While the B1801TU's older brother, the B2823TX is venturing into the Apple iBook's territory with its mostly white design, HP has maintained its usual silver chassis for this particular model. There are black accents - namely the underside of the unit, the screen border and the DVD drive - but the B1801TU is otherwise an all silver affair, right down to the keyboard. It's undeniably attractive, however we were less impressed with the glossy finish on the screen which becomes annoyingly reflective when indoors. Conversely, the gloss coating makes the screen easier to read whilst outdoors, but we'd far prefer a matte finish.
The notebook is unequivocally targeted towards the road warrior, weighing just 1.91kg (1.6kg with weight saver battery) and measuring a mere 2.56cm (H) x 30.00cm (W) x 22.95cm (D). Yes, you read that correctly - the B1801TU is 2.56cm thin, making it a hair thinner than Apple's recently launched MacBook Pro. It's also noticeably thinner and lighter than the iBook. All edges are rounded, and the notebook sits comfortably in your lap, producing minimal heat.
Two stereo speakers are located just underneath the screen, so the sound is projected directly at the user. Granted, sound quality is dismal for anything but occasional music playback and native Windows sounds, but the notebook isn't designed to be a desktop replacement after all.
The keyboard is large and comfortable to type on for extended periods, above which there are useful but unobtrusive buttons for controlling volume levels and enabling/disabling the built-in wireless networking chip. Nestled just below the keyboard are a reasonably large touchpad and two mouse buttons which give an authoritative click when depressed.
Finally, the power brick is among the smallest we've seen and isn't a pain to lug around with you.
Despite boasting a small chassis, the B1801TU certainly doesn't want for features. Lining the left-hand side is a speedy dual-layer DVD±RW/R drive, an Ethernet LAN port, a modem port, a PC-Card Type II slot and a card reader that supports the Secure Digital (SD), Multi-Media Card (MMC) and Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro (MS) formats. On the back there's a VGA port for connection to an external display, an S-Video port to hook the notebook up to a TV or projector, and a single USB 2.0 port. Two additional USB 2.0 ports are located on the right-hand side, in addition to a Firewire (IEEE1394) port, a headphone jack and a microphone jack.
Internally, the B1801TU is configured not unlike many other ultra-portable offerings, but we'd expect more considering its price. Under the hood is an Intel Pentium M 760 (2GHz) processor, 512MB DDR2-533 memory and an 80GB 5400RPM hard drive. Wireless networking is provided for by an Intel Pro/Wireless 2200 802.11b/g chip and an integrated Bluetooth module. By comparison, the Dell 630m--which snagged our Editor's Choice award--is AU$300 cheaper and includes a faster 2.26GHz Pentium M processor and 1GB DDR2-533 memory.
One feature that we'd like to see added to future models is an 'instant-on' function which allows users to access movies, photos and music without waiting for the entire system to power up. Dell has been including this feature with its notebooks for some time now.
HP bundles a plethora of software to get you started on your mobile rampage, including Microsoft Works, Microsoft Money, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Sonic Digital Media Plus, Sonic MyDVD, Sonic RecordNow, iTunes, InterVideo WinDVD Player, Symantec Norton AntiVirus and Symantec Norton Internet Security.
The B1801TU's battery life under the MobileMark 2005 office productivity test is respectable at 3 hours and 49 minutes, but this is nearly an hour shorter than the Dell 630m. This is puzzling since the HP offering has a smaller screen and a slightly slower processor. Nonetheless, close to four hours of battery life should please most users.
Less impressive was the notebook's performance rating of 109 for the aforementioned productivity test. The 630m trumped the B1801TU here, with a score of 245, while even the Acer Aspire 5500--which includes an even slower 1.73GHz processor-- managed to beat out the HP with a score of 216.
Finally, like most ultra-portable notebooks, the B1801TU and its integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 chip isn't suited to gaming. It'll run older titles fine and DVD playback is smooth as silk, but it can't handle newer titles at a playable frame rate.
The B1801TU comes with a one-year parts and labour warranty, which is the same as that offered by Dell. Buyers can extend this warranty at an additional cost. After a call is lodged to the HP Support Centre, HP's policy is to respond to the call on the same business day, while the company promises to actually repair/resolve the issue typically within five business days.
If it wasn't for its dismal performance, we'd have no problem recommending the B1801TU for mobile professionals and students alike due to its attractive, lightweight design, impressive battery life and rich feature-set. As it stands though, we suggest giving this one a miss.