HP Elite Dragonfly Max Evaluation: A Video Dream Machine

"The HP Elite Dragonfly Max is a beautiful 2-in-1 device for the business traveler on the go."

  • Excellent workmanship

  • Thin and light

  • Excellent keyboard and touchpad

  • Effective privacy protection

  • A number of valuable business functions

  • Overwhelming CPU performance

  • Too expensive

The HP Elite Dragonfly has never been your average business laptop. The name alone suggests that this is not a ThinkPad clone. A unique design made the original Elite Dragonfly a fantastic 2-in-1 device for business people who didn't want to sacrifice design for business functions.

HP updated the machine to G2 in 2020 and then to the latest 11th generation Intel Tiger Lake CPUs in 2021. But now we have a specialized version, the Elite Dragonfly Max, which shares the same basic design and features as the G2, but with improved video conferencing capabilities – notably an improved webcam and an additional, outward-facing microphone.

I have a test configuration of the Elite Dragonfly Max with an Intel Core i7-1185G7 with vPro, 16 GB RAM, a 512 GB PCIe solid state drive (SSD) and the HP Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) Sure View Reflect -Privacy protection received. The configuration costs $ 2,939, a very high price tag that, in turn, is aimed at a specific type of business user. Does the Max offer added value compared to the G2?

design

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

What stands out most about the design of the Elite Dragonfly Max is the attention to detail. HP has obviously put a lot of thought into making a laptop that not only meets the typical needs of business users, but also some things that many people may not have thought of. Consider the "cleanability" of the laptop. Not only can you clean and disinfect the laptop with regular household towels – up to 1,000 cycles – but HP has also developed a simple HP Easy Clean utility that turns off the touchscreen, keyboard and touchpad, so you can clean the device without pressing any keys and touched.

Then there are the "Context Aware" technologies from HP, of which there are two variants. The first, in-bag / out-of-bag detection, has been implemented on a few other HP laptops – the HP Specter x360 14, for example, and just like it sounds, it can detect when you put your laptop in a Put a bag or a backpack. When this condition is detected, the laptop will go to sleep to make sure it doesn't turn on. Then if you remove it and place it on a flat surface, the laptop will wake up and be up and running much faster.

The second contextual feature is On Lap / On Table Detection, which can detect when you're using the laptop on a desktop, in which case it's power and heat or cranking up your lap where it shuts things down and lowers the temperature. Machine temperature around 5 degrees Celsius.

The Elite Dragonfly Max is an incredibly well-designed laptop in the most important aspects.

But no fear. HP did not spend all of its resources on unusual features. The Elite Dragonfly Max is also an incredibly well-designed laptop in the most important aspects. It's made from a magnesium alloy, which gives it a solid construction that is compromised by just a tiny flex of the lid. The keyboard deck and underside of the case are strong and rigid, and the laptop has been tested to military specifications. If the Elite Dragonfly Max isn't in the same class as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, the ThinkPad X13 Yoga 2-in-1, or the Dell XPS 13, then it's damn close. Hold it in your hand – and toggle it between the four modes of clamshell, tent, media, and tablet – and you get a real feeling of solid quality.

The Elite Dragonfly Max is also a thin and light laptop. It's 0.63 inches thick and 2.49 pounds, and ranges from the 0.67 inches and 1.99 pounds of the ThinkPad X1 Nano to the 0.58 inches and 2.8 pounds of the XPS 13. The ThinkPad X13 Yoga has it the same thickness but weighs a little more at 2.76 pounds. There aren't many 13-inch 2-in-1s in the business class, and so our direct comparison group is slim.

The Elite Dragonfly Max would benefit from smaller top and bottom bezels that would make for a smaller case and a more modern look. Speaking of looks, the Elite Dragonfly Max is designed conservatively, with clean lines and simple angles, but enough accents not to get boring. The hinges are the most elaborate design element, they do not protrude, but subtly enhance the overall appearance of the notebook. The Max version of the laptop is available in Brilliant Black instead of the blue of the G2 and looks good.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Connectivity is also a strength. On the left there is a USB-A 3.1 port, a nano lock slot and a nano SIM slot. On the right side you'll find a full-sized HDMI 2.0 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support (one of which is used for charging). Wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5, and either LTE 4G or 5G wireless WAN (WWAN) support is optional.

