HP’s Dragonfly Pro laptops: Colorful, customizable and complication-free

Of all the new products HP is showing off at CES this year, arguably the most noteworthy is a pair of new Dragonfly laptops. Adapted from the enterprise-centric Elite Dragonfly series, the new Dragonfly Pro and Dragonfly Pro Chromebook are designed for consumers who are overwhelmed by specs. HP believes that for some people, having to choose from 30 different laptop configurations of RAM, storage and other options is a deterrent. For that reason, the Dragonfly Pro and Pro Chromebook come in preset configurations and you really only need to decide whether you want the Pro or the Chromebook (though for the Pro you can choose one of two preconfigured models).

Both notebooks have 14-inch screens, with the Chromebook for some reason featuring a higher resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. The Windows machine, meanwhile, runs at 1,920 x 1,200. Both systems are also fairly similar in size, measuring almost exactly the same, though the Chromebook is 0.2 pounds lighter.

Frankly, I was a little underwhelmed by the design of both new Dragonfly laptops. I’ve grown used to the sleek chassis, premium finishes and attractive design of the Elite Dragonfly series, and the consumer models are just a little less refined. Put it this way: If the Elite Dragonfly devices were Hermes bags, then the Dragonfly Pro and Pro Chromebook are Michael Kors purses. Still good-looking, but not quite as high-end.

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The two machines are different in quirky ways. For example, the Chromebook has an 8-megapixel webcam and has an LCD that gets as bright as 1,200 nits, while the Windows version packs a 5MP IR camera with a shutter and only goes up to 400 nits. The Pro also has a haptic trackpad and a fingerprint scanner, as well as Gorilla Glass on its screen.

The Chromebook doesn’t have any of those, but it sports an RGB keyboard that offers customizable colors. Using HP’s software, I could pick any shade on a spectrum or use the rainbow template, which is the only way to get the keyboard to show more than one color simultaneously.

HP also collaborated with Google on the Dragonfly Pro Chromebook’s software to incorporate an element of the Material You UI from Android. Using the laptop’s specific software, you can pick one of a selection of wallpapers and have the system determine what the image’s dominant colors are. It will then generate some hues for you to set as the computer’s color scheme.

A person typing on a black HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook. The keys are backlit in rainbow colors, and the screen shows the wallpaper selection page.

Sam Rutherford / Engadget

While the Pro Chromebook comes with a 12th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, the Windows version exclusively uses AMD processors. In fact, HP worked with AMD on a custom Ryzen 7 chip for the Dragonfly Pro, using the chip maker’s adaptive platform management framework to balance power consumption and speed boosts when necessary.

Possibly the most interesting feature of the Dragonfly Pro lies on its keyboard. Specifically, HP added a column of four hot keys to the right, offering shortcuts to a new control center, 24/7 dedicated tech support, camera settings and a programmable button. The control center is a portal containing various different settings that used to exist in separate HP apps, while the company is launching a support concierge service just for Dragonfly owners to answer questions specific to the series. These are staffed by actual people who HP says will have been trained on the Dragonfly Pro machines.

The camera settings button pulls up HP’s as-yet-unnamed app that offers system-level controls over the feed that apps like Zoom, Meet or Teams receive. I was able to use the app to tweak the intensity of the background blur, compensate for low light or backlighting or keep a subject in frame. I was particularly impressed by the key framing tool that basically acts like a green screen to remove parts of the background. Since the software at the demo wasn’t final, I can’t vouch for its performance, and I didn’t use it on an actual call.

Finally, the programmable key can be set up to launch an app like Excel or Outlook, or go straight to a website on the default browser or open a file or folder. There’s no option to stack actions at the moment, so the usefulness of this button feels fairly limited. Still, it’s nice to have an option for frequently used programs.

Both the Dragonfly Pro and Pro Chromebook’s batteries should last up to 16 hours depending on how you use them, and support fast charge to get you to 50 percent in 30 minutes. The Dragonfly Pro and Pro Chromebook will be available this spring, and don’t supplant the company’s existing flagship Spectre series. HP hasn’t shared pricing information yet, so we’ll likely have to wait till closer to retail availability to find that out.

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