Hardware and Design
HP has clearly put a good deal of thought into designing and building the dm4. For example, the almost entirely matte black casing and the slight curve to its edges are really nice touches. It's not perfect however, as a few minor blemishes like the glossy screen surround could still do with fixing. Since it's very hard to open this 14-inch laptop without touching the screen surround, you'll find this soon ends up covered in fingerprints and smudge marks. Otherwise we didn't have any issues with the product finish.
The Pavilion dm4 has a chiclet keyboard, which means the keys are all separated by a small gap. Typing is supple, intuitive and relatively quiet. Only two keys (the up and down arrows) have been downsized, which, although it's always a shame, is understandable on a laptop chassis of this size. On the upside, the keyboard is backlit, which is handy for working/gaming/chatting in low light.
The multitouch touchpad is just as pleasing as the keyboard. Glide is smooth and the cursor can be moved around accurately. Note that multitouch control can be switched on and off via a button in the top corner of the touchpad. All the most common multitouch gestures are supported, including horizontal and vertical two-fingered scrolling and zoom in/out.
The built-in webcam is nothing special, clogging up dark parts of the picture and making flesh tones look a bit too pink. However, moment is reproduced quite well. All in all, it's OK for a fallback solution.
Apart from the SD card slot on the front of this laptop, all the connections can be found on its left and right edges. There's a DVD rewriter, a headphones and mic combo port (hands-free kit), a USB 2.0 port and a power socket on the right, plus two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI out, an Ethernet port and a VGA out on the left. That lot should cover most of your day-to-day needs!
The dm4 isn't too noisy or too hot, keeping the decibels in check and keeping the temperature at a reasonable level even when you work the components hard (benchmarks, games etc.). The system for letting out hot air could do with redesigning, however, as it gets sent down straight onto your legs—toasty!
The Intel Core i5-2540M processor and 4 GB of RAM make the dm4 Beats Edition laptop powerful enough to handle all kinds of computing. Web browsing and office computing are a walk in the park for this notebook, and power-hungry programs (video encoding, 3D modelling, file decompression, etc.) are handled well.
Although there's no SSD or ultra-fast HDD in this laptop, the 5400 rpm hard drive keeps the boot time within average at around 55 seconds (including connection to Wi-Fi). It then takes just under 20 seconds to shut down.
Games and VideoWhile the AMD Radeon HD 7470M graphics card in the dm4 is just the job for decoding HD video, it's not quite as good for gaming. In fact, with the exception of a few relatively lightweight games like Fifa 12, you'll have to turn the graphics detail down a fair bit for smooth gaming in the native screen resolution (1366 x 768 pixels). In more power-packed titles like Crysis 2 you'll also need to reduce the resolution.
AudioSince establishing its partnership with Beats Audio, HP has greatly improved the quality of its internal audio chipsets. However, the audio components could be managed more effectively. The headphones jack still delivers a higher power output than most laptops on the market, but harmonic distortion is way too high (well above 1%)—that basically means the sound coming through your headphones will be loud but not very pleasant. Limiting this even just a little would make all the difference. In fact, most of our test results showed that it wouldn't take much technical modification to make a huge difference to audio quality.
The speakers make up for things, however, with a decent (if not amazing) volume level and very little saturation. Activating the Beats Audio function makes things even better too. It's just a shame that when you switch off the Beats Audio mode the bass systematically switches back to -12 and the treble to +6 , no matter what they were previously set to. This gives users the impression that sound is sub-standard without the Beats Audio mode—a cunning tick. In actual fact, with these values set to 0, the improvement brought by Beats Audio suddenly seems much less impressive. It's about time manufacturers stopped trying to pull the wool over their users' eyes!