The HP Pavilion g4's $379 price will make your eyes pop. Available exclusively through Best Buy, the AMD A4-3300M-powered laptop doesn't have the specs of a high performer, but at this price point, shoppers are looking for a competent system for web surfing, light media consumption, and e-mail. Fortunately, with strong audio, wide viewing angles, and a comfy keyboard, the Pavilion g4 is a lot more than just competent.
The Pavilion g4 has a simple, understated design--it doesn't have any interesting embellishments aside from a slightly raised HP logo on the bottom corner of the lid. Our unit was a nondescript charcoal gray, although HP does offer the laptop in other shades (Pearl Pink, Pewter, and Sonoma Red) for $25 more. Despite being made from plastic, the g4's glossy lid feels sturdy, but it's a fingerprint magnet.
Open up the notebook, and you'll find the same glossy gray finish on the lid. Both the screen and the deck are framed in black, though the screen is bordered with a black matte plastic.
Weighing in at 4.6 pounds and measuring 13.4 x 9.1 x 1.2-1.4 inches, the Pavilion g4 has just about the right heft for a machine of this size. (For comparison's sake, the 14-inch Lenovo IdeaPad V470--measuring 13.4 x 9.2 x 1.2 inches--has exactly the same weight.) This laptop is definitely convenient for travel; we slipped the Pavilion g4 in our bag, took it out on a subway commute, and weren't bothered in the least by its weight.
The Pavilion g4 is one cool laptop, and it remained so throughout our testing. After we ran our heat test (which involves streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes), the touchpad measured only 78 degrees Fahrenheit, the keyboard 84 degrees, and the middle bottom only 90 degrees. We generally consider temperatures less than 95 degrees to be comfortable, so we were pleased to discover that the Pavilion g4 stayed well within this range. However, when did a lot of work on it--specifically, browsing the web, running a full antivirus scan and streaming a video on Netflix at the same time--the laptop's fan began to whir audibly.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Pavilion g4's keyboard isn't quite island-style, but each of the flat, black keys has a raised squarish top, and the layout is evenly spaced. The keyboard sits in a recessed well on the deck of the laptop, and typing on it was a largely pleasant experience. There was plenty of satisfying tactile feedback and very little flex, and all the keys were within easy reach of our fingers. HP reversed the primary functions of the function row so that one key press gives you quick access to the laptop's volume, brightness, and multimedia controls (rewind, play/pause, forward). It's a welcome change.
The textured surface of the Pavilion g4's 3.3 x 1.7-inch touchpad provided us with enough satisfying friction to move the cursor accurately. Better still, the pad handles a variety of multitouch gestures with great aplomb, as everything from pinch-to-zoom to three-finger swipe worked smoothly, though more advanced gestures had to be enabled in the touchpad software. We were even able to configure three-finger tap to launch the browser.
HP also added in a nice touch: A dimple on the upper-left corner of the pad toggles gestures on and off with a double tap. However, since the touchpad isn't centered below the G and H keys like it is on most laptops, switching between touch typing and navigating with the cursor was a hassle. Also, while the large buttons right below the trackpad had good tactile feedback, they felt a little stiff.
Display and Audio
The Pavilion G4 features a 14-inch LED-backlit display with a standard resolution of 1366 x 768. It displayed pictures and video brightly, but in terms of contrast, the quality left much to be desired. When we streamed a 1080p trailer for Footloose, the drama of the underground dance event was lost because the display's brightness turned the black of the night into a muddy gray, as though the teenagers were living it up at six in the afternoon. Additionally, when we popped in a DVD of She's the Man, we noted that the bright reds of the players' uniforms appeared washed out when they should have popped against the green grass on that clear, sunny day.
Though its colors were dull, the display's viewing angles were extremely wide. At even 90 degrees to the left or right, colors did not wash out. However, because the panel is glossy and not particularly bright, we saw a lot of reflections when the g4 was in areas with overhead light.
Beats Audio technology hasn't trickled down to HP's bargain line yet, but the g4's Altec Lansing stereo speakers (located on the front lip of the notebook) and premium audio by SRS Labs provide loud, accurate audio that's outstanding for a system this price. The Premium Sound utility also allows you to adjust the treble and bass to get the best possible experience.
Listening to "Double Bass" by Gorillaz, we could hear a clear separation between instruments and both bass and trouble were clear. On the R&B classic "Forget Me Nots," the bass twang, vocals, and keyboards provided a rich bright side. At max volume, the audio level was loud enough to fill a large room.
Ports and Webcam
Most of the g4's ports reside on the left. These include a VGA connector, Ethernet, an HDMI port, SD card reader, two USB ports, and headphone and mic jacks. The right side houses an additional USB port, a Kensington security slot, and a SuperMulti Drive for burning and playing DVDs and CDs.
