Review: HP 5310m ProBook Ultraportable Notebook

HP calls it the most affordable ultraportable notebook on the market. (February 21st, 2010)

A solid combination of processing power, battery life, security features, and productivity tools make the HP 5310m a good choice for sales pros, road warriors, or any small business. HP's proprietary Quicklook and Quickweb features are a welcome convenience. The Probook 5310m offers a degree of portability, reliability, and performance expected from a much pricier laptop, making this offering from HP worth a serious look from prospective buyers.

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Hewlett-Packard

Price: $899 (2.26GHz C2D, 2GB RAM, 320GB drive)

The Good

  • Core 2 Duo S fast but nets good battery life.
  • Bright 13-inch display.
  • Light, toughened aluminum body.
  • Full-size, spillproof keyboard.
  • Instant-boot access to e-mail, web.
  • Decent expansion.
  • Good software security.
  • Very competitive pricing.

The Bad

  • No real hardware security features.
  • External optical drive not included.
  • Multi-touch trackpad a bit quirky.
  • No option for dedicated graphics.

design, display and visual performance

The ProBook line's defining feature is its construction; even today, it's one of the few lineups outside of Apple's that consistently uses aluminum for its body. That contributes both to a fairly light body and a sturdy feel. Even compared to some magnesium bodies, it comes across as high-quality and rigid. For some, this may be enough to tip the balance by itself.

Thankfully, this isn't the only positive design trait, and input plays an important part. The HP 5310m has a full-size, standard layout keyboard, with only slight modifications to the size of the keys on the extreme left of the keyboard to accommodate the notebook form factor. Because of the thinness of the notebook, key travel is slightly reduced, but this becomes virtually unnoticeable after a very short time. The keys have a sturdy feel, with good tactile feedback. In addition, the keyboard is spill-proof -- a rarity, but important for the likely office audience.

Control is handled by the now typical integrated trackpad and two dedicated buttons. In addition to standard movement, the trackpad is part of the more recent generation capable of multi-touch gestures. Like on a MacBook, the trackpad will allow the user to rotate pictures, zoom web pages, and quickly scroll through documents. They do take some getting used to, and not all users will find them convenient. Thankfully, a simple configuration menu enables some, all, or none of the extra commands.





The 13.3-inch, LED-backit antiglare display is bright and fairly crisp at 1366x768, and shows up quite well in almost all lighting situations except direct sunlight. The screen is more than adequate for working in typical business situations; image quality won't beat the best in the field but is certainly usable for Office or the web. Paired with Intel's GMA 4500 integrated graphics, it won't handle gaming or 3D modeling, but the machine handles HD content from YouTube smoothly, with no obvious hiccups. We wouldn't expect a system in this category and price range to carry dedicated graphics.

software

HP's Quicklook and Quickweb, two more features relatively unique to the ProBook, should be attractive to frequent travelers and are clearly important to HP: the utilities are accessed through dedicated buttons on the right side of the keyboard.

Quicklook is a Linux fast-boot option and allows the user to access information in Outlook, such as e-mail, contact information, and appointment particulars from the powered-down state, without booting into Windows. Quickweb performs the same function for web browsing. This ability to quickly check information in Outlook or to perform a fast web search without waiting for the full duration that booting into Windows requires. We've seen features such as this before, but since Quicklook and Quickweb spin typically spin up in less than 20 seconds and go directly to the feature you'd like, they're likely to be lifesavers for travellers that just need to watch for an important message at the airport.

Software security features are more reasons HP considers the ProBook line business-class. The HP Protect Tools suite includes Privacy Manager, which provides an additional logon and authentication for verifying the integrity of e-mail, Office documents, and instant messages; File Sanitizer, which permanently erases files and web-related data; and Microsoft's own Enhanced Microsoft Encryption File System, providing an additional layer of data encryption for protecting user information. Some may never need to see these, but for companies where a single leak could be dangerous, all three could be crucial.

battery life and expansion

The lithium-ion battery provides a surprising amount of work time; on our 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo S model; it gets up to 6.5 hours and in our experience could come close, though regular use is typically 30-60 minutes less; frequent audio or video will of course cut that down further. The entry-level model in the ProBook line uses the CULV-based 1.2GHz Celeron SU2300 and should in theory be even more miserly, but HP tells us that isn't the case. The company's nternal testing showed the Celeron chip added only half an hour of battery life (7 hours versus 6.5 for the Core 2 Duo). That's arguably impressive given the sheer leap in performance, and we wouldn't expect most to opt for the Celeron unless cost is the driving factor.

Expansion is typical for the size, if still good. networking is handled with an onboard 802.11n Wi-Fi and a gigabit Ethernet port. The 5310m also has three USB ports (albeit only one powered), a 2-megapixel webcam, DisplayPort for video out, a card reader and the obligatory headphone/microphone jacks. As you might expect given its role, 3G is an option too and is carrier-independent; it supports both HSPA carriers like AT&T as well as EVDO for Sprint or Verizon.

What you won't find is an optical drive: to keep the weight and thickness down, any optical drives have to be external. Although entirely expected, we're slightly disappointed that HP doesn't pack one in the box.

Some corporate and government workers may be disappointed by the lack of hardware security, however. There's no smart card reader, no fingerprint reader and no built-in TPM authentication chip. As such, it may be left out of the most secure areas; it consequently won't be the best choice for those who may be buying privately (or semi-privately) but know they'll face tough security standards on a contract.

wrapping up

The 5310m is the definition of a well-balanced business portable: it can provide good enough performance to serve as a main system but enough battery life to become a workhorse for the road. It exudes a level of quality but costs much less than some of the notebooks that would exhibit its kind of build. We're somewhat skeptical of the "ultraportable" claim -- a four pound system is still more of a traditional notebook -- but there's no doubt that it could easily fit the bill in a typical office.

The one caveat is requiring that typical environment. While the software is largely up to the task, the absence of hardware lockdowns is disappointing given that the ProBook series is clearly targeted at large-scale business. And while we don't consider it a fatal flaw by any means, the lack of an option for dedicated graphics does preclude it from being an all-rounder for 3D and video work.

As such, this particular ProBook is a qualified success. It works very well for the majority, but a key minority will want to either pass over this for a faster ProBook model or another notebook with tighter hardware security.

by Mark Keating


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