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Old 12-11-2009, 06:30 PM
Jason Dunn
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Default HP's dm3 Laptop: Looks Great, Worst Touchpad Ever

If you haven't already watched my unboxing video of the HP dm3, be sure to check that out first.

This is my two-part review video of the HP dm3 [affiliate]; the dm3 is a new laptop from HP that's an evolution of the dv2 - it's thin, light, and not very expensive. It uses the AMD Athlon Neo X2 dual-core processor, a semi-low power processor that uses 18 watts of power, but delivers better performance than the Intel Atom processors found in netbooks. This particular model has 4 GB of RAM, uses a 320 GB 7200 RPM hard drive, has a memory card reader, ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0, four USB ports, and HDMI out. The 13.3 inch wide-screen display is 1366 x 768 pixels in resolution (driven by an ATI Radeon 3200 GPU), and it has a built-in Webcam and microphone. The keyboard is full-sized, and the laptop features Altec Lansing speakers.

The 6-cell battery is rated for up to six hours of battery life, though in my initial battery test playing back a ripped copy of the Lord of the Rings extended edition, at 100% screen brightness with WiFi off, it was down to 5% battery life after finishing the movie at 2 hours and 51 minutes. That's not a small feat though - many other notebooks I test can't finish that movie. Dropping the brightness down to the lowest setting - which makes it so dim you'd have to be in a dark room to have the screen be viewable - allows the dm3 to have 20% battery life after the LOTR test. I discuss my other battery tests in the first video, but even with my most basic of tests - the "Surf 'n Type" test at 50% brightness - I could only eek 3 hours 55 minutes from the battery. I don't know where HP is getting the six hours of battery life - my guess is minimum brightness, WiFi off, and the laptop is doing nothing - but they're not alone in an industry rife with the over-quoting the battery life. Can't the industry come up with some sort of reasonable test that they'd all use as a benchmark?

Diving Even Deeper

In part two of my review video (below), I discuss gaming performance, and what I believe is a critical flaw with this product: the touchpad. I don't know what HP did, or how this passed quality testing, but the touchpad is a disaster. On two occasions when I resumed the laptop from sleep, the touchpad was 99% unresponsive - I had to use the keyboard to reboot the laptop to restore normal function. The touchpad also gets stuck in multi-touch mode, where ever sweep of a single finger will resize screen elements. Rebooting is the only way to get the touchpad out of this state. And even when the touchpad isn't having a nervous breakdown, it's extremely un-responsive and sluggish. It's physically similar to the touchpad on the dv2, so I'm familiar with how it feels a bit different than a typical touchpad, but the touchpad on the dv2 actually works.

I forgot to mention this in the videos, but the keyboard is a bit...odd. It uses the island-style keys, so at first glance you'll think "This looks like a great keyboard!". The problem? As a touch-typist, I found myself struggling with the spacing on the keys - they felt just a bit too far apart. I'm sure it's something I could adapt to over time, but between the French/English keyboard on this review unit (which comes with a shrunken-down shift key) and the wider spacing on the keys, I found I had to focus on accurate typing more than any other laptop I've ever used. This isn't a show-stopper issue, but I do have to wonder what the advantage is in using a keyboard that feels so different from what most people would be used to.

Wrapping it Up

In terms of fit and finish, the dm3 is a beautiful laptop with superb industrial design that makes it look like a much more expensive product than it really is. It blends a thin chassis with a decently-performing CPU and GPU, fairly good battery life, and all the features an average user would want. I'm hopeful that HP can address the problems with the touchpad via a driver update, but until they do, I can't recommend this product for anyone that doesn't want to have to use an external mouse 100% of the time. And, given the fairly weak CPU power of the AMD Athlon Neo, I'd strongly recommend the dual-core version over the single-core version.

HP has created something special with the dm3, but until they fix the awful touchpad, this remains a flawed product.

Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys photography, mobile devices, blogging, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, his wonderful baby boy, and his sometimes obedient dog.

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