Speaking of the latter, my test device was equipped with 5G and came with an AT&T SIM card. I tested 5G connectivity at my home, and while both the laptop and AT&T coverage map indicated I was getting a 5G connection, my download speed was around 70 megabits per second (Mbps). When I tested the Lenovo Flex 5G with Verizon's Ultra-Wideband 5G (the HP is limited to Sub6 5G), I saw almost 500Mbps. I haven't had a chance to drive around town looking for a faster AT&T 5G connection, but I'm sure it's possible to see faster speeds than I've experienced.

Security and privacy

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

HP carried over the various security and privacy features that we loved so much into the original Elite Dragonfly. It offers optional vPro support so that large companies can integrate the laptop into their management systems. It also features HP Sure Start, which features a security controller built right into the motherboard, providing an isolated and encrypted physical layer of protection for the BIOS and the boot process. As stated with the original model, the Elite Dragonfly Max outperforms most other business-class laptops in terms of the sheer number of business-oriented features, including Lenovo's ThinkPad range.

You can also find two ways to log in without a password – facial recognition via infrared cameras and a fingerprint reader on the top right of the palm rest. Both work quickly and reliably. There's a physical webcam cover for more privacy that displays an overlay to make it visible when activated, and a keyboard button turns the microphone off.

Finally, the Elite Dragonfly Max (and note that the G2 version has all of these features, too) has built-in tile support. The new models are different from the original, where the tile module was plugged into the same M.2 port as the WWAN, so it was either tile or always-on connectivity and not both. Tile is now built into the motherboard so you can now use the Tile system to locate your laptop if you leave it behind or if it is stolen and still enjoy 4G LTE or 5G support.

performance

The Elite Dragonfly Max I tested is equipped with an 11th generation Intel Core i7-1185G7 CPU with vPro support. This makes it an excellent choice for large organizations that use vPro for remote management and support. Although the laptop was equipped with a slightly faster version of the Tiger Lake Core i7, I suspected that the thin case could limit performance as the thermals need more careful control.

I was right. The Elite Dragonfly Max didn't do particularly well, but it was a bit disappointing compared to the competition.

The Elite Dragonfly Max felt very fast on typical productivity tasks.

In Geekbench 5, for example, the Elite Dragonfly Max came last in our comparison group. The difference wasn't pronounced when compared to the other Intel Tiger Lake laptops – the AMD Ryzen 7 5800U-based Asus ZenBook 13 OLED dominated all CPU-intensive benchmarks – but it was disappointing that the HP fell so low. In our Handbrake test, which encodes a 420MB video as H.265, the Elite Dragonfly Max again came last, and the difference was bigger than the HP Specter x360 14 (which was much faster in performance mode). The same was true for Cinebench R23, where the two HP laptops were close together and behind the rest of the pack (although the Specter x360 14 was much faster in performance mode).

I also tested the Elite Dragonfly Max using PCMark 10 where – you guessed it – it performed in line with the Specter x360 14 and slower than the rest of the field. However, the delta was lower in this test, except for the Asus ZenBook 13 OLED. Looking at the individual components of the PCMark 10 test, the Elite Dragonfly Max scores well in the Essentials section (web browsing, video conferencing, etc.), but falls behind in productivity and content creation.

In actual use, the Elite Dragonfly Max felt very fast on typical productivity tasks. And in fact, it's by no means a slow laptop. It just doesn't compare to its similarly configured competition.

Geekbench (single / multiple) Handbrake (seconds) Cinebench R23 (single / multiple) PCMark 10 3DMark time spy
HP Elite Dragonfly Max
(Core i7-1185G7)
1570/5297 252 1385/3604 4724 1468
Asus ZenBook 13 OLED
(AMD-Ryzen7 5800U)
1423/6758 124 1171/7824 6034 1342
Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-1185G7) 1549/5431 204 1399/4585 n / A 1380
HP Specter x360 14 (Core i7-1165G7) 1214/4117 236 1389/3941 4728 1457
Razer Book 13 (Core i7-1165G7) 1548/5374 210 1508/4519 4878 1776
Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 (Core i7-1185G7) 1532/5415 207 1435/4409 4800 1648

It's not much of a gaming laptop either. It does well in the 3DMark Time Spy test and beats some of the devices in the comparison group.

But in Fortnite it fell back again, only reaching 22 frames per second (fps) in 1080p and high graphics, which is a few fps behind the typical Tiger Lake laptop with the same Intel Iris Xe graphics. In epic settings it fell to 18 fps, again a few fps below the Tiger Lake average.

Display and audio

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The Elite Dragonfly Max has a display option, the Sure View Reflect privacy screen from HP with full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080) and an old-school aspect ratio of 16: 9. That's compared to the G2 version, which offers standard IPS Full HD and 4K options. This is an unusual ad that has two distinct personalities.

