Sunday, May 24, 2009

HP Pavilion dv2—Occupying a Murky Netherworld Between Laptops and Netbooks

Writing about the UMID M1 has gotten me to think a bit more about small computers. I'm currently using a new HP Pavilion dv2. The dv2 isn't a netbook but it's not a full-fledged laptop either. And this bears out in the machine's specs. Armed with an AMD Neo processor which has been compared to Intel's Atom but runs hotter and faster, 4GB of RAM, and ATI Radeon graphics, the dv2 packs a nice punch in terms of real world performance even if it falls a bit short of modern dual core notebooks. It's only slightly larger than a comparable netbook but runs hotter and has less battery life. The result is a tantalizing machine, capable of being a workhorse computer while remaining very mobile.

The dv2 comes with an external DVD-drive which looks better than most external DVDs which is something you don't get if you buy a netbook. It is slimmer and more stylish than the average netbook. Most netbooks use Windows XP as their operating system and most laptops use a 32-bit version of Windows Vista. The dv2 is packing the 64-bit version of Vista which is faster and more secure than the 32-bit version but is not always compatible with every older piece of software. It also packs bright white LEDs which is something of a trend among notebook computers. They always seem to pack brighter and brighter LEDs every year.

But the thin profile of the dv2 is its most striking physical characteristic. At barely an inch thick, makes my Acer netbook and HP laptop look positively obese by comparison. It's a bit heavier than an average netbook but considerably lighter than a normal laptop. This really brings home the fact that this machine in just about every way—in terms of size, weight, performance, and even price—is in between traditional laptops and netbooks. I'm not sure that there is much room in that spot for this machine but we'll see.

It's always interesting to see the choices which are made by manufacturers in terms of the ports which adorn the sides of the notebook PCs. For older laptops this is not much of a decision since they are so big. With newer, smaller notebooks and netbooks it can be a real struggle. My old HP Pavilion has S-video, VGA, firewire, 3 USB ports, 3 audio jacks, ethernet and modem jacks, an SD card slot, an IR port for a remote control, and a proprietary port for an HP expansion dock which I've never seen used by anyone. And it has a built in DVD burner. My Acer netbook has a VGA port, 3 USB ports, an SD slot, two audio jacks and an ethernet jack. The dv2 is equipped similarly to the Acer machine but also adds an HDMI and an external USB DVD burner into the mix. This makes it more complete and more versatile than the average netbook.

But the battery life on the dv2 is only about two and a half to three hours. Impressive to be sure, but less than half what you can get out of a netbook with a six cell battery like the Acer Aspire One. Long battery life translates to long standby time and less need to plug in and recharge. And it runs hotter than most netbooks. So the question is do you want longevity or speed? Depending on your situation, you will probably want one or the other at different times.

One thing regarding the dv2 that I'm not ambivalent about is the keyboard. It compares favorably to the keyboard on my biggest laptop, my HP Pavilion dv9000. This machine comes with a nice big keyboard, complete with a number pad. But it's not without its problems. The right shift key for example is shrunken and scrunched up next to the up arrow key. As a result, I often find myself moving the cursor instead of entering a capital letter or punctuation mark and vice versa. The dv2's keyboard has no such tricks. Except for the function and arrow keys all of its keys are nice and big which makes typing a joy. One of the few things that is missing from the dv2's keyboard are dedicated Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End keys (to save space these have been remapped to arrow keys where they must be accessed using the Fn key.

While the dv9000's keys are fairly traditional with their trapezoidal mound shape, dv2's are much flatter. This makes them feel much larger than they really are while at the same time they also have a subtle curve to them that hugs your fingers as you type. This style of keyboard has been becoming more common in recent months and I certainly hope that it is the beginning of a trend.

While I have never been a huge fan of the touchpads that are so ubiquitous on notebook PCs, the dv2's is at least better than the ones you'll see on any netbook. It is a little wider for its size than you'd expect and that makes navigation on its wide 1280x800 screen a little easier. This screen resolution is quite a bit better than what you'll see on a netbook but about average for a modern laptop. While it's smaller size makes the screen crisp and sharp, it also makes everything look smaller so people with less than perfect vision might find themselves cranking up the font size on this machine.

Generally speaking, the dv2 is a fast machine with a lot of memory and a big (250GB) hard drive. But you might to pack an extra battery if you take it on the road....

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