Up until now, small businesses with modest IT budgets have faced a difficult choice: purchase an affordable but bulky system targeted at them, or a low-cost consumer ultraportable without the build quality or business-friendly features they require. With the aggressively priced ProBook 5310m, Hewlett Packard has served notice on the industry: you can now get a high-quality business ultraportable for well under $1,000. Its competitors will have to respond.
The ProBook 5310m isn't the lightest ultraportable on the market, but it bests or comes close to its higher-priced competitors. At 12.9 x 8.7 x 0.9 inches and 3.8 pounds, the 5310m is significantly lighter and thinner than the HP ProBook 4310s (4.4 pounds, 1.1 inches thick) and the Dell Latitude E4300 (3.8 pounds, 1.3 inches). It's also the same thickness (but about 0.4 pounds heavier) than the Lenovo ThinkPad X301, which costs more than $1,800. Twelve-inch systems such as the Toshiba Portg R600 (2.4 pounds, 0.8 inches thick) and Lenovo ThinkPad X200s (3.2 pounds, 1.4 inches) are lighter, but the R600 costs well over $2,000, and the X200s is much thicker.
The ProBook 5310m looks much sexier than its $699 starting price would indicate. The black anodized aluminum lid and deck, sleek island keys, and durable magnesium rubberized bottom make the 5310m sexy enough for the club room while staying conservative enough for the boardroom. Though it has a similar shape and keyboard layout to the HP ProBook 4310s, the 5310m's piano black color, thin lines, and subtle status lights give it a much more sophisticated look than its sibling, which lacks the aluminum and magnesium materials.
Like many ultraportables today, the ProBook 5310m saves space by eschewing an optical drive. But these days, the optical drive is becoming less important, as you can download virtually any program and media file you might need. For those who occasionally read data off of a DVD, HP offers an external USB optical drive, or you can get a third party drive online for less than $50.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The ProBook 5310m employs an island-style keyboard (with rubberized keys) that provides wonderfully strong tactile feedback with no flex at all. If you're not used to island keyboards, the wide spacing between the keys may take some getting used to. When taking the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we first achieved a below-average rate of 74 words per minute, but on second try, matched our typical score of 80 wpm, with a 2 percent error rate.
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The glossy touchpad is accurate enough, but we would have preferred a lightly-textured surface, such as the one found on the Lenovo ThinkPad SL510, which has less friction. The pad supports an array of multitouch gestures, which must be enabled in the preloaded Synaptics touch software. After adjusting the settings, we were able to pinch to zoom in and out on photos, rotate our fingers to rotate images, and scroll down Web pages in Internet Explorer with a two-finger swipe. Unlike the ProBook 4310s, which has trapdoor-style mouse buttons that are hard to click, the buttons on the 5310m depress straight down, and are highly responsive.
Display and Audio
The 13.3-inch, 1366 x 768 LED-backlit display is available with BrightView or an antiglare finish. Our review unit had the antiglare screen, which produces sharp images, though colors are a bit muted. In order to get the best color quality when looking straight at the screen, we had to tilt the lid back about 15 degrees, rather than having it upright. Viewing angles were strong from 45 degrees to either side, but colors began to wash out as we got closer to 90 degrees from the panel.
The ProBook 5310m's display and speakers are sufficient for watching streaming video by one's self, but not for watching with others or listening to music. When streaming a 720p episode of Fringe from Fox.com, video was smooth, and images were sharp and colorful, with a minimum of noise. However, the volume on the bottom-mounted speakers was low, even at its highest setting.
Listening to music was less pleasant; when streaming songs from Napster, tunes sounded tinny and harsh.
Ports and Webcam
Click to enlargeTo save space on the ProBook 5310m, HP has made some interesting choices. Rather than a VGA-out or HDMI port, the company has included only a DisplayPort for connecting to external displays and projectors. This could present a problem for many users, as a number of monitors and projectors don't have DisplayPort connectors. However, HP says that eschewing VGA was necessary to keep the system thin, and that a DisplayPort-to-VGA adapter will be available for $29. Rather than having two discrete audio connectors, HP has chosen to go with a single headphone/microphone jack.
In addition to the audio and DisplayPort jacks, the ProBook 5310m has three USB ports, an Ethernet jack, and a Kensington lock connector. A 2-in-1 memory card reader accepts SD and MMC memory cards.
