes a small difference when set to voice, movie, or music.
The result is an impressive 81.6dB volume (perhaps a bit more with the right content) with a good spatial sound stage and low distortion. Bass kicks in at about 70Hz and then it is almost flat to 10kHz.
Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – nil to building Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – starting to kick in High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – flat Low-mid: 200-400Hz – flat Mid: 400-1000Hz – flat High-mid: 1-2kHz – flat Low-treble: 2-4kHz – flat Treble:4-6kHz – flat High Treble: 6-1kHz – flat Dog whistle: 10-20 – gradual decline
It is a pleasantly warm and sweet signature best for movies and music, although we suggest using the voice setting for teleconferences.
BT 5.0 has the standard SBC codec that performs as expected with the reference Sony WH-1000xM3 headphones. It allegedly supports the Fraunhofer (AAC Apple) codec, but we could not get that to work.
Like all PCs select the ‘audio only’ choice – not the handsfree A2DP option if you want the best fidelity.
Battery – EXCEED
Project Athena certified notebooks are supposed to have 20+ hour battery life and fast charge (50% in 30 minutes) – in lab conditions. Our tests could not reach those numbers but were pretty impressive.
Either a 2-cell 38Wh (review unit) or a 4-cell 56Wh with a 65W USB-C adapter (5V/3A, 9V/3A, 12V/5A, 15V/4.33A and 20V/3.25A.
1080p video loop, 50% brightness, aeroplane mode – 14+ hours
Typical office use Wi-Fi and 80% long screen on times – 10 hours
As above at 100% – 8 hours
Full 100% load – 3 hours
Fast charge – 37 minutes to 50% (started at 65W and dropped progressively to 27W)
Full charge – Just over 2 hours (after fast charge was almost linear at 14.23W)
You need the bigger battery for the i7/4K screen option. Regardless of which battery it must meet Athena standards for a theoretical 20-hour life.
Comms – EXCEED
W-Fi 6 AC Intel AX200 2×2 MU-MIMO
Wi-Fi 6 shines here achieving 1.2Gbps at 3 metres from the reference NETGEAR AX12 router. It gets 866Mbps on a standard Wi-Fi 5 AC router.
Bluetooth 5 is fast (2Mbps) and has extended range – we could connect headphones at nearly 30 metres.
4G LTE Intel XXM 7360 Cat 9 is handy. Go and buy a Boost 365 day, 240GB card for $300 and whack it in for that emergency backup. In a three-bar reception area, it achieves 38ms, 33/5Mbps DL/UL – as we would expect.
In the US, a 5G XMM760 Cat 16/9 modem is coming and can be user fitted.
Ports – EXCEED
We tested the Thunderbolt 3 ports, and they share 40Gbps – not 40Gbps each (and that is fine). When used as USB-C, they revert to 3.1, Gen 2 – 10Gbps each with full PD 3.0 delivery.
HP do tend to go overboard with security. Apart from the physical camera security slide, there is so much more. I will call it bloatware and frankly I don’t have time to get a master’s degree in HP jargon to use them. Let’s hope your Sys Admin does!
Integrated fingerprint reader
Absolute persistence module
DriveLock and Automatic DriveLock
TPM 2.0 embedded security chip
Sure Click (browser sandboxing virtualisation for Microsoft Edge and Chrome)
To be called an EliteBook, it must pass nine MIL-STD drop tests in drop, shock, and vibration as well as be field serviceable. You can replace some components, M.2 SSD and the LTE modem but not the ram.
Despite being light its magnesium strong!
GadgetGuy’s take – The HP Dragonfly is unlike any other business-grade laptop
A high-quality device with the legs for office and travel use. A vast range of configuration options including 4K, processors, RAM, storage, SureView/4K and batteries.
It there was one niggle it is that the CPU heavy throttling on battery power – more so than I expected. Using mains power, it is far less so. Still, it does not affect the enjoyment, and all test software was fast and smooth.
What would I buy? Well, the i7 does not give a considerable power boost, so it is not mandatory. And I am not sure I would get the use of the 1000 nit SureView screen (Bond, James Bond I am not). So, I think the basemi5/8/256 and 1W low power 400 nit screen would be perfect. In this configuration, the 2-cell battery would suffice, and that brings it in at $2700 (Model 9JU42PA – that if you shop around, you will get closer to $2500). The 9JU41PA with the 4-cell battery costs $125 more!
And that is the problem – too many SKUs and some unique to different retailers.