If there's any company that gets that business notebooks should look as good as they perform, it's HP. Just look at the ProBook 4530s, which sports a brushed-aluminum design that's clean and cool but also tougher than your typical consumer laptop. Priced at an affordable $729, this 15-inch machine has plenty of power, too, thanks to a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor and a fast 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive. To protect your data, HP includes a fingerprint reader and face-recognition technology. Add in the redesigned QuickWeb for getting online without Windows, and you have one of the most well-rounded business notebooks available.
Equally at home in the conference room, living room, and the coffee shop, the HP ProBook 4530s is the most attractive notebook in its class. Its sturdy lid and interior are crafted from brushed aluminium with metallic gray accents, which HP calls "deeply anodized." The screen is framed by dark-black plastic and swings open (and down) on silver "drop" hinges. A long perforated metal speaker grille runs across the deck above the notebook's black keyboard. The underside of the laptop is made from simple black-hued plastic. Overall it's an elegant look.
The ProBook 4530s lacks some of the advanced durability enhancements of its corporate sibling, the HP EliteBook 8460p, such as a rubber ring around the screen and a magnesium base. It does, however, feature a similar spill-resistant keyboard and number pad.
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With a wide rectangular frame that sits high on rubber nubs, the ProBook 4530s weighs 5.6 pounds and measures 14.8 x 10.1 x 1.1 inches. Slightly heavier than the Toshiba Tecra R850 (5.4 pounds), it isn't easy to carry on long trips, but transporting it from room to room won't prove difficult.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
Thanks to its wide-body design, the ProBook 4530s boasts a vast keyboard complete with a number pad on the right side. Its black chiclet-style keys are slightly concave, click softly, offer deep travel, and provide comfortable feedback. The arrow keys right next to the number pad often caused us to press "0" instead of the right arrow button, though.
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The large, 3.6 x 2.1-inch touchpad on the ProBook 4530s provides a nice balance of friction and glide. Made by Synaptics, the pad is correctly placed below the G and H keys and supports multitouch gestures such as three-finger swiping, pinch-to-zoom, and object rotation, all of which worked well. That said, two-finger scrolling through documents felt jumpy at times, and you can't adjust this feature's sensitivity. We do like the two discrete left and right mouse buttons, which clicked with authority without feeling stiff.
Display and Audio
The HP ProBook 4530s' LED-backlit 15.6-inch screen (1366 x 768 pixels) is rated at 200 nits and sports a matte treatment, so you don't have to worry about reflections. As with other laptops such as the Toshiba Tecra R850, moving off angle horizontally degrades picture quality (of both brightness and color fidelity). We would have liked to see more contrast and deeper blacks. For example, space scenes in the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey were not as dark as they should be.
The ProBook 4530's speakers above the keyboard belt out a sizable amount of sound, enough to easily fill a mid-size room. Audio is also improved by SRS Labs Premium Sound processing, with preset equalizer settings for movies and music. Even so, bass was lacking from booming tracks such as "Kids" by Sleigh Bells. However, "Keep Tryin'" from J-Pop star Utada Hikaru sounded well balanced.
Ports and Webcam
The HP ProBook 4530s comes with four USB ports, two each on the left and right sides. One of the USB ports on the left is a high-speed USB 3.0 connection. Also on the left side are Ethernet, HDMI, VGA, power, a smart card adapter, and a Kensington lock slot. On the front sits a 6-in-1 memory card reader plus headphone and microphone jacks. Lastly, on the right is a DVD SuperMulti Drive.
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Video callers will appreciate the HD webcam on the ProBook 4530s, which is capable of 720p video. Though it's not Skype HD-certified--video maxed out at 640 x 480--callers said we looked sharp on their end. We also recorded 720p video using the ArcSoft Webcam Companion software, and it looked crisp and smooth during playback.
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Under stress, the ProBook 4530s kept its cool. After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we recorded temperatures of 91 degrees at the touchpad, 86 degrees at the keyboard center, and 82 degrees underneath the laptop. These readings never reached what we consider too hot to handle (95 degrees) and were below the typical mainstream notebook's temperatures.
Outfitted with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor and 4GB of RAM, the HP ProBook 4530s offers solid performance. Its PCMark Vantage score of 6,220 is almost 800 points above the mainstream category average. However, the similarly configured Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s (2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M, 4GB of RAM) squeezed past the ProBook 4530s, notching 6,290.
Equipped with a large 500GB hard drive spinning at a quick 7,200 rpm, the ProBook 4530s managed to fire up Windows 7 Professional in 58 seconds, 8 seconds faster than the average 15-inch notebook. Duplicating a 5GB of folder of mixed multimedia files took 3 minutes and 2 seconds, translating to a high data rate of 38 MBps, well above the category average of 26.3 Mbps.
