For a long while, one of our favorite laptops was the, a now-defunct ultraportable that proved you can get decent performance and decent looks for under $500. Two years later, the spiritual successor to that very popular system (seriously, people around here still speak of it in reverential tones) is here, but does it offer the same stellar value?
The Pavilion TouchSmart 11z starts at $400, and our configuration, with a larger hard drive, cost $430. It looks and feels a lot like that earlier Pavilion laptop, mostly plastic with metallic accents, but still manages to look decent. It's powered by an AMD processor (the latest A4 CPU/GPU combo), and is portable enough to be an everyday on-the-go PC. And, of course, you can't argue with the price.
In the time since that original HP dm1z model and today, we've seen a lot of new laptops and tablets at ever-lower prices. Consumers have largely rejected old Netbook-style performance, sluggish Web browsing, and limited battery life, in favor of budget laptops with Intel's Core i3 and even i5 chips, leaving the slower Intel Atom to smaller tablets and hybrids.
And while the new Pavilion 11z is a good deal, especially with its capable touch screen, it still feels sluggish during everyday tasks, especially when scrolling through long Web pages via the touch pad, which is one of the things you're most likely to spend a lot of time doing. The tile-based Windows 8 touch-screen interface saves the day in some ways, as it always manages to feel fast and responsive no matter what hardware powers it.
While I applaud the system's features, specs, and price, the problem it runs into is one of expectations. We've trained everyone to expect even low-cost devices such as a $200 Nexus 7 tablet or a sub-$500 laptop to perform lag-free in most cases, especially while Web surfing, and the new Pavilion 11z falls short of that goal. If you can live with some lag, I still like the design and build quality, and that it offers a touch screen in a traditional clamshell shape for around $400.
|HP Pavilion TouchSmart 11z||Asus VivoBook X202E||Acer Aspire E1-572-6870|
|Display size/resolution||11.6-inch, 1,366x768 touch screen||11.6-inch, 1,366x768 touch screen||15.6-inch 1,366x768|
|PC CPU||1GHz AMD A4 1250 APU||1.8GHz Intel Core i3-3427U||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U|
|PC memory||4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||512MB AMD Radeon HD 8210||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4400|
|Storage||500GB 5,400rpm hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm hard drive|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0,|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)|
Design and features
One result of the turn toward ultrabooks and ultrabook-style designs is that laptops that would have looked very slim a few years ago seem average- to-chunky now. The Pavilion 11z suffers from this a bit, and the 3.4-pound weight and nearly 0.9-inch thickness keep it firmly rooted in budget territory, which you feel once you actually pick it up.
But it's very nice budget territory, at least. The brushed-metal keyboard tray is a highlight, and the heavy-duty rounded hinge feels more substantial than the ones found on laptops that cost a good deal more. There's a nearly edge-to-edge overlay covering the touch screen, interrupted only by a thin rubber bumper at the very edge of the lid, and HP's muted silver-and-black color scheme plays up the system's better physical qualities.
That's all to say that this is a budget laptop that won't get you laughed out of the coffee shop (the first-class cabin on your airplane, that's another story).
On an 11-inch laptop, one might expect certain keyboard compromises, and that's exactly what you get here. The build quality and key depth are actually very good, with little flex under the fingers, but the keys themselves are on the small side, and I've never been a fan of how some HP keyboards cut the up and down arrows to half-size.
On the plus side, the reversed functions of the F-key row above the number keys makes it easy to control the system's speaker volume and screen brightness without having to hunt around for the dreaded Fn key.
The touch pad is a decent size for an ultraportable laptop. Instead of the more popular clickpad-style pad, this one has separate left and right mouse buttons. You lose some pad surface area, but it's probably easier to get definitive left and right mouse clicks when the multitouch response on the pad itself can be a little sluggish.
The 11.6-inch display is one of the system's highlights. It's a basic LED-backlit screen, not an upscale IPS one, but for a $430 laptop, it looks great (and trust me, we've seen some terrible displays on budget laptops). The screen and interior lid are covered by edge-to-edge glass for a sleek, upscale look, and the touch response on the screen is excellent, especially in the Windows 8 tile mode. The screen resolution is only 1,366x768 pixels, but that's a good fit for the size and price, even if we're seeing that low-end resolution less often now, even in midpriced laptops.
Sound from the basic stereo speakers is above average for this size and price, perhaps in part thanks to the DTS+ signal processing built in. You won't DJ a party with it, but it'll suffice for casual Netflix or Hulu viewing.
|HP Pavilion 11|
|Video||HDMI plus VGA|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi|
Connections, performance, and battery
With a pair of USB 3.0 ports, plus an extra USB 2.0 one, and HDMI for outputting to a bigger screen, you should be fairly set for basic connectivity with the Pavilion 11z. In a nod to the retro equipment that budget laptops are sometimes tethered to, both a VGA video output and a full-size Ethernet jack are included.
The base $400 version of the Pavilion 11z is identical to our review unit, except that we have a $30 hard-drive upgrade, from 320GB to 500GB. For an extra $15 you can add Bluetooth (I would), and $50 will get you a faster AMD A6 processor. I'd also consider that, given the occasional sluggishness we ran into.