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HP zBook Studio review: an awesome mobile workstation

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The HP Z series has been my favorite workstation and mobile workstation brand for a while now.  In my work as a graphic designer and environmental designer, I’ve got an HP Z workstation tower on my desk attached to a Wacom Cintiq pen display and it’s awesome.  Z series workstations are built for demanding industries such as media, entertainment, architecture, geospace, engineering, construction, life science, healthcare, and product development.


View HP ZBook Studio G7 at Amazon

Today we’ve got the HP zBook Studio G7, but the G8 version is a minor update with some cool new features that we’ll mention here as well. The G8 version should be available in the 2nd half of 2021 while the current G7 is available now. I’ve been using the HP zBook Studio as my real-world workstation for 2 months now so I’ve got a lot of experience it now. It’s definitely worthy of the “mobile workstation” moniker and not a “laptop”.

Specs

The specs for our G7 review unit are as follows: 10th Gen Intel vPro 6 Core i7-10850H 2.71Ghz processor, NVIDIA Quadro RTX3000 graphic processor with Max-Q 6Gb VRAM, 32Gb 2666 Mhz RAM, 1Tb PCIe Gen3 x4 NVMe SSD, Intel AX201 WiFi 6 802.11AZ & Bluetooth 5.0, 720P HD webcam with infrared camera for Windows Hello, fingerprint reader, and a 6-Cell 83 WHr battery. 

We’ve also got a 15.6″ 1920 x 1080 pixel 1000 nits HP Sure View privacy panel display.  For ports, there’s a mini DisplayPort, USB-A 3.1, 3.5mm headphone/microphone port, SD media card reader, two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, and a 4.5mm barrel power adapter. 

The dimensions are 0.69 x 13.9 x 9.2 inches and the weight is 3.8Lb (1.k7kb). The G8 version will include 11th gen Intel Core i7 or i9 processors up to 5 GHz, 32Gb soldered down RAM, up to 2Tb PCIe Gen 3 NVMe SSD, and NVIDIA RTX 3060 or NVIDIA T1200, or NVIDIA RTX A4000 GPU options.

You can also choose between a Sure View privacy screen with 72% NTSC color, an IPS anti-glare screen with 100% sRGB color, a 100% DCI-P3 DreamColor 4K UHD display, or an OLED 4K UHD multitouch-enabled display. The G8 version will also have the option of RGB backlighting in the keyboard with profiles where you can program different keys to light up different colors while you’re running different programs.

Hardware

First of all, let’s look at the display. Our review version includes the HP Sure View display panel option which enables a privacy screen feature that you can see below. Some models include a DreamColor display for better color accuracy.

When the privacy screen is off, you’ll have a wider viewing angle and a brighter screen. The screen nicely has a matte finish which reduces glare.  I don’t see any screen reflections in this room full of windows and that’s a major advantage over glossy laptop computer screens like what you’ll get on a Macbook.

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Turning on the privacy screen option makes it more difficult for other people next to you to see what you’re looking at. There may still be a faint image available, but sensitive information will be much harder to read.

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The privacy screen option can be activated via a key on the keyboard that shares the “F2” function.

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Unfortunately, the HP SureView privacy screen is not also an HP DreamColor display, so you’re not going to get the same color fidelity from the SureView option as you would with the DreamColor option.

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While a bit washed out, the screen is still totally usable outdoors thanks to the anti-glare coating.

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While some of the HP zBook laptops had an HP logo on the back, the zBook Studio brings back the shiny “Z” logo. It is a bit of a fingerprint magnet though.

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The base of the zBook Studio is heavy enough that lifting the screen doesn’t move the whole device around. It’s a very stable system and the hinge is super smooth while having plenty of friction to keep things in place.

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Another highlight of the zBook Studio is the keyboard. It feels fantastic. It’s not as nice as the really old laptops that had ergonomic concave and convex keypad tops that you could really feel with your fingers without having to look at them, but in so far as flat-top key keyboards, it’s pretty excellent.

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The trackpad is pretty excellent too. It’s a good size and pressing down on it gives it a nice subtle but satisfying click. This zBook doesn’t have the actual hardware buttons that previous versions had and there’s no more track point joystick in the keyboard as other zBooks once had as well.

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The little square on the right side of the keyboard’s hand rest is a capacitive fingerprint reader for logging in via Windows Hello. Also not the awkward positioning of the four-way arrow keys. They’re all one column too far to the right. This messes up my keyboard navigation and text selection all the time.

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Another very impressive aspect of the zBook Studio is the Bang & Olufsen speaker system. They sound great! There are four speakers; two tweeters and two woofers. They sound better than my TV. Most of my other mobile workstations focus on the processing and graphics speed while neglecting audio, but the zBook Studio has excellent audio which makes it great for editing audio & video.

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On the right edge, you’ve got a full-sized SD slot, which is great for ingesting video or photos. You’ve also got the mini-display port, two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, and the barrel-shaped power adapter along with its charging LED indicator. The cylindrical power adapter is much better than USB-C power charging because it’s circular. You can make a big deal about USB-C being reversible, but… with a circular port, you don’t have to orient the plug at all, just point and push. The SD slot comes with a little placeholder to cover the slot when not in use, but it is very difficult to pry out, so I’ve left it out completely.

