capsule review

HP HDX16: All-Purpose Multimedia

At a Glance
  • HP HDX 16

    PCWorld Rating

    This machine brings desktop replacement performance and features down into the all-purpose class -- and does it well.

Prepare to do a double-take with HP's HDX16. The short version: It is a trimmed-down take on HP's HDX18. The HDX16 offers desktop replacement performance and features in an all-purpose notebook--and looks pretty slick in the process. Sure, its screen may be a little smaller, and it comes with a smaller hard drive. But if anything, this machine hits a sweet spot that its bigger brother can't match: A lower price. The HDX16 starts at $1050; our test unit's configuration will run you $1973. A comparable configuration on the HDX18 costs $2300. Otherwise, not much separates these two multimedia machines. How shall I count the ways? Let's start with performance.

The HDX16 has some brawn to match its beauty. In our WorldBench 6 tests, HP's notebook scored a solid 100. It's not quite the fastest we've seen--the Micro Express JFL9290 fared better--but it's more than powerful enough to play some games as well as video. (The HDX18 scored a 102 in WorldBench 6.) A 2.8-GHz Core2 Duo CPU (T9600), 4GB of RAM, and nVidia's 512MB GeForce 9600M GT GPU fuel our review unit. Yep, this has the same exact spec loadout under the hood as the 18.4-inch model. Now, I can spit out frame rates of games like Doom 3 (which achieved a respectable 90 frames per second at 1280-by-1024 resolution), but what matters is that the HDX16 is capable of playing this season's big guns without much of a hitch. I tooled around Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead on the screen's native 1920-by-1080 resolution. Both looked good and ran fairly smoothly.

However, it didn't last quite as long as we would have liked. The HDX16's battery ran only 2 hours, 12 minutes in tests. That's pretty weak and not what one hopes for out of an all-purpose machine. So, if you're planning for a road trip, buy a beefier battery or just make sure that you keep the power brick close by.

A little hefty for an all-purpose, this machine weighs 7.37 pounds with the power brick and measures 14.9 by 10 by 1.3 inches. It does have a 16-inch screen--which sits it right at the border between an all-purpose notebook and a desktop replacement portable. Like the HDX18, the glossy finish on the panel ensures that you'll never be alone--you'll always see your reflection. It isn't the highly polished, highly annoying sheen that you find on many glossy panels, but it's still hard to ignore. The important part is that everything from Blu-ray movies to the newest games come across looking great. Yep, this all-purpose machine manages to squeeze a BD-ROM drive into its price.

Now this is how a multimedia machine is supposed to look. I mean, yes, there's an obnoxious HP logo on the back of the lid that lights up when on (thanks for showing the rest of the world that little trick, Apple), but the rest of the machine is laid out just as a meaty desktop machine should be. The unit we received in the lab sprouts eSATA and HDMI ports, three USB 2.0 ports, a 4-pin FireWire port, a multiformat flash card reader, and a PC Express card slot. An optional feature that also shows up in our review unit: HD and coax cable tuners for watching--and recording--TV shows on the system's 320GB hard drive. Combine all that with the flashy finish and neat exterior, and you've got yourself an incredibly handsome road-ready solution.

The keyboard has a cool, metallic feel thanks to the coating--it doesn't have the premium etched-in lettering found in the HDX18 (so there you have it--now you know what the extra cash buys you). I wouldn't go and say that the keyboard beats out the ThinkPad line for its sensitivity, texture, and key response, but I'm going to at least give it a nod and put it up on my list. I also happen to love all the extra-tweaking multimedia buttons that line the top of the keyboard. The bright LED buttons might seem a little much, but they provide quick access to key multimedia features--and even provide the ability to tweak treble and bass without having to dig deep into software settings (though you can still do that here; more on that shortly). The mirrorlike touch pad is a little distracting, but in a good way, thanks to the art that carries over from the case across the mousing surface. It also feels smooth to the touch. And the mouse buttons? I'm getting spoiled here. Long, sturdy metallic buttons stand ready for duty.

As with the HDX18, I'm happy with the sound setup on the HDX16. I know, I'm usually a huge curmudgeon when it comes to on-board audio, but this time around, the Altec-Lansing audio solution is anything but blah. The mids and highs seem a little off, but way better than how most "multimedia" notebooks handle those tones. Meanwhile, the down-firing subwoofer lurking underneath the notebook rounds out the sound. Audiophiles will approve of the Dolby sound equalizer software. It's not quite enough to topple the big audio dynamite often found in Toshiba's Qosmio line, but it's more than ample for rocking a room and without resort to headphones or external speakers. And to further tweak out the sound, IDT HD Sound software gives you quick and easy access to a ten-band equalizer--you can customize the sound spacializing (pushing sounds to different parts of your headphones to feel surrounded; it works to a decent effect).

Speaking of software, I need to give a quick nod to the applications. They are slickly produced and suited perfectly for the hardware. You can tell that HP really thought about a nice multimedia interface with its MediaSmart software's sweet GUI interface and how the notebook's shortcut keys tie together. However, MediaSmart is technically bloatware--approximately 350MB that perform the same exact job as what Windows' Media Center software already does. Okay, it's a minor peeve considering that the 5400-rpm, 320GB hard drive is relatively clean from most other useless apps. I went a little easy on HP for the software on the HDX18 because on that model you have double the hard drive space. Here, you could soon find yourself hitting a wall.

The question quickly becomes what you're comfortable carrying around with you. HP's HDX16 goes a long way toward bringing a good multimedia experience with you on the road, but it lacks the juice to last for the long haul (and, as a larger laptop, could be a bit much to lug around). On the other hand, it packs just enough of a performance punch to let you watch all the movies and play all the games you want while going mobile. But the kind of power this machine packs doesn't exactly come cheap.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    This machine brings desktop replacement performance and features down into the all-purpose class -- and does it well.

    Pros

    • DTR features in an all-purpose package
    • Good Speakers

    Cons

    • Screen is a little too glossy
    • Slightly redundant multimedia software
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