HP Elite Dragonfly Max Review: A phenomenal business convertible

One of my favorite convertible laptops is the HP Elite Dragonfly. Naturally, when the company offered to send out the Dragonfly Max for review, I jumped at it. In fact, all of HP’s EliteBooks are really good; even the mainstream EliteBook 800 series stands out above the rest.

The Elite Dragonfly series (I guess it’s called a series now) is like the EliteBook 1,000 series, except it’s super-light. It also doesn’t have that silver color and aluminum build. No, this is made out of magnesium, and it weighs under two and a half pounds. What makes the Elite Dragonfly Max different from the regular one is it has new collaboration features like a high-resolution webcam. It also comes in Sparkling Black instead of Dragonfly Blue.

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Specs

CPU Intel Core i7-1185G7 (up to 4.8 GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Technology, 12 MB L3 cache, 4 cores), supports Intel vPro Technology
Graphics Intel Iris Xe
Body 11.98×7.78×0.63in (30.43×19.75×1.61cm), 2.49lbs (1.13kg)
Display 13.3″ diagonal, FHD (1920 x 1080), touch, anti-glare, 1000 nits, 100% sRGB, HP Sure View integrated privacy screen
Ports (2) Thunderbolt 4
(1) USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
(1) 3.5mm audio
(1) HDMI 2.0
RAM 16GB LPDDR4X-4266 SDRAM
Storage 512GB Gen3x4 NVMe M.2 SSD TLC
Audio Audio by Bang & Olufsen, 4 Premium stereo speakers, 2 user-facing multi array microphones and two world-facing microphones
Input HP Premium Keyboard – spill-resistant, full-size, backlit keyboard
Clickpad with multi-touch gesture support
Connectivity Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 (2×2) and Bluetooth® 5 combo, vPro
Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G LTE Cat 20
Webcam IR camera; 5 MP camera (rear-facing)
Battery 4-cell, 56-WHr Long Life Battery (Internal and not replaceable by customer. Serviceable by warranty.)
Color Sparkling Black
Material CNC-machined magnesium
Price $2,793.46

Note that, as tends to be the case with business PCs, the price is subject to change, and you’ll get different deals from retailers. Also, this is the price as configured. You can save $440 by getting Wi-Fi only, or even save a couple hundred dollars by getting 4G LTE.

Design: The HP Elite Dragonfly Max comes in Sparkling Black

One of the biggest points of the Elite Dragonfly Max, or the entire HP Elite Dragonfly lineup, is the design. It’s made out of magnesium, which allows it to be much lighter than the much heavier aluminum material that’s found in the EliteBook 1,000 series.

Here’s what’s cool though. It’s not just regular molded magnesium, like we see in other ultra-light laptops. Indeed, magnesium as a material in laptops tends to feel like plastic, also meaning they feel cheap. It’s a strong material, and these are most certainly premium machines; they just don’t feel that way. HP actually uses CNC-machined magnesium in its Elite Dragonfly lineup. This doesn’t feel cheap at all.

Top down view of HP Elite Dragonfly MaxTop down view of HP Elite Dragonfly Max

It also makes black look good. The original Elite Dragonfly came in a color called Dragonfly Blue, and this one comes in Sparkling Black. It’s just what it sounds like. It’s black, but if you look closely, it sparkles. It’s a very subtle touch that gives it just the right look. It’s pretty, but not flashy.

The HP Elite Dragonfly Max starts at 2.49 pounds. It’s about a third of a pound heavier than the Elite Dragonfly, and it’s exactly the same as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. It’s a half-pound heavier than the ThinkPad X1 Nano; however, it does pack a more powerful processor.

It also doesn’t skimp on ports. On the right side, there are two Thunderbolt 4 ports, along with HDMI 2.0 and a 3.5mm audio jack. That means you can connect dual 4K displays or one 8K display on a single port. It also means if the integrated Iris Xe graphics aren’t enough for you, you can connect an external GPU.

On the left side, you still get a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, so you can still connect your legacy peripherals. There’s also a power button on that side, which sticks out a bit so you can easily find it with your finger.

One thing I’d have liked to have seen is a chamfered front, something I’m seeing on the ZBook Firefly 14 that I’m currently reviewing. It just makes the product a little bit easier to open, and it’s a slick design that I’ve seen across various HP products.

The HP Elite Dragonfly Max has a 13.3-inch Sure View display

The HP Elite Dragonfly comes with a 13.3-inch FHD display that has the company’s Sure View Reflect privacy technology. It’s pretty awesome. The company used to hold these workshops and say there are two kinds of people: those that need Sure View and those that don’t know they need Sure View.

Angled view of HP Elite Dragonfly Max screenAngled view of HP Elite Dragonfly Max screen

The idea is to stop what HP calls visual hacking, and that’s when someone looks over your shoulder to see what you’re working on. It could be company secrets, your bank account information, and more. With Sure View enabled, all that person would see is a copper-colored screen. It’s pretty cool.

