- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hewlett-Packard Co. will gladly accept $899 from you for the higher-end model of its HP ProBook 5330m notebook computer.

The computer has a 13.3-inch high-definition LCD display, enhanced audio, a backlit keyboard and what its maker calls a “durable and lightweight metal case that combines an anodized aluminum display enclosure and a magnesium alloy bottom.” The firm advertises this as a solid yet lightweight computer case; indeed, this computer weighs about 4 pounds, which is on the light side for a business-class notebook.

There is no optical drive, but the notebook has a 500GB hard-disk drive and 4 gigabytes of RAM as well as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and built-in mobile broadband connectivity, though the latter requires you to purchase a data plan from a mobile carrier. This high-end model features an Intel i5-2520M processor, which is showing up in a bunch of notebook PCs these days. Windows 7 is standard as the operating system, and a fingerprint reader can be used to enhance system security.

Unmentioned, so far, is the elephant or, more elegantly perhaps, the dragon in the room, Apple Inc.’s MacBook Air, recently refreshed and re-released in two configurations, one of which has its own 13.3-inch display. Pricing and processor power are different on the MacBook Air, and the Apple product weighs about a pound less than the HP ProBook.

The similarities between the two machines are not that great. The HP ProBook 5330m is designed specifically for small, medium and some large enterprises. You won’t find this computer at Best Buy, but instead you’ll need to order it from HP’s website (https://shopping1.hp.com) or from a distributor such as CDW. The MacBook Air, of which a review shall appear here soon, is a product for students, consumer users and some business users.

Lacking an optical drive, the HP ProBook would turn off some consumers, those who might have a fair-sized DVD collection that they would want to view while traveling, perhaps. The 500GB of hard-disk storage is common on notebooks these days. The MacBook Air, which uses solid-state memory for storage, tops out at 256GB of available storage.

In operation, the HP ProBook is a well-running Windows-based computer. I’m much happier overall with Microsoft Windows 7 than I was with Vista. There’s not much in the way of programs included with the computer, though an ad-sponsored version of Microsoft Word is included; a good reseller can configure a system with the programs you need — at an additional cost, of course.

But is this something I’d want to carry for business? I probably would, and especially if the enterprise in which I was working was strict in its devotion to Windows. If I’m committed to the Windows platform, this strikes me as a good machine for business.

The lack of an optical drive might not be as off-putting to business users, since many files reside “in the cloud,” or are transferrable via flash drives and the like. The sturdiness of the case — it is a substantial computer, but not onerous to carry — is another plus, especially for road warriors. The screen is quite nice, and the “Beats” audio likely would be good for multimedia presentations because the enhanced sound can be connected via an external jack to speakers.

There are, of course, more users out there than business people, and for these, HP makes consumer-themed notebooks. It’s an interesting strategy, this segmentation idea. By contrast, Apple’s approach appears to be one of creating notebooks that reach larger and different market segments: the MacBook Air, company insiders say, can work for a college student or a business traveler.

I would recommend the HP ProBook 5330m for business and enterprise users. It’s a sturdy machine and, as noted here last week, I’m a fan of HP’s products and their overall quality. It would, however, be nice to see from HP something truly innovative in a notebook. They’ve done it before on the consumer side, with notebooks that double as tablet computers. Can they bring the same flair to bear in a gray flannel — excuse me, business casual — environment?

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