The 2.0-megapixel webcam produced sharp, detailed images, even in poorly lit rooms. When conducting a video call on Skype, our call partner was able to see every line in our palms as we waved our hand in front of the camera.
The HP ProBook 5310m's combination of a 2.26-GHz Core 2 Duo SP9300 processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 7,200-rpm, 320GB hard drive produced strong overall performance. In PCMark Vantage, a benchmark which measures overall system performance, the ProBook 5310m scored an impressive 3,382, which is well above the ultraportable category average of 2,754, and ahead of the HP ProBook 4310s (3,062), the Lenovo ThinkPad X301 (3,157), and the ThinkPad X200s (3,163).
When it came to transcoding video, the ProBook 5310m was more than capable, taking only 6 minutes and 50 seconds to convert a 114MB MPEG-4 into AVI format. The ultraportable category average for transcoding is 14:16, more than twice as slow. The ProBook 4310s took 7:42, while the Toshiba Portg R600 took a whopping 13:02 to complete the same test.
The speedy 320GB Seagate hard drive booted Windows 7 Professional in a brisk 47 seconds. It also completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, in a speedy 3 minutes and 14 seconds, for a rate of 26.2 MBps. This eclipses the category average of 20.4 MBps, the ProBook 4310s (24.8 MBps), the ThinkPad X200s (17.3 MBps), and the Portg R600 (16.9 MBps). However, the ThinkPad X301 (32.4 MBps) and the Dell Latitude E4300 (31.4 MBps) were both faster, thanks to their solid state drives. Users looking for similar performance in the ProBook 5310m can opt for an 80GB or 128GB SSD.
The ProBook 5310m's Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics provided adequate performance. In 3DMark06, a synthetic benchmark which measures overall graphics, the 5310m scored a respectable 952, which is just above the ultraportable category average of 885 and better than the ProBook 4310s (892), ThinkPad X301 (683), Portg R600 (596), and ThinkPad X200s (768).
In anecdotal testing, zooming around New York using the built-in flight simulator in Google Earth was smooth. As mentioned above, streaming 720p episodes of <i>Fringe</i> from Fox.com was also smooth. However, the 5310m uses an integrated graphics chip, so forget about 3D games. At 1024 x 768 resolution, the notebook managed only 5 frames per second in Far Cry 2. At its native resolution of 1366 x 768, that rate dropped to 3 fps. These numbers are slightly worse than the category averages of 8 and 4 fps, but even those are far from playable.
The ProBook 5310m's four-cell battery lasted 5 hours and 31 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. This number is about 20 minutes above the ultraportable category average of 5:12, and is way ahead of the ThinkPad X301 (3:29). However, it is on a par with the Dell Latitude E4300 (5:39), and way behind the Toshiba Portg R600 (6:24) and nine-cell ThinkPad X200s (10:43). HP is also planning to make a six-cell battery available that, if it performs as expected, should add another 2.5 to 3 hours of endurance.
The 802.11a/b/g/n Broadcom wireless adapter provided some of the strongest throughput we've ever seen. At 15 feet from the router, it registered a rate of 30.8 Mbps, which is one-and-a-half times as fast as the category average of 19.8 Mbps, and way higher than the ProBook 4310s (20.9 Mbps), the ThinkPad X301 (20.9 Mbps), the ThinkPad X200s (20.3 Mbps), the Latitude E4300 (19.2 Mbps), and the Portg R600 (18.1).
Its throughput of 17.1 Mbps from 50 feet was less impressive, but still above the category average of 16.9 Mbps, and better than the R600 (15.6 Mbps) and E4300 (16.9 Mbps). The ProBook 4310s (20.0 Mbps), ThinkPad X301 (18.7 Mbps) and X200s (17.2 Mbps) did slightly better.
To help speed up access to e-mail and the Web for professionals on the go, the 5310m includes two different instant-on environments that are designed to boot faster than Windows and perform limited tasks.
You can boot into QuickWeb, which is a version of DeviceVM's popular Splashtop operating system. When the system is powered down, press the globe button to the right of the keyboard. In our testing, the 5310m took 15 seconds from hitting the button to load the browser, and about another 15 to connect to our Wi-Fi network and load its default Web page.
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We appreciate that, unlike other systems which feature Splashtop--the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2, for example--the 5310m's QuickWeb OS has only a browser that is loaded right away, rather than presenting you with a menu of other Splashtop apps (photo gallery, Skype, etc.) and making you choose. If you want a photo gallery or Skype, you can always load Windows 7, which itself takes only 47 seconds to boot.
