HP Pavilion Ultrabook 14-b003SA Review

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HP Pavilion Ultrabook 14-b003SA

The HP Pavilion Ultrabook 14-b003SA, a 14in business laptop from HP, isn't much to look at. Its chassis is basically a slightly slimmer and more streamlined version of the form HP has been using for its business portables for the past five years. It's shiny, black and, yes, businesslike. While it's not going to take home any prizes for beauty, it's also sturdy and fairly compact; at just 18x345x240mm, it'll easily fit into most bags and it weighs a manageable 1.9kg.

Unlike many business laptops, no attempt has been made to jam a numeric keypad into the layout. This means there's plenty of room for the standard keyboard, which benefits from fairly large keys with an even amount of space between them. Even the cursor keys, tucked into the lower-right corner, are well positioned; a rarity in a laptop. Their low profile and limited range of motion is slightly uncomfortable when you hit them hard, but can't fault the accuracy or easy of touch-typing on this layout. The touchpad below has a fairly rough finish. It's accurate, but a little uncomfortable to use.

The touchpad is also unusually small, making gestures such as pinching to zoom somewhat awkward when you run out space before you've zoomed in fully. Rather than being built into the touchpad, the buttons are positioned below it. They're responsive but a bit awkward to use in click-and-drag gestures, such as moving files around.

The 14in widescreen display has a glossy finish, but isn't as reflective as most. It has a fairly wide range of viewing angles, particularly on the vertical plane, making it easy to view no matter how you've adjusted the screen on its hinges. However, the laptop was only able to display 56.5% of the sRGB colour gamut, which is again much as you'd expect from a portable computer of this size and price. In a subjective tests, colours appeared slightly muted but fairly natural looking, without any unwanted tints visible on even our plain white test image. If you need more resolution than the display's 1,366x768 pixels can provide, there's an HDMI output on the right hand side of the laptop to connect to an external display.

The Intel Core i3-3217U processor's on-chip Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset can make a decent stab at most current 3D games if you lower the quality settings far enough. We only saw a low score of 18fps in usual Dirt Showdown test, when running at High quality with a resolution of 1,280x720, but only had to drop the graphics quality to Low to get a playable frame rate of 29.6fps. We saw an even smoother 42fps once we dropped graphics levels to Ultra Low quality, showing this laptop will cope with modern games, but you'll have to do without almost all the fancy graphical effects.

In normal desktop tasks, the processor is more powerful than expected from a laptop of this price, producing an overall score of 33 in a tests. While that would be nothing to write home about in a standard desktop PC, it's rather good for a budget laptop. Between this and the laptop's 4GB of RAM, the 14-b003SA's delivered a responsive experience running Windows 8. Although the laptop lacks a disc drive, it has an SDXC card reader. There's only a 320GB hard disk, which gives you a reasonable amount of space to install software but is inadequate if you have lots of data or media files to store. There are only three USB ports, though, and none of them are USB3. The Ethernet port is also slower than used to; it runs at 10/100 instead of the increasingly-standard Gigabit. As you'd expect, there's 802.11n wireless networking.

The 14-b003SA's Altec Lansing speakers run along behind the keyboard. They're somewhat lacking in bass but sound better than the vast majority of laptop speakers, with a decent amount of volume and clear mid-range. They're certainly good enough for watching YouTube videos or streaming TV.

At just over £300, the HP Pavilion Ultrabook 14-b003SA gives you a lot of power for the price. It's a proper laptop rather than a low-power, low-performance model. It's not much to look at and only has a small hard disk, but you'd liked its sturdy build quality and understated looks. If substance matters more than style, it's a good buy.
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