When shopping for a budget notebook, you can usually kiss touch screens goodbye. But HP bucks that trend with the Pavilion TouchSmart 11z-e000, which has an AMD A4 processor, 320GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM and, yes, an 11-inch touch screen. All of this is packed into an attractive 3.4-lb. design that belies its price. But at just $399, what are you giving up?
The TouchSmart 11z has a chic, smooth silver plastic lid with a chrome HP logo in the center. The notebook's silver sides line a brushed black metal keyboard deck with matte, black plastic keys on a bed of glossy plastic. Between its attractive design, thick and sturdy hinges, and its white LED indicators, the TouchSmart 11z rocks a classy, understated look despite the lack of aluminum.
This Pavilion measures 11.4 x 8.5 x 0.86 inches and weighs 3.4 lbs., which makes it thinner than the Acer C710 Chromebook's 11.2 x 8 x 1.1 inches, but nearly a pound heavier. At 11.9 x 7.9 x 0.9 inches, the ASUS Q200 is just as thin as the 11z, but a bit lighter (3 lbs.). The Lenovo IdeaPad S405 (13.2 x 9.4 x 0.86 inches), which has a 14-inch display, weighs the same as the TouchSmart.
MORE: Best Laptops 2013
Save for ASUS, HP offers one of the only 11.6-inch touch display laptops that cost less than $500. This LED-backlit panel is equipped with anti-glare coating, which made it much easier to read text outdoors.
Brightness, unfortunately, is where the 11z's screen takes a hit. At just 173 lux, it's considerably dimmer than the 239 lux category average. Then again, so were the IdeaPad S405 (173 lux), ASUS Q200 (116 lux) and the Acer C710 (163 lux).
Another strike against this display is that you have to push the lid back fairly far in order to see the screen clearly. We measured a 25-degree angle to make out text on websites, but it wasn't until we reached 32 degrees that the picture was completely clear.
When at the optimal viewing position, a trailer of "Ender's Game" looked good on the Touchsmart 11's screen. While there was a slight tint of blue, every pore and wrinkle in Harrison Ford's face, and the stitching in his blue uniform, were clear as day. The trailer for "Her," however, produced reds that were a bit washed out.
The TouchSmart 11z earns its name in everyday use. The display was incredibly responsive, whether we were activating Windows 8's Charms gesture, or playing "Cut the Rope." Plus, we barely noticed any smudges after a particularly lengthy session.
Sporting a wide grille covering two speakers, the TouchSmart 11z produces audio quality not found in most notebooks its size. HP equipped this laptop with DTS Sound+ for enhanced audio as well as an app complete with digital equalizers and profiles for different sound sources.
Without DTS, the synthesizer in Neon Indian's "Polish Girl" sounded more tinny than usual, as well as the vocal track. Activating DTS Sound+ led to a noticeable upgrade in volume, range and clarity.
On the LAPTOP Audio Test, which measures output in decibels at 23 inches -- the distance from the notebook screen to our nose -- the TouchSmart registered 76 dB, which is well under the 83 dB category average. Upward increments of 3 dB equate to a perceived increase of double the volume.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Tiny keys are a given on an 11-inch notebook, but HP made the TouchSmart 11z's limited real estate as comfortable as possible. We appreciate the quick access to controls such as brightness and volume without having to press the Function key first. We also like the matte finish on the keys, which made for a sure grip. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we registered 55 words per minute with a 2 percent error rate, which is less than our average of 60 wpm, but not too shabby for a keyboard this size.
The Synaptics touchpad is centered on the device, leaving equal room for our palms while typing. At 3.3 x 1.6 inches, this touchpad is a little on the small side, but that's to be expected on a laptop of this size.
Generally, the touchpad performed well in tracking our movements, and its matte coating made moving files or scrolling easy. However, the pad confused our scrolling gestures for pinches a few times. The discrete buttons below the trackpad proved snappy.
After streaming an episode of "The Awesomes" at 720p resolution for 15 minutes, the TouchSmart 11z kept its cool. The space between the laptop's G and H keys hit 87 degrees Fahrenheit, while its touchpad reached just 80 degrees. The hottest spot was the notebook's underside at 91 degrees. That's still well below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees.
HP's CoolSense automatically adjusts the fan when it detects the notebook is resting on your lap. This increase in fan activity is said to make the laptop feel cooler to the touch, but we failed to notice a difference, given that it already runs cool.
Ports and Webcam
HP sure put the limited space on its TouchSmart 11z to good use. The company squeezed two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, HDMI, its AC adapter port and an audio/microphone jack combo on the laptop's right side. On the left, you will find one USB 2.0 port, a multimedia card reader and a VGA port along with a lock slot. That's quite a selection for a notebook of this size.
At just 0.9-MP, the TouchSmart's webcam takes poor stills with lots of pixelation even in well-lit settings. Video isn't much better, with poor motion tracking, but this laptop will suffice for the occasional Skype chat.
HP includes CyberLink's YouCam, a webcam app that includes several features, such as visual effects, and optimizations like deeper exposure control.
