Editors' note: This review is part of our Holiday 2008 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The HP Pavilion dv4-1155se is sure to catch your eye as you stroll down the laptop aisle at your local big box electronics store, with its graphics-laden case and glossy, edge-to-edge glass display. Upon closer inspection, you'll find that this 14-inch laptop is a pricier but generally less powerful version of the HP Pavilion dv4-1125nr. At $999, the dv4-1155se costs $200 more and trades the Intel Core 2 Duo CPU for an AMD Turion X2 chip, while delivering a larger hard drive and a huge, 12-cell battery. The case receives a makeover, too, with graphics splashed on the lid and wrist rest, along with HP's "frameless" display. The higher price also nets you Bluetooth and Draft N Wi-Fi, two wireless networking features left off the dv4-1125nr. Do the changes amount to $200? Before we ran each system through CNET Labs' benchmarks, we might have been able to make a case for the flashier Pavilion dv4-1155se, but after seeing the performance results, it's clear that the Pavilion dv4-1125nr is the better buy.
|Processor||2.2GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core ZM-82|
|Memory||4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz|
|Hard drive||320GB, 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Radeon HD3200 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium 64-bit|
|Dimensions (width x height)||13.2x9.5 inches|
|Thickness||1.4 to 2.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.3 / 7.1 pounds|
The Pavilion dv4-1155se features HP's basic dv4 chassis, but the "se" at the end of the model number signifies it's a Special Edition. What makes it special? The vaguely Japanese graphics embossed on the lid and wrist rest, which look like line drawings of waves and bubbles. While we like the look of the subtle artwork, we don't like the huge, 12-cell battery that comes with the laptop. Sure, it delivers basically double the battery life of the six-cell unit on the dv4-1125nr, but it adds a pound to the system weight. Worse, it protrudes about an inch below the bottom of the system but doesn't run the whole length (only about three-quarters) so when the laptop is resting on your thighs, it lists to the left.
The Pavilion dv4-1155se serves a typical 1,280x800-pixel resolution for a wide-screen 14-inch display. It features a glossy coating that results in vivid colors and smooth edges with movies and photos. Like we saw with the Pavilion dv7-1025nr, the dv4-1155se features HP's frameless display design. You still get a screen bezel, so we'd argue a frame does exist, but the screen's glass overlay extends over the black bezel for a slightly more streamlined look. A 1.3-megapixel Webcam above the display lets users conduct video chats.
The Altec Lansing stereo speakers are adequate, but they can't match the Sony Vaio VGN-NS140E/W, which produced a better sound: louder, clearer, and max volume. The Pavilion dv4's audio output will suffice for movie dialogue and effects, but you'll want to use the headphone jacks (there are two) for music.
Aside from the special edition graphics, the most eye-catching design note of the laptop is the strip of lighted, touch-sensitive media controls above the keyboard. In addition to the standard media transport buttons, there is a volume slider, a mute button, a Wi-Fi power switch, and a QuickPlay button. The buttons glow a pleasing white, and the mute and Wi-Fi buttons turn orange when you cut the volume or Wi-Fi signal. Though attractive and modern looking, we still prefer a volume dial, as found on the Toshiba Satellite L305, because on more than one occasion the touch-sensitive volume control failed to respond to our touch. And don't mistake the QuickPlay button for an instant-on feature that bypasses Windows; it merely calls up a screen when Windows is running that provides shortcuts for playing DVDs, music, videos, photos, games, or TV from your Slingbox (should you own one). Like most applications of its ilk, QuickPlay is of dubious value. You'll likely find it more efficient to access your preferred media applications directly from the Windows desktop or Start menu.
As with past Pavilion laptops, I don't enjoy the glossy finish on the dv4'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." The touch pad is also very narrow, measuring only 1.5 inches tall by 3 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 dimension of the touch pad, the keyboard looks and feels like a natural fit on the Pavilion dv4's 14-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, as opposed to clacky. Still, this reviewer's favorite laptop keyboard remains that found on the Sony Vaio NS140. Prior to purchase, take a few minutes in the laptop aisle of your local electronics retailer to get a sense for the keyboard and touch pad of any laptop you're considering.
|HP Pavilion dv4-1155se||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI, Webcam||VGA-out, S-Video, Webcam|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, two headphone jacks and one microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, eSATA, multi-format card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Larger Pavilion dv5 models serve up an extra USB port and a FireWire connection. Despite the absence of FireWire, the more compact dv4-1155se boasts an impressive array of ports, which includes HDMI and eSATA. Unlike the dv4-1125nr model, the dv4-1155se features Bluetooth and Draft N Wi-Fi. You'll have to make do with 10/100 Ethernet, however, because Gigabit Ethernet is not offered. A small remote control is also included, which can be stored in the laptop's ExpressCard slot and lets you navigate Windows Media Center from afar.
You will really have to enjoy the Special Edition graphics, 70GB more of hard drive space, Bluetooth, and Draft N Wi-Fi to choose this model over the cheaper dv4-1125nr because the Pavilion dv4-1155se continues the trend of AMD-based laptops trailing in performance behind similarly priced Intel-based models. The dv4-1155se features a 2.2GHz AMD Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core ZM-82 processor, and the dv-1125nr features a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800 chip. Don't let the clockspeed fool you; the Intel based model was 18 percent faster on our multimedia benchmark and 25 percent faster on our Photoshop CS3 test. Both models completed our iTunes benchmark in a statistical tie; we would have guessed that the AMD-based dv4-1155se would have enjoyed more than an insignificant 4-second advantage, given our iTunes test is heavily dependent on CPU clockspeed. While any modern dual-core laptop with 4GB of memory and 64-bit Vista (which can address all 4GB of RAM) will suffice for the majority of mainstream users, the fact remains that you can get more bang for fewer bucks with the Intel-based Pavilion dvr-1125nr.