Introduction, Design, Features
A technology we regularly praise in our laptop reviews is one you may curse the next time you’re on a crowded airliner. In-plane switching (IPS) is a notebook screen design that, compared to older twisted nematic (TN) LCD technology, boosts color and contrast and offers wider viewing angles, so several colleagues can gather around to watch a presentation without seeing a photo negative or illegible display.
But wider viewing angles are no help when you’re working on business plans, prices, or other sensitive information, especially when the fellow next to you on the plane lets his eyes wander over to steal a glance at your screen.
HP calls such scum “visual hackers.” We call them snoops, and they pose a real threat: A recent study sponsored by 3M, makers of clip-on screen privacy filters, says that peeping creeps succeed in acquiring business data in nine out of 10 tries, often nabbing three or four pieces of private info per look.
If you’re worried about prying eyes on planes or trains or in coffee shops or cubicles, HP’s EliteBook 1040 G3 aims to put your mind at ease. Besides being, the company claims, the world’s thinnest 14-inch business notebook, the 1040 G3 is the first to have a built-in privacy screen: Instead of having to attach and detach an add-on filter, you simply press Fn-F2 to toggle a stealth mode that makes the display dark and unreadable to anyone not seated directly in front of it.
Jointly developed by HP and 3M, the screen—dubbed Sure View—is available in both touch and non-touch versions, with full HD (1,920×1,080) resolution. In the $1,949 EliteBook seen here, it’s a touch screen teamed with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of memory, a 256GB PCIe solid-state drive, and Windows 10 Pro.
(We confirmed our HP rep’s $1,949 price quote by finding the machine—part number Y9G29UT#ABA—for that or a lower price at several online outlets. When we tried the online “customize and buy” configurator at HP.com, by contrast, the price rose like a rocket to $3,573.)
The 13.3 by 9.2 by 0.65-inch EliteBook is an attractive aluminum laptop with black keys in a slightly recessed keyboard tray. A chrome HP logo decorates the lid. A speaker grille above the keyboard is flanked by the power button on one side and buttons to toggle airplane mode and mute audio on the other.
At 3.4 pounds (non-touch models are slightly lighter and thinner), the 1040 G3 feels solid without being a burden in your briefcase. Like all EliteBooks, it’s survived an array of MIL-STD toughness tests for (closed) drop, climate extremes, shock, vibration, and more; HP’s consumer notebooks are spared the ordeal.
As for connectivity, the system’s left edge holds a USB 3.0 port, SmartCard reader, and audio jack as well as a lock slot and cooling vents through which you can hear some faint fan noise. Bluetooth and 802.11ac Wi-Fi are provided, as is an NFC touch point at the top right corner of the touch pad.
You’ll find another USB 3.0 port on the HP’s right side, along with a USB-C port (without Thunderbolt 3 support), HDMI and power ports, and a SIM card slot for mobile broadband models. There’s also a docking connector, for which HP supplies a dongle with VGA and Ethernet ports.
The HP’s audio and Webcam are optimized for Skype business conferences, with a dual-array microphone for improved audio input and software that helps block ambient noise. We liked the Webcam’s bright, detailed images and the Bang Olufsen speakers’ voice quality, though the latter proved subpar for music playback—softer than most laptop speakers, and tinny when cranked up to fill a room.
There’s no flex in the keyboard deck, and the keys offer good travel and a firm yet pliable typing feel. The top-row keys team with the Fn key for system functions such as adjusting volume, brightness, and the keyboard backlight, but you get dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys instead of having to pair the Fn and arrow keys.
The latter, unfortunately, are not in an inverted T but in HP’s clumsy trademark arrangement along the bottom row, with half-sized up and down arrows sandwiched between full-sized left and right arrows. In fact, the up and down arrow keys are only a quarter-inch high; we actually missed the up arrow several times during touch typing, hitting Shift instead.
On the positive side, the EliteBook’s glass touch pad responded smoothly to taps, glides, and gestures, and security-conscious users will find a fingerprint reader on the right side of the palm rest. Security and manageability are front and center with the 1040 G3, with everything from the Intel vPro processor and Smart Card reader to TPM support and HP’s Touchpoint Manager for remote management and Sure Start BIOS that defends itself against malware and rootkits.
If you’re used to notebooks with IPS screens that boast 178-degree viewability, press Fn-F2 on the EliteBook and prepare to marvel at a display with only a 70-degree visible cone (i.e., no more than 35 degrees on either side of center). Combining a dimmed backlight with a special prism, the Sure View function really works, instantly making the screen opaque to those seeing it from an angle or above. Now you see it, now you don’t—we spent our first half hour with the HP toggling the feature just for fun.
To be sure, you won’t see a gorgeous, sunny display in Sure View mode. It works better the lower you’re willing to set the screen backlight, and gives the screen an overall grayish cast regardless of backlight. Contrast is poor; while we could read our word processing documents and spreadsheets fairly well, we couldn’t make out the white text beneath icons on the Windows desktop. Frankly, using Sure View for more than a few hours is likely to give you a headache.
Worse, using the 1040 G3 with Sure View switched off is likely to disappoint you. While the 1080p panel shows good detail, it’s a TN rather than IPS screen, so colors are pale and backgrounds are closer to gray than white. Viewing angles are limited, and maximum brightness is only about half or two-thirds what rival business notebooks can manage. The screen bezels are medium-thick, not the thin or nearly borderless frame popular among new models like HP’s Spectre x360.
It would be nice to have a better IPS display for use when no sneaky peekers are around, as well as a better head-on view when in stealth mode. But even in version 1.0, we have no hesitation in calling Sure View a winning technology. It’s infinitely more convenient than having to stick on or clip on an aftermarket screen filter, and it addresses a real problem with privacy violators.