Over a year ago, we called the 13-inch screen size the new sweet spot for notebook buyers: although highly portable, it’s still large enough to work comfortably and even watch movies. Sure enough, we’ve been seeing more 13-inch budget systems recently, including the HP Pavilion dv3z, HP’s first configurable notebook of this size, which starts at $679 (our review unit was priced at $1,043). It boasts a stylish design, above-average graphics performance, and excellent Wi-Fi performance. We also like the Altec Lansing speakers. However, mediocre battery life and a few other drawbacks keep this machine from earning a higher rating.
The dv3z is slimmer, lighter, and a bit more compact than the Pavilion dv3510nr, HP’s first 13-inch notebook, which was introduced as a Best Buy exclusive. The dv3z measures 12.2 x 9.1 x 1.0–1.3 inches, versus 12.6 x 9 x 1.4 inches for the dv3510nr, and the dv3z has a lighter starting weight of 4.3 pounds with a six-cell battery (versus 4.8 pounds). Our configuration of the dv3z weighed 4.8 pounds, but that’s with a larger capacity nine-cell battery. Although this battery juts out of the back, creating an awkward shape, the dv3z still feels light compared to the Gateway UC Series, a budget 13-incher that weighs 5.3 pounds.
The glossy brown lid has HP’s logo in the lower right corner, which glows a cool white when the notebook is in use. We noticed that it picks up fingerprints easily. Inside, the palm rest and keyboard deck are covered in HP’s Intersect Imprint finish, a bronze pattern with intersecting diamonds.
Above the keyboard is a power button and panel of touch-sensitive multimedia controls. Some of them, such as the mute button, responded to even the slightest tap. But the volume strip became frustrating because the dv3z was slow to show our changes on-screen, and the strip itself doesn’t give any visual feedback to confirm that you’ve adjusted the volume. The Gateway UC Series, by contrast, has responsive volume controls that pulse red as you run your finger over them.
The dv3z’ controls sit on a silver—not bronze—strip; the color contrast makes the keyboard deck look busier than it should. On the lower right corner of the palm rest is a fingerprint reader. Configuring our fingerprints was a short process, but first we had to master the finger swipe, which took about half a dozen tries. Once we did, though, enrolling our fingerprint was easy.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is brown, complimenting the rest of the bronze chassis. Its large, pillowy keys are shallower than they look, but are still comfortable to type on. Although they have a glossy finish, they didn’t feel slippery as we typed. While most of the keys are full-sized and where they should be, HP shrunk some of the lesser-used ones, including the F keys at the top, and the arrows in the lower-right corner.
The trackpad, too, has a glossy feel. Although our first review unit had way too much friction for our tastes, our second unit (whose benchmark scores are reflected below) felt much smoother. It has a strip along the right side, which allows users to scroll through pages with one finger. Unlike other touchpads, which over-scroll in response to even the slightest tap, the dv3z’s touchpad translated to subtle changes onscreen. We’re also fans of the contoured metal touch buttons, which are easy to press.
Good Display and Sound
The 13.3-inch (1280 x 800) LED-backlit display looked bright when we watched an episode of Heroes on DVD, and despite having a glossy finish we enjoyed comfortable viewing angles from the sides.
The notebook’s Altec Lansing speakers are built on SRS Premium Sound technology, which promise richer, louder sound than your average notebook speakers. When we played Coldplay’s “Clocks,” for example, the sound filled the room, even at a moderate volume level.
Ports and Webcam
The dv3z has two USB 2.0 ports, and an eSATA port that doubles as an additional USB port. It also has both HDMI and VGA outputs, as well as an Ethernet jack, headphone and mic ports, an ExpressCard/34 slot, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader. With the exception of the ExpressCard slot on the left side, and the headphone and mic ports and memory card reader, which are in the front, most of the ports line the right side of the notebook. The rest of the left side is taken up by the slot-loading 8X DVD±RW drive.
The VGA webcam showed delayed movement even when we recorded video captures offline (that is, without any Internet connection that might slow down the video). It wasn’t very well-lit or colorful, either. On the bright side, HP’s MediaSmart Webcam software includes lots of fun filters and special effects.
