The HP Pavilion DM4-2101 has a 14in 1,366 x 768 display, intended to give it the portability edge over the standard 15.6in size without compromising on typing comfort or requiring you hold your knees together, looking like you desperately need a pee, in order to use the laptop on your knees. It’s a size we like.
Screen quality is unremarkable, though. The LED backlight’s maximum setting is sufficient but hardly dazzling and colour reproduction is just ok. Horizontal viewing angles are fine, but as usual with affordable laptops, loss of brightness and contrast shift kick in as soon as you start tilting the screen back.
The screen’s hinge stops you from tilting back more than 45 degrees from upright (possibly in order to stop making this too apparent) but, twinned with the lack of a Blu-ray drive, the DM4-2101 is not the perfect multimedia laptop. It uses a glossy finish too, which becomes an annoyance when used outside, causing serious reflection issues – not good news given the standard TFT screen brightness.
HP rates the display at 200nits, which looks pretty weak when the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime can pump out 600nits in its Super IPS mode. Yes, admittedly the Prime is a different tub of transistors altogether, but we would have appreciated a little more luminosity, and a matt-finish option to boost its out-and-about usability.
The Pavilion DM4-2101’s keyboard uses sharp-edged square chiclet keys of matt black atop a glossy black surround. Their action is a touch shallow but is definite enough to make typing comfortable and quick. And, like the rest of the laptop, it flat-out just looks good. The font on the keys is sharp and stylish without being self-consciously so and it has dropped all the caps outside of the character keys.
In keeping the number of keys on show to a minimum, some usability quirks have crept in, though. HP has messed with standard behaviour of the “F” function keys, so that the secondary function has become the primary one. You don’t press the fn and F3 key to increase brightness, just the F3 key. This change of priorities is relatively common but may irk some people, although we admit we’ve used these keys for their secondary roles far more than the standard ones over the past few years.
The touchpad is centrally-positioned below, and sensibly uses discrete buttons rather than the common two-button bar – hence no dead zone issues. As ever with HP laptops, a double tap on the little dot at its top left enables and disables the pad, which is something you’ll need to use it regularly as its placement puts it right below your right palm during typing. This is the only area where we might criticise HP for valuing the laptop’s look over its usability. In all honesty, we’re torn as you can bet it wouldn’t look quite as nice once the symmetry is ruined. This niggle aside, it’s just fine, with a lightly textured surface and multi-touch support.
Up top in the glossy black screen surround there’s a 720p HP Truevision HD webcam, which produces decent image quality for video chat. It’s fairly quick to accommodate for changes in lighting, although doing so in jarring spurts, and the Pavilion DM4-2101 comes with a limited version of Cyberlink YouCam 3.5 for those desperate to post videos of themselves to YouTube or Facebook.
HP has got into bed with the Monster Beats audio brand in the past with some of its laptops, but the HP Pavilion DM4-2101 doesn’t get such lavish treatment. However, its speakers do bear another brand – Altec Lansing. Their grills sit on the underside of the laptop, as it curves up towards the front. Brand power does little for them, though. The bright sound has zero bass power and when volume is ratcheted-up, the top-end distorts unpleasantly. So typical for a laptop of this calibre then…