HP's 17-inch workstation-class EliteBook 8730w is about as far from a netbook as an Aston Martin is from a Ford Fiesta. That's not to belittle netbooks or Fiestas, but, when you want to get somewhere fast and in comfort, you need the appropriate tool for the job. The job in question here is anything that requires an excellent graphics sub-system and a degree of portability. Photo and video editors, engineers and financial analysts would be typical users of this class of laptop.
The standout feature on our review sample, the FU471ET model, is its gorgeous 1,920x1,200-pixel DreamColor display -- the clearest, sharpest and most colour-rich we've seen on any laptop. The display and other high-end features make this a premium-priced product, at around £2,500, but there are plenty of models in the 8730w family, ranging in price from a reasonable £1,500 to a princely £4,350.
With its 17-inch screen, the 8730w is never going to be a lightweight, but it's actually quite svelte-looking -- apart from the footprint -- and weighs a luggable 3.4kg. Its dimensions are 393 by 32 by 282mm. The finish is largely brushed aluminium, with black surrounds to the screen and keyboard.
A laptop aimed at graphics professionals is going to need a high-quality screen, and here the 8730w -- specifically, models with the DreamColor display technology -- delivers big time. What hits you when you put a high-quality test image on-screen (like those available on HP's Graphic Arts Image Bank) is the sheer depth and vibrancy of colour. It's no illusion either, as this screen can display 16.7 million colours (24-bit colour) rather than the 262,144 (18-bit colour) of standard laptop LCDs.
Almost everything else about the screen is excellent too, including its native resolution (1,920x1,200 pixels), backlighting (RGB LED, with ambient light sensor), viewing angles (especially in the horizontal plane) and matte rather than reflective finish.
HP supplies a Mobile Display Assistant that helps you select preset colour spaces, such as sRGB, Adobe RGB or Native/Full (the default), or set a specific white point. Some graphics professionals may require more adjustability than HP provides out of the box: Lenovo, by contrast, supplies a Pantone colour calibrator with its workstation-class ThinkPad W-series laptops.
The keyboard area is large enough to accommodate a 102-key keyboard with a separate number pad on the right-hand side. All the keys are full size, except for the row of half-height function keys at the top. The action is positive, with an audible click, and there's no flex in the keyboard at all.
There are dual options for moving the cursor around, each with their own set of three mouse buttons: a pointing stick between the G, B and H keys and a touchpad with a vertical scroll zone on the right-hand side. As well as the touchpad, the wrist-rest area carries a fingerprint reader in the bottom right-hand corner. The laptop's otherwise classy looks are spoiled slightly by the all-too-common cluster of vendor stickers, just above the fingerprint reader.
Between the keyboard and the screen is a strip containing the power button and a number of touch-sensitive LED-illuminated controls. From the left, these bring up the HP Info Center dialogue box; turn the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios on and off; bring up the presentation settings dialogue box; mute the audio; adjust the volume (using a slider); and bring up the calculator.