Review: HP Pavilion dv3021tx

31Jul08

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TB Tech - HP Pavilion dv3021tx

HP is on a winning streak with its consumer notebooks at the moment – its 14.1” Pavilion dv6000 Series models have proven to be real winners. We haven’t heard much from the 13.3” and 15.4” front, so does HP’s neglect in these screen sizes mean that they’ve forgotten how to build a mainstream laptop? HP’s new 13.3” dv3021tx should answer that question.

Aesthetic

The answer to laptop design, at least for HP, seems to be “gloss and glass”, as we’ve seen on many occasions with its 14.1” notebooks. If anything, the dv3021tx is glossier than anything we’ve seen from HP yet – every tangible surface is covered in something lacquered.

HP’s love of smooth surfaces certainly isn’t a bad thing – in my tests, I have found HP’s glossy material to be far more durable that easily-scratched matte finishes. Design-wise, of course, the designs employed by HP are also far more interesting and pleasing to the casual eye than generic PC styles offered by some competitors. This quality, thankfully, continues through the notebook, with above-average fit and finish.

TB Tech - HP Pavilion dv3021tx

Upon meeting the notebook the eye is drawn in by the minimal, but still visible, “iron mesh” pattern adorning the lid – this design wraps around each surface, and gives the user a sense that a consistent theme has been used, rather than a confusing jumble of different colours and textures.

Opening the lid reveals a full-size keyboard that has been neatly tucked into a rather compact frame. The laptop isn’t especially thin; however, its two-tone, silver and black design thread keeps the profile good-looking. Surrounded by yet another glossy black frame, lies the 13.3”, 1280×800 (WXGA resolution) ‘BrightView’ glass display.

Beneath this are HP’s popular touch-activated entertainment shortcut keys, which seems now to be the permanent home of the laptop’s volume control. While this is novel and intuitive to use when you have a clear line of sight to the notebook, it is difficult to alter the volume when you are feeling in the dark.

To combat this problem, HP have two counter-measures. The first is more obvious – the touch keys are illuminated when you touch their black bar, aiding your fingers which may be in the dark (during a movie or red-eye flight, for example). The second is perhaps more practical when you are using the machine as a portable entertainment hub – HP bundles a tiny remote with the laptop that conveniently slides into the ExpressCard slot.

Progressing further, the ‘interior’ features of the notebook are primarily a chrome silver affair. The palm rests, touchpad and keyboard surround are all shiny, reflective silver, coated in the lid’s “iron mesh” pattern. While this looks terribly alluring, after even light use, the fingerprint cover over these frequently utilised surfaces becomes almost unbearable to the clean-freak’s eye.

The problem of fingerprints has become an increasing concern of mine with HP’s burgeoning love affair with glossy textures, and I make it a rule to take a screen-cleaning cloth with me when I take the laptop out. Travelling around leaves its dirty mark on this notebook in particular.

Features and functionality
TB Tech - HP Pavilion dv3021tx
While it may be relatively compact, the dv3021tx packs in many important features for the power user. What impressed us was that many of the features that were incorporated that can so often detract from the form of the notebook have been included with style on the HP.

A full complement of ports on any laptop larger than 12.1” is a necessity in our books. The dv3021tx, as with HP’s older models, didn’t disappoint, but HP has explored a few more combination-port possibilities on this model, which we feel have just that feel to them – like they are being trialled.

To illustrate this point – this notebook has three USB ports, which is good for this size. However, the second port on the left side is a combination USB / eSATA port (either a USB or eSATA device can be used in that port). While this is a likable concept, it isn’t quite as solid as a standalone port, and using either type of device in that port required a small amount of ‘jiggling’ to remove it.

Another quirky feature included on the dv3021tx is a removable DVD drive. The optical drive can be removed, reducing the weight on the notebook, and covered by a similar glossy silver cover.

