Admittedly, I have been living a happy life in Appleland for the past few years and haven't stopped to check out what's been brewing in the PC world. Now that I have been tinkering with the HP Pavilion dv4t laptop that I am going to give away, I was a bit surprised by what it could do and what it was packing. I'll start off with the basics. The dv4t notebook line is aimed at the student crowd. It starts at under 1,000 for the base model and features a glossy 14.1-inch screen.
Fortunately, the model I am going to be giving away is far from the base spec. It boasts 4GB of RAM, a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Windows Vista Ultimate (if it was mine, I'd wipe it and go with Ubuntu), GeForce 9200M GS graphics, a blu-ray drive, a 320GB Western Digital hard drive and a 250GB Hitachi hard drive expansion if you slide out the blu-ray drive. In addition, the dv4t sports an external Serial-ATA port and HDMI output - pretty spiffy. I've heard of entertainment-oriented notebooks, such as the Voodoo Envy, coming with HDMI and eSATA ports, but not from such a mainstream manufacturer as HP. eSATA makes it very easy to connect a large external disk and retain the speed and minimal overhead of a Serial-ATA connection. The dv4t also packs in a web cam and fingerprint reader.
Aimed at the student slash entertainment crowd means that HP built this computer well-aware that most students use their computer as their only media device. That means it takes the role of TV, internet device and so on. Windows Media Center is at the heart of these functions. When not using the ExpressCard slot, you can stow away a tiny Infrared remote control that can manage Windows Media Center features as well as HP's own "QuickPlay" center, which takes over Blu-ray playback.
I tested the HDMI output by hooking it up to my 50-inch Samsung HDTV and it was recognized quickly. When I tried to play a blu-ray movie through the dv4t I ran into a snag saying that the protected media was not allowed to play on the screen, when I know that my HDTV is HDCP-compliant. Then I made the HDTV the primary screen in the Nvidia settings and it worked.. a bit. I kept getting digital distortion as the blu-ray played. See video below:
Further investigation proved that the dv4t created such distortion even when not connected to any other display. I only own one blu-ray disc so it's hard for me to tell if this is a disc issue or a dv4t issue.
What good are all the aforementioned beefy hardware components if you can't use the computer effectively? The dv4t weighs in at a bit over 5lbs, making it a direct competitor to the Apple MacBook, which has been a top student notebook recommendation by various publications since its release. It's also a bit thicker than the MacBook.
The biggest drawback of the dv4t is the trackpad. It is impossible to use. It has a slick, fingerprint-loving surface that almost feels sticky. The small trackpad gets in the way of typing and often auto-scrolls when my thumb touches it a little bit. To combat this oft-occurring mishap, they included a button right above the trackpad that allows users to turn the trackpad off when not needed. Couldn't they written a smart driver that detects accidental touches? My MacBook Air never has an issue like this and it's trackpad is so huge that part of my palm always rests on it when I'm typing.
Other than that, the recessed keyboard works well. Keys have a bit more travel than a MacBook's keys and seem to require a bit more force to activate, but not by much. The headphones jack is appropriately placed in the front of the laptop, albeit directly under where your right wrist usually rests.
The removable drive bay is by far the best feature of the dv4t. Don't need a blu-ray drive right now? Swap it out for a few hundred gigabytes with a hard drive expansion. Don't need anything and would rather have a lighter laptop? No problem, just put in the filler slot.
One last nitpick I have with the dv4t deals with the display bezel. It's extremely reflective. I have no complaints about the glossy display itself; it's a great choice for a media PC with vivid colors and truer blacks. However, the reflective bezel is quite distracting.
Windows Vista rates this particular dv4t a 3.5 Windows Experience Index, with the graphics performance holding the system back. Otherwise, it would earn a 4.7.
A cold boot takes a whopping 3 minutes and 36 seconds. This is definitely a mixture of Vista being a resource hog and the default configuration of the dv4t launching a lot of taskbar applications. Shutdown takes only 29 seconds.
Finally, there are the integrated Altec Lansing stereo speakers. They're good, for a laptop. Considerably louder than my single-speaker MacBook Air (although that doesn't say much), they can fill a small dorm room with sound and pump out enough punch to vibrate the laptop itself. However, at the highest setting the speakers lose all clarity and a considerable amount of noise is introduced while mids are washed out. That being said, there did come a time while watching a blu-ray movie that I kept raising the volume only to find out that they were already on the highest setting.
Technically-speaking, this particular dv4t is stellar. 4GB of RAM, a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo, a blu-ray drive, loads of storage and the promise of more with an eSATA port. That's nothing short of impressive. With the provided 6-cell battery, I clocked in about 2 and a half hours of battery life on a full charge. That's about what I would expect with something sporting its high-end hardware.
On the other hand, Vista sucks and is a nightmare to use. As with most OEM laptops, it comes pre-loaded with a bunch of junk software like a NetZero trial, MSN dial-up trial and an annoying Yahoo! toolbar. HP takes up 11.2GB with its own restore partition instead of providing a restore DVD. The dv4t is also quite bulky, but I am definitely biased as I'm typing this on my MacBook Air.
The HP Pavilion Entertainment PC (dv4t) receives 6.5 out of 10 Stammys. (8 if it shipped with a respectable operating system)