HP ProBook 5330m £760
26th Jul 2011 | 16:18
A powerful ultra-portable laptop with an excellent screen, but it suffers from poor battery life
HP ProBook 5330m: Overview
Back in the day, business laptops were bulky, ugly crates that could splinter the spine of a fully-grown mountain bear. Thankfully that's all in the past, and now modern business portable PCs are not just slim and light, they're also surprisingly chic, appealing to the average consumer as well as suited and booted execs.
HP's business ultra-portable, the ProBook 5330m, follows the release of the ultra-slender and impressively waterproof Lenovo ThinkPad X1 last month. The HP ProBook 5330m packs Intel Sandy Bridge technology into a thin 28mm aluminium chassis, and the result is a heady mix of power and portability.
If you're constantly on the move, you'll love that slender build. This portable is just as thin as Lenovo's ThinkPad X1, and only a little chunkier than the Samsung 9000 Series and new Sony VAIO VPC-Z21V9E.
With a compact 13.3-inch screen, the HP ProBook 5330m slips into almost any backpack or carrier you might own. It won't weigh you down on lengthy trips either, thanks to the 1.9kg frame.
Yet despite the slim and light build, the HP ProBook 5330m is very well put together. The lid is sturdy, with only minor flex in the centre, and firmly connected via two solid hinges. We also struggled to find any weak spots in the two-piece chassis, which endured some severe pounding from our chunky fingers and came off no worse for wear.
Unfortunately the HP ProBook 5330m's appearance caused split opinions at TechRadar. Some felt the body was rather boxy and plain, while others warmed to the almost retro design. Make up your own mind on that one.
The keyboard fills a good chunk of the chassis and is laid out in the popular 'isolation-style' design (each key pokes up through a separate hole in the chassis, which spreads them out).
The keys are surprisingly well-sized, despite the HP ProBook 5330m's compact chassis, so touch typing is a quick and comfortable experience. Even the arrow keys aren't too cramped compared to some, although the Enter key is relegated to a single row high.
However, the travel of the keys is rather shallow when they're hit, and we found the occasional button press didn't register. A particular offender, for some reason, was the 'o' key. Reading back over this review, we found lots of instances of 'laptp' and 'PrBok'. It's not a massive issue, but can be annoying when doing internet searches.
The touchpad is perfect, thankfully. The smooth surface covers a wide area, with raised mouse buttons that make them easy to click. It's surprisingly common for a touchpad to be duff, but the HP ProBook 5330m's is a winner.
HP ProBook 5330m: Specifications
All business laptops place an emphasis on security, so if a chav child makes off with your precious portable, they can't access your fantastic plans for a space car powered by scotch eggs.
The HP ProBook 5330m is no exception, with a built-in fingerprint scanner. We see this feature on almost every modern business machine, and it's a good, quick alternative to remembering a number of complex passwords.
You also get HP's ProtectTools software suite, which helps you to manage your security settings, encrypt your hard drive and back up your mega-important files.
In fact, that's just one of the many tools HP pre-installs on its laptops. You also get the likes of HP Power Assistant, which helps you manage your power settings to get maximum performance or battery life, and HP QuickWeb, which gives you near-instant access to the web without having to boot up Windows.
More experienced users will no doubt refer to these software suites as 'crapware' and uninstall them on sight, which is fair enough. However, if the HP ProBook 5330m is your first laptop, you'll likely get some benefit from these packages.
Like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1, there's no optical drive built into the HP ProBook 5330m. In this digital age there's less and less reason to carry sacks of CDs and DVDs around with you, so this shouldn't pose a problem.
The 500GB hard drive means you'll have plenty of space to cart around your media as well as your files and applications.
We streamed some HD content over the interweb and sat back to enjoy a film on the bright 13.3-inch screen. Despite using a matt TFT display, movies look fantastic. The HP ProBook 5330m plays HD video perfectly and images are crisp, thanks to the 1366 x 768 WXGA resolution.
Even sound quality impresses through the built-in Beats speakers. Top volume leaves a little to be desired, but the speakers pack more of a punch than the usual tinny efforts.
If you want to make use of a larger screen or projector, you have VGA and HDMI connections. You also get two USB ports and an eSATA port that doubles as a third USB connection.
HP ProBook 5330m: Performance
As expected, the HP ProBook 5330m features Intel's latest technology, the Sandy Bridge processor. It's a Core i5 2520M running at 2.5GHz, and combined with 4GB of RAM, it turned in one of the best ultra-portable benchmarking performances of recent times.
While the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 just inched ahead, the HP ProBook 5330m is more than capable of running any software you throw at it. Performance is strong enough to last you years, so you won't need to upgrade to a newer model any time soon.
Unless, that is, you suddenly develop a burning need to run complex video editing software or play the latest games.
The HP ProBook 5330m uses the Sandy Bridge architecture's built-in GPU to render images, and while the second-generation Core i5 processors are much more capable than their elder brethren, they're still limited compared to a machine with dedicated graphics.
So while you can comfortably play around with your photos and enjoy HD films, anything more complicated will likely result in shonky, shuddering performance.
For instance, our 3D Mark benchmarking software struggled when it came to rendering cutscenes. Frame rates of 10fps were common, so recent titles such as Portal 2 are unplayable. Only older games can be played with anything resembling smoothness, and that's with the graphics settings on minimum.
With its thin and light body, we were hoping the HP ProBook 5330m's battery life would further boost portability. Unfortunately, the laptop died after just 139 minutes of watching video.
This is below average for an Intel Core machine, and we'd usually expect closer to three hours of life from a single charge. Only the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 gave more disappointing battery life recently.
If you cut back to basic usage – for instance, working on your accounts or bashing out emails – then you should manage just over three hours. However, considering our average daily commute is perilously close to that, we still found ourselves lugging the charger wherever we went.
3DMark 2006 – 3690
Cinebench - 10646
Battery Eater '05 – 139 mins
HP ProBook 5330m: Verdict
Snapping at the Lenovo ThinkPad X1's heels is HP's latest ultra-portable business PC laptop, the ProBook 5330m.
The 1.9kg aluminium frame is just 28mm thick and surprisingly tough, but can it deliver the kind of top performance we'd expect from a modern business machine?
The light and compact body means the HP ProBook 5330m is no chore to carry around. Despite the slender build, Intel's Sandy Bridge Core i5 processor provides excellent performance, able to multi-task with ease. You won't need to replace this laptop any time soon.
Security is also a highlight. You can log in using your fingerprints or even your face, and easily encrypt your data using HP's pre-installed software.
But it isn't all about work. Movies look great on the bright, sharp and colourful 13.3-inch screen, despite the lack of a glossy Super-TFT coating. Even the built-in Beats speakers are decent, although a little weak on top volume. You can carry around a decent-sized media collection thanks to the 500GB hard drive.
While the Intel processor on the HP ProBook 5330m is impressively powerful, it also has to handle graphics, because there's no dedicated GPU. If you want to play the latest games or edit some video, this isn't the machine for you.
We were also disappointed to see the battery deplete after little more than two hours of regular use. Cut back to basic operations and you'll squeeze a little more life from it, but this is a big shame considering the ultra-portable build.
The design also split opinions, and we would have preferred a more curved, friendly appearance. The word 'desirable' can't be thrown at the boxy shell, no matter how durable or slim it is. We also found the occasional key press didn't register, despite the otherwise excellent build quality.
Performance and build quality are what we'd expect, and if you need a secure and portable business machine then the HP ProBook 5330m is a good option.
Unfortunately, the niggly usability is irritating and the poor battery life means you'll be lugging the charger around.