Editors' note: This review is part of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
HP's Pavilion dv line of multimedia laptops, available in 14-, 15-, and 17-inch versions, are all attractive systems aimed at mainstream consumers with a heavy diet of videos, music, and other forms of media. To this end, they share features such as Altec Lansing speakers, HDMI outputs, and touch-sensitive media control buttons, along with mirror-finish accents.
The $649 HP Pavilion dv5-1235dx illustrates some of the trade-offs to consider when looking at a fixed-configuration retail laptop from HP's dv line. Investing $50 more gets you a similar-looking 17-inch HP Pavilion dv7-1245dx, which has the same 320GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM, but trades down to a slower AMD CPU, while the dv5-1235dx has a (faster) Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 CPU.
Since both systems cost roughly the same price, you'll have to decide what is more important: screen real estate or processing power. It depends on your intended use--for example, 17-inch laptops are usually called on for more intense tasks, such as video editing.
At the same time, we're fascinated and horrified by the battery on the 15-inch dv5-1235dx. Lasting just shy of 5 hours, it was one of the best mainstream performers we've seen, but at the cost of a gigantic, unwieldy battery that sticks out from the bottom of the system like a kickstand.
|Price as reviewed||$649|
|Processor||2.9GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.1x10.5 inches|
|Height||1.15 - 2.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.5/7.4 pounds|
HP wisely makes the current dv line of laptops stand out from the crowd, skipping the typical glossy gray-and-black designs for a subtle crosshatch pattern with a bronze tint, which is more likely to fit into your post-dorm-room decor. We also like the laptop's single, long hinge, which keeps the display from wobbling.
For a budget system, the series of lighted, touch-sensitive media controls above the keyboard look especially nice, glowing either white or orange depending on status (Wi-Fi on versus off, for example). There's also a volume slider, but for sensitive volume tweaks, we still prefer a physical wheel; touch-controlled volume sliders are finicky and lack the capability to do very fine adjustments. When the system is off or asleep, the button labels literally vanish into the mirrored strip above the keyboard.
The touch pad and mouse buttons also have a highly reflective mirrored finish. It shows fingerprints and smudges easily, but also offsets the bronze chassis color nicely. It's a minor complaint, but the mirrored finish on the touch pad glides less easily against the finger than a traditional touch pad finish.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD screen offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. The glossy screen makes video content pop, but can cause distracting glare while trying to read or type, depending on the lighting in the room.
|HP Pavilion dv5-1235dx||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone (x2)/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||Lightscribe DVD burner||DVD burner|
For a sub-$700 laptop, the HP dv5 has some notable extras, including two headphone jacks (especially useful for travel), a combo USB/eSATA port, and a Lightscribe DVD burner, which can use specially coated blank optical media to burn grayscale text and images on discs.
Most of the systems in the Budget section of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup (covering laptops from $600 to $899) have Intel's 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T6400 CPU. Performance among the Intel-based systems was virtually identical, including this HP dv5, but the two AMD-powered systems in our lineup, the HP dv4 and HP dv7, fell more significantly behind the pack.
In real-world terms, that means any of these T6400-powered systems are perfectly adequate for basic Web surfing, working on Office documents, and media playback--although heavy multitasking can lead to slowdown.
The most notable feature on the HP Pavilion dv5-1235dx is its long battery life. The system ran for 4 hours and 55 minutes on our video playback battery drain test--the best score we've seen from a current 15-inch laptop. The reason isn't advanced engineering or magic battery pixie dust--it's the positively gigantic battery that sticks out from the bottom of the laptop like a kickstand. It raises the rear end of the system almost 1.5 inches and weighs a pound. While this makes the dv5 great for long stretches away from a wall socket, it also greatly hampers portability.
HP backs the Pavilion dv5-1002nr with an industry-standard, one-year warranty. Toll-free telephone support is available 24-7, and the HP support Web site includes real-time chat with a technical support representative and a detailed FAQ database.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)