Editors' note: The HP ProBook 5310m is currently under review, but here are our initial impressions of this sub-$1,000 ultraportable.
At first glance, it would be easy to label the HP ProBook 5310m a late 2007 MacBook knock-off. The all-black casing made from aluminum and magnesium alloy and the chiclet-style keyboard certainly support that judgment. However, the ProBook is a laptop aimed at business users, not consumers. It's also something we've been longing to see: a powerful, sub-$1,000 ultraportable with a 13-inch screen and a long battery life.
The ProBook is very stately looking. The brushed-aluminum lid is marked with a simple, silver HP logo with ProBook barely visible below it. On the other side of the lid is a 13.3-inch diagonal LED-backlit wide-screen display with a typical resolution of 1,366x768. It is available with a matte antiglare coating or HP's glassy HD BrightView finish. The screen gets adequately bright for working outdoors, text and graphics are sharply rendered, and color is very good. Viewing angles aren't the best, though.
Above the LCD is a 2-megapixel Webcam flanked by microphones on each side. The setup worked well in our informal Skype tests, with good voice and video clarity. Down-firing speakers are positioned under the front edge of the notebook and though they don't get very loud, they sound good for both voice and music.
The brushed aluminum used on the lid continues inside with a strip above the keyboard and for the palm rest. The wide, flat matte-black keys are surrounded by glossy black plastic; this is used for the screen bezel and the touch pad, as well. The keyboard is extremely comfortable to use with good response and no flex while typing. There are no multimedia controls--it is a business laptop, after all--but you do get a wireless on/off button and two quick-launch buttons for e-mail and Web applications. The buttons work when the system is completely shut down by opening HP's QuickLook 3 for reading e-mail and contact information from Outlook and QuickWeb for simple Web surfing. We're still not sure anyone uses these preboot environments--especially with Windows 7 booting reasonably fast--but it's there if you want to give it try.
One thing about the ProBook 5310m that drove us a little crazy (in fact it was the only real issue we had) was that the whole notebook vibrates seemingly from fans mounted between the bottom of the keyboard and top of the motherboard. It vibrates to the point where our palms would get irritated and a little numb. We're hoping this is just a problem with the early production version we tested as it's sort of a deal-breaker for us.
To keep things light and simple, HP ditched the optical drive, kept ports, inputs, and outputs to a minimum, and used a wide, but thin four-cell battery capable of up to 6.5 hours of work time. The system weighs less than 4 pounds and measures 12.9 inches wide by 8.7 inches deep and is 0.9 inch thick. On the left side is the AC power jack, a USB 2.0 port, a DisplayPort input, and an Ethernet jack. The right side has two more USB 2.0 ports, a combo stereo headphone/mic, and an SD/SDHC card slot. For the most part, all of them are well positioned, however, we'd prefer the left side ports to be more toward the back. Again, there is no optical drive, which is fine by us, but you'll need to factor in the cost of an external drive should you need one.
The 5310m is available in three preconfigured models or you can pick and choose what you want in it. Our review sample featured a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor SP9300, 2GB of DDR3 memory, a 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, and Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics for $899. This includes 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but if you want mobile broadband, it'll cost you another $100 for the adapter. The system can also be stripped down to a $699 version running on a 1.2GHz Intel Celeron Processor SU2300. Storage also gets cut to 160GB and wireless to 802.11g. Should you choose to configure it yourself, additional options include a choice of Windows 7 Professional or Home, Windows XP (available through downgrade rights), or FreeDOS, 4GB of memory, and a 128GB SSD.
HP includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line and an online knowledge base and driver downloads. However, this is standard for consumer notebooks. Industry standard for business laptops is typically three years.