If you're in the market for an affordable portable work system, the HP Compaq 6530b might deserve a place on your short list. This solid, standard-issue all-purpose laptop sells for US$1195 and houses a thoughtfully arranged software bundle that will quickly help you get down to business.
What does your money buy you, performance-wise? For starters, it buys Intel's Core2 Duo 2.26-GHz T8400 CPU and 2GB of RAM. That's more than enough power to carry you through the workday and yield reasonable scores in our WorldBench 6 tests. The 6530b earned a mark of 81--not too shabby, and close to the Lenovo ThinkPad SL400's score of 84. (The SL400 costs about $100 more.) In battery life, too, the 6530b is no slouch, lasting for about 4 hours, 22 minutes in our tests. That result fell shy of the SL400's running time of 5 hours, 8 minutes, but the great thing is that this laptop is a lot lighter: The 6530b weighs 5.3 pounds, while the beefy SL400 is 6.1 pounds.
What's not to like? The screen. The 14.1-inch panel is a little on the dull side. The matte coating makes it more amenable to broad-daylight computing, but the colors seem a bit faded on the 1280-by-800-pixel-resolution screen--even with the brightness cranked up all the way. Will you be able to view your pictures and watch the occasional DVD on your next flight? Yes, but the video won't pop as much as it might on a glossy panel. That's the trade-off you make with any matte screen: The colors are less vivid, but the screen is viewable in any lighting condition. This particular panel, however, is a touch dim even when compared with similar matte screens.
The hard-plastic casing feels rigid enough that the machine should be able to withstand some punishment. I'd dare say that the 6530b even feels as if it could be slightly ruggedized, though HP isn't using that label. The keyboard has a great feel. It doesn't match a ThinkPad's buttery tactile response, but with its ample key spacing and good key travel, I didn't break a sweat typing this review on it. Another thing that caught my attention: the backlit touch-sensitive buttons running along the top of the keyboard. At first glance they look like activity lights, but in reality they are subtle but effective shortcuts and toggles. The Wi-Fi toggle sits in the middle, volume controls are on the right, and handy business-friendly application shortcuts reside on the left. (One launches the presentation program of your choice, optimizes video output, and manages power settings.)
The touchpad is small and responsive, and the raised rubber mouse buttons feel substantial. One thing that feels a little odd--but good--is the wrist rest. Though it's just a hard plastic piece, it has tiny textured grooves that are comfortable to lean on for extended periods.
A quick survey around the 6530b shows that while it isn't quite a multimedia machine, it is perfectly suited for taking your presentations on the road. It has VGA and S-Video outputs on the back, and sports other staples such as four USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port, an SD Card reader, and a PC Card slot. Connectivity is covered with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, modem, and ethernet jacks. I'd like to see a DVI or HDMI output, too, but that omission is not surprising since this laptop relies on wimpy Intel integrated graphics.
The front-firing speakers are adequate for listening to audio notes you've recorded, but everything else, from music to movies, sounds horribly tinny and flat. Plug in some headphones, and you should be fine. But if you were eyeing the 6530b to display multimedia-rich presentations, consider looking elsewhere.
Going for the corporate crowd, HP is setting its sights on matching Lenovo's ThinkVantage suite of user-friendly and business-savvy applications (Lenovo's apps handle everything from hard-drive recovery to Wi-Fi configurations). In this case, HP has succeeded in creating a well-targeted collection of software appropriate for the business traveler. In addition to doing a good job of gathering all the important tools you need for day-to-day business use, the company has brought in some interesting proprietary applications.
I already mentioned the Presentation shortcut applet, but I like what I see in the HP ProtectTools Security Manager, too. This fairly robust suite walks users through the basics of file encryption and locking down the hard drive--useful for frequent fliers with sensitive data. It also lets you select which bits of software you want to load onto the 6530b, as opposed to what you usually get stuck with when you buy your laptop.
HP's 6530b makes a pretty strong case for itself as a useful business box. The laptop has some speed where it counts, and doesn't cost an exorbitant amount of money. Its display is still a bit of a downer, but I suppose something was going to get short shrift to keep the price low. If you're on the hunt for a business laptop, you might want to check out Lenovo's SL400, a fairly evenly matched (though slightly more expensive) machine.