Weighing in at just under 6 pounds sans power brick, the new HP ProBook 4520s feels solid and sturdy enough to bear the brunt of your daily commute.
Improving on the plastic chassis from last year’s 4510s series, HP doesn’t aim this business laptop at the netbook crowd; with a 15.6-inch high-definition matte screen and a brushed aluminum exterior, the hefty device targets professionals who want a notebook with the power to handle marathon spreadsheet sessions as well as the occasional Blu-ray break on a long business trip. Starting at $719 (though our review unit cost a little more than $800 as of July 1, 2010), the 4520s is a modest performance machine ideal for small business users on a budget.
The new ProBook packs an Intel Core i3-370M processor under the keys; and even though HP’s push for multimedia performance exacts a toll on battery life, our PCWorld Labs laptop analysts got almost 4 hours of viewing time from the 4520s while running high-definition video playback at the maximum native resolution of 1366 by 768.
After marathon viewing sessions of The Lord of the Rings in HD, BBC Video’s Planet Earth series on Blu-ray, and a number of World Cup 2010 matches stored on the 250GB 7200-rpm SATA drive, we can report that the Intel integrated graphics handled 720p HD playback and upscaling competently, without sacrificing a high frame rate. The antiglare backlit LED screen was comfortable for prolonged viewing and colors remained sharp at viewing angles of roughly 60 degrees from center, making the 4520s perfect for presentations or sharing a movie during long flights.
Weaknesses in the configuration–2GB of RAM (or 4GB with the optional upgrade) and an integrated graphics chipset (upgradable to an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4350 graphics board)–make the 4520s a poor platform for playing the latest games, but HP has never pretended otherwise about its ProBook line. Contemporary titles such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Dragon Age: Origins are nearly unplayable, but many games from the heyday of DirectX 9 are perfectly playable if you tune the laptop’s graphical settings for medium performance.
Overall, a decidedly average WorldBench 6 score of 103, coupled with our tepid hands-on experience, suggests that multimedia junkies should look elsewhere for their entertainment fix. Audio playback suffers from the poor range and volume of the tinny external speakers; but when I intervened by donning a good pair of Sennheiser HD 448 headphones, I could jam along to the highs and lows of the latest Wolfmother album with no detectable degradation in sound quality. An HDMI port is also available, though the 4520s ability (absent the ATI graphics upgrade) to produce video output worthy of being blown up on a big screen is in doubt.
Still, I appreciated the array of ports squeezed into the limited real estate along the side of the case; for a full rundown, check the ‘Specs’ tab of this review page. HP deserves special recognition for incorporating three USB 2.0 ports spread across both sides for easy access, along with the aforementioned HDMI port and one USB 2.0/SATA hybrid port on the left. The keys are laid out in a Chiclet-style keyboard design that takes advantage of the extra space afforded by the 15.6-inch screen footprint, and the roomy multitouch-capable trackpad is slightly offset to rest beneath the user’s left wrist. Though these may sound like tiny details, the extra space made long writing sessions noticeably more comfortable than similar work on notebooks from competing manufacturers.
To improve personal security, the 4520s offers an impressive suite of proprietary software that takes advantage of the Webcam (for facial recognition) and optional fingerprint sensor (not available on our review copy) to limit profile access based on biometric data. The hardware performed as advertised during testing, though I found that the (optional) 2-megapixel Webcam integrated above the display did a poor job of recognizing facial features under lighting conditions other than direct sunlight; the indirect lighting in our office did an impressive job of fouling up this feature during testing.
Being repeatedly blocked from logging in due to poor image quality has the potential to drive a harried business user insane. Thankfully, HP offers the option of switching off the security suite at will, though small-business owners will appreciate features like Drive Encryption and a File Sanitizer. Also noteworthy is the QuickLook 3 software, a shell that displays basic contact and calendar info at the press of a button without requiring you to boot into Windows 7.
Overall the ProBook 4520s is a creditable low-cost “jack-of-all trades” laptop for working professionals, and the various customization options available offers budget-conscious consumers a little leeway in making the best of their budget. Pretentious color schemes aside (I had hoped for the caviar, but got stuck with the bordeaux), the latest ProBook is sleek, sturdy, and equally adept at home, in the office, or anywhere in between.