I’m always excited to review Chromebooks like the new $999 HP Dragonfly Pro. These are devices catered to an audience of ChromeOS enthusiast professionals — people who are using Parallels and developing with Linux and maybe even gaming, people who are willing to pay top dollar for the best performance and the most premium hardware.
Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook, Lenovo’s ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook, and HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook were all incredibly exciting devices to review. They had beautiful chassis, great screens, and powerful performance that aren’t abundant in the Chromebook space, and they had prestigious, well-respected branding behind them. But their battery life didn’t live up to their high price.
The first HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook I received for testing only lasted about two and a half hours to a charge. A second unit I was sent lasted much longer — about six and a half hours. That’s an improvement, but still doesn’t measure up to what I get from some of the market’s top models, such as the 11th-Gen Acer Chromebook Spin 714 and the Asus Chromebook Flip CX5. (Those are both cheaper than the Dragonfly as well, and the Spin is much lighter.) Pair that with some unfortunate port omissions, a hefty chassis, and a fairly high price for the consumer Chromebook space, and you’re looking at a device that has both quite a bit to offer and a few considerable compromises. It’s ultimately the RGB keyboard that makes the Dragonfly stand out from its peers — and that won’t necessarily be a draw for everyone.
Reviewer’s Note: This review was originally published on March 16th, 2023. HP has since provided a new Dragonfly Pro Chromebook unit with better battery life than the unit we originally tested (though it still doesn’t reach the all-day mark under my workload) and a working RGB keyboard. The article has been updated accordingly.
The good is on the outside
Were I only evaluating the chassis, the Dragonfly Pro Chromebook would (mostly) be a slam-dunk recommendation. It has a ton of great perks.
Basically, my one hangup is the connectivity. There is no headphone jack. I think there should still be a headphone jack. People do still use wired headphones. So if you want to connect those (or an SD card, or HDMI monitor or any number of other things) you’ll need an adapter. There are four Thunderbolt 4 ports, which is otherwise a good selection.
The device also comes with an 8MP camera — stated to be the first front-facing 8MP camera, in fact, ever to appear on a Chromebook. It looks fine. I asked a co-worker for his opinion on a Zoom call, and he replied, “It looks like a webcam.” Still, you know, neat.
Speaking of video calls, the speakers on my first unit sound quite good, with a surround quality that was comparable to that of a decent external speaker. The second unit I received actually had some speaker distortion at all volume levels, which made media consumption somewhat unappealing. I have no way to know how widespread this issue is; what I know is that it showed up on one of my units and did not on the other.
Oh, and there’s an RGB keyboard, which can auto-sync to your background wallpaper (or you can set it to a color you prefer). This is a unique feature that you won’t find on more affordable competitors like the Spin 714 and the CX5. It is fairly basic as RGB keyboards go and is not as customizable as those you will find on Windows rigs, but you can have the colors match your desktop background, which is neat. The RGB did not work on the first unit I received (I tried various things, including resetting the device, to no avail), but worked just fine on the second one. So, take from that what you will.
The highlight for me, though, is probably the screen. It’s the brightest screen I’ve ever seen on a Chromebook. HP claims that it reaches 1,200 nits, and cranking it all the way up certainly caused significant pain to my eyes. The 2560 x 1600 (16:10) resolution also makes for a nice viewing experience. And the panel supports adaptive lighting based on your environment. (I didn’t really notice this happening, but perhaps that’s the point.) Again, this is a dream for movie watching and would certainly be my Chromebook of choice for outdoor work.
Humorously, this Chromebook (which is $999 for the Core i5-1235U, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage in my test unit) actually has a brighter and higher-resolution screen, higher-tech webcam, jazzier keyboard, and better port selection than the Windows version of the Dragonfly Pro, which starts at several hundred dollars more.
The issues are within
I have no complaints about the 1235U’s performance. It handled everything I needed it to. I was generally working with three to four apps open and around a dozen Chrome tabs. I continue to run into glitches here and there with ChromeOS — for example, the Spotify and Messenger Android apps were freezing all over the place, very slow to update, wouldn’t close, and wouldn’t resize — but I assume that if you’re considering buying a Chromebook, you’ve decided that you’re fine with those limitations.
The only time I heard fan noise was when I was trying to stream a Spotify playlist overtop the aforementioned load while running an external display. The keyboard was often warm, and the keys in the center occasionally toed the “uncomfortable” line, but nothing caught fire.
This Chromebook has a brighter and higher-resolution screen, higher-tech webcam, and better port selection than the Windows version of the Dragonfly Pro
As I mentioned, the first Dragonfly Pro unit I received had truly abysmal battery life. The second unit did much better, averaging just under six and a half hours. Now, there have also been a few Chrome OS updates since then, and some of the apps I use regularly have also had updates of their own, so it’s hard to know how much of this improvement was on the software side and how much can be attributed to different hardware. Regardless, I’m much happier with the second unit’s result.
Nonetheless, this battery life is still not quite what I’d consider to be all-day, and it’s dwarfed by what we see from some of our best Chromebook picks, including the CX5 and Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 5. I’m happy to see six and a half from something at, say, the Chromebook Duet 3’s $369 price, but I think a Chromebook with a thousand-dollar asking price (which is MacBook territory, and this isn’t a business oriented Chromebook where we’d expect companies to be footing the bill) should basically be exceptional in every way, and this is still an unexceptional result. Battery life is a quality-of-life issue for many people in a way few other features are.
I’ll say this for the Dragonfly Pro Chromebook: It offers an eclectic combination of features that you won’t find in any other Chromebook on the market. The Elite Dragonfly Chromebook was good; this is equally funky but more affordable.
I love using Chromebooks like this. It’s a really nice machine, and the RGB keyboard (while basic) is a unique offering that some customers will certainly jump at. But I think to earn a $999 price (which is as expensive as any consumer-facing Chromebook I’ve tested in recent memory) it should be blowing the market out of the water in every category. The connectivity limits and the okay-but-not-great battery life, combined with the weight that is somewhat hefty for this category, mean it doesn’t quite get there for me.
Update, 1:00pm ET, May 11th, 2023: Updated with impressions from a second unit. See reviewer’s note for more details.