Good graphics performance. Stylish design. Multiple USB-C ports. Accessible components.
4K screen doesn't come with touch option. Less than seven hours of battery life. Expensive even for a mobile workstation.
- Bottom Line
The HP Zbook Studio G4 is expensive and its 4K display is non-touch, but it looks sleek, is upgradeable, and has top-notch performance.
To live up to its name, a mobile workstation must offer top-notch components—likely a Xeon processor and a professional-grade graphics card—but that doesn't mean it can't look good, too. The HP ZBook Studio G4 (starts at $1,938; $3,177 as tested) meets both criteria: It's a sleek, sculpted business notebook, made mostly of very dark gray, machined aluminum. Inside, you can chose from multiple processor, storage, and memory options, and together they can power pretty much any mission-critical software thanks to ISV certification and EEC memory. But some aspects of the ZBook Studio G4's design are puzzling—for instance, there are no mouse buttons, and you can have a 4K display or a touch screen, but not both. These oddities, along with its significant expense and slightly inferior computing performance, keep it from dethroning the Editors' Choice HP ZBook 15 G4.
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Aluminum, With a Bit of Plastic
The Studio G4 measures 0.71 by 14.76 by 10.04 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.6 pounds. That's par for the course for 15-inch Windows portables like the Dell XPS 15 Touch, but a bit heavier than the 4.02-pound Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch. Just in case your coworkers don't realize that your IT department has issued you a laptop worth several thousand dollars, HP has embossed the words "Mobile Workstation" along the back edge of the laptop. There's little else back there to mar the clean design, though: Certainly no I/O ports, and just a tiny gap for some fan exhaust to escape from the depths of the motherboard.
The premium look extends to the rest of the lid and most of the chassis, all of which is aluminum except for the black plastic of the laptop's underside. There are actually two pieces of plastic underneath: a separate vent panel is attached via screws to the bottom cover, both of which can be removed to access the internal components. That level of accessibility is a boon for IT departments planning to deploy the Studio G4 for several years and upgrade components as necessary, a feature that you'll also find on the ZBook 15 G4, but not the sealed-shut MacBook Pro.
Once you open the magnetic lid, you're treated to a unique and somewhat puzzling 15.6-inch display. No Studio G4 can be ordered with a glossy screen. They're all matte and feature in-plane switching technology (IPS), which results in wide viewing angles and reduced glare from the fluorescent lights in many office environments. The downside of a matte screen, however, is that colors don't appear as vivid as they would on a comparable glossy screen, especially at higher resolutions. Our review unit comes with 4K resolution (3,840 by 2,160), and while it looks great for a matte display, it doesn't match the vivid experience that the Dell XPS 15 offers. Nor does its maximum brightness setting seem as bright as the MacBook Pro's screen. If you want a touch screen, you can opt for the cheaper full HD display on the Studio G4, which comes in either touch or non-touch varieties. But the 4K display is non-touch only, which might cramp your computing style.
Below the screen, the Studio G4 sports a fairly conventional backlit keyboard, though it's missing the number pad that you'll find on most 15.6-inch Dell mobile workstations. Key travel is very shallow, even for a laptop, which makes for reduced typing comfort compared with the keyboard on the Lenovo ThinkPad T470, for example. The touchpad supports Microsoft's Precision standards and has excellent palm rejection, but its off-center placement means that you'll mostly be using its right side, so you'll likely want to disable the feature that lets you click or tap on the lower right corner to right-click.
As with the Dell Precision 5000, there are no physical buttons and no ThinkPad-style pointing stick embedded in the keyboard, which limit input options significantly for business users who are accustomed to them. The Studio G4 also includes a fingerprint reader, but it's the inferior swipe variety, rather than the touch version on your smartphone. For easier swiping without contorting your wrist, you'll want to set up the reader to recognize your pointer finger rather than your thumb.
An HD webcam results in professional-looking videoconferences. Audio quality is decent too, though as with most laptops, you shouldn't expect to enjoy rich lows or clear, piercing highs. Unfortunately, the volume is surprisingly anemic for the upward-facing speakers, a design that produces room-filling sound on other laptops, including the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models. At full volume, spoken words could be heard—but not understood—in the busy PC Labs from more than a dozen or so feet away from the ZBook Studio G4. This is a great laptop if you want to prevent yourself from unintentionally annoying your coworkers, but you'll want to connect to an external speaker if you need to catch every word that's uttered during a videoconference in a crowded conference room.