The Pavilion g4 is outfitted with a rather ordinary 0.3-megapixel webcam, which has the ability to capture both stills and video. When we tested the camera--using both natural sunlight by the window and the fluorescent lights of our office--pictures came out grainy and lacked detail. When we hopped on a Skype call, our friend reported receiving an undistorted picture (without any motion blur) and good sound, though commented that neither had outstanding quality.
With a 1.9-GHz AMD Dual-Core A4-3300M APU and 4GB of RAM, the HP Pavilion g4 won't blow anyone away with its performance, though it has enough power to handle quotidian computing tasks as long as you don't perform too many of them at once. When we opened 10 tabs on Internet Explorer, ran a full system scan on the Norton Internet Security software, and streamed video on Netflix, we observed a noticeable lag, particularly with the Netflix video, whose frames stuttered under the weight of numerous other tasks. However, Netflix played just fine by itself.
The HP Pavilion G4 returned a score of 3,828 on PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures overall performance. That's far below the current thin-and-light notebook average of 5,891, not to mention two other budget systems--the Core i3-powered HP Pavilion dm4t ($579), which posted a score of 5,124, and the Core i3-powered Lenovo IdeaPad V470 ($599), which notched 4,960 on the test.
The Pavilion g4's 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive booted Windows 7 Home Premium in 52 seconds, 13 seconds faster than the 65-second category average. However, on our file transfer test, the Pavilion g4 duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 4:43 minutes for a transfer rate of 19.4 MBps, which is considerably slower than the category average of 27 MBps.
Lastly, we asked the Pavilion g4 to perform a VLOOKUP operation on 20,000 rows in spreadsheet application OpenOffice Calc, it took a lethargic 10 minutes and 2 seconds--close to double the category average of 5:44.
When we tested the Pavilion g4's integrated AMD Radeon HD 6480G graphics with the 3DMark06 benchmark, the laptop notched a score of 3,458, well below the category average of 4,228. The Pavilion g4 was also surpassed by both the Pavilion dm4t (3,466 points) and the Lenovo V470 (3,944 points). Both of these laptops sport integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics.
The substandard graphics performance continued when we ran our World of Warcraft test: The Pavilion g4 managed only 36 frames per second at its native resolution of 1366 x 768 with effects set to Good. While playable, that's significantly lower than the category average (80 fps), though better than the Pavilion dm4t (27 fps), and on a par with the Lenovo V470 (35 fps). When we kicked the game's settings to High, this rate dropped to a sluggish 16 fps, about half of what we consider playable.
We don't expect a lot of battery life from budget notebooks, and the g4 didn't surprise us. The Pavilion g4's battery lasted 4 hours and 23 minutes, running out of juice faster than the average thin-and-light laptop (whose life span is 5 hours and 28 minutes). By comparison, the Lenovo V470 endured for 4:56, marginally better than the g4, while the HP Pavilion dm4t drastically outdid everyone else, lasting 7:02.
While our $379 configuration of the g4 is a Best Buy exclusive, HP sells several others through its site. Its $479 base configuration has a first-generation Intel Core i3-370M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive. HP's recommended configuration costs $654 and includes the same Core i3 processor but a 640GB hard drive and 6GB of RAM.
Software and Warranty
The laptop comes with many of HP's proprietary apps, including the HP Support Assistant for troubleshooting, HP Recovery Manager for restoring media for your PC, and HP Setup Manager for backup and transferring files.
As with the refreshed dm1, HP has cleaned up the Start menu and taskbar. Launch Box lets users group commonly used applications in folders on the taskbar, and applications are also grouped according to function in the Start menu, which eliminates a lot of scrolling. While they're not earth-shaking innovations, they're very smart
Press F5 when the g4 is off, and you can launch into HP QuickWeb, an instant-on operating environment. Once up and running, we had immediate access to frequently used Internet applications and processes such as Skype and e-mail plus widgets such as News, Weather, and Twitter. Compared to the Windows boot time of 52 seconds, HP QuickWeb loaded in 30 seconds.
Other pre-loaded apps include a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2012, Microsoft Office Starter 2010, a music store powered by Rhapsody, MovieStore from RoxioNow, Snapfish Picture Mover for photos, Blio eReader software, and Zya Music Maker for music sharing.
Bargain hunters who don't have a lot of computing demands beyond surfing the web, checking e-mail, some multimedia streaming, and light productivity/office tasks will find a lot to like in the HP Pavilion g4. With an attractive design, a spacious keyboard, and SRS Labs-backed stereo speakers producing solid sound, it certainly has a lot going for it. If longer battery life is particularly important to you, you might want to consider the Pavilion dm4t instead. But the Pavilion g4's extremely aggressive pricing makes a good case for mainstream users with low-key requirements. At $379, it just can't be beat.