Budget laptops aren’t supposed to look good, but HP’s latest model bucks this trend: it’s got a stylish dotted pattern, plenty of clean curves and a simple, dark interior that’ll turn heads. The best part? It’s only £400 (about US$664, AU$717).
That money usually means cheap and nasty, but that’s not the case here. The TouchSmart’s lid is silver-coloured and is covered with little white dots that aren’t too intrusive but make this machine stand out against identikit rivals, and it’s topped off by a smart HP logo in the centre.
The good looks continue when the lid is eased open. The interior is black and glossy, with subtle silver dots lined all over the wrist-rest, and it’s paired by simple glossy bezel around the 15.6in screen. The base is ringed by a metal-effect border that tapers to a narrow front edge, it’s a neat visual trick – it makes the HP look slimmer as it hides the black plastic beneath, and it’s reminiscent of many more expensive Ultrabooks and Apple notebooks.
The good looks are balanced with reasonable build quality. The wrist-rest is extremely sturdy, and the underside is just as strong. There’s a little give in the keyboard, but it’s not enough to disrupt typing. The screen is the only area where there’s any real weakness; its sides are sturdy thanks to a pair of hefty hinges, but the middle of the panel is noticeably weaker. This machine is 23mm thick and weighs 2.3kg – heavier than Ultrabooks, sure, but perfectly manageable.
The trackpad is sunken into the wrist-rest, and it’s coated with a rough, dimpled pattern. It’s a strange feeling since many rivals have smooth pads but it works well, indicating where the pad begins and adding some welcome grip to the surface. The two buttons aren’t as good: they’re hinged at the bottom, and so they’re easier to press at the top, but tricky further down. It’s an irritating bit of design.
The keyboard is wide enough to include a number pad, and while the rest of the layout is fine, but the action is disappointing. The Scabble-tile keys have little travel, and the actions feel cheap and wobbly. There’s just no consistency or comfort, and we wouldn’t want to use the HP for prolonged work.
The Touchsmart is all about clean corners and gentle lines, with no sharp angles, and it clasps together to make a great-looking laptop. It’s certainly better than a bevy of recent rivals: the Toshiba Satellite C50 was dark and bland, Lenovo’s G500 series is similarly uninspiring, and HP’s own Pavilion 15 ruined its decent looks with terrible build quality – not something we can say about this particular Pavilion, which isn’t perfect but still manages to feel much stronger.
In fact, the only affordable laptop we’ve seen recently to rival this machine for looks was Toshiba’s Satellite M50, which mimicked Ultrabooks with a slim, metal-effect design – but it’s also around £100 more expensive than this HP.
The £400 budget bites elsewhere, though, and it means that this system hasn’t got the best specification. The interior revolves around AMD’s A4-5000, which is a mobile part from the firm’s Kabini mobile range. It’s one of the more powerful chips from this series, but its specification doesn’t suggest it’ll be a speed demon: four cores that run at 1.5GHz with no extra boost, just 2MB of cache, and a Radeon HD 8330 graphics core clocked to a middling 497MHz.
Elsewhere, there are no surprises: 4GB of memory, a bigger-than-average 1TB hard disk, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet, with a DVD driver and an SD card reader. The port selection isn’t exactly a selling point, either – there are two USB 3 ports, a single USB 2 socket, an HDMI output and one audio jack.
That’s not much memory – even cheaper laptops tend to include 8GB these days – but the underside has a removable panel that grants access to one free memory slot, so it’s easy enough to add more. This plastic panel also exposes the wireless chip but, unusually, there’s no hard disk access.
Performance and verdict
Ice Storm: 22,198
Cloud Gate: 1,938
Fire Strike: 328
GPU: Wouldn’t run
Home score high performance: 1,496
Home score power saver, no GPU: 1,329
Home battery test, high performance: 3hr 22mins
Home battery test, power saver: 4hr 35mins
Ultra Low, 1,366 x 768: 34fps/45fps
Low, 1,366 x 768: 27fps/35fps
Medium, 1,366 x 768: 21fps/24fps
AS SSD sequential read: 107MB/s
AS SSD sequential write: 94MB/s
The HP’s modest AMD chip didn’t blow away our benchmarks. The HP’s Cinebench CPU score of 1.13 lags behind every other system we’ve mentioned here. It’s not an awful result, as we still had no issues using the HP for general tasks (web browsing, word processing and running Windows 8′s Start screen apps ran without complaint.
