This year we’ve reviewed more than 130 notebooks and netbooks, rating each according to design, performance, usability and more. Generally, we focus on individual systems, but over time we’ve been able to identify trends based on the vendor. One company might always offer great design and excellent keyboards, another can be counted on to produce notebooks that get too hot. Each vendor has its strengths and weaknesses.
People don’t always shop for individual notebooks but instead ask questions like: “Should I get an HP or a Dell?” Knowing which brands you can trust to deliver the features you’re looking for can help focus the search for the perfect notebook. So we’ve gathered a year’s worth of data to help you narrow down your choices.
It’s not as simple as saying that one brand is better than another — companies sell many different types of laptops with different target audiences in mind. That’s why we’re looking carefully at each of the major brands. We examined a year’s worth of our reviews and our annual Tech Support Showdown, as well as third-party data.
Because HP is the No. 1 notebook seller, it’s fitting that we start here. Check out the brand’s strengths and weaknesses, its 2009 review scorecard, and overall rating. Then sound off in the comments and tell us what you think of the brand and about your own experience. Without your input, our report card will be incomplete.
Hardware: Across all categories of HP notebooks and netbooks a few core strengths emerge. Design is a big one: aesthetically pleasing Imprint patterns, anodized aluminum lids/decks, and generally well-built chassis have played a major role in making HP the notebook king. We’ve also found the vendor’s keyboards tend to be solid and comfortable, even on its netbooks. Most of the HP laptops we’ve tested during the past year have performed well on our tests, with the majority of systems notebooks turning in strong performance scores and good Wi-Fi throughput.
Software: HP has been particularly aggressive in embracing multitouch technology, and its TouchSmart software (found on the TX2z and presumably other upcoming Tablets) is second to none so far on the Windows side of the house. The company has also done a nice job with its QuickWeb instant-on software for getting online fast. Business users benefit from utilities like QuickWeb, as well as QuickLook for glancing at Outlook info without fulling booting Windows). On its ProBook business line, security apps like File Sanitizer help you protect your data from prying eyes.
Hardware: Over the past year HP’s major weakness has been its touchpads, especially on consumer notebooks like the dv series, dm3, and Envy lines. These touchpads are either finicky, temperamental, or just a pain to use due to too much friction. (In the case of the Envy line HP has issued updates that address some of our complaints.) The mouse buttons on various HP consumer and business machines have been awkward to use, too. Heat was a major issue on a few offerings, mostly notably the Envy 15, which had a scalding 103.5 degree wrist rest. Poor battery life plagued some mainstream systems and netbooks, while some business notebooks were dinged for poor viewing angles and other display issues.
Software: For consumer notebooks we’ve found HP’s MediaSmart software to be slickly designed but sluggish. And as much as we like TouchSmart, it needs to be paired with faster hardware. You’ll also find PC Dock software on many HP consumer laptops, which offers quick-launch shortcuts that we find redundant given Windows 7′s improved taskbar.
Best HP Notebooks:
Worst HP Notebooks:
In 2009 we reviewed 20 HP notebooks. Of those, 40% earned a rating of 4 stars and 35% earned 3.5 stars. Only one system scored a low 2.5 (HP Envy 15) and one a coveted 4.5 star rating (HP ProBook 5310m). Another 5% earned 3 stars. We’ve awarded four HP notebooks the LAPTOP Editor’s Choice.
Unfortunately, HP earned a grade of C- in our Tech Support Showdown, and according to a study by SquareTrade, HP laptops have a high failure rate over a 3 year lifespan (though this data is likely made up of mostly consumer notebooks, not business systems).
Generally speaking, right now HP has a better lineup of business notebooks than it does consumer laptops, mostly because many of the consumer models have touchpads with too much friction and some get too hot (see the Envy 15 and HP dv2). We expect the notebook leader to adjust its lineup quickly, and don’t be surprised if the company blends features form its multiple product lines to put its best face forward. What the company may take longer to improve is its customer service, but we will revisit that subject during our next Tech Support showdown this summer.
Do you own an HP laptop? Owned one in the recent past? What does HP get right and where do their notebooks need improvement? Tell us how you’d grade HP and why.