The biggest story in laptops this year has got to be the rise of the inexpensive 11-inch ultraportable. Largely replacing 10-inch Netbooks, these systems are slightly larger, slightly more expensive, and significantly more powerful, thanks to the latest Intel Core i3 and AMD E-series processors.
The first one we saw in 2011 was the HP Pavilion dm1z, which used AMD's new E-350 CPU. At the time, we said: "The first laptop to offer AMD's power-efficient Fusion platform delivers on much of its promise, combining great battery life, decent performance, and basic graphics for less than $500." Since then, many other laptops have hit the same winning price-component combo, but the HP dm1z remained near the top of our list because of its excellent overall design.
An updated version has just landed, and it's also called the HP Pavilion dm1z. The main differences are a moderately updated design and a step up to AMD's brand-new E-450 processor, along with the same Beats Audio technology found in many larger Hewlett-Packard laptops.
The processor bump didn't amount to much, as the new Pavilion dm1z performed about the same as the AMD E-350 laptops we've tested, but the design tweaks, while subtle, make for a slicker, more upscale-looking system. Keeping the price fairly steady at $444 (including a $100 "discount" from HP), there's no reason not to recommend the new Pavilion dm1z as strongly as we did the original version. HP says an Intel Core i3 version will also be available later in the year, but that may cost more, around $600.
|Price as reviewed||$444|
|Processor||1.65GHz AMD E-450|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6320|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.5x8.5 inches|
|Height||0.8 inch - 1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.4 pounds / 4.2 pounds|
To be fair, no one is going to mistake the HP Pavilion dm1z, even with its new design tweaks, for an 11-inch MacBook Air or Samsung Series 9. This is still a chunky little ultraportable, and certainly heavy enough that you won't forget that it's in your shoulder bag. That said, putting it side by side with the original version, the improvements are easy to see.
The dm1z has gone from a glossy, fingerprint-prone lid to a matte one, in an attractive dark gray. Inside, the keyboard and keyboard tray are now all matte black, instead of black keys against a light-gray plastic interior. The battery has been shifted subtly, so it doesn't stick up between the screen hinges and protrude from the rear edge, making for a much cleaner silhouette. The new hinge design also allows the Ethernet jack to fit properly, instead of having to hide behind an awkward plastic flap, as it did on the original dm1z.
The island-style keyboard is virtually identical on this updated dm1z, and makes good use of the available space, stretching almost from one end of the keyboard tray to the other. The keys feel solid, with no flex under the fingers, although they do clack a little loudly. The always-important Shift, Enter, and Tab keys are thankfully full-size, but the Page Up and Page Down keys (which we tend to use a lot on small screens) are alt-mapped to the up and down arrow keys.
The touch pad is significantly different, moving away from the click-pad-style one on the original dm1z. That design, copied from HP's high-end Envy laptops (and, let's be honest, Apple's MacBook), incorporated the left and right mouse buttons right into the touch pad. But on the smaller pad necessitated by the 11-inch body, it ended up being awkward and at times unresponsive.
The new design brings back separate left and right mouse buttons, and combines them with a touch pad stamped right into the wrist rest with a subtle textured pattern. The combined pad and buttons cover the same surface area as the old click pad did, but the new version feels more responsive and is more comfortable to use. One additional change--the new touch pad is shifted slightly to the left so that it is perfectly centered under the spacebar, whereas the original version had the pad centered on the laptop body, but out of sync with the spacebar. So far, in anecdotal use, we don't strongly prefer one setup over the other.
The 11.6-inch display is unchanged, with the same 1,366x768-pixel native resolution as nearly every other 11-inch laptop (and a good number of the 13-, 14-, and 15-inch ones, as well). It's fine for Web surfing and video playback, although full HD 1080p video obviously won't display at its full resolution. Our main complaint about the screen is its bezel, which is made of overly glossy black plastic and contrasts harshly with the rest of the system's matte look, and catches a lot of glare.
The audio system, however, has gotten a big upgrade, and joins the list of HP laptops that use Beats Audio technology. In a small laptop such as this, there's only so much you can do, as small speakers simply don't push that much air. But the Beats Audio software provides EQ and other sound settings that can control volume levels for different output types and add noise cancellation to audio recordings.
Compared side by side with a non-Beats Pavilion dm1z, this new version sounded louder and fuller at lower volume levels, although that seems to be a function of EQ tweaks more than any physical difference in the speakers. If an 11-inch ultraportable is your main music source, well, you might want to rethink your audio setup, but as a no-added-cost upgrade, the Beats Audio software gives the new dm1z an upscale edge over the competition.
|HP Pavilion dm1z (fall 2011)||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD Card reader||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
The new version of the dm1z adds a mic jack, missing from the original, but no USB 3.0 ports, which are becoming increasingly common in all price ranges. There are a handful of customization options; knocking down the processor to a slower AMD E-300 discounts the system by $25, but we'd avoid that particular tradeoff. Part of the reason we like this laptop is its fast 7,200rpm hard drive, and our 320GB drive can be upgraded to a 500GB one for $30 or an even faster 160GB solid-state drive for $280 (the latter option puts us in a whole different price class, however).
While the 1.65GHz AMD E-450 CPU is a new member of AMD's Fusion platform, the new Pavilion dm1z wasn't much different in terms of performance from either the original Pavilion dm1z or other 11-inch laptops with the older E-350 CPU. If HP were charging more for it, we'd be disappointed, but as it's currently almost exactly the same price as the $450 model we saw earlier in the year, it's not a deal breaker.
In hands-on use, we found the dm1z, like other laptops in its class, is perfectly fine for Web surfing, sending e-mail, watching HD video, and even light gaming. If we had the same level of performance in a 15-inch laptop, it might feel sluggish, but in an 11-inch body, it's much better than the Intel Atom Netbooks that were all the rage a year or so ago. Note, however, that the much more expensive MacBook Air and the Samsung Series 3, both with Intel Core i-series chips, were much faster in our tests.