One of my mother’s friends recently bought a good looking HP Pavilion dv7-4170us laptop from Micro Center. Her friend knew I was a little geeky so he let me optimize his brand new computer for him.
Since I didn’t have much time with the laptop, this review will be relatively short. Despite not having much time with the laptop, this review is actually really long.
The look and feel are great. The aluminium finish looks clean and simple. Since the owner is a truck driver, the aluminium body makes sense because it should be extra-sturdy for on the road conditions. The etching is not districting because it is such a light color compared to the background metal color. The etching however can be felt under the finger easily.
The keyboard is interesting. In my personal opinion, after typing this review on the laptop in question, my hands really hurt. Let’s start with the good though. The keys are finished in matte and the layout is a full size without any key crunching. It’s a MacBook Pro-esque chiclet design, which I think is quite appealing. The downsides is this: the letters are spaced really far a part. Maybe I wasn’t used to typing on the laptop yet, but after ten minutes, my hands were getting achy. You’ll need to practice using the keyboard a while before getting used to having keys spread so far from each other if you’re not used to the chiclet keyboard design. Another observation is that some keys when typing quickly will seem to squeak under the touch. My mother’s friend doesn’t type as fast as I do and probably won’t notice that, but it certainly drove me a little insane.
The screen is bright and vivid just as everyone says it is. Looking at the screen from maybe 30 degrees of center, it still maintains a pretty clear image with modest brightness. Looking from 30 degrees off center from above does reduce the brightness more than from side to side, but really, who does this in the real world? The size is huge and the default resolution is 1600 by 900. That however does mean it is not running at true 1080p. After looking, the default resolution is the max resolution. Not a big problem, really.
The trackpad. What can I say? Someone messed up. It was a mistake to include such a insensitive touchpad. I know what they were going for: MacBook Pro class trackpads. I know that was the goal and it was missed entirely. Tap to click works, but it’s not always picked up the first time. The drivers support two finder scrolling but it is very annoying to use. Perhaps an update will solve that one day, but the lack of responsiveness makes the very useful feature very useless. The click buttons are located on the bottom of the trackpad. I noticed that I tend to leave my thumb hovering over the button and mouse with my other fingers, but sometimes I rest my thumb and I cause the mouse to spasm. The size is great at least.
I have first hand experience with facial recognition built into laptops. This one is better because it has finger print recognition. Why is that better? Lighting conditions don’t matter at all and you rarely loose your finger; a bad hair day won’t thwart your successful login. Jokes aside, the biometric scanner on the right side of the computer is small, out of the way and pretty much just works.
The other goodies spec wise. Starting with 600GB hard drive split two ways between the main drive and a recovery partition, it is rather roomy for movies or pictures or whatever people put on hard drives these days but it is 5400RPM so it is terribly slow. The laptop comes with the industry standard 4GB of DD3 which is excellent. With dedicated graphics in the mid-range in the scheme of things, it’s actually possible to play modest looking games. It is an ATI Mobility Radeon, but I don’t have anymore specific details on that end. Finally, the processor is not the typical i5 Intel I’ve come to expect in HP laptops. It’s actually a AMD Phenom II N850 Triple-core. It felt snappy doing just about everything except when accessing the hard drive, but that’s no surprise. Among the three, a hard drive upgrade would benefit the dv7-4170us the most.
The System & Software
As always when buying a computer from a retail store, there is a load of junky software that nobody wants. This HP Pavilion is no exception to this rule.
The first boot caused the HP registration program to fire up. It wasn’t really annoying but you’d expect it to be just three lines: your name, email address and whether or not you want HP updates. But no, your address, phone number and more other extraneous bits are needed. Also, I don’t quite like that it looks so blurry. On a high definition screen, it’s safe to crank out the graphics, HP.
Upon entering Windows, there was a little top-docked dock. I’m leaving it there since it’s not really bothersome and it does give quick access to the HP-oriented features. The other evil installed program was Norton. I quickly removed that and replaced it with the much better Security Essentials provided by Microsoft.
Microsoft Office was preloaded through a trial program and Micro Center apparently sold my mother’s friend a $119 Office Home & Student key. For the same price on Newegg, he could’ve got a three-pack. Just saying. At least it was easy to enter the serial key and get it installed.
Chrome and Firefox were installed thereafter and loaded with Ad Block Plus for Good Measure™. I was surprised but pleased to find Flash, Silverlight and Java preinstalled. I’m glad too because I doubt a Normal Person™ could install plugins like that. I hid the Internet Explorer icon even though IE9 is pretty good. Just stick with Chrome, kids.
In the scheme of things, the system wasn’t loaded down with too much aside from the general HP sillyness. On my initial inspection before I did anything to the system, it was running with the expected 88 processes, with no visible foreground running programs. After uninstalling some junk and adding some good things like Chrome and Security Essentials, and while running other programs at the same time, I find that it runs at 96 processes. That’s pretty good. Overtime, I find laptops need more and more processes from the manufacture to work properly. It’s a shame but the bitter reality of laptops.
Speaking of which, at 96 processes, the system is only burning through 43% of it’s available memory. I’m guessing it’s split among Windows at 15% and HP 28%.
While the HP laptop does have a huge drive and a clearly marked Recovery partition, I wanted to make recovery discs anyway. Well, it takes five DVDs and about 5 hours. It was a lovely time to do some reading.
I believe this laptop was purchased for about $800 after tax. It was a good deal considering there is a $50 mail in-rebate and the specs of the system. On Amazon, I’ve seen many five star reviews and a few lower ones based around individual build defects. For me, and my mother’s friend, this computer seems great and is perfectly adequate for just about anyone who wants a fast big-screen decently weighted laptop for under a grand.
I’m looking forward to my college laptop shopping: if HP makes something similar in a 14-inch package, I might consider it. If you want me to review a computer, give it to me for a week and I’ll give you a bittersweet review based on what’s excellent and what sucks.
Have a good one.