The good: Upscale design; powerful CPU; large touch pad; excellent battery life.
The bad: There are better midsize multimedia deals out there; app dock is loaded with advertising pitches.
The bottom line: HP’s latest multimedia system, the Pavilion dm4, is a powerful, slick-looking package–but some competitors in the same price range offer more features for less.
The middle-of-the-road multimedia laptops that come out of HP have always been excellent examples of the style. They typically bring some upscale design buzz–but not too much in the way of extra features or components–while keeping prices down.
Of those three, however, the HP dm4 has the slickest look, taking design elements, including a large multitouch touch pad, from the more expensive HP Envy series.
As a close cousin of the 13-inch HP dm3, the new dm4 shares a similar metallic body. But, rather than the brushed-metal look of the dm3, this model has an etched pattern of angular lines–almost like Nazca lines–along the wrist rest and back of the lid.
The gently rounded corners give the dm4 a soft, consumer-friendly look. The corners of the keyboard tray (and the four keys that sit closest to the corners) are similarly rounded, as is the oversized touch pad.
The keyboard is similar to the flat-topped, widely spaced keys we’ve seen on recent HP systems such as the hp Pavilion dm4 keyboard, although the larger 14-inch chassis allows for a better layout, including full-size arrow keys. Lacking any kind of dedicated media control buttons, all your media and alternate key functions are mapped to the row of Fn keys, although the assignments are reversed; using the traditional F4, F5, etc. functions requires holding down the Fn button.
The touch pad is similar to what we’ve seen on HP’s high-end Envy systems. It’s larger than usual, and the matte black surface is infinitely superior to the sticky mirrored pads we’ve seen on the past several generations of Pavilions. The touch pad, like Apple’s, eschews separate left and right mouse buttons, instead cordoning off two click zones in the lower left and right corners.
It’s a better touch pad than on the vast majority of non-MacBook laptops we’ve reviewed, but our main complaint is that some of the multitouch gestures are hard to use. Case in point, scrolling up and down pages using the two-finger method is hit or miss, unless your fingers are perfectly lined up on the horizontal plane. We noted that very same problem last year on the original HP Envy 13.
Like Dell, Asus, and other PC makers, HP includes a software dock along the top edge of the screen, presenting handy links to software and services in one place. The dock is user customizable, but its default settings are heavy on advertising come-ons from Snapfish, Norton, the HP Download Store, and others. Rhapsody link, yes; Web browser link, no.
The 14-inch wide-screen display offers a 1,366×768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. Though overly glossy, the display was clear and bright, with realistic color reproduction.
HP Pavilion dm4 Average for category [mainstream] Video VGA, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Data 3 USB 2.0 (one USB/eSATA), SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA Expansion None ExpressCard/54 Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner
Though the graphics card can be upgraded on the dm4 (for either $100 or $200), there’s no Blu-ray option, which is something that’s becoming increasingly common on 14- and 15-inch laptops. You can, however, add mobile broadband from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, or Sprint for $125.
The processor options range from Intel’s Core i5 to Core i7, and we had the middle-of-the-road 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520 in our review unit. That should be more than enough power for all but the most demanding users, and we were able to surf Web sites, play media files, and edit photos in Photoshop simultaneously with no stuttering or slowdown.
With only integrated Intel graphics capabilities, you’re not going to be doing any gaming beyond FarmVille on this system, unless you add one of the optional discrete ATI graphics cards (which our system lacked).