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With the notable exception of the Dell Latitude E6400, business notebooks tend to be slightly boring. Unlike consumer notebooks, the emphasis is on substance over style - which is of course is a good thing, just not very exciting. However, when you're getting the notebook for a 'small' monthly addition to your 'unlimited' 3G data contract, things definitely appear to be looking up. Let's find out if Orange's Business Everywhere plan and the HP Compaq 6730b business notebook make for the ideal combination.
Starting off with the hardware, HP Compaq's 6730b hides moderate specifications under a typically unassuming exterior. A plain silver, square-edged lid is held closed by a single clasp with two catches, contrasting against the black base of the machine and giving it the understated appearance most business machines aspire to.
Opening the machine delivers no further eye candy; this is not a notebook that will be drawing envious eyes. At least it hasn't been hit with a branch from the ugly tree either, maintaining a combination of matte black and striped silver. Of course one major advantage to this matte overall finish is that it won't display every single fingerprint, scratch and dust-mote, so should retain a tidy exterior through several years of use.
Surrounding the 15.4in screen is a black bezel with the obligatory webcam integrated into a small glossy section. There are multimedia controls integrated into a narrow glossy black strip above the keyboard, which matches the touchpad's similarly shiny surround. On the left side of this strip is the power button and LED indicators for wireless, hard drive activity and such - these are also replicated on the notebook's front edge. To the right are touch-sensitive volume controls. Thankfully these don't beep while you're making adjustments, but they are a prime example of why some people dislike touch controls, being fiddly and extremely unresponsive.
Fortunately the spill-resistant keyboard is a lot better, though not quite up there with Thinkpads or even the better Dells. Keys are slightly textured, so your fingers will never slip, and though key travel is rather shallow the response is nonetheless positive, with a light click never leaving you in doubt as to whether you've pressed a key. Its layout, meanwhile, can't be faulted in any meaningful way.
Though there is no trackpoint, as can be found on many business notebooks at least the 6730b's touchpad is excellent. It's just the right size and slightly recessed, making it very comfortable to use, with a smooth and pleasant surface. Buttons located to either side of the included fingerprint scanner are not only ideally shaped and very responsive, but also raised to make them easier to use than most.
Were the 6730b a multimedia notebook the connectivity on offer would be woefully inadequate, but it is perfectly suited to the business world. Hence we have VGA and S-Video joining Ethernet and modem ports on the back, together with a Kensington lock slot. On the left is the power jack, two USB ports spaced nicely apart to fit even the fattest memory sticks side-by-side and a mini-FireWire port. Beside these is the 54mm ExpressCard slot. At the front are headphone and microphone jacks nestled in the centre of a large though subtle speaker grille, while the right houses another two USB ports, a memory card reader and a serial port that will please those who use legacy devices out in the field. There is also an upgrade bay, which by default contains the DVD-Rewriter but can also be used for a second hard drive.