capsule review

HP Pavilion dv3 Laptop

At a Glance
  • HP Pavilion dv3

    PCWorld Rating

    HP's head-on competitor to the Gateway UC7807u scores style points but stumbles with both performance and some functionality.

The budget-minded Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv3 laptop gets a lot of things right in its design and delivers just the right amount of style--not to mention supplying all the right ports to get your multimedia mobilized. But it also has enough drawbacks to keep me from wholeheartedly recommending it.

To hit its appealing $888 price (as of April 8, 2009), the dv3 ships with AMD's 2.3GHz Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile ZM-84 CPU. That configuration, combined with 4GB of RAM, adequately but unimpressively runs the 64-bit flavor of Windows Vista Home Premium. The dv3 earned a mark of 68 on WorldBench 6.

For context, consider the slightly bulkier Gateway UC7807u. Aside from being half a pound heavier and having a comparable price, the UC7807u closely resembles the dv3 in style and purpose. But the Gateway crushes the HP in performance tests, notching a score of 84 in WorldBench 6, thanks in part to its Core 2 Duo T6400 Mobile CPU (2.0GHz, 800MHz FSB, 2MB L2 cache) and 3GB of RAM. On the other hand, the dv3 stands its ground in the stamina department, lasting an impressive 5 hours, 24 minutes against the UC7807u's approximately 3.5-hour battery life.

With the dv3 (and with the Pavilion dv2, for that matter), HP embraces high-definition resolutions. Capable of 1280 by 800 pixels, the Pavilion dv3 has a glossy coating that helps images pop (and yes, there will be some sunlight-induced glare as a result). But as with the dv2, as you push the brightness up, you'll be surprised that it's still delivering an acceptable, viewable image. It just makes some colors on the brighter end of the spectrum seem a little more subdued.

I'm also digging the Pavilion dv3's connectivity options. HP crams in both HDMI and VGA video outputs, two USB 2.0 ports, one hybrid USB/eSATA port (perfect for high-speed data jockies), a PC Express Card slot, a flash-card reader, ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth onboard. It also has a slot-fed DVD burner, similar to the Gateway UC7807u's, and a 320GB hard drive. But the dv3 manages to accommodate all this into a fairly slim profile (12.3 by 9.6 by 1.9 inches) and a fairly lightweight body (4.7 pounds) for its class. I should add that the 9-cell battery included with our review unit creates a wedge underneath--but one that props up your notebook to a more ergonomic angle.

Which leads me to the keyboard. It feels great, almost sensual to the touch. It has a special coating that helps my fingers feel as if they're dancing over the supple keys (and probably repel abrasion from Cheetos grit). HP even went to the trouble to migrate its neat touch-inductive shortcut buttons from the HDX16 and HDX18 to this low-end model. I just wish that HP had opted to buy back some room to give equal love to the function keys. They are barely there--microkeys lingering at the top of the keyboard. I have to crane my head in just to see what the heck button I'm trying to hit. If this sounds even remotely familiar, it's because I recently had the exact same beef with the dv2.

But by all that's holy, this computer's touchpad is possessed. I need an electronics exorcist: As I'm trying to write this review, I go to highlight and bold a section to make a note for myself, and the touchpad's multitouch drivers read it as my wanting to zoom in, instead. Multitouch drivers are handy, but if I have to dig into the drivers and try to turn them off or disable the built-in mouse altogether, those functions have failed. For all that the touchpad does right--and I would have given props for its feel and the rigid-but-comfortable feedback of the buttons--these issues subtract points in my book.

The front-firing Altec-Lansing speakers sound good, not great--but certainly better than what you get from a lot of other value proposition portables at this point. So you might as well grab for the headphones now. And then there's the software.

HP continues loading its notebooks with software that you're bound to uninstall the second you get home (games, demos, and such). However, I appreciated the HP Advisor bar that sits atop the desktop view. While the bar is borderline obtrusive, it gives you a handy shortcut for online searches, and the "PC Health & Security" button is as good as any one-stop window to get a full status report on your PC. It's by far the handiest of the preinstalled apps. A second runner-up, the digitalPersona Personal app, is built to take advantage of the fingerprint scanner. Keep those, ditch most of the rest (hint: don't delete Cyberlink's DVD Suite either!), and you're pretty much set.

The dv3 is a bit of an odd bird for me when it comes to an up-or-down recommendation. The performance is lackluster on paper, but I didn't have any major holdups in everyday use. What really got on my nerves was its touchpad, which kept trying to second-guess my moves. Tweak that touch sensitivity enough--or just be extra careful while highlighting--and it shouldn't be a big a burden. But why should you have to wonder if it will be a burden in the first place? The dv3 gets enough right to make it worth considering, but I'd recommend you go to the store and lay hands on it yourself. Otherwise, the heavier, but way more powerful, Gateway UC7807u could do you right. Alternatively, keep your eye out for the Pavilion dv2, the cheaper brother that I'm digging right now. It's good for the basics and is pretty flexible for most everyday needs.

--Darren Gladstone

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    HP's head-on competitor to the Gateway UC7807u scores style points but stumbles with both performance and some functionality.

    Pros

    • Specially-treated keyboard
    • Great variety of ports

    Cons

    • Incredibly twitchy touchpad
    • Microscopic function keys
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.