With a subtly glimmering lid, island keyboard, and a bright display in an intriguing new size, the 14.5-inch HP Pavilion dv5t (starting at $699; $1,024 as configured) is one of the most attractive laptops you can buy right now. And with 7,200-rpm hard drives offered standard, you can expect fast performance from this Core i5 machine. HP also includes a Blu-ray drive in this configuration, which explains the relatively high price. However, a few quirks, including a temperamental touchpad, dampened our enthusiasm for this student-friendly thin-and-light.
The dv5t resembles HP’s higher-end Envy notebooks, which is to say it also looks similar to a MacBook Pro. To keep costs reasonable, HP constructed this laptop from plastic, not metal, but the classy champagne hue is similar to those bronze Envys (you can also buy it in Black Cherry, which looks black, and Sonoma Red, a cranberry shade). Although the dv5t isn’t made of metal, it has a similar finish since it pairs a matte lid with a fine, metallic print on top. The result is a finish that glimmers like a metal surface, but doesn’t reflect light or attract fingerprints the way a glossy chassis would.
Underneath the lid is where the dv5t really starts to resemble a MacBook Pro. While the chassis and palm rest are champagne-colored, the keyboard is black, and arranged in a chiclet-style layout (the space between the keys is also black). Beneath the keyboard resides a large, 3.9 x 2.6-inch touchpad that doubles as a giant, clickable mouse button. Also like a Mac, the dv5t has no buttons above the keyboard, save for a discrete power button; rather, all of the multimedia keys are built into the top row of the keyboard.
The dv5t weighs 5.2 pounds, which is reasonable for a notebook this size. Because the screen measures 14.5 inches—an industry first—this laptop is easier to carry than a more unwieldy 15.4- or 15.6-inch laptop. Then again, it’s 1.2 inches thick, whereas many notebooks are an inch thin. Still, we generally like the this size display for home users who are looking for a little more portability from their system without sacrificing screen real estate.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The dv5t’s backlit, chiclet-style keyboard isn’t just attractive, it’s also comfortable. Resting our fingers on the soft keys felt natural, even if the right Shift key is undersized (we couldn’t tell while touch typing). Although it wasn’t distracting, we could see and feel the keyboard panel move beneath our fingers as we typed. Still, we scored a decent 81 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, and quickly raised our score to 88 wpm after some more hands-on time.
Touchpads have recently been HP’s Achilles’ heel, and the dv5t is no exception. When we first started using it, the surface felt smooth, and the two integrated touch buttons were easy to press. In fact, we still like the giant button and the satisfying click it makes, but the touchpad became frustrating to use. Often, we would bring the cursor close to where we wanted to click, and then it would suddenly feel sluggish, making subtle movements with the cursor take effort.
The touchpad also supports multitouch gestures, although pinching two fingers to zoom is considerably easier than panning back out.
To its credit, the dv5t stayed cool as we put it through its paces. After watching a Hulu clip at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured temperatures of 82 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 88 degrees at the center of the keyboard, and 89 degrees on the bottom side of the notebook. The one spot where it got hot was near the vent, located on the left side of the notebook toward the hinge, where the temperature rose to 105 degrees. For the most part, though, these temperatures are cool: the average thin-and-light measures 89, 91, and 97 degrees in those spots.
Display and Sound
For $1,024, the machine comes with a Blu-ray drive (more on upgrade options later). The Kite Runner looked sharp, although the benefits of Blu-ray might be lost on a 14.5-inch display with a fairly low 1366 x 768 resolution. While we were impressed with the level of detail, such as the white strands sprinkled in a man’s hair, we noticed some subtle ghosting, even while characters were just walking around. This glossy display doesn’t offer wide viewing angles, but for students the reflective finish shouldn’t make a difference.
We also found the HP MediaSmart DVD software, which you need to play Blu-ray discs, to be unreliable. When we first inserted The Kite Runner disc the program launched automatically, but wouldn’t respond to any of our commands, such as Play. We had to close the program and manually restart it.