Angled view of HP Elite Dragonfly Max screen with Sure View onAngled view of HP Elite Dragonfly Max screen with Sure View on

You can turn it on by using the F2 key. It does use more battery life when it’s on. It’s also just a bit harder to view the screen when it’s turned on. This has gotten better throughout the generations though. While HP, Dell, and Lenovo have all developed these types of privacy displays, HP has clearly put the most work into it, and has the best one.

As far as the quality of the screen goes, it supports 100% sRGB, 74% NTSC, 80% Adobe RGB, and 79% P3, which is pretty good. The viewing angle isn’t a full 178 degrees though, and that’s due to it being a Sure View display. Even when the feature is turned off, you can tell the difference. It’s totally worth it though.

Webcam, audio, and collaboration is a priority with the HP Elite Dragonfly Max

If you follow my reviews, then you know that one thing I always point out these days is the webcam, and how so many laptops still have 720p cameras. And that’s terrible. But you won’t have that problem with the HP Elite Dragonfly Max. This laptop has a 5MP webcam, a rarity you won’t find on many devices this side of Microsoft’s Surface lineup.

Not only that, but this camera supports recording 1440p 30fps, so that’s four times as many pixels in your video than with a standard 720p camera. It’s a massive improvement. I’d say it’s important for a business laptop, but frankly, it’s important for anyone buying a laptop in 2021.

Close up of HP Elite Dragonfly Max speakerClose up of HP Elite Dragonfly Max speaker

If that was all of the collaboration features, I’d be pretty happy. Your Zoom and Teams meetings are going to look fantastic on the Elite Dragonfly Max. They’re going to sound better too, on your end and on the other attendees’ end. The B&O speakers are places on either side of the keyboard, and there are two speakers at the bottom of the laptop.

As for the microphone, the HP Elite Dragonfly Max has built-in noise cancelation. It can block out constant, ambient noises, and it can block out your dog barking in the background. At worst, it sounds mumbled. It’s a must for working from home.

But there’s more about this wonderful webcam. HP separated the cameras for the IR camera and the webcam, so you get better color accuracy. There’s also a privacy guard that can physically cover it.

It comes with 5G, but you have to pay

When I priced out the model HP sent me, it’s $440 extra to get 5G, and it’s $155 extra to get 4G LTE. Personally, I’d go for the 4G LTE option.

To me, cellular connectivity in a laptop is very valuable. I love being able to connect from anywhere without having to worry about agreeing to some terms and conditions, being added to a mailing list, or just the insecurity of public Wi-Fi. I don’t have to ask my friend for his Wi-Fi password, or ask someone at a business how I can connect. It just works.

And in 2021, shouldn’t it? I really don’t understand how in 2021, cellular connectivity isn’t standard in laptops. When I turn on my PC, it should just connect.

Let’s break down the difference between 5G and 4G LTE, other than $285. There’s not much. Like all Intel-powered 5G PCs, it only supports sub-6GHz. Right now, sub-6GHz 5G really isn’t any faster than 4G LTE. In fact, in many cases, 4G LTE is faster. This is supposed to be set to change at some point, but I’m not seeing it here in the U.S.

The other kind of 5G is called millimeter wave, or mmWave. It’s much faster, but the frequencies are so high, they can be easily blocked with something like a piece of paper. It requires a direct line of sight with an antenna. This also means that antenna design in a mmWave-enabled PC is complicated, so we’re not seeing it much, not that there would be much benefit from that either.

The HP Elite Dragonfly Max has the best keyboard around

HP’s premium business PCs have some of the best keyboards around. Indeed, a couple of years ago, HP finally started trying to compete with Lenovo’s ThinkPads, which are renowned for their keyboards. It has delivered. HP’s EliteBooks deliver on a comfortable and accurate typing experience, and since this is the main way we interact with our computers, it’s kind of a big deal. In fact, I’d say that a good keyboard is the most important feature on a laptop.

Top down view of HP Elite Dragonfly Max keyboardTop down view of HP Elite Dragonfly Max keyboard

Much like the lack of the chamfered front, the keyboard lacks trends we’ve seen from HP laptops over the last year or two. On other devices, it’s moved all of the buttons to the keyboard. This includes the power button, the fingerprint sensor, and even the camera privacy guard. That’s not the case here. The fingerprint sensor is off to the bottom-right on the deck, and the power button is on the side of the chassis.

Close up of HP Elite Dragonfly Max touchpadClose up of HP Elite Dragonfly Max touchpad

The Microsoft Prevision touchpad makes use of the available real estate, which is always good. It’s a pet peeve of mine when an OEM leaves wasted space behind. And of course, the other method of input is the pen, which magnetically attaches to the lid.

Close up of HP Elite Dragonfly Max fingerprint sensorClose up of HP Elite Dragonfly Max fingerprint sensor

The only problem is the 16:9 display. For a convertible, I’d much rather see 16:10 or even 3:2. When folding the display back and using it with a pen, the larger aspect ratio makes for a better experience. In fact, given how smitten I am with this laptop as a whole, the aspect ratio is probably my biggest complaint.

