It's natural to want to categorise things, and laptops are no different. The category de jour is the slim and stylish Ultrabook, but there are plenty of others. Budget laptops, gaming laptops, ultraportables - but if you want something that sits in-between, the HP Pavilion DM4-2101 is a good bet. It's not crazy-powerful but it looks great, has excellent battery life and offers enough grunt to perform all your everyday tasks. Apart from the washing.
This isn't the first time we've seen this DM4 chassis. Back in 2010, we reviewed the DM4-1050ea, and it quickly become one of our favourites of the year. If anything, the design has improved. The "funky" lines across the chassis have been ditched, leaving the DM4-2101 with a commendably tasteful dark brown brushed metal finish. The only flashy element is the light-up HP logo in the top right of the laptop's lid, and this remains a classy touch.
Style is one of the more notable aspects about the DM4-2101, because its specs are intended to keep it within affordable territory. It uses an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i3-2330M processor, has 4GB of RAM and a 5,400rpm 500GB hard drive. Using the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics chip rather than a dedicated card, it's not a powerhouse laptop but thanks to the often-surprising power of Intel's current range, it can at least run most games (just at low graphical settings) and will power through any day to day productivity tasks. Now available for under £500, it seems quite the bargain if being a looker is part of your purchase criteria.
The inside of the laptop is just as tasteful as the outside. There are no extra media buttons, no superfluous splashes of colour and the colour scheme is muted without appearing dull. The only trim elements to break away from the muted brown and black of the keyboard and its surround are the bevelled edges of the sections that surround the trackpad, keyboard and hinge that expose the shiny metal from which they're constructed. Next to it, comparably-spec'd laptops like the Acer Aspire 5749 and Dell 15R look pedestrian.
The brushed metal finish isn't all for show either - it's genuine aluminium rather than a plastic impersonation. A thin layer covers 90 per cent of the lid and the entire keyboard surround, although unlike a more expensive Ultrabook-style design, the rest of the chassis is plastic. This metallic layer is enough to give the DM4-2101 a flex-free, premium feel that is missing from the mostly-plastic laptops that inhabit this sub-£500 space.
In both size and weight, it straddles the gap between portability and at-home ease of use. It has a 14in screen and weighs just under 2kg - 1.987kg by our measurements - which is certainly not super lightweight but portable enough that you could easily cope with taking it on your daily commute (distance dependent of course). It's 3.22cm thick, so does take up a fair amount of bulk in your bag compared to those ultrabooks but, again, with an appropriately sized and compartmentalised bag you'll have no trouble.
Connectivity is good, but basic. The right edge houses two USB ports, power jack and the optical drive. This is one of the small let downs here as it's only a DVD writer rather than a Blu-ray drive, which is understandable at the price but still notable. The left edge is home to the additional USB port, the HDMI and VGA video outputs, Gigabit Ethernet port and the SPDIF/headphone output and microphone input. There are no ports on the back, but there is an SD/MMC memory card reader on the front and a fingerprint reader within the keyboard surround. All the USB ports are 2.0 rather than the newer, and much faster, 3.0 standard, and the eSATA port of the 2010 model has now gone (this is the other let down).
It's simple, it's tasteful - and while there are holes to poke in its spec list, at £499 we think many will be happy to trade USB 3.0 and a Blu-ray drive for better build quality and a neater look.