Stylish modern design meets solid multimedia chops in the HP Pavilion dv4t, a $599 notebook designed for entertainment seekers who want to stay productive and amused on the go. Featuring responsive touchscreen controls, MediaSmart software for fast access to photos, music, and video, and quality Altec Lansing speakers, the 5.2-pound Pavilion dv4t is a very good machine for the price; we just wish it had a little more muscle.
One of the first things you’ll notice about dv4t is its slick, eye-catching HP Imprint 2 design. Our model was Express Black; it is also available in Moonlight White. The onyx and chrome “liquid metal” finish (highlighted on the lid and base with subtle stripes) has stylish swirls and circles that give the notebook extra pop. Its mesh design, which surrounds the keyboard and extends upward toward the hinges, blends well with the system’s overall look.
Measuring 13.2 x 9.5 x 1.6 inches and weighing 5.2 pounds, the dv4t is slightly thicker and about half a pound heavier than competing 14-inch notebooks, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad Y450, but it’s a shade lighter and about the same size as the Gateway TC Series. This notebook isn’t tailor-made for travelers, but students and home users shouldn’t have much difficulty carrying it around.
Keyboard, Touchpad, and Ports
The dv4t’s keys feature a glossy coating that matches the rest of the notebook’s aesthetic, but some may find its slickness problematic. The keyboard itself is sturdy (with only a hint of flex), and we experienced adequate feedback when typing e-mails and URLs. Above the keyboard are touch-sensitive multimedia keys, and a Wi-Fi on/off switch that reacted swiftly to our finger inputs. To the left of these controls is HP’s touch-sensitive MediaSmart key, which let us quickly access our photos, music, and video content.
At 3.0 x 1.4 inches, the dv4t’s touchpad is wide, but we felt as though it would have benefited from additional vertical space. And, as with most Pavilion notebooks, the touchpad’s mirrorlike surface requires too much effort to make fine cursor movements. Otherwise, it’s pretty smooth, if a bit fast. Positioned above this area is a button to deactivate the touchpad when you’re using an external mouse. A pair of mouse buttons provide adequate feedback, but we would’ve liked more responsiveness.
The perimeter of the system is packed with ports. On the right side, you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, a power jack, and the DVD burner. Up front are two headphone jacks, a mic jack, and an infrared window (does anyone use this any more?). The left side of the dv4t houses a Kensington lock slot, VGA, HDMI, an USB/eSATA combo port, 5-in-1 memory card reader, ExpressCard/54, and an expansion port for HP’s optional docking station.
Display, Webcam, and Audio
Our There Will Be Blood DVD looked great on the 14.1-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel resolution display, provided that we stayed directly in front of the system. The dv4t’s viewing angles were extremely tight: the glossy display kicked back heavy reflection as we moved left or right of center. We didn’t particularly mind the screen’s resolution, but for an extra $20, the IdeaPad Y450 offers a 1366 x 768-pixel display.
Above the display, the 0.3-megapixel webcam served up solid skin-tone replication when we video chatted with friends and colleagues using Meebo. We saw only minimal motion blur and stuttering when they made quick movements. People on thDe other end reported that we looked fairly good, even in low-light situations.
Twin Altec Lansing speakers provided very loud, room-filling sound when watching DVDs and listening to music. While streaming tunes from Slacker, songs with strong bass lines (such as Brick’s “Dusic”) packed a satisfying amount of thump.
The dv4t’s aging 2.0-GHz dual-core Intel Pentium T4200 CPU and 3GB of RAM (configurable up to 4GB) contributed to decent benchmark performance. It notched a PCMark Vantage score of 2,804, which was just 57 points below the category average, but more than 300 points higher than the Gateway TC7804u (2,471), a $699 system with a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor and 4GB of RAM. It also outperformed the IdeaPad Y450 by 75 points.
To test the CPU’s multitasking mettle, we transcoded a 5-minute-and-5-second 640 x 480-pixel resolution video file from MPEG-4 to AVI using Handbrake. This task took 8 minutes and 22 seconds by itself, and 17:11 while compressing a 4.97GB mixed- media folder in the background using jZip. Both of these times were longer than the Gateway UC7807u’s marks of 7:53 and 15:11, respectively, which makes it quite apparent that this low-end CPU won’t cut it for the most demanding jobs. Still, we were able to go about our daily activities—listening to Internet radio, checking e-mail, writing documents, surfing the Web with multiple browser tabs open—without a performance hit.
As expected, the dv4t’s Intel GMA 4500MHD GPU delivered less-than-stellar performance when we ran our benchmarks. On 3DMark06, it achieved a score of 776, which is nearly half the 1,435 category average (but on a par with such similarly configured machines as the Fujitsu LifeBook S7220). Despite its low performance score, we were able to zoom around the streets of New York City using Google Earth without ill consequence; we didn’t experience any sluggishness or choppiness, even when swooping into Street View in the congested Times Square area. When we fired up Spore Creature Creator, we were able to construct an odd-looking quadruped that animated fluidly, without any polygon breakups or clipping as it leapt through the environment.
Hard Drive Performance
The 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive booted the 32-bit Windows Vista Home Premium operating system in 59 seconds, which is 2 seconds better than the category average. On our LAPTOP File Transfer Test (in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed-media data from one folder to another on the hard drive), the speed of 17.1 MBps was on a par with the 17.7 MBps thin-and-light average—but below the IdeaPad Y450’s blazing 23.0 MBps speed. Unfortunately, HP doesn’t offer a 7,200-rpm drive for even faster performance on this notebook.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio enabled the dv4t to push data at a rate of 21.5 Mbps when 15 feet away from our access point, and 17.5 Mbps at 50 feet. These rates were significantly swifter than the 18.8 and 15.3 Mbps thin-and-light averages, and allowed us to stream full-screen Saturday Night Live clips without any hiccups.
The system demonstrated subpar battery life. On our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi), it lasted just 3 hours and 8 minutes on a charge, which was exactly one hour shorter than the average thin-and-light system. Or, you can opt for a 12-cell battery ($49), which the company says will provide nearly 7 hours of endurance.
Software and Warranty
Preinstalled on the dv4t are Adobe Reader 9, HP Games Console by Wild Tangent, HP Total Care Advisor (for easy access to system information and troubleshooting tools), LightScribe (for etching images onto compatible optical discs), Microsoft Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 (60-day trial), Microsoft Works 9.0, Norton Internet Security (60-day trial), and Sling Player. HP covers this notebook with a one-year warranty and 24/7 tech support.
You can outfit the dv4t with a host of other specs, including Core 2 Duo processors ranging from 2.2-GHz ($75) to 2.66-GHz ($325), an Nvidia GeForce G 105M GPU ($135), Blu-ray ($110), frameless glass display ($30), LED backlit displays ($60), an optional fingerprint reader ($25), Vista Business ($100) and 64-bit Vista Ultimate ($120) operating systems, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth ($50), and integrated mobile broadband ($125). If you go nuts and pick top-of-the-line specs (a 2.66-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9550 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, discrete graphics, fingerprint reader, 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth, and an LED-backlit screen), the dv4t will cost you $1,294.
The performance of our $599 configuration of the HP Pavilion dv4t won’t blow you away. But the casual user, who wants a basic machine with satisfying sound, adequate performance, and plenty of style, will find much to like here. Others might find it worthwhile to spend an extra $20 for the Lenovo IdeaPad Y450, which has a higher-resolution display, nearly an additional hour of battery life, and a lighter chassis. All in all, the dv4t notched slightly better scores on some of our benchmark tests, making this HP a solid system for those on a budget.