The volume from the system’s front-mounted Altec Lansing speakers was plenty loud; even while watching TV shows with soft dialog we were able to keep the volume below the median level. Thanks to Dolby technology, the dv5t’s speakers avoid producing the kind of tinny sound you’ll get from most other laptops. When we listened to head-bangers such as “Peace Sells” by Megadeth or “Break On Through” by The Doors we were able to make out a host of instruments, from electric and bass guitars to pianos and percussion.
Ports and Webcam
The dv5t’s ports include three USB ports, one of which doubles as an eSATA port for high-speed transfers; HDMI and VGA output for connecting to high-def and standard-def displays; an Ethernet jack; and headphone and mic ports. It also has a 5-in-1 memory card reader. Pretty standard for a consumer notebook.
The VGA webcam won’t deliver sharp photos or videos thanks to its low 640 x 480 resolution. They were brightly lit, which someone on the other end of your video calls will appreciate, but the colors were off. Specifically, there was a bluish tint across the entire picture; even our black sweater appeared navy. In general, image quality was noisy.
HP’s MediaSmart Webcam software offers an easy interface in which you can click thumbnails to review photos and videos you recently shot, as well as add fun special effects. The sound quality was also excellent: we didn’t hear any echoes, and even when we moved farther away from the notebook it was still easy to hear us.
Our configuration of the dv5t had a 2.26-GHz Intel Core i5 430M CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium, and a 7,200-rpm, 500GB hard drive. For the most part, this combination proved powerful: the notebook scored 5,725 on PCMark Vantage (a Windows benchmark), which is 1,700 points higher than the average thin-and-light. For its specs, though, the dv5t’s performance is right on the money. The $849 Dell Studio 15, which has the same configuration save for its discrete graphics and lack of a Blu-ray drive, scored an almost identical 5,735. The $829 Samsung R580, which also has identical specs (including a Blu-ray drive) except for a slower 5,400-rpm hard drive, scored even higher (5,804).
The dv5t’s 7,200-rpm hard drive transferred a 4.97GB mixed media file at a rate of 28.8 MBps, while the average notebook in this class does so at a slower rate of 23.4 MBps (the Studio 15 managed a similar 28.3 MBps). Still, the hard drive couldn’t make the notebook boot quickly; its startup time of 1:18 seems sluggish when you consider that the average notebook this size can be up and running within 56 seconds (even the Gateway NV59C09u, which has a slower 5,400-rpm hard drive, booted in 1:03).
The dv5t didn’t hiccup when we ran a full scan using Norton Internet Security in the background while streaming music through Slacker and jumping between open tabs in IE8. As we said about HP’s new Pavilion dm4, however, sometimes this fast laptop felt slower than it should have, thanks to the dragging cursor. We also saw the spinning Windows circle a lot, even when trying such tasks as minimizing our Norton scan or ending a video capture in MediaSmart Webcam. When it came down to more intense crunching, the notebook transcoded a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI in 1 minute flat, just 3 seconds faster than the average thin-and-light.
Because it has an integrated Intel GMA HD graphics card—the same one you’ll find on $600 budget systems—this $1,000 system fares poorly in the graphics department. While its score of 1,905 on 3DMark06, a gaming benchmark, was a modest 200 points below average, it pales against less expensive 14- and 15-inch notebooks. The $829 Samsung R580, which has a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 310M GPU with 512MB video memory, managed 3,889 on the same test; the $849 Dell Studio 15, which has a discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 graphics card and 512MB video memory, scored 3,654.
