HP Business Notebook Goes Wide � and Hits the Mark

By Jamie Bsales | Posted June 05, 2006

It can strike without warning, anytime, anywhere — on an airplane, in a meeting, at a coffee shop. "It" is screen envy, and the condition afflicts more and more business people as the proliferation of notebook PCs with large, gorgeous widescreen displays continues unabated.

But you don't have to be a victim. The HP Compaq nx7400 Notebook PC gives business buyers a practical, powerful laptop with one central feature borrowed from the world of multimedia portables: a beautiful 15.4-inch wide-format LCD. Even better, nx7400 models start at just $749, so you don't have to break the bank to spread the envy.

Classy, Not Flashy
The nx7400's monochromatic charcoal exterior will appeal to buyers who want a more understated look in a laptop, rather than the flashy bright work common on many models these days. The big display necessitates a rather large chassis, with a 14-inch by 10-inch footprint. But the unit is slim (just 1.2 inches thick) and surprisingly light (around six pounds, depending on the configuration).

Under the lid you'll find a full-size keyboard with dedicated volume buttons above it. The keys are responsive, with good tactile feedback. The touch pad (with a handy scroll area) is equally comfortable to use, and its mouse buttons are notably quiet (a welcome departure from the "clicky" buttons on other low-priced laptops). But unlike other business models, the nx7400 does not have both the touch pad and a pointing stick. (Some companies to have both, to cover every user preference.)

The port selection is fairly standard: three USB 2.0, FireWire, LAN, modem and VGA out. There's a PC Card slot but no serial or parallel ports. If you have legacy devices to connect at your desk, you'll need to opt for one of HP's docking solutions.

A Great View from the Driver's Seat
Clearly the star of the show is that screen. You can order the nx7400 with a standard matte-finish screen, or a glossy BrightView panel. The BrightView technology delivers seemingly deeper, richer images — ideal for people who work with digital images or often watch DVD movies on their laptop. But the glare and reflections caused by the glossy screen might prove a problem for work in office environments with lots of overhead lights or nearby windows. For people in that situation, the matte screen is a better choice.


HP Compaq nx7400
Big Screen, Small Price: The HP Compaq nx7400 delivers a 15.4-inch widescreen with pricing that starts at just $749.

Our test unit came with a WXGA (1280-by-800) resolution panel. That resolution in a 15.4-inch panel means plenty of onscreen desktop real estate for your applications, while still delivering legible text and icons. If you prefer a high-resolution panel, you can order the top-end nx7400 with a WSXGA screen.

The viewing angle performance from the WXGA BrightView panel we saw was a mixed bag. Left-to-right viewing angles were very good, with no color shift and very little drop-off in brightness as you move off center. But in the vertical plane, we noticed a significant loss of image quality when viewed with the lid closed even slightly less than 90 degrees.

That might be an issue for frequent flyers who want to use the nx7400 on a cramped airplane tray table: If the person in front of you reclines their seat, and you're forced to work with the laptop screen not open a full 110 degrees, you'll lose a lot of the benefit of the bright, beautiful screen.

A Build for Every Budget
As we've come to expect from HP, the nx7400 has everything a business person could want, and then some. There's the standard six-cell battery as well as an optional, extended-life eight-cell power pack. Both feature HP's Fast Charge technology, which needs just 90 minutes to charge the battery to 90 percent power. The AC adapter (common across HP's 2006 business notebook line) has built-in surge protection. And the docks and media bay accessories can be shared with other business models in the HP line.

As with most business notebooks, the nx7400 offers a fairly basic software bundle. In addition to the Windows XP Pro operating system (or XP Home on the entry-level model) and its utilities you get CD/DVD creation software by Sonic, HP's very good Backup and Recovery utilities and a 60-day trial of the Norton Internet Security suite.

There are five preconfigured nx7400 models from which to choose, each featuring that wonderful 15.4-inch screen. If price is your primary concern, consider the $749 entry-level model. It comes with an Intel Celeron M 420 (1.6GHz) processor, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive.

Step up to the $899 model and you get the BrighView screen and a 60GB hard drive. The $999 model features the more powerful Intel Core Solo T1300 processor and a dual-layer DVD+/-RW burner.

The $1,199 unit gets you an Intel Core Duo T2400 processor, 1GB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, Bluetooth, but (oddly) steps you down to a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. But even the top-end model, at $1,349, is reasonably priced. At that level, you get everything the $1,199 model has, plus the high-resolution panel and the dual-layer DVD burner.

The only items on our wish list that you can't get on the nx7400 family that we've seen on other business portables: A fingerprint reader as an added layer of security and convenience, and a built-in wireless broadband option to connect to 3G cellular data networks at near-DSL speeds anywhere you can get a signal (you'll need to opt for a PC Card solution instead).

But those are minor nit picks. Most business people would be happy to carry the HP Compaq nx7400. And considering the price, we think a lot will be.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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