Display and Audio Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software
Display and Audio Quality
The standard display on the HP dm4t Beats Edition is a generic 1366×768 panel, but our review unit came with a 1600×900 upgrade. And it was packing a surprise – a matte coat. Yep, that’s right. This consumer-oriented Beats Audio branded laptop is packing a display that would be at home on a ThinkPad.
Placing a high resolution display in a small area provides a sharp image, making this laptop surprisingly good for productivity. The backlight, though not particularly bright, is enough to make the matte display usable in almost any lighting condition. I used this laptop directly in front of a floor-to-ceiling window on sunny day and had no trouble typing or reading web pages.
Multimedia usage suffers, however. It’s typical for a matte coating to sap contrast, and that is the case here. Colors are dull and lack depth. Black level performance proved poor, as well, and gradient test images showed moderate banding in the darker half of the image. Some users will undoubtedly find reduced media performance an acceptable tradeoff for better usability in various lighting conditions, but slapping a matte display on laptop that surely must be designed media use seems like a mistake.
Audio quality is what this laptop is supposed to be an about, so I’m disappointed to report it isn’t particularly good. The speakers are loud, to be sure, and they are relatively free of distortion. But there is still a “tinny” quality to the sound due to a complete lack of bass. HP can do better – I know, because I’ve heard much better from some of their other laptops, particularly certain Envy models with Beats branding. Audio quality is good from the headphone jack, so maybe you just need a pair of Beats Audio headphones to enjoy your Beats Audio laptop (yes, that was sarcasm).
This laptop isn’t a particularly thin one, and that translates to low temperatures during normal operation as well as a fan that is reasonably quiet, though sometimes audible over low amounts of ambient noise. Our infrared thermometer rarely registered temperatures above 80 degrees on any surface during idle or light laptop use.
Ramping up the processor results in significantly more fan noise, which is to be expected, but temperatures remain reasonable. Stress testing with OCCT failed to cause the palmrest to become uncomfortably warm and surface temperatures only exceeded 85 degrees in the area immediately surrounding the exhaust vent, where a temperature of 93 degrees was measured. That’s entirely reasonable, so you shouldn’t have trouble using this laptop in your lap or on a desk so long as you keep the exhaust clear.
The 14-inch display size has traditionally been the best pick for people who mostly want a desktop replacement, but don’t want occasional travel to be a burden. The dm4t is much smaller and lighter than your average 15.6” laptop and it will fit into bags that a larger laptop won’t. My small messenger bag, for example, can just barely accommodate this laptop.
Endurance comes courtesy of a 55Wh 6-cell battery. That is an average size for a battery pack, and it results in average life. Both the ASUS U36 and Dell Inspiron 14z beat the HP dm4t by a fair margain because – well – they have bigger batteries.
HP is no stranger to bloatware, and there’s plenty of additional shortcuts to be found on the dm4t’s desktop. The good news is that they mostly do not represent software that run automatically when the system boots. Instead, the shortcuts area links to partner websites (like eBay) or trial software (like Microsoft Office Starter 2010).
The only disruptive piece of software is – predictably – Norton Internet Security. The pre-installed trial version loves to tell users that they are vulnerable to attack and will undoubtedly lose their first born child if Norton is not immediately activated. It’s annoying. It’s also incredibly common, and you’ll likely have to put up with it (or McAfee, or Trend Micro) no matter the laptop you buy.