The QuickWeb browser is a version of Firefox that supports Flash, and we were able to watch an episode of The Simpsons on Hulu with no problems. However, it does not support third-party plug-ins, so we were unable to watch shows on Fox.com, which requires you to download its proprietary player. The browser supports multiple tabs, but not multiple windows, and will store bookmarks. QuickWeb can connect to the Internet via Ethernet, mobile broadband, or Wi-Fi.
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If you use Microsoft Outlook and want to take a brief peek at your inbox or contact list, you can hit the mail button to the right of the keyboard (while the system is turned off) and boot directly into HP QuickLook 3, which loaded in just 19 seconds, and lets you view all your Outlook information. We found this feature less useful than QuickWeb because it is not connected to the Internet, so all the information in Outlook has to be synchronized when you actually open the program in Windows. So if you compose an e-mail in QuickLook 3, it won't send until you load Outlook in Windows, and if you receive an e-mail, you won't see it in QuickLook 3 until the next time you use Outlook in Windows.
Small Business-Friendly Software and Support
Click to enlargeUnlike many notebooks that come preloaded with tons of trialware and unnecessary system utilities, the ProBook 5310m comes relatively clean of applications, and instead lets you choose what software, if any, you wish to install using the HP Software application. We highly recommend installing the bundled HP ProtectTools, a suite of utilities designed to help small businesses (or anyone without a large IT department to support them) protect their data.
Using the ProtectTools wizard, we were able to quickly set up a single password that provided three kinds of protection: preboot security, Windows protection, and hard drive encryption. Without the proper password, a laptop thief would be unable to even start the system, and incapable of accessing the hard drive if he chose to remove it and attach it to another computer.
The File Sanitizer allows you to "shred" (securely erase) a file or group of files so they cannot be recovered, even with unerase software. So, if you have sensitive data on the computer and want to give it to someone else, you can make sure that data is gone for good. The tool also has settings for shredding information like your browser history and cookies.
The Device Access Manager adds a layer of security that can prevent users from attaching USB devices or pairing with Bluetooth gizmos. Privacy Manager allows you to digitally sign documents and e-mails.
The ProtectTools suite also supports Computrace LoJack for laptops, which for an additional fee will allow you to delete your data, disable your computer, or even track the location of your stolen computer via GPS.
The 5310m comes standard with a one-year warranty on parts and labor. 24/7 toll-free tech support is also available. To see how HP fared in our annual tech support showdown, click here.
Click to enlargeHP offers three preconfigured versions of the ProBook 5310m: The $699 configuration will feature the Intel Celeron SU2300 processor, a 160GB hard drive, and 2GB of RAM. The $899 configuration, which is the unit we reviewed, offers a 2.26 GHz Core 2 Duo SP9300 processor, a 320GB hard drive, and 2GB of RAM. Finally, the $999 model will include all the same specs, but adds in a Gobi mobile broadband card. All three configurations will come with Windows 7 Professional and four-cell batteries.
Though our system came configured with a 7,200-rpm, 320GB hard drive, the 5310m is available with 160GB or 250GB drives and with 80GB or 128GB SSDs. Obviously, the SSDs will boost system performance significantly, but we were very pleased with the performance of the 320GB hard drive in our review unit. The system can be configured with up to 4GB of DDR3 memory, and you can also choose between several flavors of Windows 7, Vista, or even XP. We recommend Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional for the best possible user experience.
While five and a half hours of battery life is nothing to sneeze at, an optional six-cell battery, which will not be available until late Q4 of this year, is likely to boost endurance even further. However, while the four-cell battery we tested is flush with the bottom of the system, the extended unit will jut out to create a little extra bulk. If you need all-day computing, however, this is a sacrifice worth making.
HP also has an integrated Gobi Wireless 2.0 broadband option, which lets you connect to 3G networks. Using HP's connection manager, you can sign up with AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon Wireless.
The HP ProBook 5310m is one of the most exciting small business systems we've seen in a long time. For $899, you get an ultraportable that compromises on nothing, from its strong performance, to its suite of high-end security tools, to its durable high-class design. While the ProBook 4310s is around the same price, and has a built-in optical drive, it also weighs more and offers significantly less endurance. If you're looking for an ultraportable business system that can see you through most of the workday, the ProBook 5310m is your best option.