Handling, design and build: wide and pared down
The HP Pavilion dv7-4055sf is very sober looking, which is something we like. The chocolate-coloured plastic is smooth and soft to the touch, while the hood is relatively matte with glossy motifs in slight relief. The overall result is nice and you won't find you leave too many prints on it. Inside, the screen surround is in glossy black; nice to look at but gets grubby quickly. The finish is good and gives the sort of robust feel you'd have been happy to see on a mid-range machine just a few months ago. Good progress is being made.
The keyboard is very wide and made up of small separated keys which give supple and quiet typing. As is often the case with 17-inch HP models, there's a number pad, which can be practical. Backlighting would have been welcome but of course it would have been difficult to give us everything we wanted on a budget machine.
Like the keyboard, the touchpad is very wide (107 x 65 mm) and very pleasant to use. The smooth, matte texture gives a rapid and precise glide, so much so that it's not far off the sort of ease-of-use you get on Apple's MacBooks. This isn't the only point of similarity as the left and right clicks have also been integrated. We would however have preferred them to be more supple and less noisy. That said, Apple laptops don't do much better.
The webcam gives good results. White balance is fine overall and colours are well reproduced. As is often the case unfortunately, there is some overexposure of lighter areas. Fluidity is fine and acceptable for basic usage and instant messaging.
The HP Pavilion dv7-4055sf is on the quiet side. The fan is really only heard during heavier processing and even then remains fairly unobtrusive.
Connectivity is comprised of 4 USB 2.0 ports with an e-SATA combo, an HDMI, a VGA, a 5-in-1 card reader, an RJ 45 (Gigabit Ethernet), a headphones and a microphone out. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi b/g/n are also included. Low-end then, nothing more.
Under the PC, a wide T-shaped panel can be unscrewed to give access to the RAM (two slots used and 2 available), the Wi-Fi card and hard drives. Our test model has just one hard drive with a spare slot available for a second. There's direct access to the motherboard battery, which will come in handy in a few years when it needs changing. No direct access to ventilators however, which means it'll be impractical to clean them.
| HP Pavilion dv7-4055sf from above
||2 USB 2.0s, DVD burner, power supply
|Fan, VGA, RJ45, HDMI, e-SATA/USB 2.0, USB 2.0, mic, headpones, memory card reader
||Touchpad with built-in clicks
Processing: mainly office docs and internet
After long months of Intel domination, AMD processors are starting to make inroads on the laptop market once again. Here, you get an Athlon II P320, a small entry-level model clocked at 2.1 GHz.
In practice, in comparison to the entry level Intel Core i3-330M (used in the Acer TimeLineX 4820T), the performance of the P320 is around 40% down! Although this is quite a difference, the P320 is however sufficient for office docs and Internet. You can also do a bit of photo and video work occasionlly, as long as you're patient during the most demanding tasks (retouching, editing, encoding and so on).
High definition video playback (HD 1080p, Blu-Ray equivalent) can also be handled by the processor alone or the dedicated ATI graphics card. We do however advise you to use the excellent video decoding capacities of the graphics card. For that, you'll just need software that supports the graphics card hardware decoding. This is the case with Power DVD 9 or Media Player Classic HC for example. The processor is then totally freed up, which reduces energy consumption and makes it available for other tasks.
3D gaming: limited graphics settings on recent titles
Equipped with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 graphics card, the HP Pavilion dv7-4055sf can handle a bit of gaming. That said, you'll need to be modest with your graphics settings if you want to retain good fluidity at native resolution. This is especially so with recent titles.
Games that use the Source engine, like Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead give no problem at high settings, just like Far Cry 2 at medium settings. You'll have to forget more demanding titles such as Crysis though, unless you don't mind the sort of degraded graphics you'd have to accept with graphics settings at minimum.
Audio: speakers only for back-up, use of headphones out advised
Laptops rarely give quality sound. This is due to the limited available space, forcing manufacturers to use smaller speakers. That said, a computer as big as the dv7 could have done a lot better than what we're getting here. The audio is dry, no bass, with the usual predominance of high-end. Only the headphones out gives a reasonable sound - no hiss and fine with good headphones.
Mobility, battery life: a long film but that's it
With 2h23 video playback (screen at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in and Wi-Fi deactivated), the dv7 just about allows you to watch a long film and check your mails, after which you'll need to plug it in again. This is pretty much what you'd expect for a laptop of this size.
When it comes to size and portability, this certainly isn't the sort of machine you'll want to carry (lug!) around with you everywhere. With the big charger it comes to 3.31 Kg, which puts the dv7 in the transportable category, designed mainly for home use. That said, you won't mind taking it with you occasionally.