HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook review: plagued by poor battery life

I’m always excited to review Chromebooks like the new $999 HP Dragonfly Pro. These are devices aimed at an audience of ChromeOS enthusiast professionals – people who use Parallels and develop with Linux and maybe even games, 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 not in abundance 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.

Dragonfly Pro is no exception. And while using it, I just think: when? When will we get more Chromebooks like the Flip CX5 — beautiful, smart, well-designed ChromeOS devices that also last me a whole day without an outlet? Please, someone. I am so tired.

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The good is on the outside

If I were only evaluating the chassis, the Dragonfly Pro Chromebook would be a slam-dunk recommendation. It has a ton of great benefits.

For example, there are four Thunderbolt 4 ports. It’s a good selection. I could connect pretty much all the monitors and accessories I needed. However, there is no headphone jack. I think there should still be a headphone jack. People still use wired headphones.

The device also comes with an 8MP camera – stated to be the first front-facing 8MP camera to actually ever appear on a Chromebook. It looks fine. I asked a colleague his opinion on a Zoom call, and he replied, “It looks like a webcam.” Still, you know, nice. Speaking of video calls, the speakers sound quite good, with a surround quality that was comparable to a decent external speaker. I would love to use this as a multimedia device.

Cute little fingerprint sensor next to the power button.

Oh, and there’s an RGB keyboard that can automatically sync to your background wallpaper (or you can set it to a color you prefer). I actually couldn’t get this to work on the device I received, and I’m still waiting to hear back from HP about potential fixes, so I’ll have to update this review once that’s fixed. If you’re someone who wants flashy colors but doesn’t want a gaming laptop, your day has come.

However, the highlight for me is probably the screen. It’s the brightest screen I’ve ever seen on a Chromebook. HP claims it reaches 1,200 nits, and cranking it all the way up certainly caused significant pain to my eyes. The resolution of 2560 x 1600 (16:10) also provides a good viewing experience. And the panel supports adaptive lighting based on your environment. (I didn’t really notice this happening, but maybe that’s the point.) Again, this is a dream for movies and would definitely be my Chromebook of choice for outdoor work.

HP calls it an “ultrabright light-adaptive touchscreen.”

It charges via USB-C (because that’s the only option).

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, 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. It looks like a much better deal on paper – until the battery dies.

HP’s Dragonfly PCs often have a vertical row of shortcut keys on the side of their keyboard, but this Chromebook doesn’t.

The problems are within

I have no complaints about the 1235U’s performance. It did everything I needed. I generally worked with three to four open apps and about a dozen Chrome tabs. I keep running into bugs here and there with ChromeOS – for example Spotify and Messenger Android apps freeze all over, very slow to update, won’t close and won’t resize – but I suppose if you’re considering to buy a Chromebook, you’ve decided you’re fine with these limitations.

The only time I heard fan noise was when I tried to stream a Spotify playlist over the aforementioned load while running an external monitor. The keyboard was often hot, and the middle keys occasionally took the “unpleasant” line, but nothing caught fire.

This Chromebook has a brighter, higher-resolution screen, higher-tech webcam, and better port selection than the Windows version of the Dragonfly Pro

But the biggest issue I had was with the battery life. Two and a half hours. That’s how long this device held me to a charge on average, running the workload I described above at medium brightness. I definitely lasted longer than this in some trials, especially the lighter ones on Android apps, but I’m pretty sure if this was my personal device I’d be charging it two, maybe three times a day.

Different people’s workloads can lead to different battery life results, but I will say two things:

  1. I consistently get longer longevity than most reviewers I know.
  2. This was all done with the keyboard backlight turned off.

Good speakers. They are good!

Now I know battery life isn’t everyone’s priority. I know some people don’t care. But if you’ve read my reviews before, you’ll know that I have a strong, principled stance on this issue. I said this in 2020 when I reviewed the OLED Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, and I’ll say it again here: Outside of gaming and workstations, battery life of less than five hours is not acceptable on a $1,000 device. I don’t care how fancy the webcam and speakers are, or how many colors the keys can produce. Battery life is a quality of life issue for many people in a way that few other features are.

I’m not saying I shouldn’t sell a device that doesn’t last half a day. But it can’t cost that much. $999 is MacBook territory.

I wanted so much to love this device and I think it is something special. 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 just as funky but more affordable. Unfortunately, HP didn’t put a big enough tank in this chassis to juice the Core i5 in combination with a bright, high-resolution display.

I love using Chromebooks like this. But their battery life, compared to what you can get from much cheaper devices, is often a disappointment. I hope HP, Samsung, Lenovo and other manufacturers vying to fill the premium space left by the Pixelbook can make improvements here. Because they are thin, light and beautiful machines. They are not meant to live on a desk.

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