HP ProBook 4310s (FM971UT) Review

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Pros: Good performance; Classy design; Competitively priced; Loud speakers

Cons: Awkward touchpad buttons; Design a bit thick; Mediocre viewing angles

Verdict: This thin-and-light small business notebook offers strong performance in a stylish package.

Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the HP ProBook 4510.

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The HP ProBook 4310s, as the most miniscule member of HP's new small-business line, takes many of the qualities of its bigger brothers (the4510and the4710) and packs them into a chassis that will appeal to road warriors looking for an excellent deal and unencumbered shoulder. At $799, this 13-inch system is less expensive than similarly-sized small-business notebooks, and its performance and looks are sure to have others at the conference table eyeing it with envy.

Design

Although the ProBook is HP's entry-level brand for business users, its design is far from dull. Unlike the glossy--and fingerprint-prone--black lid of other ProBook models, the merlot-colored 4310s (also available in black Noir) doesn't pick up fingerprints. While this option costs $20 more, the color adds a dash of style to an otherwise aesthetically boring category.

The chassis has a mix of textures: a glossy keyboard deck, a satin palm rest, and a speaker strip lining the top. Because the bezel is thin, it's easy to focus instead on the bright 13-inch display. As an added touch, the power and QuickLook 2 buttons and LED lights all glow turquoise blue, which also keeps the design interesting.

At 4.4 pounds, the ProBook 4310s is the same weight as the13-inch MacBook Pro, but slightly heavier than theSony VAIO SR(4.2 pounds). Because of its 16:9 display, the ProBook has a relatively wide footprint; at 12.8 x 9.0 x 1.1 inches, and with a thickness ranging from 1.2 to 1.5 inches, it's less svelte than some other 13-inch notebooks.

Keyboard and Touchpad

One of the freshest parts of the ProBook's design is its island-style keyboard. This layout makes any budget notebook look more refined. On the one hand, we took quickly to the keys' slightly textured, scratch-resistant finish, and their comfortable spacing. Unlike the 15- and 17-inch versions of the ProBook, the 4310s lacks a number pad--not that we expect one on a 13-inch system. The keyboard is spill-resistant, to boot. On the other hand, once we started pounding out documents a bit more furiously, the keyboard flexed a little. Then again, this might have something to do with the fact that we tested a preproduction unit. HP says that the final units offer structural changes designed to reduce the keyboard's flex.

The 2.8 x 1.4-inch touchpad is plenty large, and the rubbery texture provides the right amount of friction. The touch buttons--like those on the other ProBook models--feel like trap doors. Instead of being straightforward push buttons, they're hinged at the top, so only the part closest to the edge of the notebook depresses. We would have preferred traditional buttons. They're smaller on the 4310s than on the 4510 and 4710, but are still awkward.

Display and Sound

While the glossy BrightView finish on the LED-backlit 13.3-inch (1366 x 768) display provided increased contrast over a matte panel, it also had poor viewing angles. While watching an episode of Heroes on DVD, images washed out when we tilted the screen forward, and colors reversed themselves when viewed from greater-than-45-degree angle from the sides. Aside from making movies look more cinematic, the 16:9 aspect ratio is a practical choice for business customers because the lower profile helps out on airplane trays. However, you do get less vertical pixels than you would on a 16:10 display with 1280 x 800 or 1440 x 900 resolution.

When playing music, including tracks from Janet Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, and Jay-Z, the speakers on the ProBook 4310s were very loud for a 13-inch system; we could easily hear lyrics from across a room. However, higher treble tones were slightly tinny and distorted. While there was a lack of bass, this wasn't unexpected given a notebook of this size.

Ports and Webcam

The ProBook 4310s has a thorough selection of ports: Three USB 2.0 ports, VGA and HDMI output, Ethernet and modem jacks, a Kensington lock slot, and headphone and mic ports. It also has a 5-in-1 memory card reader and an ExpressCard/34 slot for low-profile mobile broadband cards. None of the ports are on the back; most are on the sides of the notebook, with the headphone and mic ports and the memory card reader located on the front.

The 2.0-megapixel webcam showed pleasant lighting in both still shots and VGA video. Stills, in particular, included an impressive amount of detail, such as the shine in our hair. Video captures looked smooth, but because it's fixed focus, the image drifted in and out of focus as we moved around in front of the camera.

Performance

Our configuration of the ProBook 4310s came with a 2.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6570 CPU and 2GB of RAM--the same processor and memory as the 4510s. In the larger system, this combination produced below-average scores for the mainstream category, but in the 4310s, it notched scores on a par with thin-and-light averages. The 4310s' PCMark Vantage score of 3,062, for instance, is about 40 points above average. Anecdotally, we were able to navigate between several tabs in Firefox, search our inbox, write this review in Microsoft Word, and download and use Skype without any difficulty.

On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, the 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive duplicated a 4.97GB folder of mixed media at a rate of 24.8 MBps; the thin-and-light average is 19.3 MBps. However, the ProBook 4310s booted into Windows Vista Business in 63 seconds--three seconds longer than the average.