Not surprisingly, we observed some big performance gaps in our real-world gaming tests. In Far Cry 2, a graphically demanding game, the dv5t crawled along at 10 frames per second, even when we downgraded the resolution to a low 1024 x 768. The average thin-and-light peaks at 24 fps at 1024 x 768 resolution. The dv5t fared better in the less taxing World of Warcraft, managing a decent 50 frames per second at 1024 x 768 resolution (albeit, this dropped to 13 fps at native resolution). Meanwhile, the thin-and-light average is 92 fps at 1024 x 768 resolution and 28 fps at its native resolution.
The worst part is that the dv5t is only offered with Intel’s GMA HD card. That makes the system look weak compared to competitors such as the Dell Studio 15, which is offered with dedicated graphics cards.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The dv5t’s six-cell battery lasted 4:28 on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which is 24 minutes less than the average thin-and-light. That’s fine for people who expect to leave their notebook plugged in most of the time. Besides, we can think of many 15-inch notebooks with shorter battery life, such as the Gateway NV59C, which lasted 3:49, and the Samsung R580, which made it to just 3:22.
The Intel 802.11n radio delivered strong throughput of 38.6 Mbps at 15 feet.
After we exhausted its battery, the dv5t took 1:11 to recharge to 80 percent, and 2:05 to fully recharge. When we divide the battery life by the total watts consumed during charging, we get the LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Index (lower numbers are better). The dv5t’s score of 24.5 is slightly less green than the thin-and-light category average of 22.8, and it has not yet been rated by EPEAT, which awards tiered gold, silver, and bronze ratings to energy efficient laptops.
When you turn on the computer, you’ll notice HP’s PC Dock lining the top of the screen. It was designed to make finding and launching programs easier. Dell does something similar with its Dell Dock, but whereas Dell organizes programs by what you plan on doing with them (e.g., working with photos), HP just lists the various programs side by side. You can customize the dock, adding and removing programs, but since it’s just a way to launch software, we don’t see how it’s more beneficial than pinning programs (or key files) to the Windows 7 task bar. PC Dock also gets in the way, whereas the Windows task bar doesn’t. Moreover, when you add programs to the PC Dock, their corresponding shortcuts don’t necessarily disappear from your desktop, as they do on Dell machines, which means PC Dock won’t minimize your clutter.
Other Software and Warranty
The dv5t’s list of bundled software includes trials of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, along with a suite of CyberLink programs, including DVD Suite, LabelPrint, PhotoNow, Power2Go, and PowerDirector. An MSN toolbar is the only item that seems to have been slipped in there despite the fact that it doesn’t offer much benefit to the user.
The dv5t comes with a one-year warranty, including 24/7 toll-free phone support. See how HP fared in our most recent Tech Support Showdown.
The dv5t starts at $699, and is configurable on HP’s website. The base configuration includes a 2.26-GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 7,200-rpm, 320GB hard drive, a DVD burner, and a six-cell battery. Upgrading to a 2.26-GHz Core i5 processor costs $75; the 2.4-GHz Core i5 CPU costs $175. Power users can upgrade to 6GB of RAM for $100 and 8GB for $200. All of the hard drives have fast speeds of 7,200 rpm. The base version has a capacity of 320GB, but you can upgrade to a 500GB ($50) or a 640GB ($120) drive. A six-cell battery comes standard; the nine-cell option costs $30.
A backlit keyboard, which we had on our test unit, costs $25, as does Bluetooth connectivity. A drive that simply plays Blu-ray movies costs an extra $150; one that also burns Blu-ray discs costs $165. An integrated mobile broadband module costs $125, excluding any monthly data charges.
The 14.5-inch HP Pavilion dv5t (starting at $699; $1,024 as configured) is well suited for people who need a notebook small enough to travel with occasionally, but mostly plan on using their laptop at home. While it’s fast and beautiful, you can’t equip this machine with discrete graphics, and its touchpad can be frustrating. If you don’t mind carrying a little more weight, we recommend the $829 Samsung R580 or the $849 Dell Studio 15: they offer smoother touchpads and comparable performance for less money. If you prefer the sleeker design of the dv5t, save yourself some cash and skip the Blu-ray drive.