HP Pavilion dm4-1050ea £649
21st Sep 2010 | 11:30
A powerful and well-built ultraportable laptop with an unfortunate usability flaw
HP Pavilion dm4-1050ea: Overview
HP has just refreshed its entire laptop range, with the Pavilion series receiving several updates and a new model in the Pavilion dm4-1050ea. At £649 including VAT, this is a mid-range laptop that packs a satisfying amount of power and some great features into a dependably solid ultraportable frame, although it's not quite perfect.
An attractive brushed aluminium chassis mimics that of the HP Pavilion dm3, and it gives the Pavilion dm4 a premium appearance.
A subtle lined pattern decorates the palm rests and the lid, while the bottom corner of the Pavilion dm4's lid features HP's logo, which glows when the laptop is powered on – a pointless feature, but a nice touch regardless.
Thankfully the Pavilion dm4 feels just as solid as it looks. This is a laptop you'd happily throw in a bag and carry around all day, without worrying about it getting beat up. We only noticed some slight flex around the DVD drive, certainly nothing too concerning.
The brushed aluminium surface is also scratch resistant and can withstand a few knocks, which is perfect for regular commuters.
Even better is the weight. The Pavilion dm4 just squeezes into the ultraportable category, as it weighs a shade under 2kg.
We're seeing an increase in the number of ultraportable laptops lately as components shrink in size, and you no longer have to spend thousands on a powerful machine that weighs a little less than a pregnant hippo.
While the Pavilion dm4 clearly isn't as light as a netbook, and there are other laptops at this price point that weigh considerably less – the Asus UL20A, for instance, which costs £499 and comes in at 1.6kg – this machine can definitely be carried around in a rucksack without wrecking your shoulders.
The Pavilion dm4 is also refreshingly compact, with a 14-inch screen and a thickness of just 32mm when closed. We found it would fit with minimal hassle in any reasonably sized satchel or bag.
HP Pavilion dm4-1050ea: Specifications
Although the Pavilion dm4 is a well-built laptop, there's a serious usability issue that almost threw us into a murderous rage. The problem is the touchpad, which had integrated mouse buttons along the bottom edge.
This may seem harmless enough, but you should definitely seek out a display model and try it for yourself if you're considering buying a Pavilion dm4.
We found that we naturally rested our thumb on the buttons when using the touchpad, but because the buttons are sensitive to touch, this caused the cursor to go berserk and hop across the screen.
We also suffered from erratic cursor hops at times when we pressed the mouse buttons, which led to incorrect menu selections and severely increased blood pressure.
The Packard Bell EasyNote TX86 also had integrated mouse buttons, but those buttons weren't sensitive to touch. This prevented the crazy cursor syndrome, and we wish that the Pavilion dm4 followed the same design.
Still, at least the keyboard fares a lot better. The Pavilion dm4's keys are all well-sized despite the compact chassis, and an isolation-style design is used, with each key poking through an individual hole cut in the frame.
The resulting gaps help to separate the keys, which makes this an excellent board for touch typing. And because the gaps are covered, there's little chance of crumbs and dirt invading the Pavilion dm4's insides.
Our only complaint is that the keys feel a little plasticky compared to the rest of the build, although at least they're fairly quiet.
A 14-inch screen is in place, and it's superbly sharp thanks to the 1366 x 768-pixel resolution. Contrast levels also impress, so images are crisp and the display is perfect for working on intricate spreadsheets.
HP has used a glossy Super-TFT screen coating, and the result is more vibrant and realistic colours. Photographs and movies are pleasing to the eye, although the screen is slightly more reflective so you'll be squinting if you take the Pavilion dm4 into the garden.
HP has also crammed some excellent features into the Pavilion dm4. For starters, a fingerprint scanner can be found on the right side of the chassis.
These scanners can be used as an extra security measure or as an alternative to a password, so only users whose fingerprints are recognised are able to sign onto Windows or access certain private files.
