HP has been cutting something of a dash with its laptops for quite a while now, and the 13.3-inch Pavilion dv3-2055ea certainly continues the trend. As you might expect for an £800 laptop, the case consists of nothing more exotic than plastic, but a smoothly rounded shape and the choice of two low-key imprint designs help the laptop to look rather classy.
The dv3-2055ea's 13.3-inch chassis means there's room for a full-sized keyboard, and HP has sensibly stuck with a standard layout. The half-sized function keys are the only ones to suffer from the shrink ray, but these are no great loss and the large return and backspace keys, plus a full-sized cursor-key cluster, are much more useful. The broad, flat keys are well-sprung and comfortable to use, but they also rattle. Simply brushing your fingers across the key tops is enough to make it sound like you're typing at 150 words per minute.
Rampant narcissists will appreciate the large mirrored trackpad, while everyone else will be happy that its shiny finish lets a fingertip slide around with ease. The two wide buttons (also mirrored) have a satisfyingly positive click. We're not quite sure why HP felt the need to include a tiny button that disables the trackpad, but we suppose it's handy if you're using an external mouse and don't want to fiddle with the Synaptics driver settings.
The dv3-2055ea stayed surprisingly cool during our demanding benchmark tests, with only the top right-hand corner of its base becoming warm to the touch. This is good. But there's an air intake at this spot and the whole underside of the laptop has similar slotted vents. This makes it ill-suited for use on a lap or other soft surface that can cause those vents to be blocked. That's particularly bad for a laptop that's small and light enough to be used away from a desktop.
Fan noise is also a minor issue. Although the dv3-2055ea hardly makes a racket, its cooling fan is always on and the constant whoosh of warm air from its right-side exhaust vent can be a distraction if you're working in a quiet room.
Although billed as an entertainment laptop, the dv3-2055ea's glossy screen is slightly too small to deliver anything approaching a cinematic experience, although its LED backlight at least ensures a bright, vibrant image. Movie buffs will also appreciate the screen's 16:9 aspect ratio, and DVD movies are very well presented.
We did have a small issue with the screen on our review model. With transparency enabled in Windows Vista's Aero interface, small parts of both the desktop wallpaper and open windows appeared solarised. Installing the latest graphics driver from HP didn't fix the problem, but disabling Aero transparency did, which leads us to think that this is a software issue, rather than evidence of any underlying hardware fault. HP hadn't heard of the problem before, so we'll treat it as a one-off and keep you posted if we hear anything else about it.
Though hardly window-rattling, the Altec Lansing speakers with SRS Premium Sound technology do a good job with music and movie soundtracks, and deliver a surprising amount of bass for their small size. A remote control the size of a credit card rounds off the entertainment side of this package.
The 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor should provide enough oomph for most multimedia tasks. It's a 64-bit chip too, and, although the installed 32-bit edition of Windows Vista Home Premium can't fully exploit the supplied 4GB of RAM, the ability to fit up to 8GB in the dv3-2055ea will be appreciated by anyone eyeing up the 64-bit edition of Windows 7. HP's included a 500GB hard drive too, plus an eSATA port for connecting blisteringly quick external drives.
HP's specification sheet claims that the dv3-2055ea has three USB ports, but port number three evaded detection until we realised that it was combined with the HDMI port. There's a VGA port too, which means that the dv3-2055ea is well-equipped for connecting to external displays -- HD Ready or otherwise. The lack of a Blu-ray drive means there isn't much scope for actually enjoying HD video, though -- you'll need to spend another £80 on the Pavilion dv3-2060ea for that. Still, the inclusion of a LightScribe DVD writer partly makes up for the omission.
A score of 4,520 in our PCMark05 benchmark test is slightly low for a T6400 processor -- the same chip in the Samsung R610 scored 4,701 -- but it's still within the acceptable performance range.
The 3DMark06 score of 2,452 looks impressive on paper, but it's not so hot in reality. Nvidia reckons that the dv3-2055ea's GeForce G105M GPU will let you 'play the latest games at 1,024x768', but we had to drop Call of Duty: World of War down to a 640x480-pixel resolution before we could achieve a playable frame rate, and it was a similar story with Team Fortress 2. Less graphically demanding titles should run more smoothly, but this is really a laptop for people with a passing interest in playing games, rather than fanatics.
Battery life isn't half bad. The dv3-2055ea lasted for 2 hours and 3 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, and 4 hours and 9 minutes in the less demanding Reader's test. Given its dinky dimensions and 2.2kg weight, this makes the laptop as suited to life on the road as it is to life in the living room.
Slim, light and with ports a plenty, HP's Pavilion dv3-2055ea is a very well-specified laptop for the money. It could be quieter and its 3D graphics performance needs to be stronger to live up to the 'entertainment' epithet, but it's still a capable all-rounder with a few features that set it apart from the competition.
Edited by Charles Kloet