Netbooks, having enjoyed so much excitement during their early days, have now retreated for the most part from the public eye. Part of the reason is likely the rise in tablets, and now Ultrabooks, but netbooks themselves are also partially responsible. There simply has not been much movement in the market. Intel’s Atom, the most popular processor, has received only minor revisions. Excitement is lacking because there’s not a lot to be excited about.
There are, however, a few products that have managed to separate themselves from the masses. One of these is HP’s dm1z, an AMD powered netbook/ultraportable with an 11.6” display. Nothing in the PC hardware world stays the same for long, however. To make sure this laptop keeps pace, HP recently updated the dm1z with AMD’s newest E-Series processors, the E-300 and E-450. In addition, Beats Audio has been stuffed inside the tiny chassis.
While the base HP dm1z with an AMD E-300 processor is $399.99, our review unit’s AMD E-450 is a $25 upgrade. We were also given an upgraded 500GB hard drive which will set you back another $30. RAM was also upgraded from 2GB to 4GB, but at the time of this writing that upgrade is free, bringing our unit’s as-configured price to a modest $454.99.
That may seem like a lot for a netbook, but this one straddles the line between the netbook and ultraportable categories. However you choose to define it, the little HP’s portability and battery life will need to excel in order to justify a price that rivals the low end of the desktop replacement market.
You won’t have trouble looking at the HP dm1z. While far from luxurious, it features the simple, smooth design that is found in many of HP’s recent products. Matte surfaces are the order of the day everywhere except the display bezel, which is sure to be a hit with enthusiasts.
Though made entirely of plastic, material quality is good and the chassis feels tight. These are things that can’t be taken for granted in a laptop with a base price under $500, regardless of its size.
My only complaint is the display hinges. They’re painted a cheap color of silver that reminds me of the interior trim of a base-model economy car, and they feel even less robust. It’s possible to deform the plastic using just light pressure from your finger, and while they’ll probably last as long as any other part of the laptop, it’s an issue that is hard to ignore once you notice it.
Connectivity options are robust, and nicely molded into the laptop’s thin sides. On the left you’ll find one USB 2.0 port and HDMI, while along the right you’ll find two more USB 2.0 ports, VGA, a card reader and individual headphone and microphone jacks.
Maximum Keyboard, Minimum Laptop
The HP dm1z has an 11.6” display with a large bezel, which means that the overall dimensions of this laptop are substantially larger than most 10.1” netbooks. The advantage of this is more room for the keyboard, and HP uses every inch of the space available.
As a result, the size of the keyboard – both overall and of each individual key – is on par with many 13.1” Ultraportables on the market today. Of particular note are the right-side function keys such as Backspace and Shift – they’re larger than those found on some 15.6” laptops.
HP doesn’t waste space with the touchpad either. The gap between the spacebar and the touchpad is about one-half of an inch, and it rolls down to the front of the laptop, where two individual touchpad buttons are placed. Even with this space-maximizing design, the touchpad is not gigantic, but it’s more than large enough for most users. Better still, the touchpads textured with a nice dimpled pattern that makes use simple even in the dark.
Try as it might, the dm1z is not able to provide a user interface that is as comfortable as a good 13.3” laptop, but it’s close. Lack of space for the user’s palms is the main disadvantage. I have fairly large hands, however – those with smaller limbs will have fewer issues.
Small and Beautiful
Though the display on this laptop isn’t large, it offers the same 1366×768 resolution that is found on virtually every laptop with a display size between 11 and 16 inches. This means that, small though this laptop may be, it has no disadvantage in usable display space compared to its larger brethren. In fact, the perceived sharpness of the display is much better than larger laptops because of the higher pixel density.
Quality is high in other areas, as well. Gradient test images were smooth and black levels are exceptional, rivaling the best laptop displays I’ve ever tested. A large amount of dithering is required to make this possible, judging from the mottled appearance of some dark areas in images. That’s a trade-off I think most users can live with.
If there’s any issue, it’s a lack of backlight brightness, but even this is compensated for by a panel that is low on gloss. Reflections are still visible, but in normal use they’re not a serious distraction.
HP decided to make the dm1z a part of its line of Beats Audio laptops, and the results are apparent the instant you begin listening to music. There’s little distortion and a tiny bit of bass available – enough, at least, to produce something recognizable when a track starts to thump. Maximum volume is high as well, so you’ll have no trouble filling an office or even living room with music.