Networking is also strong. 802.11n Wi-Fi allows for fast connections to wireless networks, while speedy Gigabit Ethernet is also available for wired networking.
Three USB ports can be used to hook up peripherals including a mouse to the Pavilion dm4. One of these ports doubles as an eSATA port, which allows faster data exchange with external hard drives – perfect if you need to regularly back up your files, or want to increase your storage space.
The Pavilion dm4's 320GB of storage is a little over the minimum we expect out of laptops this size, and provides enough room for a decent-sized media collection, stretching to many thousands of songs and hundreds of movies.
However, bear in mind that not only does Windows take up a decent chunk of space, but a section of the Pavilion dm4's hard drive has also been dedicated to a factory image of the hard drive for restoration purposes – something we're seeing on most modern laptops.
This reduces the amount of storage space available for your personal folders and application. Finally, there's a VGA and an HDMI port for connecting an external display or projector.
HP Pavilion dm4-1050ea: Performance
In 2009 Intel released its new Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 processors, with the Core i3 providing impressive levels of power at a budget price, and the Core i7 proving to be the most powerful home-use processor you could buy.
An Intel Core i5 processor is the brains of the Pavilion dm4, and performance sits right between the Core i3 and the Core i7. We found the Pavilion dm4 provided the same level of power as the Asus K52JC, which costs £730 inc. VAT, and the Medion Akoya, costing £589 inc. VAT.
Office tasks are despatched with ease, and you can comfortably multi-task with a variety of intensive applications. We witnessed very little slowdown even with several programs such as Microsoft Office and Photoshop Elements open at once.
Unfortunately, the Pavilion dm4 only features the integrated graphics provided by the processor. The lack of a dedicated graphics card means that multimedia performance is limited, so you won't be able to play any of the latest games or run video editing suites.
That said, the new Core processors compare favourably with other processors when it comes to integrated graphics. Older games and simple web-based games run fine on the Pavilion dm4, and you can even watch HD video.
Battery life exceeded our expectations, with the Pavilion dm4 lasting 335 minutes between charges. This is well above average for a Core i5 laptop, most of which manage just under four hours.
The only notable exception we've seen lately is the Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG, which survived for 661 minutes.
HP Pavilion dm4-1050ea:Verdict
The HP Pavilion dm4 is a mid-range laptop that just squeezes into the ultraportable category, weighing a shade under 2kg. HP has packed a lot of features and a Core i5 processor into the compact chassis, and finished it off with a premium metallic design.
The HP Pavilion dm4 is a solidly built laptop, which can easily withstand some punishment on the road. The slim and light chassis is great for regular commutes, while the 335 minutes of battery life mean you can leave the charger at home.
A sharp and colourful 14-inch display is in place, great for browsing your photo collection or lengthy work sessions. HP has been generous with its features too, including plenty of ports on the Pavilion dm4 and a fingerprint scanner for added security.
Performance is also strong, with plenty of power for multitasking. We witnessed little slowdown even when several memory-intensive applications were open at once.
Although the Core i5 processor is a strong performer, the lack of a dedicated graphics card means multimedia performance is limited. The Pavilion dm4 is capable of basic tasks such as photo editing and playing simple games, but video editing and other complex tasks are beyond this laptop's capabilities.
More serious is the flawed touchpad, which features infuriating integrated buttons. Resting your thumb on the buttons makes the cursor go crazy, as does clicking them at times, leading to incorrect menu selections.
The HP Pavilion dm4 is very nearly a solid all-rounder, and a laptop that we'd heartily recommend. Unfortunately, that ropey touchpad regularly ruined our mood, and conjured forth a stream of expletives.
Still, there's plenty to like, from the slim and light form to the excellent Core i5 performance, and few other flaws. If you can try out the Pavilion dm4 in a store then we'd recommend you do so, to see if you can tolerate the touchpad.
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