HP Elite Dragonfly Max
The HP Elite Dragonfly Max represents the top tier of mobile computing, squarely aimed at executives. The Max delivers enough power to perform most tasks, though a larger display would improve the experience. The HP Elite Dragon Max’s appeal comes not from performance but from looking good at whatever it’s doing.
HP Elite Dragonfly Max: Overview and Evaluation Criteria Results
HP’s Dragonfly laptops aim at the sophisticated mobile user, with the latest modeling leaning into the work-from-home, hybrid work needs of those users. Dragonfly laptops are thin and beautifully engineered. They also tend to underperform for their price. But the Dragonfly was not intended to be the fastest; it was designed to be the most elegant. And in that aim, it achieves its goal.
There are no updates to my previous HP Dragonfly review regarding the form factor. Closed and sitting next to each other, the original Dragonfly is nearly indistinguishable from the Max, save for the Max’s decidedly rich black exterior.
My original review suggested some improvements. It’s always nice to see suggestions make it into the next-gen product. The Dragonfly Max upgrades the camera, CPU, memory capacity, adds 5G and other features. But it also eliminates the case and stylus from the box. While the computer is superior to its predecessors, the ownership experience feels like a step back from the exceptional executive reveal associated with the Elite Dragonfly G1.
Stay tuned to HP’s Elite Dragonfly line, as the announcements at CES 2022 revealed several updates that may crown the HP Elite Dragonfly G3 as the optimum executive laptop.
Serious Insights PC Evaluation Criteria
Unfortunately, the display is the single most used feature beyond the keyboard, and while on par with many business laptops, it isn’t a superior experience. The relatively bright privacy screen ultimately limits the Elite Dragonfly Max’s protentional with a cramped 1080p resolution. HP has heard the market’s demand for a more extensive work canvas for the Dragonfly, but that won’t come until the next generation. Of course, the HDMI port supports much bigger displays, but not on your lap. EyeEase clocks down the blue light for eye comfort. Invoking the HP Sure View Reflect Privacy feature does narrow the viewing angle, but it also dims and blurs the display for the primary user.
The upgraded keyboard doesn’t look much different, but it brings spill-resistant and a unique lock that allows wiping down the Dragonfly’s interior with everyday household cleaning wipes. Good backlighting, roomy with decent travel. Lenovo’s Carbon X1 still offers the best-in-class keyboard.
The Dragonfly Max, like earlier Dragonfly incarnations, folds back into a tablet. The lightweight design makes it one of the more palatable 2-1 units, but the exposed keyboard on a lap never feels right. Microsoft’s decision to make a tablet with Surface demonstrates the right direction. Unfortunately, Windows is not yet a touch or pen-first OS, so apps will drive most non-keyboard experiences. Yes, if you need to do something in Windows in tablet mode, it will work; it just won’t be as efficient as doing it with a keyboard and mouse.
A pen-based computer needs a pen. HP, however, decided not to include their HP pen in the box. Removing the pen ticks negative with the Max compared to the first version of the Dragonfly. HP’s user data probably revealed most people weren’t using the tablet mode, so why not increase margins by dropping the pen (HP’s third-gen Dragonfly won’t convert to a tablet at all). Making the pen an option seems a little chintzy for a device in this price range, but I get it.
Newer, snappier CPUs, upgraded graphics and increasing max memory to 32GB of DDR4 offer significantly improved performance. The Dragonfly still doesn’t match up against crossover gaming machines, but it handles most standard business apps without breaking a sweat, including power-hungry apps like the Adobe Suite.
The HP Elite Dragonfly Max drips with security. A security slot keeps the hardware in place while Wolf security combines hardware, services, and on-device capabilities to thwart attacks, including unknown threats.
The Sure View privacy screen stops side-lookers from spying on sensitive data (or watching a movie you just don’t want to share). HP also includes its Recovery Cloud system for systems that need rebuilding on the fly.
The Elite Dragonfly Max supports fingerprint authentication and face recognition for authentication.
The Sure Click browser places websites into an isolated virtual machine. Close the browser, and any malicious software evaporates with it.
For organizations that need it, HP offers vPro in the chipset. The review unit included this, but we couldn’t test the feature since we don’t run a remote management environment. However, a properly configured machine should be subject to remote erase via this feature.
The new microphone array with noise reduction and solid 5MP camera dial-up the Dragonfly’s hardware greatly improves video conferencing experiences. Unfortunately, during my review, I updated the device to Windows 11 and ran into some compatibility issues, including failure of the camera to work for Hello log-in and inconsistent quality across apps (the camera worked in apps but not at the system level). The camera worked flawlessly under Windows 10.
The Elite Dragonfly Max brings 5G to complement Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. The device also offers a good array of ports, including a USB-A, 2 Thunderbolt USB-C ports, and HDMI. As a result, most owners will not need a dongle when they travel.
The Elite Dragonfly, save the color, looks identical to its earlier incarnation. I miss the iridescent blue, but the new black expresses professionalism and no little bit of bad assiness. The machine’s well-honed magnesium shell is light but protective. When sitting together, the silver accents on the original Dragonfly are noticeably missed on the new all matt black design.
The all-cardboard box and packaging, ocean-bound materials and post-consumer recycled construction material, contribute to the device’s TCO certification. HP makes a sustainability statement with the Elite Dragonfly, including Energy Star recognition. The company is making an effort at sustainability, but it would be great to see even more devices go to the lengths seen in the Dragonfly Max.
