We tend to view 14-inch laptops as sitting in the sweet spot between portability and productivity. Whereas ultraportables are better for constant travelers and larger 15- and 16-inch laptops are better for general home use, we find that 14-inch models are a good size for your do-it-all, workhorse laptop: compact and light enough for daily commutes yet with a large enough display for multitasking and with a comfortable keyboard. The HP Pavilion dv4-2145dx features a 14.1-inch screen, but we don’t recommend it as a jack-of-all-trades laptop. Given its relative heft and bulk, surprisingly robust audio output, HDMI port, and tiny remote control, the Pavilion dv4-2145dx is best as a small but mighty entertainment laptop. Plus, its battery life is middling at best.
Slightly larger, slightly cheaper Intel-based budget laptops provide comparable performance, including the Asus K60I-RBBBR05 and the Dell Inspiron i1545-4266IBU; the 17-inch Gateway NV7915u serves up the next-generation Core i3 processor and much better performance for the same price. You’ll also find Core i3 processing in the $729 HP Pavilion dv4-2165dx and the $749 HP Pavilion dv4-2155dx.
As with any Pavilion in recent memory, HP splashes its Imprint Finish across the Pavilion dv4-2145dx, which adds graphic elements to the glossy, plastic chassis. Here, the primary color is a pearl white with a design of thin, wavy gray lines running across it. It almost looks like someone took a pencil and doodled on the lid and keyboard tray. The screen bezel is a glossy black, the keys are white, and the edges of the laptop, the touch pad, and the mouse buttons feature a chrome finish.
The Pavilion dv4-2145dx is a tad portly for a 14-inch laptop. It measures 1.6 inches thick when most models are less than 1.5 inches thick. That added bulk is accompanied by extra weight; the laptop alone weighs 5.4 pounds. In contrast, the Dell Inspiron 1470-3282CRD is a 14-inch laptop and it weighs only 4.6 pounds; the Asus UL50VT has a 15.6-inch display that tips the scales at 5.1 pounds. The HP does feel very solid, though, with impressively little flex in the keyboard deck.
The keyboard is comfortable, with full-size keys that offer a soft feel. The only aspect of the keyboard that took getting used to was the right Shift key, which is shortened so that the four arrow keys would be full-width. Above the keyboard is a strip of lighted, touch-sensitive controls for adjusting/muting the volume and turning the Wi-Fi on and off.
The touch pad, though, will require an adjustment period. It features a chrome finish, which has a glossy feel to it. Your finger drags across it instead of gliding smooth along the surface as you would on a touch pad with a matte finish. Also, the touch pad is centered below the display instead of below the spacebar. The result is that the palm of your right hand will graze the touch pad more than it would if it was positioned a little to the left. We experienced a high volume of misplaced cursors and accidental scrolling. A small button above the touch pad disables it, should the skips and jumps lead you to abandon it for a mouse.
The 14.1-inch display features a standard 1,280×800-pixel native resolution. Text and desktop icons remain large and legible, and the desktop space doesn’t feel cramped. The screen has a 16:10 aspect ratio, giving it more vertical space than a cinematic 16:9 display. Movies still look good on the Pavilion dv4-2145dx, showing deep blacks, vivid colors, and smooth movement. More impressively, movies sound rich and lively. Most laptop speakers sound tinny and weak, with the occasional 17- or 18-inch desktop replacement providing acceptable audio output with the aid of a small, integrated subwoofer. The dv4-2145dx doesn’t have the help of a subwoofer, but its two Altec Lansing speakers surprised us with their booming sound (relatively speaking). We wouldn’t hesitate to watch a movie without headphones, and even some music will sound good, as long as you don’t require a heavy bass response.
HP’s MediaSmart software presents an attractive and easy-to-use interface for playing and managing your media. Also helping is the small HP remote included in the box, which you can stow in the ExpressCard slot.
The Pavilion dv4-2145dx includes a few features not found on budget laptops, namely an HDMI port. Most laptops priced less than $600 feature only a VGA port. With an HDMI port, you can output HD video to an HDTV. We were also pleased with the inclusion of an eSATA port, which allows for faster transfer speeds than USB to external drives. HP also finds room for a multiformat media card reader and ExpressCard/54 slot. Draft N W-Fi and 10/100 Ethernet compose your networking options.
The HP Pavilion dv4-2145dx features a 2.3GHz AMD Turion II M520 CPU, 4GB of DDR2 800MHz memory, a 320GB hard drive, and ATI Radeon HD 4200 graphics. In labs testing, its application performance was on par with other budget laptops featuring a 2.2GHz Intel Pentium T4400, another low-end dual-core processor. Windows 7 felt responsive, though we did experience the occasional lag when multitasking with five or more applications running at the same time. Nothing that would be a deal breaker for most users (and any budget buyer with a realistic set of expectations), but you can get a similar Pavilion dv4 with Intel’s new Core i3 processor for $150 or less. The Pavilion dv4-2165dx, for instance, features the Core i3 M330 processor and was 29 percent faster on CNET Labs’ multitasking test–a significant difference.
The ATI Radeon HD 4200 graphics are an integrated solution, meaning they borrow resources from the main system memory. You won’t mistake them for a high-end graphics card, but they are better than Intel’s current integrated graphics chip. We were able to muster 18 frames per second playing Unreal Tournament 3 at the laptop’s native resolution with no advanced features enabled. Granted, that’s not a playable framerate for a current game, but if you dial back the resolution, you can play some older 3D titles.