With privacy mode turned off, the display is incredibly bright at 1,000 nits. My test device "only" returned 417 nits, which is great, but I should see around 758 nits after HP tests a second device they sent because of the discrepancy. There seems to be something about the display technology that makes our standard colorimeter tests difficult, and as I tried, I couldn't get this brightness. The contrast was excellent at 1,380: 1 (anything above 1,000: 1 is very good) and black text appeared on a white background. Combined with the excellent keyboard, this is a great laptop for a writer. Plus, with its 458 nits of brightness and 1350: 1 contrast, the display does well with the Dell XPS 13 Full HD display, and it was brighter than the Specter x360 14's OLED display, which came in at 374 nits, though Wasn't comparable to the Specter's 374,200: 1 aspect ratio (that's OLED for you).

It's fine for an individual to use, but not a great screen to share.

The colors were average for premium laptops, which means they were good but not the level creative types are looking for. The AdobeRGB coverage was 74% and the sRGB coverage was 97%, which are good values, but again not as broad as creatives would like. The colors were reasonably accurate with a Delta E of 2.49 (1.0 or less is considered excellent). The XPS 13 had 75% AdobeRGB and 98% sRGB coverage and an accuracy of 1.36, while the Specter x360 14 had very wide colors at 96% AdobeRGB and 100% sRGB with a color accuracy of 0.69.

Overall, the display in standard mode is great for productivity and media consumption. The only negative is that the viewing angles are a bit narrow. Look from any angle other than straight ahead and the display will darken and lose fidelity. It's fine for an individual to use, but not a great screen to share.

Turn on privacy mode and everything will change. The brightness drops sharply – my colorimeter wasn't able to accurately measure the display in private mode – and while it's still usable, it won't overcome bright overhead lights. The colors stay decent, the accuracy seems good, and the contrast doesn't seem to let up much. It's still a good productivity display, but that's not its calling card. More importantly, it works perfectly as a privacy screen and is completely grayed out when you move away from direct view. For example, if you sit in the middle seat on an airplane, your screen will be completely illegible to those to your left and right.

I'm working on solving the brightness issue in standard mode, but it's not a big deal. This is a great display for both standard productivity in any setting and for getting your work done in relative privacy.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The audio quality is superb thanks to four Bang & Olufsen tuned speakers, two upward facing speakers on each side of the keyboard and two downward facing speakers on the bottom of the case. Each speaker is powered by its own dedicated intelligent amplifier. HP is promoting the laptop's bass, which is a legitimate boast – not only was the volume very loud and undistorted, with crisp and clear mids and highs, but there was also a noticeable hint of bass.

These are excellent speakers for such a small laptop, and while they can't compete with the great audio of the MacBook Pro, they do better than most Windows 10 laptops. You can use them for most of your listening, including the noise of Netflix and listening to music. Headphones are optional.

Video conferencing

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Where the Max version differs from the G2 version are the video conferencing functions. This starts with the webcam, which is not your typical, low-quality 720p laptop webcam that has nothing special to write about. This is a 5 megapixel webcam with a larger sensor, auto exposure for faces, and careful tuning for maximum performance. My house is in the process of being renovated so I don't have an attractive background to show off the quality of the camera. Still, it's noticeably improved over the previous model and the other laptops I have lying around. HP tested the webcam with several competitors and across the board achieved higher texture quality, better color accuracy, and more even colors in an image.

It might not be 1080p like some of the recent ThinkPads, but it's certainly an improvement over the previous generation.

The Max version also increases the G2's three microphones to four, with two facing forward and two facing the world. Artificial intelligence based noise cancellation is used to suppress background noise and improve the overall sound quality.

Put simply, the Elite Dragonfly Max is the dream video conferencing laptop that offers better pictures and sounds for more effective communication. If you work remotely and need the best video conferencing performance, this laptop should be on your shortlist.

Keyboard and touchpad

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

HP makes great keyboards. The Specter range, for example, has had my favorite keyboard on Windows 10 laptops for a while. The Elite line has followed closely, and now the Elite Dragonfly Max and G2 have a new and even better version.

First off, the keyboard is solid; that is, it is consistent across all keys. This is unusual and makes the typing experience more efficient and less tiring because your fingers don't feel any different when they fly across the keyboard. The switches are firm, but not too tight, and provide just the right amount of feedback with a springy bottom motion that makes each key very precise. Although the laptop is small, I found the key spacing to be ample and the keycaps to be a comfortable size. I type faster and more accurately on this keyboard than any other I've used – with the exception of Apple's Magic Keyboard on the latest MacBooks. And I would say the Elite Dragonfly Max keyboard is right there with the excellent version from Apple.

