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HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook review: A budget laptop with touch, and a few trade-offs

The HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook is a very slim budget laptop, but the AMD platform requires a few trade-offs.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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After bemoaning the lack of laptops at any price with both a touch screen and discrete graphics, my attention was caught by something from HP. The $649.99 HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook is slim, especially for a 15-inch midsize laptop, and certainly one of the sharper-looking Windows 8 laptops I've seen in this lower-end price range. The kicker is its included AMD Radeon 7600G GPU.

HP_Pavilion_Sleekbook_TouchSmart_15z_35616239_02.jpg
7.5

HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook

The Good

The AMD-powered <b>HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook</b> is a slim, midsize laptop at a very reasonable price, and includes a touch screen.

The Bad

Battery life is disappointing, and budget-priced Intel laptops are still faster.

The Bottom Line

With a great design for the price and some better-than-expected graphics power, the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook may justify overlooking its shortcomings if you're on a tight budget.

Despite the slim profile, the price is so reasonable because this is not exactly an ultrabook -- instead it belongs to Hewlett-Packard's proprietary Sleekbook line, which is a similar-sounding category HP invented to promote laptops that are similar to ultrabooks, but don't meet the official Intel requirements (Ultrabook is a trademarked Intel marketing term).

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's pretty clear why this isn't an Intel-approved ultrabook -- the CPU is actually a quad-core AMD A8-4555M. AMD calls its product an APU for "accelerated processing unit" rather than a CPU, because it combines a CPU and discrete-level graphics into a single package. In this case, the graphics chip is the previously mentioned AMD Radeon 7600G, which isn't a gamer-level part, but should outperform Intel's integrated HD 4000 graphics (at least on paper).

For $649, don't expect the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook to outperform Lenovo's recent 15-inch gaming laptop, the excellent IdeaPad Y500 (which can be found for under $900), or even any standard Core i5 ultrabook. It's not going to be your main gaming rig, but it can handle most current games at lower settings, especially as the screen resolution will be capped at a low 1,366x768 pixels.

I'm always a fan of laptops that look like they cost more than they actually do. While the 15z-b000's appearance is not going to convince anyone that this is a $1,000-plus high-end machine, it feels like it offers excellent bang for the buck. Just be warned, one of the reasons you don't see more AMD laptops is that they can't touch Intel on battery life, and this highly portable system ran for less than 3.5 hours in our tests.

Price as reviewed $649
Processor 1.8GHz AMD A8-455M APU
Memory 6GB, 1,600MHz DDR3
Hard drive 750GB 5,400rpm
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 7600G
Operating system Windows 8
Dimensions (WD) 15.2x10.2 inches
Height 0.97 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 5.5 pounds / 6.3 pounds
Category Midsize

Design and features
We've seen a handful of less expensive Windows 8 touch-screen laptops to date, and while there have not been any real clunkers in the bunch in terms of design, you definitely can tell the difference between a $600-to-$700 laptop and a $999 one. The HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook pushes the needle a little bit in terms of design versus price, thanks no doubt to incorporating design elements from HP's more expensive systems, from Intel-powered Pavilions to the higher-end Envy line.

This is still a black plastic laptop, and a glossy one at that, which almost never looks as good as a matte finish, but it's enviably thin, and the big 15-inch screen is surrounded by only a thin bezel, making it look even more dramatic. There's a slight taper toward the front, creating the illusion for the user that it's even thinner still, and the minimalist black-on-black interior wisely doesn't take any design chances.

When open, the laptop is dominated by a generous keyboard and touch pad. The flat-topped, island-style keyboard is the same style found on most current HP systems, with large Enter, Shift, and other important keys, and a separate number pad. The keys themselves are a little on the shallow side, but have less flex under your fingers than I'd expect from a budget laptop (although there's still a little flex, especially in the center of the keyboard). The Function keys are reversed, which means you can adjust the speaker volume or screen brightness just by hitting the corresponding F-key, without having to hold down the dreaded Fn key at the same time.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The touch pad is a good size for a 15-inch laptop, but it's not the island-style button-less clickpad found on more expensive current HP laptops. Instead, the pad here is demarcated by a tiny pattern of raised dots printed straight onto the plastic wrist rest, rather than having a separate low-friction surface. Some of the potential surface area is eaten up by two large mouse buttons, which feel surprisingly tight for a budget laptop, but give off a loud, hollow-sounding click each time they're pressed. Single-input navigation on the pad is fine, but multitouch gestures, most importantly the two-finger scroll, is sluggish.

