HP has been drastically trying to re-brand their computer models for a few cycles now. They have openly stated they want to be Apple and they are starting with trying to make laptops that look like Apple’s Mac computers. Their latest attempt that I was able to use for a while was the 8460p which is a step in the right direction but still a ways off from the hardware and software experience that you can expect with the business forbidden fruit.
The particular model that I was able to use had:
- 14″ 1600×900 screen
- Intel Core i7 2620m 2.7 GHz processor
- 4 GB of RAM
- AMD Radeon HD 6470M video card
- 160 GB Intel SSD
Needless to say the specs on this machine were quite good, but that is to be expected for any new laptop in 2011 now that Intel has released their sandy bridge processor line. To be honest the best part about this laptop was the Intel SSD which was an option on previous models as well.
Some of the less-spec-more-Apple features that HP incorporated into this laptop were the extra large glass trackpad (more on that later), the front indicator lights (redesigned), the bottom access panel, and looks-like-unibody design. Other welcome changes are the return of the hardware volume and wireless buttons, instead of previous infuriating capacitive slider, and new screen latch which is a huge improvement over the 8440p’s joint & knuckle that rarely worked.
Because this notebook is a business machine it directly competes with Apple’s MacBook Pro which is why I make so many comparisons. The problem is, the base HP 8460p starts $100 more than the base 13″ MacBook Pro and has the ability to climb up to $3581 with no accessories. This is more than the highest price 13″ MacBook Pro even when you add the $1,200 512 GB SSD. In a world when Google is trying to make their way into business with $30/month laptops, price is a big selling point, and HP is pricing themselves out of the game. For businesses HP can give discounts, better support, and fewer man hours to configure machines, but for end users there is no contest to the Apple store.
While HP is making some progress with making their laptops look and feel just like Apple’s they are still quite a ways off. Not only is this laptop 1/2 thicker than a 13″ MacBook Pro, but the case is still riddled with stickers, which you can’t order without, the bottom casing is still plastic, and the battery life is still lacking despite HP’s claim of 32 hours per charge. Granted I was able to go 3.5-4 hours with the battery, but the MacBook still has better life and the only way I’d even get close to 8-10 hours is with the 9 cell battery which is three times the capacity of the standard.
Disappointingly HP still does not have a backlit keyboard and instead still uses a screen mounted keyboard light which is inadequate for lighting anything especially if your hands are on the keyboard where they are supposed to be. They moved to function keys for their volume controls, but there is no option to change the default F key behavior. Instead you still need to hold the function key to change volume which can be a stretch with one hand and a nuisance with two.
On the plus side, HP added a quick release bottom panel that gets you access to everything with a simple slide of a button. The panel is a great idea for a business minded machine but may lead to security issues if documents are sensitive even if the hard drive is still held in place with three screws. I’m not sure how often the average user needs to swap out their RAM, but for me I would have rather seen this engineering go into a screwed on bottom with larger battery capacity than quick access to something I never need.
The large glass trackpad is a welcome change to HP’s normal minuscule trackpads, and supported two finger scrolling is also a welcome driver update even if it isn’t implemented very well. I can’t blame the hardware for that drawback though because it seems like a Windows 7 limitation that two finger scrolling is so delayed. Even on Mac hardware with Windows 7 installed the two finger scrolling is not as good as it is in OS X or Linux. If you got the touchstyk with your trackpad there is also the option to program all 4 buttons to do their own thing which is completely broken in the driver because the driver requires that each set of keys have a primary click which leaves you with only one button that you have the option to change. The feel of the trackpad is a big step up from the normal plastic coating and the rim on the edge of the pad makes sensing the touchpad better than on a Mac where often I tend to rub the casing next to the touchpad without looking.
The screen on the HP 8460p was one of the worst screens I have ever looked at on a modern laptop. The color and lines were so washed out it brought me back to the days of my original black and white Gameboy when the batteries were on their last leg but I still refused to change them until I couldn’t see Mario anymore with my 5″ magnifying glass. Things like Gmail’s stars and calendar lines were incomprehensible on the screen no matter what brightness was chosen. Luckily I know from repetition and keyboard shortcuts how to deal with this, but the terrible panel quality showed itself on many occasions. I may be slightly spoiled with the IPS panel used in my Dell monitor, but even my HP 2740p with a not-so-great TN panel, anti-glare, and plastic capacitive top sheet is better than the standard view I got from the 8460p.
I tried updating video drivers, changing resolution, and viewing angles but no matter what the built in display washed out subtle details and color in any application. An external display had no problem compensating but this really should have been addressed before release. This may not be an issue with the default 1366×768 panels but I won’t know that until I get my next model to test.
The ambient light sensor also had a mind of it’s own. HP moved the sensor from the normal bottom of the screen bezel to the top, next to the keyboard light, and even when the sensor was disabled the screen would constantly change brightness depending on what webpage I was viewing. It was very distracting in day to day use but I expect will be fixed with a driver or BIOS update in the future.
HP continues to put crapware even on their business laptops and this is not exception. While I would have liked to see a webOS splashtop OS, instead it had the default HP QuickWeb which runs a base OS of Fedora with Skype, HP molested Firefox, and Thunderbird installed. This was the first time I have ever actually thought QuickWeb was marginally useful but that was outweighed by the fact that this machine had an SSD. Boot times to HP QuickWeb was 10 seconds while boot time into Windows was 17 seconds and resume was typically less than 2 seconds. While I do think the splashtop OS has it’s place, particularly the way Sony handles it on the Vaio’s as a low powered media hub, the way HP does it currently is just unnecessary clutter that adds no benefit to the user.
If webOS was the splashtop with a media center app, DVD playback, and access to the internal storage, all while keeping power low and battery life high, this would be a feature worth noting on the box.
When it comes down to it, the new 8460p is a good laptop that improves on last years 8440p, but there are too many nagging things that make this laptop not consumer friendly and still over priced for what you get. Businesses will still buy this machine without a second thought and it still has better flexibility than its Apple counterparts, but HP is lacking an ecosystem that can rival the bitten fruit and does not add enough software differentiation to stand out among the other PC drones like Dell or Acer.
Here’s to hoping that HP’s next refresh cycle with webOS will add something new to the game.