By September 26, 2010

HP ProBook 4525 & HP 620 Laptops Review

both There are more laptops sold these days than desktop PCs, and with fair reason – they offer the average user all they could want without the ugly beige box and monitor taking up all that space. They’re sleek and powerful, widescreen and wireless and allow you to peruse the important issues of the day’s Facebook in front of the goggle box. Yes, laptops are awesome, and there are loads to choose from. So in such a competitive area, a laptop naturally has to stand out from the crowd to get noticed – some go for raw power, giving those doing CPU intensive task the grunt they need. Others go for sleek and attractive design – thin, curved and shell-like.

So have HP given us two laptops that stand up on their raw power or stand out with their design? Well, err, um…

 

The 10 Second Review:

  • Device: HP 4525 Laptop / HP 620 Laptop
  • Price: around £520 / around £450
  • Summary: HP produce a set of unspectacular but relatively solid pair of laptops again, but face overwhelming competition from newer and more powerful i3 based machines.
  • Best of: Attractive if functional design, matte screen as standard, solidly built, 4525 has eSATA.
  • Worst of: Design can also be a touch angular and cold, not out of the ordinary, underpowered 3D graphics, pales in the face of their peers, 32-bit Windows 7 with 64-bit CPUs.
  • Buy it now from: IT247.com
  • Also consider: HP G62 (i3 versions), Dell 1564, Sony E Series

 

What’s in the boxes?

  • HP Laptop
  • HP laptop battery
  • HP laptop charger
  • General warranty paperwork

 

HP ProBook 4252 Specification

  • 15.6" Widescreen TFT screen (matte finish)
  • 250gb Hard Disk Drive
  • 2GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • AMD Turion II P520 @ 2.13 GHz
  • 2mp Webcam
  • 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Litescribe DVDRW DL
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional (32 bit)

 

HP 620 Specification

  • 15.6" Widescreen TFT screen (matte finish)
  • 320gb Hard Disk Drive
  • 3GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • Intel Core2Duo T6570 @ 2.10 GHz
  • 2mp Webcam
  • 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Litescribe DVDRW DL
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional (32 bit)

 

General Design

I’m in two minds about the design on these devices. In essence, they are slightly different forks of the same path – both have a very square and industrial type feel about them, there’s no friendly attractive though, in the same way Bauhaus modernism is admired, if not liked, the laptops are still well designed in their own cold way.

The better of the two is certainly the most expensive of the two, the ProBook 4525. Its cold lines are cut from brushed, smooth metal that’s been coloured black, giving the machine an upmarket, executive look, albeit one of the late 1970s. This feel is further amplified by the speaker grille area around the power button, a texture that reminded me of the foil inlay of a cigarette packet (weird I know) and one I feel will gather debris underneath quite quickly. The power button itself also looks ‘borrowed’ from a Mac G5 tower, proving the Envy line isn’t the only line of HP laptops to have an overtly fruity influence. One winning area is definitely the 4525’s keyboard. It’s related to the chiclet style but with the edges rounded off, therefore appearing less friendly but no less easier to use. The keys are well spaced and, to my fingers, even have a tiny concave. The travel is good and there is very little flex. While it may not click like a desktop keyboard, it is one of the better keyboards on a laptop presently, and one of the few that is spill resistant. I’d have like to have tried that out but I think Matt would have been unimpressed with a bill from HP for wilful damage. However, the work of the good keyboard is somewhat ruined by the trackpad. While it’s got the same nice, brushed feel to it, it again takes another Apple idea (the Magic Trackpad) that doesn’t quite work here. Whether OSX is better set up for this kind of HID or maybe when you use Windows you expect buttons, but I couldn’t get used to having the pad buttons as part of the pad itself. It took some getting used to and even the multitouch gestures never felt as confident or as fluid as they would with a Macbook. Here I certainly wished that HP hadn’t gone for show but gone for tried and tested.

