capsule review

HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition: Great Sound and Style at a Reasonable Price

At a Glance
  • HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition

    PCWorld Rating

    Though lacking in graphics performance, the HP dm4 Beats Edition features great design and sound at a good starting price.

The HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition does a lot for a little. The moderately priced laptop boasts sturdy, striking design, powerful speakers, a generous allotment of external ports, good battery life, and an Intel Core i5 processor. It's not perfect in every way, but it's a solid laptop for the busy audiophile on a budget, with an eye for the urbane.

The Beats brand is endorsed by rapper and hip-hop producer Dr. Dre. So it should come as no surprise that style and high-quality sound components come standard.

The aesthetic appeal of the slim profile and matte-black, brushed-aluminum case of our 14-inch review model can't be denied. The dm4, which starts at $900 and peaks out at around $2000 fully loaded, looks and feels great. Typing on the backlit red-on-black keys is a breeze. An inch thick, this 4.5-pound all-purpose laptop slips neatly into any work-sized bag without weighing you down.

Despite its compact frame, the dm4 packs a punch and goes toe-to-toe with the specs of many laptops in its class. It has a generous allotment of three USB ports (one 2.0 and two 3.0), as well as two display ports (VGA and HDMI), an SD/MMC memory card input, and an ethernet port. Beneath its pretty shell, our entry-level test unit boasts 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, WLAN, Bluetooth, an Intel Core i5-2430M processor, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and Intel integrated graphics.

Of the most recent all-purpose laptops reviewed by PCWorld, the Pavilion dm4's battery outlasted all but one — the Asus U46SV, which held a charge for 6 hours, 41 minutes in our lab, more than an hour longer than the dm4's 5 hours, 23 minutes.

The dm4 Beats Edition bested the HP Envy 15, Lenovo IdeaPad U400, and VAIO S Series with a moderate WorldBench 6 score of 120. The Asus U46SV earned a slightly higher WorldBench 6 score of 123.

While the Beats series of headphones are often derided by audio enthusiasts as being of middling quality while posing as high-end (I'm not disputing it), one of this laptop's clearest strengths is the built-in speakers. Aided by the Beats Audio control interface — which is different from the much simpler Windows sound panel — the dm4 Beats Edition really kicks. It can get loud without sounding overdriven, and the Beats Audio control panel is a big improvement over the Windows sound controls (with a nine-band graphic equalizer and special built-in microphone filters). What would a laptop endorsed by a rap legend be without bass? The lower frequencies really hold up coming from the on-board stereo speakers with subwoofer.

It's just a shame that HP decided to position the speakers on the underside of the front of the device. That placement only serves to ensure that you will muffle your tunes when listening with the dm4 on your lap, especially in bed, and especially since the HP Cool Sense feature on our review model lets you enjoy using the laptop on your lap without cooking your thighs. I used the HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition to take notes at a recent presentation in a crowded theatre. I typed away with the device on my lap for nearly 40 minutes and my legs never got too hot, nor did the bottom of the computer feel all that warm to the touch when I finished.

This configuration of the dm4 Beats Edition, however, is certainly not for gaming. It shows average performance at low resolutions (48 frames per second when playing Dirt 2 and 40 on Far Cry 2 at 800 by 600 resolution), and much poorer frame rates as the resolution increases (22 fps on Dirt 2, and 15.1 fps on Far Cry 2 at 1024 by 768). Although its LED display (backlighting is optional) is HD-capable and decent for watching DVDs (no Blu-ray option is available) and for streaming videos, the colors are bit flat.

Budget-conscious gamers should look into the Asus U46SV, which scored much higher in this area, or at least spring for the $100 Radeon HD 7470 discrete graphics option. If you can spend a bit more, look into the Asus G53SX — by far the strongest performer of all our recently reviewed all-purpose laptops.

The trackpad can be a bit jumpy, and I often found myself pressing it a bit harder than I thought I should have to in order to engage the cursor, but the ability to double-tap the upper right-hand corner of the trackpad to disable it is nice, especially since the cursor sometimes jumps around due to poor palm detection. Also nice are the unit's multitouch gestures — pinch to zoom, twist to rotate, and up-down/side-to-side scrolling. The fingerprint reader is a cool feature as well, though I'm not sure if I'd ever use it.

The HP dm4 Beats Edition didn't score the highest ratings in our lab tests, and it in some ways it certainly leaves you wanting. But for under $1000 this laptop will do most anything you need it to do (gaming aside) with respectable efficiency — all while keeping your beats bumping.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Though lacking in graphics performance, the HP dm4 Beats Edition features great design and sound at a good starting price.

    Pros

    • Loud, clear audio with subwoofer
    • Aesthetically pleasing, sturdy, low-profile design

    Cons

    • Poor gaming experience
    • Trackpad's poor response
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