It has Tiger Lake-U performance

The Elite Dragonfly Max that HP sent me includes an Intel Core i7-1185G7 and 16GB RAM. This is a pretty common configuration for OEMs to send out to reviewers, along with the 512GB SSD. It’s one of those things where I feel like I write the section over and over. These are not rare or custom parts. Frankly, you should buy this laptop because of the really awesome features that it offers, like the ultra-light design, the Sure View display, and the collaboration features.

What’s cool about the ‘Max’ variant of the HP Elite Dragonfly is it prevents you from making bad choices. There simply aren’t as many configuration options. The only CPU options are the Core i7-1165G7 and the Core i7-1185G7, and you can only get it with 16GB or 32GB RAM. There’s no Core i5 and 8GB RAM combo here. Personally, I recommend at least 16GB RAM to anyone. It just leaves you as more future-proofed, and can handle larger tasks as they arise.

Angled view of HP Elite Dragonfly MaxAngled view of HP Elite Dragonfly Max

The processor is from Intel’s Tiger Lake U-series family, specifically Tiger Lake UP3. It’s the typical family of chips that shows up in ultrabooks and convertibles. It’s also a massive upgrade. To see how big of an upgrade it is, you have to break down how confusing and dumb Intel’s 10th-gen lineup was.

Intel 10th-gen was made up of two product families, the 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ and the 14nm ‘Comet Lake’. Intel had been stuck on 14nm for a long time, and its 10nm process was delayed for years. When it finally delivered the 10nm Ice Lake, it couldn’t produce enough of them, so it shipped the 14nm Comet Lake alongside of it. However, Comet Lake is the only one that shipped in a vPro variant, so all business laptops that had 10th-generation processors used Comet Lake chips. That means they didn’t get that big Iris Plus Graphics boost.

With 11th-gen, everything is Tiger Lake. That means they skip right over the graphics boost from Ice Lake and go straight to the Iris Xe graphics in 11th-gen processors. We’re now talking about doing things you previously wouldn’t want to do without dedicated graphics, like FHD gaming, video editing, and so on.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, PCMark 10, Geekbench, and Cinebench.

Elite Dragonfly Max
Core i7-1185G7
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Core i7-1185G7
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano
Core i7-1160G7
HP Elite Dragonfly
Core i7-8665U
HP EliteBook x360 1040 G7
Core i7-10810U
PCMark 8: Home 3,916 4,532 3,919 3,396 3,721
PCMark 8: Creative 4,337 4,910 4,419 3,402 3,944
PCMark 8: Work 3,873 4,144 3,864 3,539 3,654
PCMark 10 4,431 5,168 4,586 3,785 4,080
Geekbench 1,117 / 3,663 1,489 / 5,280 1,346 / 4,891 772 / 2,509 1,197 / 5,085
Cinebench 1,191 / 3,251 1,303 / 4,224 1,296 / 4,052 760 / 2,273

As far as battery life goes, I got seven and a half hours doing regular work. This was with the power slider on one notch above battery saver and the screen brightness as low as it goes. Yes, this screen is bright enough that I could turn it all the way down and work comfortably indoors.

Also, I don’t normally do this, but I ran a streaming video test. Normally, I only do an anecdotal quote of how long it took me to drain the battery while working, since that’s how we actually use our PCs. No one is streaming video from 100% to 0%. I streamed video using the settings described above, and then I did it again with the Sure View privacy display turned on. Without Sure View, I got nine hours and 49 minutes, and with Sure View, I got nine hours and 14 minutes. It’s obviously not a huge difference, but it’s worth noting.

Conclusion: Should you buy the HP Elite Dragonfly Max?

HP’s EliteBooks are always fantastic, especially when it comes to premium ones like the Elite Dragonfly and the EliteBook 1,000 series. They really seem to focus on what’s important, such as providing the best keyboard on the market.

The HP Elite Dragonfly Max takes everything to another level. It weighs under two and a half pounds, but it’s still beautiful. It doesn’t feel cheap like so many magnesium laptops do. Instead, HP has a machining process for the magnesium that makes it feel premium, and it adds a Sparkling Black color.

HP Elite Dragonfly Max in tent modeHP Elite Dragonfly Max in tent mode

My biggest complaint is the screen is still 16:9. Considering this is a convertible and is meant to be used as a tablet sometimes, a larger aspect ratio would be nice. Otherwise, HP could have shaved off more weight by making it a clamshell. My other complaint is that cellular connectivity is expensive for this machine. Cellular is really the feature that puts this machine over the top for me. If a Core i7 is standard, the Sure View display is standard, and 16GB RAM is standard, then at least 4G LTE should be standard.

Other than the magnesium build and the premium keyboard, everything else is great. The webcam is a delight, and is a real pleasure when coming from another PC that has some 720p webcam. The microphone and speaker combo is great as well. It’s just an awesome all-around PC. It checks off the right boxes, between the screen, the keyboard, the build, and the features that make for a great computing experience.

    HP Elite Dragonfly MaxHP Elite Dragonfly Max
    HP’s Elite Dragonfly Max comes in Sparking Black, and adds some cool collaboration features over the Elite Dragonfly.

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