Fortunately, the 15.6-inch 1,366x768-pixel display is a touch screen, giving you an easier way to navigate around some of the Windows 8 interfaces. We've seen touch screens come to several sub-$700 Windows 8 laptops, so there's no compelling reason for any Windows 8 system not to have one at this point. The slim body and thin bezel help the screen pop, although the edge-to-edge glass over the entire surface is very glossy and reflects light easily.

HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook Average for category [midsize]
Video HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None DVD burner

Connections, performance, and battery life
It's not wise to expect too much from a budget laptop in terms of ports and connections. In this case, it's a pair of USB 3.0 ports, an extra USB 2.0 port, and HDMI, an SD card reader, and an Ethernet jack. The Ethernet jack fits into the slim body because of a hinged jaw. The 15z-b000 covers all the bases, but doesn't include any bells or whistles.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The biggest question mark for most people considering the 15z-b000 is going to be the AMD A8-4555M processor. Test-drive a bunch of laptops with friends or at a store (plus, read enough laptop reviews), and you'll get an idea of what a mainstream Intel Core i5 CPU can do in a modern laptop. The AMD chip here, while a quad-core chip, isn't as fast in our benchmark tests as even the mainstream Intel chips found in other budget laptops.

The difference, however, is modest compared with the performance hit you'd take with the Intel Atom chips in many of the low-cost Windows 8 tablet/laptop hybrids we've tested, so the Windows 8 interface still runs very smoothly. In general, for Web surfing, social media, and even HD video playback, the Sleekbook is more than adequate, although I did run into a little bit of occasional stuttering and pausing when opening multiple browser windows.

More interesting is the GPU part of AMD's platform, via a part called the Radeon HD 7600G. AMD says it's the equivalent of a discrete graphics card (such as you'd get from Nvidia), but keep in mind, it's still at the lower end of the scale. This won't play the newest games at the highest detail settings, even at the lower 1,366x768-pixel screen resolution, but it still beats Intel's default HD 4000 graphics. In a not-too-challenging Just Cause 2 test, at the same 1,366x768-pixel resolution, this system ran the game at 15 frames per second, while HP's more expensive Spectre XT with Intel's HD 4000 graphics ran the same test at 10.9 frames per second.

While the graphics may be good for a budget laptop, one area where AMD can't seem to catch up with Intel is in battery life. Despite being a low-power system, and with a chassis big enough to hold a sizable battery, the TouchSmart 15z-b000 ran for only 3 hours and 20 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's not great for a laptop designed for easy travel, and Dell's similarly budget-minded Inspiron 15z ran for more than 1.5 hours longer in the same test.

Conclusion
The HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook wins points for being the best-looking sub-$700 touch-screen Windows 8 laptop I've seen so far, and for adding a tiny bit of GPU muscle to a class of laptops generally unsuitable for gaming.

Keep in mind that the trade-offs are going to be relatively short battery life, a slightly frustrating touch pad, and occasionally sluggish performance. But, if you need to have a presentable-looking, very thin laptop for only $650, this system deserves a serious look.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook
800 

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook
446 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook
288 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook
200 

Load test (average watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook
44.9 

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

System configurations:

HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/SP1; 1.8GHz AMD A8-455M APU; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 512MB (Shared) AMD Radeon HD 7600G; 750GB Seagate 5,400rpm

HP Spectre TouchSmart 15-4010nr
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 400, 500GB HD + 32GB SSD

Dell Inspiron 15z
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 500GB HD + 32GB SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad Y500
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-3630QM; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; (x2) 2GB Nvidia Geforce GT650M; HDD#1 SanDisk 16GB SSD/ HDD#2 1TB Seagate 5,400rpm

Acer Aspire V5-571P-6499
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm + 20GB SSD Hybrid

HP_Pavilion_Sleekbook_TouchSmart_15z_35616239_02.jpg
7.5

HP Pavilion TouchSmart 15z-b000 Sleekbook

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Battery 6Support 7
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