Look, I don't expect a ton from a notebook that's less than $300. To make something at that price, you have to cut corners somewhere. But the $259.99 HP Notebook 15-ba009dx cuts corners nearly everywhere, from the cheap build quality to the subpar display to the battery life that's less than half the length of its nearest competitors. Sure, its speakers sound OK, but you can get a laptop that cuts fewer corners elsewhere, and I recommend that you do.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that this cheap laptop feels really, well, cheap. It's made of black plastic, and the ribbed lid with HP's logo has a lot of flex when you press down. Lifting the lid reveals the 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display; an island-style keyboard with a number pad; and a black deck with some racing stripes. The black plastic edges around the deck are sharper than I expected, which caused me some trouble while typing (see below).
At 4.6 pounds and 15.1 x 10 x 1 inches, it's an average size for a budget 15-incher. The $349, Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM is 5 pounds and 15 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches. The $159, 14-inch Dell Inspiron 14 3000 is 3.5 pounds and 13.6 x 9.6 x 0.9 inches while the $209 Asus L402SA is just 3.3 pounds and 13.3 x 9.3 x 0.9 inches.
The left side of the laptop features an Ethernet jack, an HDMI output, a headphone jack and a pair of USB 2.0 ports. On the right are a USB 3.0 port, an SD card reader and a DVD drive.
Dim and dull is the name of the game with the HP Notebook 15's 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display. When I watched a trailer for The Big Sick in 1080p, I couldn't make out most of the characters' facial features in a dark room, and a scene in a hospital was blown out by light coming in from the windows. The people's blue and red shirts were all muted.
The HP Notebook covered just 70 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is far short of the 94 percent average for mainstream notebooks. The Inspiron and Aspire were both more vivid at 81 percent and 159 percent, respectively.
It has a Delta-E score of 1.3 (0 is ideal), so its colors are more accurate than some competitors. The average is 2.1, while the Inspiron (3.4) and Aspire E (6.2) were way less precise.
The HP laptop's display is dim at just 174 nits, but it's brighter than the 135-nit disappointment on the Inspiron. The Asus L402SA and Acer E 15 measured 206 and 215 nits respectively.
Keyboard and Touchpad
I typed at my usual 107 words per minute on the HP Notebook 15's keyboard, but it wasn't enjoyable. The keys are shallow with just 1.2 millimeters of travel and 71 grams of force required to press, and the cheap plastic gave them a hollow feel. The edge of the palm rest is sharp and digs into your arms if you aren't careful.
The touchpad feels plasticky and cheap, but it suffices. I used it to navigate Windows 10 without any problems, though some multitouch gestures, like activating Cortana with three fingers, took a few tries.
For a cheap notebook, HP's speakers were actually pretty decent. When I listened to "Waving Through a Window," from the soundtrack to "Dear Evan Hansen," Ben Platt's vocals were clear and loud enough to fill our small conference room.
While the violins were also clear, the bass and the rest of the orchestra were quite soft. In the DTS Audio Control app, there are options to focus on voice or movie playback, but I was perfectly happy leaving it alone in the default music mode.
With its 2-GHz AMD A6-7310 CPU, Radeon R4 Graphics, 4GB of RAM and 500GB, 5,400-rpm HDD, the Notebook 15 isn't exactly the working person's computer. In my testing, it occasionally stuttered just trying to open the file manager, and it couldn't consistently keep up with my typing on the 10fastfingers.com typing test. I had 10 tabs open in Google Chrome when I started seeing lag when switching between them.
It also doesn't use 802.11ac, the latest Wi-Fi standard, so you won't get the fastest internet speeds.
The Notebook notched a score of 3,291 on the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, which beat the Inspiron (1,807, Intel Celeron N3060) and L402SA (1,934) but was not as good as the Aspire (5,408, Intel Core i3-7100U).
It took the computer 2 minutes and 7 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed-media files, a rate of 40.1MBps. The Inspiron (27.9MBps) and the Aspire (36.6MBps) were both a little slower. The L402SA, which has eMMC memory instead of a hard drive, was way behind at 14 MBps.
It took a whopping 11 minutes and 40 seconds for HP's laptop to pair 20,000 names and addresses in our OpenOffice spreadsheet macro. The Inspiron (13:33) and L402SA (13:15) were even slower, but the Aspire took just 5:14.
Keep the Notebook 15 near a charger at all times. It lasted for just 3 hours and 36 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which continuously browses the web over Wi-Fi. The Asus L402SA endured for a much-stronger 6 hours and 9 minutes. While the Inspiron (9:01) and Aspire (8:16) both lasted long enough to get through a work day.
What a mess. The 640 x 360 webcam takes blurry, pixelated images that aren't even suitable for Skyping with a friend. In a shot I took at my desk, I appeared so blurry and pixelated that I had to make sure that there was no Cling Wrap over the camera. The lights behind me were all blown out, and colors weren't nearly as vivid as they appeared in real life.
Whether on your desk or in your lap, the Notebook 15 will keep cool. In our testing, the laptop never passed our 95-degree comfort threshold after streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube. The bottom measured 88 degrees Fahrenheit, the keyboard between the G and H keys measured 87 degrees and the touchpad was a cool 81 degrees.
Software and Warranty
Unfortunately, you'll spend a bit of time if you want to uninstall all the prepackaged bloatware on the Notebook 15. The junk includes McAfee LiveSafe, WildTangent Games, Simple Mahjong and short cuts for Amazon.com and Priceline.com, among others. That's on top of stuff all Windows 10 machines make you deal with, such as Netflix, Twitter, Candy Crush: Soda Saga and Royal Revolt 2.
HP does include some useful utilities, though. Amateur videographers may appreciate the CyberLink suite of video-editing tools, while HP Orbit pairs your laptop and smartphone for file sharing. The pre-loaded Dropbox app gives you 25GB of space for a year if you sign in on the laptop.
I don't expect budget notebooks to deliver top-notch performance, displays or even design, but the HP Notebook 15-ba009dx is subpar on just about every level. It lasts less than 4 hours on a charge, has a dim and bland display, a flat keyboard and a plastic case with significant give in the lid. It doesn't even support the latest Wi-Fi standard.
If you can stretch your budget another $90, the $350 Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM gives you a 1080p display, bigger hard drive, AC Wi-Fi and an Intel Core i3 CPU. It lasts over 8 hours on a charge, too. It's not perfect, but the differences are impressive.
If you can't spend more than the Notebook 15 costs, you can still get a lot more for your money. The $209 Asus L402SA sports a comfortable keyboard, colorful display and much better build quality than HP's laptop. The $230 Dell Inspiron 14 3000 has far less storage (just 32GB), but if you don't keep documents, photos, music or video on your laptop, at least it will last you 9 hours on a charge.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag