HP dm4 Beats Edition Notebook Review: Down With The Beat
Introduction, Design, User Interface
When you think about a company like HP, you probably don’t think about innovation. They’re an old company, one that now has a massive market and lots of customers to worry about losing. Common sense says they are more likely to be slow and cautious.
If you examine HP’s laptop division closely, however, that story starts to fall apart. Over the past several years the company has implemented several innovative strategies to keep it ahead of the competition, and one of them is a bit unusual – a focus on audio quality, via the Beats Audio brand.
HP seems to have confidence in this strategy. The company has tucked Beats Audio into its chest and ran with it, slapping the branding onto a number of different laptops. That brings us to the HP dm4t Beats Edition. Let’s have a look at what is inside.
This laptop starts life as a regular dm4t, HP’s entry-level ultraportable. Then it is given a number of upgrades including a standard Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. These improvements, along with the Beats Audio branding, bump up the base price of $579 to $899. Our review unit came with an optional 1600x900 display, a slightly quicker Core i5 processor and an 32GB solid state drive which works with a 500GB mechanical drive to enable Intel Smart Response.
These options bump the price to an intimidating $1169.
Update: HP has informed us that the laptop that they've shipped is available as a pre-configured model for $899. Wal-Mart is shipping a version without the solid state drive for $798 after a $100 instant rebate. This pricing has impacted our verdict, which is now reflected in the conclusion.
The dm4t Beats Edition's entry-level laptop roots are evident from the start. The chassis is thick and bulky and material quality is mixed . The metallic portions of the upper chassis look and feel excellent, but the plastics used on the bottom of the laptop are less impressive. They have a gritty, unpleasent feel.
Your opinion about this laptop’s aesthetics will likely depend on your opinion about the color red. The large Beats Audio logo on the lid looks good to my eye – this is probably the first time a Windows laptop has been slapped with a brand logo that was mind-numbingly drab. Still, Beats Audio as a brand isn't well known. The average Joe will look at the dm4t and wonder why someone put a sticker on it.
The use of red carries over to the interior, where you’ll find that the HP logo and all of the key caps now have red lettering instead of the more typical white or silver. This is the point at which the dm4t starts to try too hard for my tastes, but I can see the appeal.
Connectivity is reasonable. You’ll find two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI, VGA and Ethernet. Despite the audio-focused branding, the only audio port is a combo headphone/microphone jack. The location of the available ports could be better. The USB 3.0 ports are extremely far forward, virtually guaranteeing that anything plugged in to them will get in your way. The audio port, on the other hand, is near the rear of the laptop, which makes it likely that your headphone’s cord will become an annoyance.
HP loves its island-style keyboards and the dm4t is no exception. Here you’ll find wide, flat keys with large gaps between them. Key feel is good thanks to decent key travel, but we wouldn’t mind if the keys were not entirely level. Their flat surfacing doesn’t provide much tactile feel.
This is not a small laptop, so there’s plenty of room for a keyboard with a generous layout. Many keys including Shift, Enter and Backspace, are large. An additional row of Home, Page Down/Up and End keys have been squeezed into the right side of the keyboard.
Backlighting is standard. In keeping with the Beats Audio brand theme, the lighting is red instead of the white you’d normally expect. Though it takes some getting used to, there is no functional downside. There is a keyboard function key for turning the backlight on/off, but no brightness options.
Below the large keyboard is a touchpad that’s squeezed in. It’s wide, but not tall, and comes with two individual left/right buttons. These buttons provide decent travel and are easy to reach. Overall, this is an entirely adequate touchpad – not great, but not bad, either.