If you're going to make a budget laptop, you'd better get your price right. That's the best thing about the HP Pavilion g4-1215dx: a $379 price that makes this easily one of the most wallet-friendly 14-inchers we've come across.
Of course, price is meaningless if what's included doesn't stack up. Thankfully, HP's redesigned Pavilion g4 delivers enough on this front, too. Its 1.9GHz AMD A4 processor won't ever be confused for an Intel Core i3, but it's fast enough for most basic purposes and can even handle some basic gaming. A 320GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM are nothing to sneeze at, either.
The package is wrapped in a clean, unassuming, but very functional body, adding up to a laptop that cuts corners but offers you a lot for a practically Netbook-level price. Compared with laptops like the Toshiba Satellite L745D-S4220, which is over $100 more and features a slower processor, HP's new Pavilion g4 comes up smelling like a computer bouquet. Anyone looking for a spare computer or a simple machine for some basic video viewing or photo storage on a very limited budget should add it to the consideration list.
|Price as reviewed||$379|
|Processor||1.9GHz AMD Dual-Core A4-3300M APU|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||AMD ID 1705/780E|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6480G|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.4x9 inches|
|Height||1.2 - 1.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.5 pounds / 5.3 pounds|
The new HP Pavilion g4 is an evolution of the design we saw on the Pavilion g6 when we reviewed it earlier this year, but in a more glossy variant. Very shiny plastic is the order of the day on the back of the lid and the keyboard tray. The standard color is charcoal gray, but HP offers pink, blue, or red versions for $25 extra. The glossy coat seems like it would be a fingerprint magnet, but the finish hides prints well. This Pavilion g4 isn't svelte, but the 4.5-pound chassis is about the same weight as most other midrange 14-inchers.
The Pavilion g4's interior looks a little generic, but at this price it's really hard to quibble. The good news is that the whole interior has a clean-cut look that's attractive, especially for the price. It reminds us of previous-generation Dell Inspirons.
The flat keyboard has semiraised keys, meaning the raised surfaces feel a little like Chiclet keys. Last-gen Dell Inspirons and the recent Toshiba Satellite L745D have similar keys. We found the experience surprisingly comfortable, because the keys weren't as mushy as those on other similar flat keyboards. Volume control and other settings mapped to the top row of function keys work without the Fn button being pressed at the same time. We appreciate that.
A flush multitouch touch pad shares the same material as the palm rest, but it's textured in a grid. The previous HP g-series laptops had similar flush touch pads. It's usable, but not spectacular. The buttons beneath are well-designed, flush but slightly rounded.
The 14-inch 1,366x768-pixel-resolution glossy display isn't going to turn heads, but it does a fine job if you're watching videos, surfing the Web, and doing whatever you normally do on a laptop. Colors looked washed out at maximum brightness, however, and that lack of vivid color (Netflix's iconic red page looked muddy) could make a difference to some. Off-axis viewing angles are, as we would expect, not good, either--this is strictly a head-on viewing experience.
Front-firing Altec-Lansing stereo speakers with SRS are better than expected, and a big step up from the disappointing stereo speakers on most laptops in this price range. They're loud enough for comfortable listening, although we'd still prefer to use headphones.
The included 640x480-pixel Webcam is generic in feel and image quality, but at least it's there for those who want to Web chat. It's lesser-quality than more commonly seen HD Webcams.
|HP Pavilion g4-1215dx||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
True to form for what you'd expect from a sub-$400 laptop, the port selection is fair but limited. HDMI and three USB 2.0 ports are included, but this laptop lacks USB 3.0 and Bluetooth.
The HP Pavilion g4-1215dx comes with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. It's a fair deal for this price, and better than what you'd get with a similarly priced Netbook. The 320GB of storage is less than the increasingly common 500GB, but it's plenty for even a generously sized music/photo/video collection. This particular configuration is exclusive to Best Buy, but you may find similar models elsewhere at other retailers. We have to admit, this price/configuration combination is highly appealing.
We'd be lying if we said that the 1.9GHz AMD A4-3300M APU processor in this HP Pavilion provided a speedy computing experience. Loading programs, multitasking, and general computing all felt more sluggish than on an Intel Core i3- or i5-equipped computer. The benchmarks confirm this: it's at least half the speed of an Intel Core i5 in our tests. For a sub-$400 machine, however, it's a good value, and has better performance than we're used to from budget processors. It was, however, significantly faster than the AMD E-350 and E-450 found in many 11-inch ultraportables, and a few larger systems, many of which are more expensive.
This particular A4 is on the lower end of AMD's new midrange Fusion line of processors, but here's the funny thing: on single-task tests, it's not much different from the quad-core A6 and A8 processors we've seen in the Toshiba Satellite P745D-S4240 and Gateway NV55S05u, both of which cost significantly more money. Multitasking takes a bit more of a hit on this HP Pavilion g4, but it's a performance reduction most people could live with for these savings. Honestly, this is the price where AMD's Fusion A-series processors should be thriving: as significantly lower-priced (and lower-performing) alternatives to Intel's second-gen Core i-series processors.
Part of the advertised appeal of AMD's Fusion APUs is the onboard graphics on a chip, purported to be as good as low-end discrete graphics. The AMD Radeon HD 6480G graphics included on the AMD A4 processor are as good as entry-level discrete graphics, but not much more so. Street Fighter IV ran at 20.1 frames per second in our tests, supporting that claim--the average Core i5 laptop with integrated graphics tends to run the same test at somewhere around 10 to 15 fps. It's good enough for basic gaming, and the graphics acceleration in certain Web browsers like Internet Explorer 9 could be a boost for browser-based games, but it's hardly what we'd call "impact" graphics.