Software is a tricky category with HP’s enterprise propensity. Not only is the Dragonfly Max loaded with performance-enhancing and support software, but it also includes drop and intrusion detection and in/out bag sensing to avoid overheating.
In the old days of bloatware, the included software was in your face—filled mainly with demos from companies that bought their way on the disk or CD. The large amount of HP’s software sits quietly in the background to be called upon when needed. There is nothing to spend time deleting. If you don’t need it, it won’t bother you or take up much space on the roomy hard drive. My only complaint comes from the messages in the HP support app that fail to add value to the users who likely own an Elite Dragonfly. However, the driver updates from HP support are painless, complementing Microsoft’s updates with device-specific installs.
Full HP specs can be found here.
What we like
First of all, the Dragonfly Max, as with the Dragonfly G2, adopts the Intel Tiger Lake vPro chip, replacing the older Whiskey Lake architecture on the G1. When the G1 shipped, Whiskey Lake was already last year’s CPU. The new Max and G2 come equipped with Intel’s much more recent silicon.
The second major upgrade comes in the camera, which moves from 1.2 megapixel 720p HD to 5 megapixels. Both cameras support Microsoft Hello facial recognition, though the new camera does so with only one flashing IR light.
Beyond that, the Elite Dragonfly Max earns its moniker with several new or updated features like a spill-resistant keyboard, updated microphone array for improved in-room collaboration, Wi-Fi 6 and optional 5G support.
A well-made, light, 65W power supply with a USB-C connector along with the 4-cell, 56WHr battery means easy recharging with many hours between top-offs. I’ve never had it make a full day, but it probably won’t ever need to.
My favorite thing about the Dragonfly remains its lightweight and ease of just picking it and going. I never feel like I’m lugging a Dragonfly.
A lot of laptops cross over my desk. The HP Elite Dragonfly remains the prettiest one on the market.
What could be improved
The 1080p HD screen remains a major negative on such a high-end laptop. Most business laptops are moving for 4:3 or more creative aspect ratios like 16:10 or 3:2 that offer more vertical canvas word processing, web browsing, and spreadsheets. The screen seems decidedly not Max.
The screen also delivers the second negative punch, at least for some, the display’s Privacy feature. With one tap, the display eliminates all viewing angles save straight on. Only the owner can see the contents on the display. As noted above, that is a great security feature. Privacy screens on any computer sacrifice brightness and clarity. The 1000 nit display doesn’t seem as bright as its predecessors.
The upgraded 5MP camera is good, but not as good as it could be. Significant noise remained, especially in low-light. I added an external Logitech camera, which dramatically improved video when compared to the built-in camera. I know tiny cameras can be good because the one Apple uses on the iPad Pro is outstanding.
I would prefer a camera toggle function key to turn off the camera rather than the physical shutter and its diminutive slider handle.
While the display isn’t the Elite Dragonfly’s best feature, it’s not a feature that causes heartache with this device; it’s the price. A base price runs over $3,330. Maxing out memory and CPU will cost nearly $500 more. Add $235 to boost the SSD to 1TB. Want an HP Wacom AES 2.0 pen? Add another $74.
Having worked with many executives to select their laptops, HP brings some method to its pricing madness. Most executives want a laptop that’s cooler than the standard business laptop. It doesn’t have to be the best performance, but it should feel like an executive tool. Senior leaders can sign paperwork with a Bic Pen; most use a Mont Blanc. The Elite Dragonfly Max is the Mont Blanc of laptops. Its real competition isn’t another Windows PC; it’s an Apple MacBook. And rather than doing what PC makers did for years, which was competing against MacBooks by cloning their look and feel, HP created a design language that says the Dragonfly is very much not an Apple MacBook.
Remember that MacBooks usually don’t sit on the bleed edge of CPU power either, though, with Apple’s move to their new silicon, they have enjoyed several months of being close to the best performing machines. But again, executives aren’t looking for performance—they aren’t going to perform finite element analysis or manage multiple streams of 8K video. Instead, they will answer a lot of e-mails in Outlook and open a large number of tabs in Edge, some with non-optimized enterprise software that’s going to chew up a few cycles, but not enough to put down a Dragonfly Max.
Add in the 5G support and the security screen, and this device oozes with executive appeal. And truth be told, most executives won’t mind the 1080p HD screen, because except when traveling, this device will sit on a desk next to a 34-inch widescreen because it can.
The Elite Dragonfly also offers another prominent feature that will make executives happy: more IT-ready software and management hooks than most laptops. The Dragonfly Max may be expensive, but IT won’t say no to purchasing one because they can’t support it.
Another clue to the Max’s target audience is the lack of options. The G2 offers a range of configurations. The Max only offers memory, storage, and broadband options.
HP didn’t make the Dragonfly Max for people who need it; they made it for people who will want it—as they would say in the automobile market, fully loaded.
HP Elite Dragonfly Max: The Bottom Line
Few laptops pack as many features into a small footprint as HP’s Elite Dragonfly Max. The Max clearly represents the executive tier of mobile computing. It delivers enough power to perform most executive tasks. Useability would improve with a larger display, but on a desk connected to a monitor, most owners won’t care. The real trick with the HP Elite Dragon Max isn’t what’s under the hood, but how good it looks doing whatever it’s doing.
If you’re drooling over the Dragonfly Max but can’t afford one, consider the G2 model. It offers most of the features and all of the aesthetics at a price that starts over $1000 less.
HP provided the Elite Dragonfly Max for review. Images courtesy of HP unless otherwise noted.
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