Does this thing look familiar to you? Granted, there are plenty of little differences, but at a first glance, what does this remind you of? If you said MacBook Pro, congratulations, we’re on the same wave length. The brushed metal finish, the keyboard, the black bezel around the screen… it all screams Apple. That’s all I’ll say on the matter, but I maintain that it had to be said. Starting at $799 configurations, how will it stack up against competition from Lenovo, Toshiba, and others? Let’s see.
I spent a week with the 13.3-inch HP ProBook 5330m and found that overall, it’s a very well-made little beast. Under the hood, you’ll find a 2.5 GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics, a 500GB 7,200-rpm drive, and Windows 7 Professional.
The look and feel conjure up images of some hybrid between HP’s EliteBook business notebooks and its wallet-friendly ProBook S line of systems. The boxy industrial look works for me, and its two-tone grey keyboard deck is easy on the eyes. The brushed aluminum chassis and keyboard deck are virtually fingerprint-proof, too. It’s magnesium underside has a nice rubbery finish, and we’re glad to see that HP didn’t go for the cheaper, and obviously less sturdy, plastic bottom. The HP ProBook weighs in at 4 pounds, and measures in at 12.9in x 8.9in x 1in. Even though competitors like Toshiba and Lenovo have lighter models in their stables, I had no problem toting around the device, even gripped with just one hand.
The keyboard, keyboard deck, and the touchpad all look beautiful. The backlit black keys and the smooth palm rests are pretty to look at, and pretty comfortable too. At least, at first. After I spent a couple days typing on the HP ProBook 5330m, I found myself missing my MacBook Pro. It’s hard to put my finger on it (pun intended), but I got the feeling that I was pressing too hard, like I was breaking the keys. And it’s only fair to note that I’m not one of those machine-gun typists that tap out words like I’m relaying Morse code. I’m actually pretty gentle with technology, especially review units, and I still felt like the keys were just too stiff. Plus, there were about seven different instances where patience was completely lost due to a shoddy space bar. Again, the aesthetics of the keyboard are wonderful. The key spacing is just right, and the backlit keys add a nice touch, but if it’s uncomfortable to type on then what’s the point?
The touchpad is an entirely different situation. I come from the land of Mac, so I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to multitouch gestures, smooth scrolling, etc. Still, this touchpad was a complete let-down. Two-finger scrolling was a total pain. When it did work, it lagged. Like a lot. As in, I’d scroll and nothing would happen for 30 seconds, and then suddenly I’d be at the bottom of the page. Most of the time, though, it didn’t work at all, and I had to resort to using the scroll bar on the side of the page. I’ve read other reviews that promise this touchpad is totally smooth, so maybe it’s just my unit that is having some issues. In the case that it’s not just my unit, it’s only fair that you’re warned. The two physical buttons gave back strong feedback, and I didn’t find any problems with them.
I have no beef whatsoever with the 13.3-inch 1366 x 768 matte display. It offers sharp imagery, bright, true colors, and can be viewed at awkward side angles without any glare. The partnership of the HP ProBook’s Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU and the 2.5GHz Core i5 processor provided an excellent video playback experience, whether it be in 720p or 1080p HD. Beats Audio technology, which is emblazoned all over the notebook (perhaps too much), definitely didn’t hurt. It really highlights those low bass notes, although Dolby’s technology on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 definitely rivals, if not beats (pun again intended) the HP ProBook 5330m sound quality.
Ports on the ProBook were as standard as can be, with two USB 2.0 ports, a headphone jack and an Ethernet jack along the right side. We were sad to see no USB 3.0 port, though, as it’s high-speed transfers would have been a nice addition. On the left you’ll find a USB/eSATA port, an SD card reader, HDMI out, VGA out, and a Kensington lock slot. Oddly enough, there’s no optical drive on the ProBook.
The webcam on the ProBook shoots in 720p, and I found it got the job done. No more, no less. It’s completely adequate over a Skype video-chat, as in the details of my face were still there, albiet a bit pixelated.
As I said, the ProBook’s 2.5GHz Core i5 processor with that 7,200-rpm hard drive definitely allows for some intensive HD video playback and standard business tasks, but if you consider yourself a gamer, steer clear. In terms of processor and memory performance, the ProBook 5330m scored a solid 5438 on GeekBench 2.1, compared to the competitions’ scores of 5255 (Toshiba Portege R835-P55X) and 5192 (Lenovo ThinkPad X1). The downside is, battery life is kind of a joke on this thing. HP promises 5 hours 30 minutes of juice, but I could only squeeze about 4 hours out of the ProBook, and my tests weren’t that intensive. I basically just played a little solitaire, watched a couple YouTube videos, and went about work as usual. The good news is that HP hooked up the ProBook with a removable battery, which will be much needed.
Extras on our $899 configuration include a built-in 3G modem, which offers the option to sign a contract with any of the big four carriers. HP also offers its DataPass, which gives prepaid access to Sprint’s network at prices between $5 (75MB) to $30 (1GB).
The ProBook definitely has its pros (another pun) and cons. As I said before, the aesthetics of this device really do impress me, even if it does look strikingly similar to that which I promised to not mention. I loved how light it was, and watching videos (along with other, less interactive tasks) was quite a pleasure. However, I would definitely NOT buy this laptop based solely on the performance of the keyboard and touchpad. I truly hope that my unit is a bit wonkier than usual, or else HP really will have some trouble on its hands. Configurations start at $799.