Peculiarities aside, the dv3021tx is well stocked. Previously mentioned were its three USB ports (2x on the left, and 1x on the right), and DVD drive; also to be found are VGA and HDMI-out ports, a memory card reader supporting the popular formats, a Kensington Lock port, and both Ethernet and 56k modem ports.

Fitting in all of these, plus a side-mounted fan outlet to stop the notebook overheating on a lap or bed, has taken up all of both sides.

The back, as is becoming more common, is devoid of features, save for the hinge.

TB Tech - HP Pavilion dv3021tx

The front edge is home to the audio ports. HP has once again integrated two headphone jacks, which readers should know pleases me greatly. One microphone port can be found on the left of these. While locating the audio slots on the front edge is convenient for casual headphone-based use, out and about, it’s not so convenient for use at home, when you might be tied up to some large external speakers and thick cords. I found that these cords needed to snake all around my desk.

HP’s ‘QuickPlay’ entertainment control bar has become a consistent feature in the Pavilion line, and they become more accurate and intuitive each time. As discussed in the Aesthetic section, it can be a toss-up as to its accuracy in darkened environments. The bundled entertainment remote, which really is tiny, fixes the problem of fiddling for movie controls in the dark, and when unneeded it stows conveniently into the ExpressCard slot.

A combination of HP’s tinkering and Service Pack One have eased the slight pain of Windows Vista, and to be honest, it’s not too bad on this notebook. A decent specification level means that the system is fast and quick in most actions, and it was always very easy to get work done.

The dv3021tx is what Microsoft calls ‘Office-Ready’, meaning that HP has included a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office. Utilising this trial, the dv3021tx was able to open and edit foreign Word documents cleanly and quickly as well as compile complicated Excel macros.
HP has added a number of its own programs which come bundled with the notebook. While the majority of these add-ons are what is being labelled “bloatware”, a closer look yields that some of these programs can significantly help the user in updating the computer and Windows as well as backup and recover.

HP’s Software Update utility pleased me greatly. As a long-time fan of Mac OS X’s Software Update, a fast, small and clean application to offer easy updating of the operating system is something which I find to be a sign of a decent job by the manufacturer. And a decent job it was – important updates to both Vista and HP’s own PhotoSmart suite were delivered with ease.

Performance
My demonstration unit of the HP dv3021tx came equipped the following specifications:

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T8300
Clock Speed 2.4 GHz
Hard Drive 320GB @ 5400 RPM
Memory 2GB RAM (DDR2)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GS
Graphics Memory 256 MB

For its compact form factor, the dv3021tx packs quite a punch in the productivity stakes – its 2.4GHz dual-core Intel processor has the machine up and running quickly and multitaking – even browsing, editing Word and Excel documents, and running Photoshop CS3 – is more than tolerable.

The ever-expanding hard drive capacities of laptops continues to impress me, and HP has squeezed over three hundred gigabytes into this model. Formatting and the recovery partition reduce this to just over 290GB. However, even for power users this level should be huge.

Although a GeForce 8400M from NVidia is included, with 256MB of graphics memory, mobile gamers should opt for a dedicated gaming notebook. This graphics card is excellent for graphic-intensive productivity applications, and is excellent in the CAD realm (tested with Google SketchUp), gaming is not a high point of the dv3021tx.

Intensive games can usually run without a hitch on medium to high settings.

What is important, though, is all of the usual features of the dv3021tx are fast. Booting up from cold (at least for Windows) is quick, applications are managed quickly by the processor, commonly used services never require waiting, and, of course, working on the go never leaves you staring at an hourglass.

The bottom line

TB Tech - HP Pavilion dv3021tx
If you are in the market for a fashion-conscious, but still very capable 13.3” Windows notebook, the new dv3021tx from HP is just another in a long line of fairly impressive, and good quality machines from that maker. It’s hard to specifically not like the laptop – collectively, it is very appealing to the casual user who needs to work with large Office documents and some intensive applications. Quality, though, comes at a small premium over competitors, and you should hope to find this HP around A$1800.

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