The touchpad is as big as the frame size and the 16: 9 aspect ratio display (bigger displays have gotten bigger touchpads lately thanks to the extra vertical space), and it's extremely comfortable to use. The clicks are subtle and quiet, with a high quality feel. Of course, it's a Microsoft Precision touchpad, so multitouch gestures are safe and precise. Aside from its size, this touchpad rivals those of the Dell XPS 13 and HP Specter x360 14 which are excellent.

The display is of course touch-enabled and reacts as usual. It supports HP's Wacom AES 2.0 active pen with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt support and USB-C charging. One was not bundled with my review unit – it's a $ 74 option – so unfortunately I couldn't test it that way.

Battery life

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The Elite Dragonfly Max comes with a 56 watt-hour battery and a full HD display (but with two modes, which I will discuss in a moment). I was expecting battery life to be a strength, as was the case with the original version.

As it turned out, the battery life wasn't quite up to the same standards. While the first generation Elite Dragonfly reached 10.5 hours in our web browsing test, the Max reached 9.75 hours. Anything close to 10 hours on this test should be considered a good score, but more laptops recently have hit this number and beyond. The Elite Dragonfly Max score is now more average than outstanding, and while it promises a full business day of battery life, some other newer laptops are stronger. For example, the HP Envy 14 managed over 12.5 hours, while the Asus ZenBook 13 OLED managed a very strong 15.75 hours. The Dell XPS 13 Full HD was not as competitive with only 8.5 hours, while the HP Specter x360 14 with its power-hungry OLED display only lasted 6.95 hours.

In our video test, which repeats a 1080p movie trailer, the Elite Dragonfly Max achieved 13.5 hours, which is a decent result, but not much better than average. The Envy 14 lasted almost an hour longer, and the ZenBook 13 OLED reached 15.5 hours, while the XPS 13 lagged behind at 12 hours and the Specter x360 14 finished last in this group at just over 10 hours.

I ran the PCMark 10 gaming test to see how the laptop performed under load on the CPU and GPU and it lasted 4.9 hours, which is almost the longest we've seen. Only the LG Gram 16 lasted longer, by just seven minutes. This, of course, likely indicates that the Elite Dragonfly Max isn't really trying to put itself under extreme strain on battery power – something to keep in mind when working without a power outlet. Finally, I ran the PCMark 10 Applications test, which is the best indicator of battery life productivity, and the Elite Dragonfly Max lasted a little over 11 hours. That's a strong result in the top tier of the limited number of laptops we tested.

Interestingly, the battery life is better with data protection mode on than with it off. With the privacy screen activated, the Elite Dragonfly Max managed 11.5 hours in our web browsing test, 14.25 hours in our video test, and 14 hours in the PCMark 10 application test. Using the privacy mode not only doesn't harm your battery life, it also increases it significantly.

Overall, I would rate the battery life as good, but not great. Again, you can work the laptop for a full day without plugging it in, but it falls a little behind the competition. That's more of a laptop battery life issue, still improving, than an indictment against the Elite Dragonfly Max.

Our opinion

If you are a businessman who does a lot of videoconferencing and has a corporate budget, you will no doubt find the Elite Dragonfly Max a tempting option. It's incredibly well built, has several real value-added features, and has some of the best security and privacy features you can find on a laptop.

It's also expensive, offers average performance and battery life, and you might not care about some of the features on offer. That makes this a great laptop, but primarily for a specific audience.

Any alternatives?

The Lenovo ThinkPad X13 Yoga is another business-class 2-in-1 for you to consider. It's not that expensive, but it doesn't offer the same range of features. If your needs aren't that specific, this is a good option to consider.

If the business features aren't your thing, the HP Specter x360 14 is in many ways a superior 2-in-1 with better performance, a better display, and a much lower price tag. It would also be a viable alternative.

Finally, if you aren't into 2-in-1 functionality or business-class features, the old standby mode is yours: the Dell XPS 13. It remains one of the best laptops you can buy, and you do get better performance and a smaller chassis for less money.

How long it will take?

The Elite Dragonfly Max is so well built that you will be using it for years to come. You will likely find that the 16: 9 aspect ratio display is starting to look increasingly dated, but that's the only component that is currently not at the cutting edge of technology. However, you will surely appreciate the three year warranty we would like to see on all laptops.

Should you buy it?

Yes. You have to be a special breed to want the Elite Dragonfly Max, but if you are, then you really will want it.

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