By Darren Gladstone
HP has a thing of business-savvy beauty on its hands with the ProBook 5310m. Why do I say that? Even the guys in the PC World Labs—who see everything under the sun—were impressed by its industrial design. The sleek black aluminum case, the supple texture on the undercarriage…the list goes on. Me? I was impressed with the $699 starting price (the review unit in our office sells for $899). When they weren't ogling this slick, 13.3-inch, 3.8-pound, 0.9-inch-thin ultraportable, I grabbed it so that I could give you this seriously opinionated first impression.
Since we're still waiting on WorldBench 6 test results, I can't give you hard numbers just yet. The same goes for battery life (though HP spokespeople say to expect between 6 and 7 hours on a single charge). Going by my gut and some initial subjective tests, the 5310m seems made to adhere to that fine line between a computing status symbol (like, say, the HP Envy 13 or the Sony VAIO X series) and a reasonably powerful PC that actually lets you get your job done. To be honest, I'm curious to see how the ProBook 5310m compares to Dell's fashionable business alternative, the Latitude Z600.
Under the hood is Intel's Core 2 Duo SP9300 2.26GHz CPU, backed by 2GB of RAM and an integrated graphics processor. That's no scorcher, mind you, but it does run Windows 7 Professional and a few core programs (Office applications, photo editing software, and Web browsing, for instance) without balking.
The keyboard is, in a word, great. Well-sized—and well-spaced—cut-out keys reach toward the edges of the laptop without dripping off the sides. While the top-row buttons are a little small, they are easy enough to manipulate. The arrow keys, while annoyingly smallish, are pulled out, and thus a little more manageable. Fair warning to anyone with long fingernails: You run a slight risk of accidentally popping off a key (though it would take some intentional effort on your part). Situated to the right of the keyboard are three unassuming little (and by that I mean "practically microsopic") buttons for toggling the 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, QuickLaunch 3, and QuickWeb—I'll get to the last two in a second.
I'm a big fan of the touchpad, which feels nice while still standing apart from the wrist-rest area. The unit's support of multitouch gestures is another appealing feature, but it's turned off by default—I guess HP thinks that not every business user wants to zoom in and out of images on-the-fly. The mouse buttons have a satisfying amount of give. What I'm not crazy about, though, is their size, which feels—to me, at least—a little too thin to hit. More often than not, I found myself tapping just below the buttons, expecting them to be placed somewhere they weren't. But that is a highly subjective, very personal experience. And I have big fingers, so for me, size matters.
The screen looks great and crisp at its 1366-by-768-pixel resolution. Sample video footage running off the 320GB, 7200-rpm hard drive came across smooth and stutter-free. A shuttle-launch sequence popped on the screen, with fiery plumes rising against the morning sky. Still pictures looked equally sharp, exhibiting deep blues and rich greens. And the display offers the added bonus of being backlit, so it's viewable indoors and out without the screen's glossy sheen being too jarring. In fact, the shine of the plastic interior frame surrounding the panel was more distracting.
The audio, unsurprisingly, veers toward tinny. Keep a pair of headphones handy. I can't complain a lot, I suppose, since the 5310m is a business-first portable. That much seems obvious when you consider the bundled proprietary software, which includes Skype, Roxio Creator Business, HP Webcam, HP QuickLook, and HP QuickWeb. QuickLook ties Outlook (2003 and 2007) to the quick-launching Linux shell OS; so, unlike with the Dell Latitude Z600, which can also quick-launch an OS, on this machine the modifications you make inside the OS are visible in QuickLook 3. (Very handy, but it's actually a further refinement of what has been surfacing in higher-end HP business models for some time now.) The QuickWeb software makes it equally easy to hop online, view Flash, run Java—basically, what you'd expect from running a regular Web browser inside Windows. The only difference here: It's secure. No unwanted junk installs on the computer, and if you want to download anything, just pop in an external drive.
Around the machine, you'll find a DisplayPort video-out, three USB ports, ethernet, a unified headphone/mic jack, and an SD/MultiMediaCard reader. Want wireless broadband? Gobi is optional. Video-chat fans will appreciate the 2-megapixel Webcam. Overall, the 5310m has a good collection of ports for the modern business traveler. I can think of only a few things that I would have liked to see. First, I always appreciate a USB pass-through charging port for powering devices even when the computer isn't on. Second, it would've been helpful if one of the USB ports had been a USB/eSATA hybrid jack. And of course, as is par for the ultraportable course these days, if you want an optical drive, the external option will cost you an extra $149.
Really, though, those are fairly minor quibbles for an ultraportable that looks as though it will deliver for a businessperson's bottom line—a laptop that still manages to offer good features for under $1000. We can't give you a final verdict yet, as the ProBook 5310m is still making its way through PC World's rigorous testing process; but check back, and we'll give you the last word soon enough.
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