Review: HP ProBook 5330m

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by Jacqui Fleming at Edelman to come to a press and blogger demonstration of a series of new HP notebooks. I wasn’t paid to attend, but I happily turned up because I always like to investigate new tools on the market. Also as a business leader and freelancer, I felt I could ask questions about the tools that never appear in reviews. Edelman then allowed me to take a unit home to test drive for a week. I wasn’t required to write a review at all, but I’m going to, partly because I think what I say is going to differ from the views of the press. There have already been a few reviews published about the HP notebook range, and they do cover several of my observations, but there are a few issues that I feel need to be added.

First of all, I have been roadtesting the ‘mobile’ notebook, the HP ProBook 5330m. This is, for all intents and purposes, a competitor to the netbook market. Like a netbook, it has no internal DVD drive. Like the average netbook it has a 120Gb hard drive (although I see several for sale with 500Gb drive spaces – not sure why I got such a low HDD unit). Unlike a netbook, it has a 13.3″ matte screen and a proper, 2.5Ghz Intel core chipset (not an ATOM based chipset). So it runs full blown Windows 7 not just Windows 7 Starter (the latter of which, let’s face it, is just not a fun experience). It boots up quickly and it shuts down quickly and it seems to handle most functionality well.

But I’d never replace my netbook with this machine.

For all its power capacity, matte screen finish and backlit keybord (and BeatsAudio which for me, personally, isn’t a sales point), it just isn’t enough to overcome its shortcomings. And when it comes to a mobile computing system there are essentially 5 main issues that come into play: weight, battery life, heat, portability of adaptors and speed/power of the machine.

WEIGHT

The unit is 1.87kg but perhaps because the casing is metal it feels somehow heavier. I don’t enjoy having it on my lap because it’s just that little bit heavier and I have to say the thing is really old-school boxy in its design. So there are all these sharpish metal edges down the sides. In comparison, my netbook is plastic, rounded, and 1.2kg.

Netbook 1; HP ProBook 0.

BATTERY LIFE

The battery life on this thing has been widely criticised in reviews and with good reason. When I started writing this article on a freshly booted machine, straight off the power adaptor (less than 10 minutes ago) I had a full battery life. I’m now down to 88%. With wireless active I’m finding this machine only lasts about 3 hours. In comparison, my netbook has a battery life of around 6 hours, even with wireless on.

Netbook 1; HP ProBook 0.

HEAT

I feel a bit unfair raising this as an issue, partly because it’s not a huge issue with this machine, but also because it’s often the fault of the video chipset manufacturer rather than the unit company, but I still am worried about the heat this machine generates. Running no more than a browser, notepad and SpeedFan (a software application designed to test core heat), this machine is sitting on Core temperatures ranging from 53-55 degrees Celsius. It’s not massively bad, but it should be *peaking* at that temperature, not quietly sitting there doing nothing. In comparison, my netbook runs at about 40 degrees. In the end, the heat in the ProBook becomes a little uncomfortable with the metal frame under your left hand. Not too hot to touch, but just warm enough to lift your hand off that bottom left hand corner. And that brings up a whole heap of ergonomics issues.

Netbook 1; HP Probook 0.

PORTABILITY OF ADAPTORS

It never ceases to amaze me when reviews of mobile computers come out, how few actually talk about the transformer power plugs. If you’re dealing with a mobile device, you are going to have to carry a transformer. So it really should get reviewed. For the HP Probook, the transformer is the basic 2 cable connection (one power lead and one transformer+lead-to-unit connection). But that’s actually pretty awkward to pack and heavy in and of itself. A rough measurement on my scales put the adaptor weight at 600g. In comparison, my netbook adapter weighed about 200g. Add this to the weight of the bag you’re using to carry around the device and suddenly you’re looking at a difference of a kilo between the two devices. It’s not much until you have to carry this thing on your back or on your shoulder all day between clients. Then – trust me – it adds up. It’s also a pain when you’re travelling in a jet. Suddenly your 7kg hand baggage allocation is dramatically limited when comparing with a netbook.

Netbook 1; HP Probook 0.

SPEED/POWER

This is where the ProBook is strongest. As noted above, the proper, non-Atom chipset does make this machine faster and more efficient at processing. Running the Flopsmeter test over at http://whohasthefastestcomputer.com/flopsmeter/ the HP Probook came up with a speed score of 43 at 8.26 Gf. My poor little netbook only managed a measly speed score of 5 at 1.07Gf. But perhaps even more importantly, program starting and stopping, and booting up and shutting down on the ProBook are all amazingly fast.

But – and this is a big but – do I really need it? Yes I know this is not the sort of question most geeks normally ask. But comparing this unit with (say) a tablet machine, I am finding myself attempting to do more with less rather than the reverse. There’s certainly room for power machines – that’s why I have a desktop PC – but I’m not sure I need that much power in a mobile unit.

Anyway, there’s no doubt about it, when it comes to speed/power:
Netbook 0; HP Probook 1.

… but that still means a cumulative score of Netbook 4; HP Probook 1. And that’s not great.  Add to that the substantial difference in price between the average netbook (£300) and this unit (£600) and you’ve got yourself a pretty clear message.

I’m not going to say that everyone will agree with me on this. If you’re looking for a robust mobile machine when you have no other computers available, this might be a useful compromise. But I believe it is a compromise between a ‘real’ computer and a mobile unit (be that a netbook or a tablet). And frankly, I suspect if you’re looking for a single unit you may be more impressed by the HP S series machines (the HP ProBook 4530s is the latest of these I’ve seen – that at least has a DVD drive and a decent 15″ screen).

I haven’t seen the HP tablets yet, and given the brutal honesty of this post I doubt I’ll be invited back to do another review of HP devices, but as someone who does give advice to people on purchases of PCs I’m keen to call it the way I see it. And I’m just not loving this machine. In fact, I’ll be glad to give it back tomorrow. This notebook is an odd combination of too big and not-useful-enough for a tech freelancer like me.

(And to top it all off, after finishing my review, the battery was down to 68%. Gah!)

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