When Hewlett Packard restructured its laptop range earlier this year it came up with three groupings. So far, we have reviewed one laptop from the Performance range (the 8710p). Now it's the turn of the Ultra Light range, which starts at around £950. For this review, we've chosen a model that costs just around £1,200: the HP Compaq 2710p, a convertible Tablet PC.
The first impression of this laptop is one of stylishness. All too often, business laptops are somewhat clunky affairs, styled in predictably dull colours and somewhat boxy in their design. The HP Compaq 2710p bucks that particular trend.
Even when it's closed, this laptop has a certain elegance thanks to its rounded corners. The lid is a dark silver/grey colour, while the main system unit is black and has a rubberised finish that helps to stop it sliding around on a desk or lap.
The lid and system unit are held together with a single strong clasp. The same clasp holds both together when the screen is rotated 180 degrees around its central hinge and laid flat facing outwards to work in Tablet PC mode. Build quality is very good indeed. The lid is robust and has little give, affording the screen good protection.
As befits a member of the Ultra Light range, the HP Compaq 2710p is small and lightweight. It has a footprint of 290 by 28 by 212mm. The styling is such that the edges are often indented inwards to give the illusion of a paper-thin design. At 1.6kg the 2710p isn't as 'ultraportable' as some laptops we've seen, but it's still perfectly feasible as a regular travelling companion.
The display is a relatively small 12.1-inch active touchscreen with a native resolution of 1,280x800 pixels. The stylus, which you won't want to lose, is housed at the top on the right-hand side when the screen is in (outward-facing) tablet mode and the system held in portrait orientation.
The top part of the screen bezel can house a webcam, although our review sample did not have one fitted. If you do have the webcam version, then business card scanning software is also included.
The top part of the lid section also houses what looks like a circular cover protecting some sort of slot. In fact, this is the HP Night Light: press a small button on top of the lid and an LED pops out to light up the screen and keyboard. This simple yet clever feature should prove useful to business travellers.
The keyboard, which is the same dark silver/grey as its surroundings, is comfortable to use and we had no difficulty touch typing at speed. Above the number row is a half sized row of function keys plus six further keys offering page up, page down, home, end, insert and delete functions. An inverted 't' is available for directional movement.
Above the keyboard is a similar touch-sensitive strip to those we've seen in HP's other new laptops. This gives access to volume controls via a sliding bar, as well as a mute button. The strip also houses a 'Presentation' button that, when touched, brings up a dialogue box where you can set application and display options for presentations.
What's different here is that the buttons are backlit (in a blue-green colour) when touched. The caps lock and num lock keys also have associated LEDs next to them. We rather like the overall effect of this lighting scheme.
One irritation is the lack of a touchpad. HP relies on a pointing stick, which nestles between the 'g', 'h' and 'b' keys and is accompanied by a pair of mouse buttons under the space bar. Those who prefer a conventional touchpad may find its absence is a deal breaker, which is a shame for what's otherwise a superbly designed laptop.
The HP Compaq 2710p comes in several configurations. Our review sample had at its heart a 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 processor and 1GB of RAM, upgradable to a maximum of 4GB. You can specify either Windows Vista Business, which came on our review sample, or Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. It can also be configured with FreeDOS, a free open-source operating system.
Graphics are handled by the Intel GMA X3100 module built into the Mobile Intel GM965 chipset. This can use up to 384MB of shared system memory dynamically as required.