The ProBook 4530s converted a 114MB MP4 file into AVI in a swift 48 seconds using Oxelon Media Encoder. It usually takes similar notebooks 1 minute and 12 seconds. The Toshiba Tecra R850 proved faster, accomplishing the task in 41 seconds, while the ThinkPad Edge E420s lagged behind all three (55 seconds).
The integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics chip inside the HP ProBook 4530s turned in a 3DMark06 score of 3,633. That showing is about 300 points below average for this class of machine (which includes many laptops with discrete graphics), but it's nearly even with the Edge E420s (3,627), which has the same GPU. Using more robust AMD Radeon HD 6450M graphics, the Tecra R850 scored approximately 1,000 points higher than the 4530s.
While playing World of Warcraft, the ProBook 4530s squeezed out 28 frames per second at native resolution and effects set to Good. That's decent for a laptop with integrated graphics and in line with the ThinkPad Edge E420s (30 fps).
Battery Life and Wireless
The HP PowerBook 4530s' six-cell battery lasted 4 hours and 53 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via Wi-Fi). While that's a half hour longer than what we see from mainstream machines, the Tecra R850 (6:34) and the ThinkPad Edge E420s (6:41) both lasted much longer. To be fair, the latter notebook is a 14-inch system. An extended nine-cell battery for the 4530s costs $59.
Using an Atheros AR9285 Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n radio, the PowerBook 4530s turned in good wireless performance. It offered 36 Mbps at 15 feet away from our test router and 21.5 Mbps at 50 feet, nearly identical to the mainstream laptop averages (36.2 Mbps/21.7 Mbps). The 4530s also comes with Bluetooth 3.0, which allows pairing with hands-free Bluetooth headsets and speakers.
Small Business and Security Tools
One of the big draws of the HP ProBook 4530s is its robust security features. The laptop comes with HP Protect Tools, one of our favorite security suites. Within are wizards to quickly setup windows passwords and protect and manage passwords for web services. You also get a choice of authentication methods, including face recognition, fingerprint ID, and smart card adapter. After we set it up, we were easily able to log into this laptop through a swipe of our finger or just with our face.
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Other welcome security tools include Drive Encryption, which makes data unreadable if the ProBook 4530s is lost or stolen. If you are worried about loss or theft, you can also activate Computrace, which can remotely delete your data and track your system down. The Premium package that includes these features costs $42.89 per year. Lastly, it's possible to enable a BIOS-level password for added security.
Our $729 HP ProBook 4530s is one step below the top-of-the-line configuration and is equipped with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive. The lowest-priced $579 ProBook 4530s runs a slower 2.1-GHz Intel Core i3-2310M CPU, 4GB RAM, and has a smaller 320GB 7,200-rpm hard drive. The most expensive $949 ProBook 4530s adds AMD Radeon HD 6490M discrete graphics with 1GB of dedicated video memory.
Consumers can also create a custom configuration of the 4530s, though it's much more expensive than choosing a pre-configured model.
Software and Warranty
As with other HP laptops, the ProBook 4530s comes loaded with a sizable software bundle. Standouts include the ArcSoft Total Media Suite, which lets users create, copy, and watch all types of digital video and audio files and burn them to DVD or CD. The 4530s also includes the Webcam Companion app for taking pictures and shooting 720p video using the HD webcam. HP Power Assistant helps the laptop regulate its power consumption and also report usage back to IT managers. If trouble arises, a comprehensive HP Support Assistant will scan the notebook and provide a diagnosis or help contact an HP support rep. To better withstand bumps and drops, the HP 3D DriveGuard tool can park the hard drive or optical drive when sudden motion is detected.
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The HP QuickWeb 3.0 feature launches the 4530s into a simple yet very functional interface for getting online without Windows. Activated by hitting a dedicated key above the number pad, it provides at-a-glance info such as weather, time, stocks, news headlines and a calculator. It's a handy tool for travelers who need to get in the loop fast.
The only productivity software included is Microsoft's ad-supported Office Starter 2010. For antivirus protection, a 60-day trial version of Norton Internet Security 2011 is on board.
HP backs the ProBook 4530s with a standard one-year warranty covering parts and labor, plus includes 24/7 toll-free hardware tech support. See how HP fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brands report.
The HP ProBook 4530s hits the sweet spot. At $729, it offers a durable and sleek brushed-aluminum design, solid security, and Core i5 power for a price that's right. We're not fans of the small arrow keys, and those who want discrete graphics will have to pay more. Overall, though, business users looking for a stylish but seriously powerful laptop need look no further.