HP has given its popular Pavilion dm4 the Beats treatment, painting the entire chassis black and giving the keyboard a menacingly cool red backlight. But good looks aren't the only reason to pick up this unique laptop. The HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition also sports a fast Core i5 processor, a hybrid hard drive, and, of course, Beats Audio speakers. Better yet, at $899, this machine costs $25 less than a similarly configured standard-edition dm4.
Editor's Note: While our version of the dm4 had a 20GB SSD, HP has since updated the notebook to include a 32GB SSD for the same price.
Your eye can't help but be drawn to the Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition's fire-engine red Beats Beats Audio logo in the center of the dm4's all-black aluminum lid. The notebook's hinges sit in dark chrome-lined housings, and a red-and-white Beats Audio lies in the laptop's rear. It's a great look, but the lid quickly picks up fingerprints.
Like the exterior, the dm4 Beats Edition's interior is all black, but the palmrest has a nicer soft-touch finish. Too bad HP didn't extend this treatment to the lid. The deck slopes gently inward, giving way to the keyboard with its glossy black keys and red backlighting. A chrome power button and a black Web browser launch button rest in the top left corner of the notebook deck. In the right corner below the keyboard sits an unobtrusive black fingerprint reader.
Overall, we liked the subtle curves of this laptop's design, but the inside was also a fingerprint magnet.
While the dm4 and the Dell XPS 14z both weigh 4.4 pounds, the 13.3 x 8.9 x 1.0-1.3-inch dm4 is slightly thicker than the 13.2 x 9.2 x 0.0-inch XPS 14z. Still, this machine's small lightweight frame allowed us to easily slip the dm4 into a medium-size messenger bag.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The dm4 Beats Edition features a black island-style keyboard with large, well-spaced keys. We loved the bright red backlighting, especially when we used the notebook in a dim setting. The soft-touch palm rest is yet another plus.
While stunning to look at, the keys didn't offer the same springy feedback as more premium notebooks like the HP Envy 15. In addition, substituting the "b" key with a Beats logo looks gimmicky. Typing was by no means a chore, but we've used better layouts.
The 3.4 x 1.7-inch plastic Synaptics touchpad provided fluid, accurate feedback and felt good against our fingers. Multitouch gestures such as two-finger scroll, rotation, and three-finger flick were smooth and responsive. In addition, highlighting text on websites and in documents was spot-on. The most useful multitouch gesture was the four-finger flick, which called up all our open programs and documents in Windows Aero.
HP outfitted the dm4 Beats Edition with a 14-inch 1600 x 900p display. Thanks to its matte anti-glare treatment, we were able to watch videos and read text without distracting reflections. At 177 lux, this isn't the brightest display we've seen, but it still higher than the 169 lux thin-and-light average. Text was sharp on CNN.com and Kotaku.com, thanks to the higher resolution, making for an easy read.
When we watched J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" on Netflix, there were bright, billowing tangerine explosions, deep red proton beams, and a sapphire-blue sky. However, we noticed a pervasive graininess in darker areas, the worst of which manifested during space scenes.
Located in the front lip of the dm4 are two speakers and a subwoofer. As expected with Beats Audio technology, the notebook easily filled a small room at maximum volume. As we listened to LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It" and Chrisette Michele's "If I Have My Way", we noticed there was noticeable hollowness during the instrumentals. Chrisette's sultry alto was undermined by a distorted organ and piano while the percussion during RedFoo's rap sounded very brassy. Users will get the best results when they plug in headphones.
After streaming "Code Monkeys" on Netflix at fullscreen for 15 minutes, the dm4 Beats Edition stayed relatively cool. The touchpad measured a chilly 77 degrees Fahrenheit, while the space between the G and H keys and the bottom measured 82 and 86 degrees respectively. The hottest point of the notebook, along the bottom left corner near the vent, was 90 degrees.
Similar to many HP notebooks, the Pavilion dm4 comes equipped with HP CoolSense technology, which regulates the notebook's temperature. Using the built-in accelerometer, CoolSense detects when the notebook is placed in a user's lap, and turns the fan on more frequently.
Sadly, CoolSense didn't perform as hoped. With the dm4 in our lap, the touchpad measured 85 degrees after streaming "Star Trek" on Netflix at full screen for 15 minutes. The space between the G and H keys and the underside were slightly warmer at 88 and 89 degrees. The bottom left corner near the vent measured 95 degrees, which we consider a comfortable threshold.
Ports and Webcam
The right side of the dm4 Beats Edition houses a USB 2.0 port, a tray-loading DVD burner, a combination headphone/microphone jack and a power jack. Two USB 3.0 slots, HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, and a secure lock slot sit on the left. A 2-in-1 card reader sits along the front lip of the notebook near the left corner.
The 720p HD webcam captures stills and video in 1280 x 800p using Cyberlink YouCam. Under florescent lighting, images appeared rather dark. However, when we switched to natural lighting, we saw vibrant color with sharp details.
During our Skype call, our caller reported a nice clear image with sharp detail and loud audio. We also heard loud, crisp audio and saw clear images on our end.
The HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition we tested came with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2450M processor with 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive with a 20GB mSATA SSD cache, and an Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU with 1.6GB of VRAM. (Note that the size of the SSD on shipping models is now 32GB.)
On PCMark07, a synthetic benchmark that tests overall performance, the dm4 Beats Edition scored an impressive 3,827. That's 1,746 points higher than the thin-and-light category average of 2,081. The Dell XPS 14z and its 2.8-GHz Core i7-2640M CPU notched 2,329, while the ASUS N43SL and its 2.4-GHz Core i5-2430M chip brought up the rear with 2,029. During our real-world testing, we were able to stream a movie from Netflix with nine open Google Chrome tabs and seven open Internet Explorer tabs without any lag.
Thanks to its 20GB SSD cache (which is not user-accessible), this HP notebook posted a fast boot time of 43 seconds -- 20 seconds faster than the 63-second category average. The XPS 14z and its 750GB 7,200-rpm hard-drive booted Windows in 60 seconds, while the N43SL and its 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive loaded in a sluggish 84 seconds.
Still, the dm4 Beats Edition's mechanical hard drive isn't the fastest, duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files in 3 minutes and 43 seconds. That's a transfer rate of 22.8 MBps, which is well below the 27.7 MBps category average, the N43SL (29 MBps) and the XPS 14z (38.6 MBps).
The dm4 redeemed itself on the OpenOffice spreadsheet test, taking 5 minutes 20 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses. That was more than enough to beat the 6:04 thin-and-light average and the N43SL's time of 5:22. The Dell XPS 14z was the fastest, clocking in at 4:26.
While the dm4 Beats Edition's Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU can't run some of the more graphically taxing games, it can still stream HD video and handle popular casual games.
On 3DMark06, which measures overall graphics performance, the dm4 Beats Edition scored a disappointing 4,627. That's 368 points below the 4,995 category average. The Dell XPS 14z and its switchable graphics (Intel HD Graphics 3000 and Nvidia GeForce GT 520M with Optimus technology) with 1GB of video memory notched 5,461. The ASUS N43SL, which also has switchable graphics (Intel HD and Nvidia GeForce GT 540M) with 1GB of VRAM delivered a blistering 8,879.
During our "World of Warcraft" test, the Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition delivered a frame rate of 32 fps on autodetect at 1600 x 900p, far below the 66 fps thin-and-light average. The N43SL and the XPS 14z scored 62 and 60 fps, respectively. When we switched over to maximum settings at 1600 x 900p, the dm4's frame rate dropped to a dismal 15 fps, nearly half the 31 fps average.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the dm4 Beats Edition lasted 5 hours and 48 minutes, about 20 minutes short of the 6:06 thin-and-light category average. Still, this laptop outlasted both the XPS 14z and the N43SL, which clocked in with 5:23 and 4:32, respectively.
Software and Warranty
HP packaged the dm4 with a slew of software and utilities. Our favorite is HP SimplePass 2012, which allowed us to register our fingerprints to use in conjunction with our favorite websites. Instead of typing in passwords for Facebook, Pinterest, and our online banking account, we simply swiped a finger.
In terms of entertainment, there's the RoxioNow-powered HP MovieStore, where users can rent movies starting at $2.99 or purchase them beginning at $11.99. HP also included a shortcut to rara.com, a music streaming service similar to Spotify. Users can stream an unlimited amount of ad-free music at a discounted 99 cents for three months. From there, users will pay a monthly $4.99 fee.
Those who would rather create music than just sit and listen can take Zya Music Maker for a spin. The dm4 Beats Edition's most interesting third-party software, Zya is a mish-mash of a role-playing game and music creation that makes for a surprisingly deep and addicting experience. During the tutorial, we chose our avatar, producer, and band mates. From there, we began creating a song by selecting hooks, vocals and instrumentals. Aside from the pre-loaded samples, players can also upload their own tracks. Once a song is completed, it can be published and shared with the Zya community.
Additional software includes Blio, Skype, Microsoft Office Starter, Windows Live, Evernote, and a 60-day free trial of Norton Internet Security 2012.
The HP Pavilion dm4-3090se Beats Edition comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty with toll-free support, one-year free hardware technical support and 30-days free limited software support with one-year product registration. See how HP fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brands report.
Our $899 Quick-Ship configuration of the dm4-3090se Beats Edition notebook comes equipped with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2450M CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD, an Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU and a 14-inch 1600 x 900p display.
A $899 base model (which allows for greater customization options) comes with a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-2430M CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 3000 and a 14-inch 1366 x 768p display. A recommended $1,269 configuration features a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2450M processor with 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive with a 32GB mSSD drive, and AMD Radeon HD 7470M GPU with 1GB of VRAM.
As with the Envy 14, HP took a great consumer notebook in the Pavilion dm4 and gave it a slick finish. Additionally, HP made some noticeable improvements under the hood, including a faster processor and hybrid hard drive. Those who want more powerful graphics should look to the $999 Dell XPS 14z, which also has pretty good audio to boot. More budget-conscious shoppers should consider the regular $649 dm4, which also boasts Beats Audio minus the snazzy design. Overall, though, the HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition is a solid choice for consumers searching for a stylish and highly portable multimedia notebook.