The dv3z has a 2.3-GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core ZM-84 CPU, Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit), and a generous 4GB of RAM. Out of the box, the notebook took a reasonable 56 seconds to boot up (that time dropped to 51 seconds after we removed some trial software, listed below, as well as unnecessary startup programs). Multitasking was also a breeze. We were able to navigate between several tabs in Firefox, reading blogs and responding to e-mails, while uninstalling trialware and downloading the open-source media converter, Handbrake.
The 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive transferred a 4.97GB file of mixed media in 6 minutes and 10 seconds; that 13.8-Mbps transfer speed falls well below the 17.9-Mbps category average. The Gateway UC Series’ 250GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, in contrast, completed the same test at a rate of 16.0 Mbps. Moreover, transcoding a 2-minute-and-16-second clip from MPEG-4 to H.264 took 3:51; it took 4:33 with a DVD running in the background. Meanwhile, the $799 UC Series’ Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and 3GB RAM transcoded the same clip in 53 seconds (54 with a DVD running).
The integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics card managed an impressive 2,955 on the graphics benchmark 3DMark03, which is 130 points above the thin-and-light category average. On 3DMark06, the system notched a score of 1,309, a little less than 100 points higher than the average.
Despite having good scores for its category, however, the dv3z is no gaming machine. On F.E.A.R., it managed 21 frames per second on default settings (1024 x 768) and 17 frames per second at maximum settings (also 1024 x 768); the UC Series, to be fair, notched 16 and 8 frames per second, respectively, on the same tests. In the more mainstream Spore, however, our cartoonish creations moved without a blip on the dv3z.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The dv3z’ nine-cell battery (which weights 16.9 ounces) lasted 3 hours and 36 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That’s not terrible, but it’s about an hour below the thin-and-light notebook category average. Opting for the standard six-cell battery will save you $39—and 5.7 ounces—but we don’t recommend it.
The Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/draft-n radio delivered incredible throughput of 29.3 Mbps and 25.6 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively. The category average is 18.6 Mbps and 15.1 Mbps. Our unit also had Bluetooth for connecting wireless peripherals.
Software and Warranty
The dv3z comes with a fair share of trial and complimentary software, including Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (complete with a Compatibility Pack and PowerPoint 2007 viewer); Acrobat.com; CyberLink DVD Suite; the HP MediaSmart Suite, which, as on the TouchSmart tx2z, includes photo, music, and video viewers, as well as a DVD and TV player and Webcam software; LabelPrint; Microsoft Live Search toolbar; Microsoft Silverlight, a browser add-on; muvee Reveal; Norton Internet Security; Power2Go; PowerDirector; Slingbox and SlingPlayer; and a trial of the game Spore.
HP backs the dv3z with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, including 24/7, toll-free phone support, which is standard for consumer laptops.
HP makes the dv3z highly configurable. Although our unit had a 2.3-GHz AMD ZM-84 CPU, users can select the base 2.0-GHz QL-62 processor for $100 less, or a top-of-the-line 2.4-GHz ZM-86 processor for $100 more. Likewise, our unit had 4GB of memory—a $50 upgrade—while 2GB is standard. Users can also select up to 8GB of RAM (a $450 option). Just keep in mind that you’ll need a 64-bit OS if you opt for 4GB of RAM or more (Vista Home Premium costs the same regardless of whether you buy the 32-bit or 64-bit version).
Our unit had a 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive. You can also buy a 160GB or 250GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, but HP offers a free upgrade to 320GB, and we see no reason to get a smaller drive for the same price. A 400GB, 5,400-rpm drive adds $50 the price; an 80GB solid state drive adds $300.
You can also opt for a tray-loading DVD burner instead of a slot-loading drive, but that will only save you $10. A wireless-g radio comes standard; upgrading to 802.11n or 802.11g with Bluetooth costs $25, and adding both 802.11n and Bluetooth costs $50. The six-cell battery comes standard; you can buy the nine-cell for $39 more, which, to us, is a no-brainer.
The HP Pavilion dv3z has a lot going for it: a svelte design (even with the nine-cell battery); good looks; a bright, LED-backlit display; loud speakers, and good performance—with the exception of the sluggish hard drive. Although heavier, the $799 Gateway UC Series delivers decent performance and better battery life in an attractive package. However, if you prefer a slimmer and lighter design to longer endurance, the dv3z is the better choice.