The Studio G4's port complement is adequate for a laptop this expensive, especially since the designers had significant limits on where to put the ports. The rear edge was apparently off-limits, and both sides are wedge-shaped, which means the port cutouts can't be placed toward the front of the laptop, which is shorter than the rear. Even the rear isn't quite tall enough for an Ethernet port, but HP crammed one in anyway along the left edge, making use of an ingenious flap that protrudes below the port to accept the plastic locking tab on an Ethernet cable. The left edge also includes a Kensington lock slot, an SD card slot, and two USB 3.0 ports. On the right edge, you'll find another USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack, and HDMI connector, the power port, and two USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort 1.2. While these options will suffice for most modern peripherals, some users may require a VGA port, which they'll find on the HP ZBook 15 G4.
Memory and storage options are numerous, as you'd expect from a mobile workstation. Models equipped with an Intel Xeon processor can also be fitted with more expensive EEC memory, which automatically checks for errors in each memory request. Some software programs used by financial institutions and research facilities require this level of accuracy. Our review unit has 32GB of EEC memory and a 512GB SSD, options that account for nearly $1,000 of the laptop's total price. HP offers a standard one-year warranty for parts and labor with onsite repairs, or you can increase the period to three years for $125.
Copious Computing Power
Our ZBook Studio G4 review unit is packed with a top-of-the-line Intel Xeon E3 1535M processor running at 3.1Ghz, which adds more than $400 to the base price. There are multiple cheaper processor options, including several Intel Core i5 and Core i7 variants, but the Xeon is a popular choice for workstations because it's required for EEC memory support. It doesn't necessarily offer better all-around computing performance, however, as our PCMark 8 benchmark test demonstrated. The ZBook Studio G4 earned a score of 3,085 on the proprietary test, which simulates spreadsheet editing, web browsing, video conferencing, and other tasks that PC users are likely to perform throughout the course of a normal work day. That's slower than the Core i7-powered Dell Precision 3520 (3,539) and the Core i5-powered Lenovo ThinkPad T470 (3,132), which is our Editors' Choice for best business laptop. It's also hundreds of points behind the ZBook 15 G4 (3,601).
On our multimedia tests, however, the Xeon CPU flexed its muscles, posting a class-leading score on the Handbrake video-encoding simulation (44 seconds). Its score of 2 minutes and 53 seconds on the Photoshop test is comparable to that of the ZBook 15 G4 (2:43). Performance was also good on our 3D graphics tests, with the Nvidia Quadro M1200 GPU posting frame rates in the mid-60s on our Heaven and Valley video game simulations. Only the ZBook 15 G4 offers better performance here, with its superior Nvidia Quadro M2200 GPU. Workstations typically aren't used for gaming, but it's still nice to have a graphics powerhouse when you need one.
On the other hand, the ZBook Studio G4's battery life is nothing to get excited about. It lasted for just less than 7 hours on our battery rundown test, significantly shorter than the Zbook 15 G4 (11:15), the Precision 3520 (13:56), and the MacBook Pro (15:09). Xeon-powered workstations rarely last long away from a power outlet, so if battery life is an important consideration, you'll want to choose the ZBook 15 G4 or a different processor.
Spend a Lot, Get a Lot
At more than $3,000, the HP ZBook Studio G4 is expensive even for a mobile workstation. Its larger cousin, the HP ZBook 15 G4, offers better computing performance at the same price point, so it's the workstation to buy unless weight is the most important factor. Still, maxing out the processor and memory options on the Studio G4 will result in a top-notch performer, and one that's arguably worth its expense if you need ISV certification and copious computing power in a slim package that can be upgraded with even better components in a few years.
As a hardware analyst, Tom tests and reviews laptops, peripherals, and much more at PC Labs in New York City. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of many startups. Before that, he worked for PCMag's sister site, Computer Shopper, where he occasionally dunked waterproof hard drives in glasses of water. In his spare time, he's written on topics as… More »
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