Editors' note: This review is part of our Back-to-school 2009 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The HP Pavilion dv3-2155mx packs a small 13.3-inch screen with a movie- and HD-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio and a big, nine-cell battery. Weighing an even 5 pounds, it's a highly portable laptop, but thanks to its extended-cell battery, it's not much lighter (and in one case, heavier) than larger 14-inch models. The long-running battery will get you through a double feature, and watching movies ought to be a priority if you're thinking about pulling the trigger on the Pavilion dv3-2155mx.
The dragon-and-floral imprint finish will also need to appeal to you; the Pavilion dv3-2155mx is a fixed configuration retail model with one and only one chassis option. There aren't any deal-breakers to be found on this $729 thin-and-light laptop--depending on your opinions of dragons--but the $749 Dell Studio S1440-022B offers a larger display and a lighter weight (but no DVD burner), while the $799 Toshiba Satellite E105-S1602 is only a hair heavier and features a 14-inch display, backlit keys, and a two-year warranty.
|Processor||2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||500GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||12.9 inches tall by 8.7inches wide by 1.4 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.0 / 5.9 pounds|
HP Pavilion laptops stand out from the mainstream pack by offering a bit of flair with their imprint finishes. The Pavilion dv3-2155mx is no different, with a dragon-and-floral print running vertically through its indigo-blue chassis. The dragons can be found on the lid and also run across the wrist rest and touch pad. There isn't much contrast between the bluish-silver dragon print and background color, so if you're scared off by the thought of dragons populating your laptop, check it out in person before drawing a conclusion. Still, the overall effect is more "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" than Dungeons & Dragons.
Like the 14-inch Pavilion dv4-1465dx, the Pavilion dv3-2155mx features an extended-cell battery that protrudes from the bottom of the system. The dv3-2155mx has a trimmer battery, a nine-cell unit as opposed to the huge 12-cell battery that weighs down the dv4-1465dx. The nine-cell battery juts out of the bottom of the laptop by 0.75 inch, and its rounded shape makes a convenient handle when carrying about the laptop with the lid closed. However, the battery doesn't run the whole length (only about three-quarters) of the laptop, so when the laptop is resting on your thighs, it lists to the right. The battery also creates a ridge that's uncomfortable when on your lap; the weight-bearing ridge begins to dig into your thigh after a time. When seated at a desk or table, though, the battery provides a comfortable angle for typing.
While we like the size and weight of this 13-inch Pavilion, the bigger, bulkier Pavilion dv4--1465dx is a member of Best Buy's Next Class program. The dv3-2155mx is not. The most obvious benefit of this program, which gathered input from students about what they want in a laptop, is a useful software bundle. The similarly configured dv4-1465dx costs only $20 more than the dv3-2155mx and includes a full copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 and 12 months of virus protection by way of Norton Internet Security 2009. You're left with only Microsoft Works and a 60-day trial of Norton here.
As with past Pavilion laptops, we don't enjoy the glossy finish on the dv3's touch pad. Sure, it improves the overall design of the laptop, lending it yet another chrome accent, but most laptop touch pads feature matte finish material, which allows your finger to move across the surface with little friction. The glossy finish here feels "grabby," and instead of being centered below the space bar like on most laptops, it's centered on the laptop. The result is frequent accidental cursor movements made by our right hand and thumb. The touch pad is also very narrow, measuring only 1.5 inches tall by 3.2 inches wide. In the plus column for the touch pad are the wide and quiet mouse buttons below it, the vertical scroll area along its right edge, and a tiny on/off button above it.
Unlike the odd dimensions of the touch pad, the keyboard looks and feels like a natural fit on the Pavilion dv3's 13-inch chassis. The keys have a glossy finish that helps the overall look but detracts from the actual typing experience somewhat. To these fingertips, the keys felt a bit too slick, though they do feature good travel and are very quiet. We prefer the keyboard on the Dell Studio S1440-022B. Touch-sensitive buttons for mute and Wi-Fi sit above the keyboard, plus a volume control.
The display measures 13.3 inches and features an extra-wide 16:9 aspect ratio that matches that of movies and HD video. With 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, the Pavilion dv3-2155mx can display 720p video. But it can require more scrolling down long Web pages or Word documents. A wide-screen display with a 16:10 display at or near this size typically features a 1,280x800-pixel resolution, which has more horizontal lines. The screen features a glossy coating, but it's one of the better examples in terms of keeping glare and reflections to a minimum.
For integrated audio, the Altec Lansing speakers reach an impressive level at max volume, though the Dell Studio S1440 produced clearer sound at high levels. The Pavilion dv3-2155mx's audio output will suffice for movies and YouTube, but you'll want to plug in headphones for music.
|HP Pavilion dv3-2155mx||Average for thin-and-light category|
|Video||VGA, HDMI, Webcam||VGA, HDMI or Mini-DVI, Webcam|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, eSATA, mulitformat memory card reader||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Pavilion dv3-2155mxx provides a decent selection of ports, including HDMI and eSATA, but the Dell Studio S1440 provides those plus DisplayPort and FireWire connections. The lack of 802.11n Wi-Fi is a curious omission; most mainstream laptops offer this faster wireless connection. Likewise, the dv3-2155mx doesn't provide Gigabit Ethernet--only 10/100 Ethernet. In the plus column, the laptop includes a tiny IR remote for controlling the action in Media Center; when not in use, it can be stowed in the ExpressCard/34 slot.
On CNET Labs application benchmarks, the HP Pavilion dv3-2155mx finished in the middle of the pack, keeping pace with other systems that feature the same configuration: Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 processor, 4GB of memory, a 5400rpm hard drive, and integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics.