The HP 15t Touch is a notebook built to catch your eye, both with its colorful design as well as its inviting price tag. This entry-level laptop sports a 15.6-inch HD touch screen, a supersnappy keyboard and enough battery life to get you through your afternoon classes. However, less-than-stellar Core i3 performance and annoying bloatware hold this system back.
The HP 15t Touch certainly knows how to grab your attention, but it loses some of its allure when you get up close. A cool blue coat of paint (which will run you $10 more than the black model) covers the notebook's lid and keyboard deck, the latter of which sports a subtle hash pattern and a touchpad unlike any other I've seen.
The notebook's touchpad is borderless, with nothing but a small indent and its two click buttons to separate it from the rest of the plastic deck. While this creates a seamless and unique look, it isn't always intuitive (more on that later), and its glossy makeup is highly susceptible to fingerprints.
The laptop's exterior is nicely textured, but feels cheap -- I was able to squish the lid downward just by pushing lightly on it. The 15t Touch's blue aesthetic is offset by some attractively rounded black edges, which host the machine's Ethernet port, HDMI port and USB inputs on the left, as well as an SD card, an optical drive and an additional USB port on the right.
The 15t isn't exactly a featherweight at 4.8 pounds, but I found it easier to carry than the 5.11-pound Dell Inspiron 15 5000 and 5.29-pound Toshiba Satellite C55Dt. The 15t's edges are 0.97 inches thin, which is just barely thicker than the Inspiron 15 (0.94 inches) and the Satellite (0.96 inches).
Display and Audio
The 15t's 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display isn't the brightest or sharpest in its price range, but it gets the job done for everyday entertainment.
The notebook did a fine job handling the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer -- while some extra-bright scenes looked blown out, many key details, such as Captain Phasma's shiny Stormtrooper armor and Finn's debris-covered face, were preserved well.
It's not the brightest entry-level notebook out there, though. The 15t registered 162 nits on our brightness test, which is just behind the Inspiron 15 (167 nits) and notably dimmer than the Toshiba Satellite (195 nits) as well as our 192-nit average for sub-$400 notebooks. HP's laptop produced 61.5 of the sRGB color gamut, which is a bit below our 64.2 budget average.
You might not need a touch screen on a nonconvertible laptop, but the 15t's works well. Pinching to zoom in and out of websites was a breeze, as was performing Windows touch functions such as swiping in apps from the left side of the screen. The screen did come in handy for playing touch-friendly games, such as Cut the Rope.
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My review system came with Windows 8.1, and after upgrading it to Windows 10, the touch screen no longer worked. HP says that this issue should have only affected a very small number of users who happened to update to Windows 10 during a small time period. Those who purchased the HP 15t with Windows 10 already installed, or are planning to upgrade to Windows 10, should not have this problem.
While not quite thunderous, the 15t's stereo speakers packed enough oomph to fill a small meeting room with music. When rocking a few tracks from The Gaslight Anthem, frontman Brian Fallon's signature gruff crooning came through clearly. I would have liked to hear the bass and rhythm guitars better, but I was able to enjoy the music nonetheless.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Webcam
As I mentioned, the 15t's chameleonlike touchpad is visually stunning, but not very practical. The touchpad is in a slight depression and has the same glossy makeup as the rest of the keyboard deck, both of which made it difficult to navigate precisely.
Pinching to zoom was harder than I expected, and I was unable to perform common Windows gestures such as swiping from the left to switch apps -- fortunately, the latter is no longer an issue with Windows 10. It didn't help that the two click buttons felt stiff and cheap.
Fortunately, my frustration with the 15t's touchpad was offset a bit by its excellent keyboard. The notebook's black island keys are wonderfully snappy, and include a full number pad as well as handy function buttons for volume and brightness control. On the Key Hero typing test, I chopped away at a fast 85 words per minute with 96.6 percent accuracy (compared to about 80 wpm and 95 percent accuracy on my usual keyboard), and never felt a bit of discomfort.
It probably won't top your smartphone selfies, but the 15t's webcam takes perfectly serviceable photos. The snapshots I took were a little blurry and had a bit of an orange glow to them, but there was nothing that would make my Skype friends think I've turned into a pixelated monster.
Powered by a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i3-4005U with 4GB of RAM, the 15t offers decent performance -- as long as you don't put too heavy a load on it. I had no issues when surfing a few Web pages or working on a Google Doc, but when I loaded up a dozen Chrome tabs while simultaneously streaming video from Twitch and YouTube, I experienced occasional moments of lag.
It's not that the 15t Touch can't multitask. It took the notebook 39 seconds to open a 69MB Word document while a 1080p video played in the background. That's faster than the Inspiron 15 5000 (41 seconds), the Satellite (48.1 seconds) and our 52-second budget average.
The system performed admirably on our spreadsheet test, which tasks a PC with matching 20,000 names to their addresses in OpenOffice. The 15t got the job done in 7 minutes and 59 seconds, beating out the Satellite (15:04) and our 9-minute average while falling a bit behind the Inspiron 15 (7:06).
Battery Life and Heat
It might not have an all-day battery, but HP's notebook gives you a respectable amount of juice for the price. The 15t endured 5 hours and 24 minutes on our battery test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi), outlasting the Inspiron (4:46), the Satellite (4:47) and our 5:10 average. However, the Asus X555LA lasted an even longer with 5:55.
It also stays cool enough for comfort. After 15 minutes of streaming HD video, the laptop's underside, touchpad and keyboard registered 85, 86 and 88 degrees, respectively, all of which are below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Sadly, the 15t's apps section is more crowded than a supermarket on Thanksgiving morning. The notebook's glut of bloatware includes roughly two-dozen throwaway games (my apologies to fans of Barn Yarn Collector's Edition), as well as the WildTangent client for finding more titles you probably don't need.
There are a handful of CyberLink media apps for editing photos, videos and burning DVDs, as well as Snapfish, which lets you order prints of your digital photos. On the first-party front, you get HP Connected Drive for sharing content across your laptop and mobile devices, as well as Connected Music for playing local tunes and streaming live radio. However, with more widely used apps such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Spotify out there, HP's offerings don't seem all that useful.
You might find something useful out of the dozens of extra apps loaded onto the 15t, but I personally was overwhelmed with the amount of clutter.
The HP 15t Touch offers an excellent keyboard, a responsive HD touch screen and dependable battery life for a budget price, but some flaws weigh it down. Its slippery touchpad may make you reach for a mouse, and its seemingly endless swath of bloatware makes it hard to figure out which of its preinstalled apps are actually useful.
Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 ($449) offers a sturdier design, better performance and more colorful display, albeit with less battery life. However, if you prefer a touch screen, the 15t Touch is a pretty good option.