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HP ProBook 4720s - Design, Usability and Multimedia
As already mentioned, the design of the HP Probook 4720s really makes it stand out. Though the brushed brown metal lid still reveals fingerprints, it's not as obvious as on glossy plastic and remains better-looking regardless – especially when offset against the chromed HP logo. It also lends a quality feel, though the lid flexes just a bit more than we'd ideally like.
Opening the laptop up, we're greeted by a combination of glossy black plastics and more brown metal used to attractive effect. With its button-less touchpad and chiclet-style keyboard, it exudes a minimalist appeal similar to (if more restrained than) the Dell Inspiron 17R. The only visible button is a chromed, white-backlit power button that dominates the metal speaker grille above the keyboard.
In terms of usability, the 4720s' spill-resistant keyboard is quite good. It offers an excellent layout, though all the secondary functions are relegated to F1-F12. The Enter and Shift keys are full size and, as you would expect given the vast amount of space available, a full number pad is included. Typing on the matt keys feels pleasant and there's a nice amount of travel, though feedback doesn't quite match up to the assured click of the excellent keyboard found on the 17R, nor is spacing quite as comfortable.
We never found the huge touchpad interfered with typing, but if it does hinder you, simply tap a corner of the pad twice to deactivate it, which will be indicated by a small orange LED. This is a great implementation of a good idea.
We're less enthused about the touchpad itself. In a nod to Apple's equivalents it integrates the buttons into its touch surface, a feature HP has named ClickPad. It's undeniably visually attractive, gives you a larger working area and casual use reveals little issue. However, good as the concept of this all-in touchpad might have seemed on paper, trying to perform more complex actions soon unearths flaws.
For example, on occasion the ClickPad would register a press on one of its 'buttons' as a touch and move the cursor. Scrolling is also more difficult than it should be if you need to make several swipes while holding a scroll bar, and any accidental movement of your thumb on the 'button' will foul your aim if you don't hold down your index finger. It's a real pity, as otherwise the multi-touch pad is pleasant and responsive.
Getting onto the 4720s' 17.3in display, it sports a 1,600 x 900 resolution. While we would have preferred a little more desktop real estate, this should still suffice and does mean small text is easier to read. Overall quality is decent, offering fine dark detailing at the cost of differentiation at the light end of the scale. Backlighting was slightly uneven, but there was only the merest hint of light bleed.
No visible banding, good sharpness (though 15.4in screens with the same resolution will seem sharper due to their smaller dot pitch) and halfway decent horizontal viewing angles round off the display's strengths. However, this is all somewhat marred by vertical viewing angles that are weaker than usual, meaning that even at the 'ideal' angle you won't get the best out of the screen, and colours on presentations might look subtly different to what they're supposed to be.
Aurally this ProBook is a mediocre performer. The stereo speakers maintain adequate clarity and volume in the mid and high range, but terribly tinny bass means films and thumping tunes are best listened to using headphones or external speakers. They'll suffice for presentations, though, which is as much as they're expected to do.