Graphics

The Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics card inside the ProBook 4310s delivered comparably weak gaming performance. It scored 892 on 3DMark06, whereas the average thin-and-light notebook scored 1,491 on the same tests. As we expected, the ProBook 4310s choked on Far Cry 2: it ran at 5 frames per second with 1024 x 768-pixel resolution.

When we transcoded a 5:05 MPEG-4 clip to AVI using Handbrake, the ProBook 4310s took 7 minutes and 42 seconds. That's a minute longer than the average, but not so bad when you think that the Sony VAIO SR--which costs twice as much--took the same amount of time.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The four-cell battery on the 4310s lasted 4 hours and 3 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which is about 10 minutes shy of the average thin-and-light notebook. An extended eight-cell battery will be available for $10 extra when HP's configure-to-order option becomes available.

The Intel WiFi Link 5100 802.11a/b/g/draft-n radio delivered throughput of 20.9 Mbps and 20.0 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively. That's better than the category averages (19.6 Mbps and 15.2 Mbps). Our configuration also came with Bluetooth, and users can have an optional EV-DO/HDSPA module installed for mobile broadband for an extra $125.

Security and Durability Features

In addition to a spill-proof keyboard, the 4310s (and every ProBook configuration) has a 3D accelerometer to protect the hard drive in the event of drops. It also has drive encryption, HP Disk and File Sanitizer, HP Recovery Manager, HP Credential Manager, and HP Spare Key, which includes a hints option in case you forget your login information. HP additionally includes its QuickLook 2, an instant-on OS that allows you to read e-mail and glance at your calendar before booting Windows. Keep in mind that this feature requires Microsoft Outlook.

While HP initially didn't offer a fingerprint reader with the ProBook series (reserving it for the higher-end EliteBook line), users can opt for a reader with the 4310s for an additional $25; we're glad to see that HP changed its mind.

Some features you'll miss if you go with the ProBook instead of the EliteBook series include business card reader software, a Smart Card reader, a 16-billion-color DreamColor display (a workstation feature), a Blu-ray burner (the ProBook only offers a Blu-ray reader), and the EliteBook line's durability, which includes magnesium alloy chassis and a fingerprint- and scratch-resistant finish on the interior.

Software and Warranty

In addition to the security software described above, the ProBook 4310s comes preinstalled with some programs and trialware (on a business machine, we expect a cleaner image than we do with consumer models). These programs include Microsoft Office 2007, InterVideo WinDVD 8, McAfee Total Protection, PDF Complete, Roxio Creator Business, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Toolbar.

The notebook has a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, including 24/7 toll-free customer service. Three-year warranties come standard on the EliteBook line. Click here to see how HP fared in our Tech Support Showdown.

Configurability

The 13.3-inch ProBook is available in four preconfigured models. In addition to our review unit, there's a $779 model (FM970UT) which has the same specs, but has a matte display. For $879, consumers can get the 4310s (FM972UT) with a 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6670 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a BrightView display. For $999 (FM973UT), the notebook is outfitted with a 2.26-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7570 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 discrete graphics with 512MB of dedicated video memory. All can only be ordered in black, though upcoming configure-to-order models will also be available in red.

Users can also opt for a Blu-ray drive (but not a burner) for $225, and a fingerprint reader for $25.

Green Testing

The HP ProBook 4310s garnered a Gold rating from EPEAT (21 out of 28 points); while that's one point shy of the 4510s and the 4710s, it's nothing to sneeze at. The four-cell battery took 58 minutes to charge up to 80 percent, and 1:52 to fully charge; during that time, it used an average of 40.2 watts. When divided by the battery life (the LAPTOP Efficiency Index), the 4310s consumed 18.5 watts per minute of battery life. That falls in between the Sony VAIO SR, which required 27.7 watts, and the Lenovo ThinkPad T400, which used 18.0 watts.

HP ProBook 4310s Verdict

As the smallest model in HP's new budget-friendly business line, the $799 ProBook 4310s is an attractive, durable machine with good productivity performance and a variety of security features. Its merlot finish makes it stand out from more staid business machines without being ostentatious. If you don't mind a little more weight, we also suggest considering theLenovo ThinkPad SL400; for $704 you'll get similar specs and performance, as well as a larger screen. But when it comes to affordable 13-inch business notebooks, the HP ProBook 4310s is a strong choice.

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Author Bio
Michael A. Prospero
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor
Michael A. Prospero has overseen reviews on Laptopmag.com since 2007, focusing on producing the most thorough and authoritative mobile product reviews. After receiving his Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia in 2003, Mike worked at Fast Company. Prior to that, he worked at The Times of Trenton, George and AlleyCat News.
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6570
Operating System MS Windows Vista Business
RAM 2GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 7,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 13.3
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive DVD /-RW DL
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Intel GMA 4500MHD
Video Memory 795MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/draft-n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
USB Ports 3
Card Slots ExpressCard/34
Card Slots SD memory reader
Warranty/Support One-year standard/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 12.8 x 9.0 x 1.1 inches
Weight 4.4 pounds
Company Website http://www.hp.com