Choosing a notebook PC is somewhat personal, because there are different things that are important to different people. In business, it usually depends on what you’re using it for.
If you travel you may want light weight, durability and long battery life; if you give a lot of presentations or work with multimedia you may want bigger screen size, better graphics and sound.
Sometimes you’ll need to pay up for the high end enterprise model and occasionally you’ll be able to get by with a cheap consumer model. But overall, a lot of small businesses are mostly looking to balance features and price to get the job done.
The latest line of notebooks from HP, the ProBook series, is geared toward those small businesses, filling the performance and price gap between their EliteBook enterprise brand and Compaq consumer notebooks, and competing with the Dell Vostro and Lenovo Thinkpad.
I recently tried out a pre-production model of the ProBooks 4510s. Pricing for the line starts at $599 but the configuration that I tested costs $749. It comes with a 15.6 inch display, Windows Vista Business (yes, you can get XP if you want it), 2GB 800 MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 250GB hard drive.
The most valuable part of ANY business computer is not the computer itself. It’s the data stored inside. The ProBook has several features in its HP ProtectTools to enhance security:
• HP SpareKey - you can set up your login so that you must answer three security questions correctly in order to get in to the system if you’ve forgotten your password.
• Drive Encryption - will fully encrypt all information on the hard drive so the data is unreadable by unauthorized users if the notebook or hard drive is lost or stolen. This is another reason you’d probably want to utilize the SpareKey feature described above - if you’re prone to forgetting your password.
• File Sanitizer - this tool will overwrite the entire hard drive with ones and zeros up to seven times, so that no files can be recovered. (According to HP the seven passes of overwriting is military grade but I did not verify that info.)
• Recovery Manager - the entire system can be restored back to the original factory condition just by pressing F11 during startup. No CD or other software is needed. This can be handy if you are taking the notebook from one employee and giving it to someone else, especially if you don’t have an IT department to clean it up for you.
Look & Feel
The 4510s comes in “noir” and “merlot” - this test model was noir. The easiest way to describe the finish is that it’s like having a black car. It looks really nice, slick and shiny… when it’s clean.
But it doesn’t take much to get it dirty - the shiny outer case and the matte finish on the inside show every smudge and fingerprint.
At first the whole notebook felt very wide because the high definition, LED-backlit 15.6”-diagonal screen is shaped in a widescreen format.
The big screen allows room for a full numeric keypad next to the qwerty keyboard, which I loved. However that means that the main keyboard and the touchpad are slightly off to the left and not in the middle, which feels awkward when typing with the laptop actually on your lap. On the desk I didn’t notice it.
The keys are raised “chicklet” style with space between each key and have a nice springy yet quiet feel. The touchpad mouse is nice and large, but the buttons are hard to press with your thumb, if that’s your mousing style.
The speakers are located across the top of the keyboard, which looks cool and makes lots of room for the keyboard, but the sound is just ok. I found the quality fine for listening to a recorded teleseminar, but tinny when playing music. They might be less than ideal if you make a lot of presentations that depend on a rich sound.
Strength & Endurance
While not billed specifically as a tough notebook, the 4510s is equipped with HP 3D DriveGuard, which detects motion with an accelerometer chip and parks the hard drive to protect it if the notebook is dropped or banged around. I did not test this feature.
I would, however, worry about cracking the plastic case which feels a little lightweight (but keep in mind that this is a pre-production unit so I’m not sure if the real thing will be tougher).
The 4510s also has a spill-resistant keyboard to protect the components from “minor spills”.
The product manager at HP would not give me a specific volume of liquid that is safe to spill on the keyboard, so I passed on testing this feature as well. However, it’s very appealing to me since I once destroyed my laptop by splashing a smallish amount of coffee into the keyboard.
For travelers or the time-pressed, the HP FastCharge feature charges the battery up to 90% power in ninety minutes. I found the battery life on this notebook to be awesome - this model had the 8-cell battery, which has a maximum run time of seven hours.
I didn’t get to use the unit for a stretch long enough to drain the battery with the screen running on optimized power. It was still going strong after four hours, and at the optimized level still had a very bright screen. I’ve used other notebooks where the power optimized mode was very dim and couldn’t even be seen well outdoors or in bright daylight.
Like Lenovo, Dell, and other manufacturers, HP is continually adding environmentally friendly features to its products. The ProBook line rocks a mercury-free LED display, Energy Star 5.0 rating, and has an EPEAT Gold environmental rating.
A built-in 2MP webcam makes videoconferencing easy.
Another time saving feature is the QuickLook button located next to the power button, which can launch your Outlook or preferred email/contacts program when you power on without having to wait for the entire system to boot up.
Overall, I would definitely use this notebook for business. Aside from the basics you’d obviously want in a business laptop like computing speed and memory, I was won over by the battery life, advanced-yet-easy security features and spacious comfy keyboard, which I really wanted to pour coffee on.
Ramon Ray is the editor and tech evangelist for Smallbiztechnology.com