With a 1-GHz dual-core AMD A4-1250 processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 5,400 rpm 320GB hard drive, don't expect blistering performance from the TouchSmart 11z. While these specs are certainly enough to drive Windows 8, don't expect to multitask much. For instance, with Paint and Google Chrome open with six tabs, the gameplay in "Cut the Rope" was choppy at times.
Synthetic benchmarks, such as the general performance test PCMark 7, corroborated our real-world experiences. The TouchSmart 11z scored 1,081 on this test, not even coming close to the 3,817 category average. Both the Q200 and IdeaPad S405 -- with 2.1-GHz AMD A6-4455M and1.4-GHz Intel Core i3-2365M chips, respectively -- edged out this notebook with scores of 1,567 and 1,439.
On our OpenOffice Test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses, the 11z took a whopping 28 minutes and 28 seconds to complete the task. That's nearly five times as long as the average ultraportable (5:55). The IdeaPad S405 took 8:59, while the Q200 completed the test in 11:29.
On the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which copies and pastes 4.97GB of multimedia files, the TouchSmart 11's hard drive took 4 minutes and 6 seconds for a transfer rate of 21 MBps. That's less than half the category average of 49 MBps, but on a par with the Q200 (21 MBps). The IdeaPad S405 boasted a slightly speedier 26 MBps.
Despite this sluggish performance, the TouchSmart 11z booted Windows 8 in 15 seconds, whereas the category average is 22 seconds. By comparison, the IdeaPad S405 took 35 seconds, while the Q200 booted in 23 seconds.
The AMD Radeon HD 8180 graphics chip within the TouchSmart 11z won't be able to handle much more than the average casual distraction. You'll get to enjoy spurts of "Cut the Rope" and "Bejeweled" (with nothing else running), but don't even think about anything more demanding.
On the 3DMark 11 benchmark, the TouchSmart 11z scored a paltry 364 -- that's 388 points lower than the category average (752). The IdeaPad S405 nabbed 554 points, though the Q200 was not tested on 3DMark 11.
MORE: Best Gaming Laptop 2013
This laptop ran "World of Warcraft" at an unplayable 22 frames per second at its native resolution and medium settings. However, the Q200 fared much worse, with just 12 fps at normal settings and 1366 x 768. The IdeaPad S405 registered a nearly playable 28 fps.
HP promises up to 7 hours of battery life from the TouchSmart 11z, and the notebook came close to meeting that claim. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness), the TouchSmart lasted 6 hours and 2 minutes. Not only is that time almost on a par with the 6:07 category average, it runs circles around the IdeaPad S405 (3:34) and Q200 (4:19).
Software and Warranty
HP stuffed this notebook's 320GB hard drive with a number of apps, games and utilities. HP's Support Assistant links users with tech support and troubleshooting help, while HP Recovery Manager is a proprietary backup tool.
HP partnered with a number of developers to create custom versions of popular apps. For instance, HP Connected Music is a music store and player powered by Meridian and integrated with Rhapsody, Tunein, 7digital and Rara.com. HP Connected Photo, a gallery app powered by Snapfish, integrates Facebook. Finally, HP Games is little more than WildTangent with a custom skin. These and more can be accessed through HP+, a Modern UI app that's simply a showcase for all of the company's branded apps.
The TouchSmart is loaded with third-party apps as well, the most useful of which are Cyberlink PhotoDirector, an image gallery app that doubles as a photo editor, and PowerDirector, a full-featured video editor.
In addition to a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security, the 11z includes apps for Netflix, the eBay app, Box, Kindle, a Western Digital app that interfaces with that company's external hard drives, and a number of free game trials. Also included are Skype, Microsoft's Fresh Paint art creation app for touch screens and a trial for Microsoft Office.
The TouchSmart 11 comes with a one-year limited warranty that covers parts and labor.
At $399, our review unit sample of the TouchSmart 11z-e000 is the only preconfigured unit available to consumers. However, HP offers a few customization options. You can upgrade the processor to a 1.4-GHz quad-Core AMD A6-1450 with Radeon HD 8250 Graphics for $50. You can also up the hard drive to 500GB for an additional $30, and increasing the RAM to 8GB costs another $50. All of these upgrades together would bring the TouchSmart's total asking price to $529.
As one of the only touch-screen notebooks under $400, the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 11z has plenty to offer students and other consumers looking for a basic portable notebook. Don't expect to do much in the way of multitasking, but the 11z is a small, attractive system good for Web browsing, email and light document editing. Plus, you can take advantage of Windows 8's growing touch app selection. However, we'd like less preloaded software.
Although you'll get snappier performance and a larger display out of the $399 IdeaPad S405, that system lacks a touch screen and lasts about half as long on a charge. Those on a tighter budget may prefer the simplicity of the $249 Samsung Chromebook, which offers longer battery life than the Touchsmart 11. However, the Samsung lacks a touch screen and offers less offline capability. As long as you don't place too many demands on it, shoppers who need an affordable ultraportable to last most of the day will find the TouchSmart 11 a compelling value.