The HP scored 22,198 in 3D Mark’s Ice Storm, which is the easiest test of this benchmark suite. Again, that’s slower than every other notebook here, and in some cases significantly worse: the Toshiba M50, with its Core i5 CPU and discrete graphics card, was almost three times as quick.
The HP only caught up in the Fire Strike benchmark, which is the toughest of all three 3D Mark tests. The HP scored 328, which is poor – but it’s better than the other HP system, and the Lenovo laptop.
In real-world terms it means that it’s only worth buying this laptop if your gaming ambitions are suitably modest. We loaded DiRT 3, which is extremely scalable, and could still only manage to get a 35fps playable average at 1,366 x 768 and low quality – and this result was hampered by a poorer minimum framerate of 27fps. We only got a completely smooth gameplay experience at DiRT’s Ultra Low settings. The Toshiba, meanwhile, ran the game at High settings at 54fps.
When running in High Performance mode and in PC Mark 8′s Home battery test, the HP lasted for 3hrs 22mins – worse than the Toshiba M50, and better than the Toshiba C50. This unremarkable result was stretched out by just over an hour by turning on Power Saver mode and dimming the screen.
The HP isn’t exactly quick, but it performed better in a few other departments. The hard disk’s sequential read and write speeds of 107MB/s and 94MB/s are better than the drive in the more expensive Toshiba M50, and we had no problems with heat or noise – the modest specification means this is a cool, quiet laptop.
HP has included a touchscreen on this system, which is a boon – not all budget machines include touch-friendly panels. Elsewhere, though, there’s less to like about this screen.
For starters, we’re no fans of 15.6in panels with 1,366 x 768 resolutions: it makes the screen look pixelated and there’s not enough room to comfortably have two windows side-by-side. It’s no good for 1080p movies, either.
The HP’s screen is short on quality as well as pixels. The brightness level of 188 nits is low for a laptop, and it’s paired with a high black level of 0.61 nits. That makes for a contrast ratio of just 305:1, and that means several big issues: deep blacks look more like dull greys, the high-end lacks punch, and colours throughout feel insipid.
That lifeless feeling isn’t helped by the 6,894K colour temperature, which is far too cool for our liking, and the average Delta E of 10.51 is poor. That means the colours aren’t rendered accurately, with deeper blue and purple shades in particular suffering. This screen might be OK for casual games and browsing the web, but it’s just not got the quality for any sort of work.
The HP isn’t exactly cut out for media, either. Its speakers have good volume, but they’re dominated by the tinny high-end. Songs, in particular, are drowned by their hi-hats. The mid-range is weak by comparison, and there’s just no bass.
HP’s latest Pavilion makes a good impression thanks to its attractive design, 15.6in touchscreen and low price but, get hands-on with this machine, and it’s clear where the budget has bitten. The modest AMD chip only has enough power for basic computing, and the screen and speakers don’t have the quality for anything more than light gaming or media. The keyboard, too, just isn’t good enough for serious work.
This is one of the best-looking budget laptops we’ve seen. The lid is coated with silver plastic and it’s got a stylish dotted pattern, and the colours are reversed on the inside: the wrist-rest is black with lighter dots.
The great design is helped elsewhere by the smart metal-effect border and the clean curves throughout, and it’s not too thick and heavy, especially considering the 15.6in screen. You won’t be weighed down if you carry the HP day-to-day.
AMD’s A4-series APU has enough power to handle both general computing tasks and casual gameplay, and the rest of the specification covers the budget bases, and includes a DVD writer.
HP’s keyboard looks like a smart Scrabble-tile unit, but it’s disappointing to use thanks to a lack of travel and an inconsistent, cheap-feeling typing action.
The screen, too, let us down: it’s got a low resolution, poor colour accuracy, and a lack of brightness and contrast leaves images and web pages looking insipid and pale.
The speakers have a prominent high-end that dominates the rest of the range to the point where we just wouldn’t want to use them for music and gaming. The rest of the specification isn’t great either: the AMD chip doesn’t have the grunt for work, and 4GB of RAM is the bare minimum these days, even for budget notebooks.
HP’s latest machine looks good, feels sturdy, and is easy to carry day-to-day, and its AMD APU makes it a well-rounded budget system. The poor screen, speakers and keyboard, though, mean it’s tricky to recommend this system for any sort of more intensive use – it’s only suitable for basic tasks. If you need a modest laptop and you’re concerned about its looks more than the fine details, though, you’ll be happy with this.
By Mike Jennings, TechRadar
Article source: http://www.ecoustics.com/reviews/hp-pavilion-touchsmart-15-n070sa/