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HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook review: The best of ChromeOS, but not worth the price

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Google has been making high-end Chromebooks for almost a decade now, dating back to the $1,300 Chromebook Pixel in 2013. At the time, many people saw it as a beautiful but strange device. In the years that followed, both Google and its hardware partners have made premium Chromebooks more and more commonplace. Though, a still-unconfirmed report earlier this year suggests Google is giving up on making laptop hardware, at least for now. The company hasn’t said anything of the sort yet, but the reality is that Google hasn’t made a new Chromebook since the Pixelbook Go in late 2019.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped other manufacturers from making Chromebooks with gorgeous screens, great industrial design and powerful hardware. But HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook, released earlier this year, might be the nicest I’ve used in a long time. It also has a jaw-dropping price point, starting at well over $1,000. Much like the original Chromebook Pixel, HP’s latest is a joy to use that is very hard to recommend because of that price.

Design

Before we talk about the bummer that is the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook’s cost, let’s go over the good stuff. The Dragonfly is similar in stature to a MacBook Air, weighing in at about 2.8 pounds and measuring only .65 inches thick. Combined with a fairly spacious 13.5-inch touchscreen display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, the Dragonfly is comfortable to work on and easy to travel with.

Design-wise, it’s a spartan affair, with a dark gray finish and only a few silver accents to be found. But given that HP is primarily targeting this computer at enterprise users, it makes sense that they went with a classic look here. There’s a decent selection of ports, despite the Dragonfly’s rather slim profile: it has two USB-C / Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB-A connection, a headphone jack, HDMI and a microSD slot. That’s a lot better than you’ll get on a typical ultraportable.

HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook
HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook

Screen and keyboard

There’s a handful of things that make the Dragonfly really stand out. For starters, it has an excellent display, with a 3:2 aspect ratio that provides a lot more vertical viewing space than your standard 16:9 screen. The configuration I’m testing has a 2,256 x 1,504 resolution, good for about 200 pixels per inch. Sure, there are more pixel-dense displays out there, but this one looks stunning, with sharp text and images and basically no visible pixels. It’s the nicest screen on a Chromebook I’ve seen in a long time. The only minor knock is its unremarkable 60Hz refresh rate, but that shouldn’t be a major issue for most people. Still, HP spared basically no expense on everything else, so it would have been nice to have.

Despite the refresh rate, the Dragonfly’s display is great beyond just the aspect ratio. It’s bright and has nice contrast without things being too over-exaggerated. It’s also rather reflective, which makes it not ideal if there’s a light shining on the display, but the screen is bright enough that it should be usable in all but the harshest of light.

The keyboard and trackpad are also excellent. The keys are firm, but not too firm, and have plenty of travel for a relatively thin laptop. The trackpad, meanwhile, is large and responsive. Nothing quite matches up to the trackpad on a MacBook for me, but this one feels pretty close. HP says it’s a haptic trackpad, with customized vibrations for some specific actions like pinning windows in split screen or switching between virtual desks, but I can’t say I noticed much of anything there.

HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook
HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook

Good specs (for a Chromebook)

Finally, the Dragonfly mostly has cutting-edge spec options; the model I tested has a 12th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, built-in LTE, 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. LTE isn’t exactly cutting-edge anymore, and 8GB of RAM is a bit stingy on a computer this pricey. But aside from those quibbles, this is plenty of horsepower for basically anything you want to do in ChromeOS; I never experienced any stutters when switching apps or playing back music and video. Despite the high-resolution screen and powerful processor, battery life is solid if not spectacular. I got between six and eight hours of normal usage, which involved a lot of Chrome tabs, Spotify, Todoist, Slack, Google Keep, Trello and the occasional Android app here and there. It managed to play back a movie for 8 hours and 50 minutes in our battery drain test. If battery is your foremost concern, the model with a Core i3 processor or the lower-resolution screen will likely last even longer.

It also does a fine job running the handful of Android apps I tested it with. In the last year or so, you’ve been able to run downloaded apps in tablet, phone or resizable windows, and for the most part I was able to get Todoist, Spotify and Lightroom all working well in resizable windows. Even Instagram finally works properly, although now that the website now allows you to create posts, it’s not really necessary any more. Putting that aside, performance across basically all the Android apps and games I tried was solid. But given how many apps are in the Play Store, there’s still a good chance of running across some that don’t work well.

While Chromebooks aren’t known for gaming, the Dragonfly easily handled some cloud-based play via NVIDIA’s GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming – not a surprise given the powerful (for a Chromebook, at least) hardware. At this point, ChromeOS has pretty solid game controller support, and it obviously works with external keyboards and mice. So provided the titles you want are available, this is probably the best way to play games on a Chromebook at this point. That said, this hardware should more than meet the cut for installing Steam, once Google and Valve start rolling that out beyond its current limited alpha phase.

HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook
HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook

The catch

The problem that keeps me from recommending the Dragonfly is easy to explain. The cheapest model of this laptop costs an eye-popping $1,150. And that’s with an i3 processor and only 128GB of storage. As usual, HP has a dizzying array of different configurations, though I don’t think they’re actually selling the model I have through their site right now. But there is an option with an i5 processor that costs more than $1,500. That is crazy money for a Chromebook, no matter how nice it is.

For a comparison, Acer’s Chromebook Spin 714 has essentially the same processor, storage and RAM as the Dragonfly for only $730. The screen and build quality aren’t quite as nice, but we’re talking about a computer that’s essentially just as capable but costs half of what HP is offering. For the cost of the Dragonfly, you could also pick up an extremely capable Windows laptop or MacBook Air. As much as I like using Chrome OS, it’s nearly impossible to recommend anyone spend that kind of cash on a Chromebook.

To be fair to HP, the company isn’t positioning this as a broad consumer device. It falls under their enterprise category, and I could imagine some businesses heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem buying these for executives. But, there’s no denying that, at this price point, ChromeOS is a compromise compared to Windows or macOS.

In this way, HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook is a lot like Google’s Chromebook Pixel: It’s the best Chromebook you can buy, and it shows how good the experience of using ChromeOS can be. But, it’s not so much better than the many other reasonably priced options out there for anyone to seriously consider unless they love ChromeOS and have money to burn.