4525left 4525right 4525back

 

Beyond this though, the 4525 is – yes you guessed it – solid, if unspectacular. The left side plays host to VGA and HDMI video outputs, an ethernet socket, a single USB2 port and a eSATA port. Looking to the front we have a memory card reader and the audio input and output, and the right is home to two further USB2 ports, the power socket and the DVDRW drive. Most of what you can expect on a modern laptop is here, and apart from the welcome eSATA port, there’s nothing out of the ordinary, such as USB 3. Visually, the screen serves its purpose without issue, although I find 1366×768 to be a little to low on a 15.6" screen – pixels can be made out no matter how much cleartype is used. The matte finish isn’t my preferred finish but it is for many and they will find respite from the reflective glossy screens of most modern laptops here. Access to the components is also quite simple with one large panel covering the base of the unit. Removing this reveals the memory and drive for easy upgrading, so none of the stripping down you can get with others. The ProBook 4525’s build is easy to sum up, as it seems it has been build to the specifications of two words that will appear alot in this review – solid, unspectacular. The 4525 has them both in brushed, angular spades.

The HP 620 is odd. It can be described as the ProBook 4525 without the Pro, but with more powerful internal components. The 620 takes the best bits of the 4525’s design and hits them with a budget cut, removing them for cheaper versions while retaining the same overall cold industrial modernist feel. Gone is the brushed metal to be replaced by patterned textured grey plastic. Gone is the chiclet gone Bauhaus keyboard to be replaced by HP’s current consumer laptop version – and that’s not good. This is the same keyboard on HP’s G62 i3 laptop, and when I looked at that machine it didn’t do anything to impress me then as it’s an odd affair with barely a millimetre between each key. That’s not to say they are tightly packed, as each key then has an inner part raised up like a scrabble letter on a slightly larger square. However the keyboard does feel cramped – the risen part is barely risen and frequently I found myself hitting the wrong key or catching ones nearby. They also began to shine from use relatively quickly (FYI, the most shiny were the space bar and the backspace key) so I’d not hold up much hope of the keyboard staying pristine too long. On the positive side though, HP do say that like the 4525, the keyboard is spill resistant (also untested). It’s not all bad news though – gone also is the not-so-magic trackpad, to be replaced by a traditional pad and button combo. While this is better, I’m never a fan of rocker trackpad buttons – they feel imprecise and are never good non-visually. HP’s iterations are frequently stiff without a good feedback click and the 620 does little to change this, but it’s still better than the 4525’s one.

620left 620right 620back

 

Other than this, the 620 is lain out in a near identical fashion to the 4525, save for an omitted eSATA port. Even the screen is the same solid matte finished effort. In terms of build, if you don’t want the brushed metal and can live with a below average keyboard and middling trackpad, the 620 is not so far removed from the 4525. Unfortunately though, amongst their peers at this price range, the HPs designs pale in comparison to the efforts of Samsung, Sony, Asus and compare only favourably to the lower end of the Dell Inspiron range. Somewhat strangely too, both feel very corporate, yet HP’s corporate efforts such as the 6930p are more attractive devices, complete with curves and sleek design.

 

Highlights

  • 4525 – Nice brushed metal, modernist design (if that is your want); decent keyboard; easy to upgrade; matte finish screen; solid build; decent security software; eSATA port, HDMI & HD playback.
  • 620 – Decent hardware spec for the price; same solid matte screen; decent battery life; HDMI & HD playback.

 

Lowlights

  • 4525 – Devisive design; unimpressive trackpad; terrible 3D graphics performance; resolution a little low for the screen size; middling CPU; Intel’s awful power-saving graphics drivers; some bloatware, heavy, 32 bit Windows 7 installed.
  • 620 – Cheap(er), if solid feel; poor keyboard; stiff rocker button; heavy; same graphics as the 4525 so same issues; better available for same price; 32 bit Windows 7 also.

 

Review

I’ll make no bones about it, these laptops were difficult to review. Was it the amount of extra features packed into them? Was it because they eclipsed other machines around them? Was it because they were ground breaking in one way or another? No, no and no. The simple reasons are they are so similar, there is barely anything between them, and in a field of hundreds of laptops, the HPs were as innocuous as a black turtleneck and jeans in Steve Jobs’ wardrobe.

