- Fantastic audio quality
- Good performance at this price point
- Appealing design
- Lots of value
- Difficult to see the keyboard in the dark (without the backlight)
- Washed out display
Thin, lightweight, and ready for action.
The HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition is a multimedia notebook with a slim form factor. HP is marketing the dm4 with a Beats Audio theme and with an emphasis on its affordability and ability to offer decent performance.
Build & Design
The first thing you’ll notice about the 14-inch HP Pavilion dm4 is its Beats Audio theme, because you can’t miss it. The display cover sports the familiar red and black “b” that’s designed to look like an earbud, the keys on the keyboard are oddly covered in red, and the rest of the notebook is a deep shade of black. The design is attractive, but the matte surfaces will pick up finger prints and dust very easily – keep a microfiber cloth handy because you’ll be cleaning it often. The form factor is slim and lightweight at 13.30 x 8.85 x 0.96~1.27 inches and 4.33 pounds.
Build quality is questionable in some places and decent in others. The display bends easily at the corners; in fact, the alloys it was constructed with bends so easily that it’s very worrisome. If you press down on the display cover, though, it doesn’t budge much. The entire chassis is built thick and solid – it doesn’t budge at all even when we press down heavily. The surfaces are also nice and soft to the touch, but despite that, they have a scratch-resistant sealant and won’t mark up even after extensive use.
Getting the bottom panels off of this notebook proved to be tricky. All of the screws are under another panel (as in, none of
them are on the outside). For example, you must remove the battery to have access to the screws to get to the wireless card and memory, and under that panel you must remove the screws there to get to the hard drive. If you didn’t consult a manual you might just figure it’s impossible to upgrade the notebook. Anyhow, the wireless card, RAM and hard drive can all be replaced. The notebook fits up to 16GB-1333 DDR3 memory.
Ports and Features
The HP Pavilion dm4 has a decent port selection. Included is a 6-in-1 memory card reader (MS, MSP, MMC, SD, SDHC, xD), HDMI and VGA ports for hooking it up to an HDTV or external monitor, and two SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports. Even though there are two USB 3.0 ports, there are still on three USB ports altogether – whereas at least four is the norm for mainstream notebooks.
Front: 6-in-1 memory card reader, speakers
Left: Lock slot, exhaust vents, activity lights, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, 2x USB 3.0
Right: 8X DVD SuperMulti optical drive, headphone out/mic in, USB 2.0, A/C power
Screen and Speakers
Our review unit has a 14.0-inch, HD+ anti-glare display with LED backlighting and a screen resolution of 1600 x 900. The display is available in another resolution as well, 720p (1366 x 768). It currently costs about $100 more to customize the dm4 with the 900p display. The display has its ups and downs. For one, the resolution on our review unit is good and the clarity and LED backlighting is bright and clear. However, the contrast ratio is quite low – we measured it at 164:1 – so colors will appear washed out. When you view the display from above or below the viewing angles are very narrow and images begin to invert only a couple of degrees off-center. Colors and images don’t invert as easily when you view the notebook from the left or right of it, though – they’re actually really decent. Even at about 50 degrees you can still easily see the picture.
HP claims that the dm4 will deliver higher quality audio out of your earbuds/headphones than most other notebooks. That was the main marketing point of the dm4. We tested this claim out by playing the same three songs (using the same music program and the same earbuds) on the dm4 and then on an older Dell Latitude E6410 business notebook.
And boy, was there a difference in quality. Using the earbuds on my Latitude E6420 feels subpar compared to the dm4; the little nuances and sound effects that earbuds usually don’t pick up on are most definitely heard with the dm4. The HP Pavilion dm4 may very well single-handedly make that $200 pair of headphones you bought null and void. Before hearing how great the dm4′s audio was, I personally would have cringed at a statement that bold. We also noticed that while using the earbuds with the Dell Latitude there was faint humming noise close to the sound of static, but while using them with the dm4 that same humming isn’t present. It looks like HP really was telling the truth about the dm4′s audio quality. We’re very impressed.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The dm4 has a full-sized Chiclet-style keyboard. The keys are flat, square, and spaced apart to help with key throw. The first thing you’ll notice about the keyboard, though, won’t be that it’s Chiclet-style; it’ll be that the keys are all a deep red color to match the Beats audio theme. Even though it might look nice, that might have been a bad move by the HP design team. Unless you plan on configuring your dm4 with a backlit keyboard, you won’t be able to see the keys very well.
For those who can type without looking down that’s probably not a huge issue, but most of us still need to look down to see the FN keys, the home/page up/page down keys, and etcetera. Something about the keyboard being this dark red color really doesn’t sit right with me. We did notice that if you’re sitting in the dark and the keyboard backlight is turned off, you can’t see the keyboard at all. If you’re seriously considering purchasing the dm4, we highly suggest paying a little extra to configure it with a keyboard backlight. Using it all the time will drain battery life quicker, though. The keyboard backlight can be turned on and off easily by pressing the f5 key. The red backlighting on our review unit was good – it’s bright, and actually lights up both the letters and the keys (underneath the keyboard).
Besides that, typing on the dm4 is very pleasant. The keys are soft and sensitive, which makes for a comfortable typing experience. It has decent key throw too; we didn’t make many typos. Typing isn’t very noisy, either, which is nice.
The Synaptics touchpad is pretty standard. We like the matte surface of it, which allows for the most important thing – excellent usability. It has great cursor movement and it’s a decent size, too. There are two dedicated left and right click buttons.