HP's Middling Low-Price Laptop


The computer giant's ze2000 boasts an excellent screen and booming sound. But it's heavy, and its battery doesn't last

Designing a notebook computer -- or pretty much any product for that matter -- often boils down to a long list of trade-offs. You include as many bells and whistles as you can within given cost parameters and see if consumers take to it.

And the endless variations on what goes into -- and gets left out of -- the lowest-price notebook PCs make for an interesting study. We've made them the subject of a series of reviews (see BW Online, 12/9/05, "Averatec's Stellar White Dwarf").

That latest in the bunch is the Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) Pavilion ze2000. This laptop starts at $669 after rebates and goes up according to configuration. I found a lot of things to like about the HP machine. For one, the display. The unit has a 15-inch screen with a resolution of 1,024 pixels by 768 pixels.

BACKUP NEEDED.

The display boasts a technology called BriteView that is similar to the TrueBrite technology featured on the Toshiba Satellite L25-S119 (see BW Online, 11/21/05, "Toshiba's Superb Sound and Light"). It gives the screen a glare-resistant sheen that makes it easy to look at from various angles, and I found it a little easier on the eyes than other displays. Images and documents look better, and watching video feels more natural -- like seeing it on a home TV set.

And while that's great, you wouldn't want to play a movie on battery power alone. When I subjected the machine to the Rocky Test -- that is, playing a DVD of Rocky while the unit was running only on battery power -- it finished squarely in the middle of the pack. It shut down after 83 minutes. That means the HP did better than the Acer Aspire 3000, (53 minutes) and Toshiba (54 minutes) but fell well behind the Averatec 3700 EH-1 (114 minutes) and the current champ of the sample group, Gateway's (GTW) NX200S (129 minutes).

What the HP lacks in battery power, it makes up for in sound. A pair of Altec Lansing speakers come embedded in the lower body, and when cranked to the max, the sound capability packs audio punch that all the others lacked. HP's clarity and volume surpassed those of the Toshiba, which are pretty good in their own right.

USB DEFICIT.

Other ze2000 features impressed me as well. The keyboard is excellent, large enough to accommodate my big hands. Three volume-control buttons -- louder, softer, and mute -- situated on the body just above the keyboard provide adequate control of sound levels.

The unit came with an Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Sempron 3000+ processor, running at 1.8 gigahertz and sporting 128 kilobytes of level-2 cache. This makes it the third unit in the test group so far to sport a Sempron processor. (The model is also available with Intel [INTC] Celeron processors.) It features an ATI (ATYT) Radeon Xpress 200M graphics card as well as a 40-gigabyte hard drive. And, it shipped with 256 megabytes of memory.

But the ze2000 features only two USB ports, one on the left side and one on the right. Two others in the group sported three. Also missing: a slot for flash-memory cards, which were included on two of the other units tested. Given the popularity of digital cameras, manufacturers should make a four-in-one flash card slot as standard as a floppy drive used to be.

OUCH FACTOR.

Also, at 6.29 pounds, the HP ranks as the weightiest unit so far, a full pound heavier than the Gateway, and two pounds more than the Averatec. It was even heavier than the Acer.

Finally, I disliked one seemingly small design point. When I was using the track pad, my thumb came to rest on the lower hinge of the lid. This caused the lid to press inward, exposing two corners of plastic just sharp enough to cause discomfort.

Outstanding sound and quality aside, the HP left out a few too many desirable features, while including a few that it could have done without.


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