Both machines came with their fair share of standard HP bloatware, including the ubiquitous 60 day Office 2010 trial and a McAfee security software suite trial. There’s also Skype plus Corel Home Office that’s worth £49, although its had reported formatting issues with MS Office documents, plus Open Office is always free if you need an office suite. Each laptop also has HP’s dock sitting at the top of the screen. It’s a bit like the OSX dock but bought in Poundland – not particularly useful or attractive and quite big for what it does. You’ll find yourself closing it pretty quickly. The 4525 also came with various bits of security software, some utilising its built in fingerprint reader (see? Corporate I tell you!). The software was simple to use and for the most part worked well, and I particulary enjoyed the face recognition software, very futuristic and James Bond! Finally, both also had the Virtual Windows XP machine for Windows 7 installed, although neither had their virtualisation turned on in the BIOS at first so a reboot was required. Most annoying of all however was both machines had the 32 bit version of Windows 7 installed. I find this a very poor show – both CPUs are 64 bit and 64 bit computing is fasdt becoming the norm. With 32 bit only 3GB of RAM can be addressed so at least one of these laptops would be maxed out – not impressive. The restore discs would obviously also be 32 bit so installing 64 bit Windows 7 would require considerable messing around and having to obtain a 64 bit HP OEM install disc in the first place. Come on HP, let’s move into the 2010s.

Dock

 

In terms of raw power, they are much of a muchness with the cheaper 620 just edging out the 4525 in mosts tests (bar the 2D strangely). The 620’s Core2Duo had the edge over the 4525’s Turion, but by just under 5%, an amount that will count for little in the real world. However, the combined Passmark test results for both show a considerable difference – the 620 scored a reasonable 623.4 whereas the more expensive 4525 could only manage 491.3. The 620 has more than a better chip though, as the 620 again flatly beats the 4525 in two other significant areas – RAM and disk space, simply by virtue of having more. The 2GB 4525 may have the brushed metal case but the plastic 620 packs half as much RAM again with 3GB of DDR3, giving it a healthy 39.7% advantage. The 620 also gains a half again with 320GB disk space to the 4525’s 250GB, although in terms of performance there is only a hair between them.

4525 Perf 620 Perf Test

Images – 4525 Performance vs. 620 Performance

 

Each laptop has an integrated GPU solution on board, both of which handle HD up to 1080p very well. 720p MKV files would only push either machine’s CPU to hit 30%, with 1080p taking it to around 60%, and there was never any kind of stuttering or dropped frame. However, in terms of 3F performance, under 3DMark06 both barely hit 870 and struggled with each of the tests that the software through at them – don’t expect any gaming action here post DX9.

4525 3Dmark06 620 3DMark06

Images – 4525 3DMark06 vs. 620 3DMark06

 

In terms of power consumption and noise, both stayed cool and quiet during all parts of the reviews with very little fan noise to speak of. Both lasted around 3 hours of light surfing and a little video but would obviously last less under further strain. Although not a great figure, these are pretty average for devices in the same range.

Incidentally, the 4525 passed a DPC latency check test with no problems, meaning it’ll handle realtime audio and video without glitches. The 620 though still exhibited spikes on power and on battery and with the wireless off, making the 620 a questionable choice for pro audio and video work.

4525 DPC 620 DPC

Images – 4525 vs. 620 DPC latency

 

Conclusion

It’s puzzling where the 4525 and 620 sit in HPs design ethos, they really do feel like an abandoned corporate line that’s been hastily retooled for the consumer, and I’m prompted to say those two words again – solid and unspectacular. It’s these two machines to a tee, it really is. In terms of design the 4525 is more agreeable, with a better keyboard and brushed metal casing, only let down by the trackpad. In terms of power though the 620 wins by a fair way, plus it’s cheaper. So what if you put the 620’s guts in the 4525 at the 620’s price point, would you have a winner? Sorry, it’s still a no. The £400-550 mark is practically the most competitive price point for laptops, catching everyone from students to families and general PC users in its net. There are so many, you need quite a good product for the price, be it in terms of design or value for power. Recent introductions of i3 chip based machines around this price have cornered the pound to power ratio so the design would have to be striking to make up, and neither of these have design to turn heads. It’d not to say these are not capable, decent laptops – they are – they just happen to be as capable as the competition and quite plain to boot. At a more competitive price I would recommend either machine without question (the 620 more so) but at their current price they are eclipsed in every way by the competition.

 

Review by: Ian

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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