Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The HP Dragonfly Pro is a great laptop with some odd extra stuff

For as long as I’ve known what computers are, HP has been known for its labyrinthine customer service. At the computer store where I worked well over a decade ago, new employees were forced to call HP as a hazing ritual. Nevertheless, the company — perhaps in the wake of plummeting PC sales over the past months — has pivoted hard toward software and services this year. Its 2023 roadmap involves positioning itself like, as president of personal systems Alex Cho recently put it to me, a “solution provider.”

The HP Dragonfly Pro ($1,399 for our test unit with 16GB RAM / 512GB storage) is an early glimpse of what that will look like on the consumer side. It comes with some extra customer support features and services which, despite being optional, have been mentioned in HP’s presentations, workshops, and publicity materials about as often as the performance and battery life. Catchphrases like “simplify” and “don’t worry about anything” are all over its website; “24/7 support” is front and center. HP wants you to buy this laptop, and it really wants to fix it for you.

This is a really nice device. But as a symbol of HP’s “solutions”-focused roadmap, I’m not sold.

It’s a great device for on-the-go office work.

I love the laptop

I have very few complaints about the Dragonfly Pro itself. The 5MP camera delivers a fine and detailed picture for video calls. The speakers aren’t quite MacBook quality but do sound pretty good. The (1920 x 1200) touch display looks nice and is sufficiently bright, reaching 412 nits in testing. The keyboard is quite comfortable, sporting HP’s signature column of hotkeys on the right side — HP’s had to squeeze the backspace key a bit in order to make room, but I imagine that’s something you get used to. The (haptic) trackpad is also fine. Build quality is quite nice, with an elegant style quite similar to earlier members of the premium Dragonfly line.

Okay, so there’s one nitpick I can drudge up: the port selection consists solely of three USB-C, two of which are USB-4 and one of which is 3.2. That’s right — no headphone jack. Boo. Come on now.

A thin, light, pretty device.

This was the first AMD Ryzen 7000 laptop I’ve been able to test this year (it’s got the Ryzen 7 7736U), and its performance didn’t disappoint. In our benchmarks, it beat Apple’s M2 MacBook Pro on multicore Cinebench tests and came fairly close on single-core tests. It was quite close on gaming performance as well, averaging only two frames per second slower on Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s highest settings. I use the M2 Air and M2 Pro quite often, and I don’t see a visible performance difference on the Dragonfly in my day-to-day office work. The Dragonfly is noticeably slower in Adobe Premiere Pro, though, a particular weakness of AMD’s.

Battery life was a sigh of relief

The square one brings up a bunch of camera settings — auto frame, blur, etc.

There’s a white option as well. This one is sparkling black.

Battery life was a sigh of relief. I averaged 12 hours and 46 minutes of continuous work use. I can’t tell you how nice it is to see all-day battery life on a Windows machine after having spent most of the past year testing legions of four-hour Intel machines. More of this!

This AMD processor really seems like a dream come true. Unfortunately, I said this about a number of AMD machines last year only to see them become impossible to buy fairly quickly after release. So let’s hope that doesn’t happen here, I guess.

But I don’t love the services

HP describes the Dragonfly Pro’s target demographic as “freelancers” — self-employed, mobile, extremely online professionals. These freelancers, HP argues in its documentation, “need their PC to work consistently since they rely on it for their livelihood. Tech headaches and getting support is frustrating and downtime costs them.”

In an ostensible aim to serve this demographic, the Dragonfly comes (optionally) with what HP calls “24/7 Pro Live Support.” The first year is included, and then it’s $10.99 per month. A specific button on the keyboard, etched with two little speech bubbles, opens the service directly. (Busy freelancers, as I’m sure you know, don’t want to waste time pulling up the app from their taskbar.) This is not a teensy function key; it is a large, very visible dedicated key.

I was told at the initial launch that you could not remap this key, a fact that I complained about incessantly in my hands-on video. HP since appears to have changed its mind and now tells me that you can remap this button. Great! I’m still not seeing an option to remap it in the myHP app on my review unit, but HP tells me that it’s coming shortly after launch.

In case you forgot which company made this thing.

I just need to say off the bat that I don’t buy this sales pitch. I know plenty of busy, mobile, extremely online freelancers. I’ve been one at points in my life. These are people who know how to Google things. They can troubleshoot problems on their own. And most importantly, they are people who buy laptops expecting that they will work, not that they will break down all the time and require frequent calls to customer service. If my computer is screwing up anywhere near often enough that I need a giant tech support button on my keyboard, it’s possible that I’ve made a purchasing mistake. I’m convinced that the real target demographic for this package is like, my grandparents who need help figuring out how to unmute themselves on Teams.

I know I don’t have access to the market research HP does, but I just had to get that off my chest. Thank you for listening.

This could easily be the Elite Dragonfly, right?

But I digress. HP is selling this service as such a huge, integral benefit that I figured I should try it out. My experience was mixed. First, the big support hotkey is not particularly responsive. I had to bang it an average of four times in order to get the app to open. There were occasions where it just didn’t open at all. In almost every case, simply opening the app from the taskbar would’ve saved me time.

When I finally did open the app, it was also frustratingly unresponsive. I had to click various buttons multiple times and watch various spinning wheels. I submitted my question through a form. (My speakers were a bit crackly, and I asked how to fix that — this is normally something I’d just Google, but I wanted to see how the live chat worked.) I was put in a queue for several minutes before a (very nice) agent walked me, slowly and carefully, through every step to updating my audio drivers, which involved downloading some stuff and giving them remote control of my device.

It wasn’t terrible customer service, but it wasn’t so exceptional that I’d recommend paying $130 a year to occasionally use it, and it did not seem well tailored to the hurried, tech-savvy freelancer.

The support button is the one with the speech bubbles.

Ultimately, I think this Dragonfly is great hardware. The lack of a headphone jack is a disappointment, but the combination of performance and battery life that it offers is better than I’ve seen from a Windows PC in quite some time.

It’s a shame that HP is, both through its marketing and the literal design of its keyboard, trying to leverage such a great device to peddle people subscription services that aren’t great and that they just don’t need. Maybe you need a subscription service like this if you’re buying a $500 Pavilion that’s going to be breaking left and right. If you’re paying $1,300 for a premium PC, then you really, really should not.


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