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The polished metal edges are shiny and pointy. It’s not cheese-cutting sharp, but the angular design is quite appealing.

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The left side has a Kensington lock port, a USB-A port, a ventilation grill, and a 3.5mm headset port. We’re missing an Ethernet port, but I’m very thankful that a USB-A port is still here as USB-C still has a lot of problems.

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The bottom has two big triangular rubber strips for gripping the table and providing some lift so that air can flow below it.

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One thing to note is that I often have to use the zBook Studio with a big cooling fan underneath it.  When the GPU and CPU get going… the chassis gets HOT!  It is not something you want sitting on your legs.  So… this is really a mobile workstation that should be sitting on a desk or table when in use… not a laptop. HP says it stays within the thermal limits of the hardware, and it hasn’t exploded when it gets hot, so it should be fine, but don’t plan on keeping it on your lap for too long.

Software

Of course, the HP zBook Studio comes with Windows 10 pre-installed. It nicely does not come with much bloatware like Candy Crush or whatnot. It’s a more professional installation.

HP does include some other useful utilities though, most of which deal with increasing security.

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First of all, there’s the HP Support Assistant which is going to be useful for getting updated drivers and software directly from HP. There are also links for HP’s support systems as well as a lot of PC health, warranty, and extended services information.

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HP Sure Sense is an anti-virus, anti-malware, enterprise-grade security program.  It uses deep learning to detect possible threats, and it’s included for free so you don’t have to pay for a 3rd party anti-virus program. It’s a step up from the built-in Windows Defender anti-virus software, too.

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HP Sure Click is another security feature that adds hardware-enforced security.

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It also includes a Chromium-based web browser (Chromium 75) that has a few extra HP-made security features. The browser includes the uBlock Origin plug-in by default as well.

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The Bang & Olufsen speaker system on the HP zBook Studio is amazing, and of course, we’ve got some software controls for that. You can even enable some noise cancellation features for better video conference calls.

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The HP JumpStarts app provides some video tutorials for extremely new users.

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For more advanced users, there’s a programmable key in the F12 spot on the keyboard. You can set up a good number of different programmable actions such as opening applications, websites, files, folders, executing a key sequence, or entering text. You can assign different functions with modifier keys as well.

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Another interesting addition from HP is the QuickDrop app. This is a file transfer program that works with Android and iOS devices. You can pair your phone with the computer and easily transfer files over a local WiFi network or the internet. This might be good for someone with one computer and one phone, but for me, I prefer to use good old FTP over my VPN, or SMB file shares on the local network.

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When it comes to performance, the zBook Studio is excellent, especially with the NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000 GPU. Of course, more powerful workstations exist, but this is really excellent for a 4lb laptop.  

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AfterEffects works beautifully with the Nvidia GPU.

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I did some web design with the zBook Studio, too. 

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Of course, I did some web development with VS code and a Debian Linux install on the Linux subsystem for Windows (also known as the Windows Subsystem for Linux). 

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Photoshop again works beautifully with the hardware graphics acceleration. I would have preferred the HP DreamColor screen for this type of work though as the Sure View privacy screen doesn’t have as good color reproduction.  

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Davinci Resolve is another high-end video editor that HP touts as having 85% better performance than the same program on a Macbook Pro 16 and it works great. 

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One issue with the zBook Studio and the Windows 10 21H1 update is that the system tray area and clock often glitch out. Sometimes it will look like the above, and sometimes it will disappear completely.  One fix for this is to turn on the new Windows 10 “News and Interests” taskbar option. 

Battery Life

With the 83Wh Li-ion battery, and light usage (keeping it cool), the zBook Studio can last around 8 hours. We’re talking about emails and light web browsing. When doing real work like processing thousands of photos, editing 4K videos, 3D/2D animation, and other graphics work, the battery life is going to be a lot lower… more like 4 hours.

This is with the 1080HD resolution privacy screen, too. If you choose a 4K screen option, you can expect even lower battery life. So again, this goes along with the “mobile workstation” moniker for the zBook Studio in the sense that it’s best used as something you’ll carry in a bag and then set up on a desk or table, plug into an outlet, and use for your work. 

Pricing and Availability

The HP zBook Studio is available in a range of configurations that you can find on the HP website. Configuration pricing varies from about $1800 to a maxed-out $5160. At the moment, most of the G7 models are sold out, but the G8 versions with more configuration options will be available soon in the 2nd half of 2021.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Amazing Bang & Olufsen speaker system
  • Privacy screen option
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Great trackpad
  • Discreet Nvidia graphics processor
Cons

  • When doing a large amount of work, the device gets very hot
  • Keyboard layout has the 4-way arrow keys in an awkward position
  • A bit heavy at almost 4lbs
  • SD card slot placeholder is difficult to pry out

 

Conclusion


View HP ZBook Studio G7 at Amazon

As mentioned in the beginning, I’m a big fan of the HP Z series of high-end workstations. The HP zBook X2 with a Wacom digitizer and DreamColor display was totally drool-worthy. The latest HP zBook Studio models continue targeting the high-end creative & scientific professional fields and they work beautifully.  Of course, I tried to use the words “mobile workstation” here a lot more than “laptop”, as the HP zBook Studio certainly gets too warm to comfortably use on a lap. This is probably the price you need to pay for such extensive desktop workstation level performance and capabilities though. 

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Adam Z. Lein

Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!

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