HP Probook 5310m notebook

Designed for the mobile business user, the ProBook 5310m from Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ) is an eye catching notebook at an affordable price point that has a lot going for it. It has a few minor flaws though, and one of them is so significant I can’t in good conscious recommend the product.

That drawback is the keyboard. All new keyboards certainly take some getting used to. The 5310m features an attractive Chiclet design that can be a change at first, but you’ll quickly adjust. No, my problem is with the spacebar. I’m a self-taught typist (I’m pretty fast, actually) and my natural movement is to hit the spacebar on the side with my thumb. With the 5310m, even when I consciously whacked it pretty hard, more than half the time it wouldn’t depress, leaving my lecture notes one big jumbled mess of letters. Unlike other keyboards, if you don’t hit this spacebar with force dead-centre it often won’t work. It’s too big a drawback for anyone who needs this notebook to, well, to type things.

If it weren’t for the nearly unusable keyboard, the 5310m would be a pretty sweet machine. First, it’s gorgeous. When I unboxed it, it immediately caught the eye of our IT manager, who thought it might be a great machine to buy for our staff, and earn IT some style brownie points. It’s piano-black with a magnesium alloy chassis and an aluminum top. It looks sturdy, and more expensive than its pricetag. The interior finish does have a habit of holding smudges, however.

As an ultraportable the 5310m is thin and light, featuring a 13.3″ widescreen display offering an attractive 720p HD display, but the ¾” border around the display however may have been better used to expand the display. This notebook was easy to carry around, weighing-in at 3.81lbs and measuring 12.9 x 8.7 x 0.93 inches. It achieves those dimensions by ditching the optical drive, and I can’t say I really missed it during my demo.

I remember when the first iMacs came out, lacking the then ubiquitous 3.5” floppy drive. “How will I bring my files home?” I asked with concern. A few years later, the floppy drive was as dead as the Vic 20’s tape player. With HP targeting the 5310m at the business market, the thinking is the IT department will be doing any software installs, and while many business travellers may still like to watch DVDs on flights, for many the weight and price tradeoff may be worth it. (Particularly if the TSA won’t let you bring your laptop into the cabin anyways).

The 5310m features the now customary integrated webcam and a decent selection of ports, including three USB ports, a DisplayPort, memory card reader and combo audio jack. One feature I did find noticeably absent, particular for a business notebook, was any sort of biometric security feature, such as a fingerprint scanner.

I was quite satisfied with the performance of the 5310m. It pre-installed Windows XP for some reason, but it came with the DVD and licenses for Windows 7 Professional and I used it each OS for a period of time. Battery life is advertised at up to sevenhours, and I did approach that if I was sparing with WiFi and display brightness. With normal use, you’ll probably get closer to four to five.

Pricing for the entry-level model begins at US$699, and rises with selected upgrades and customizations. You can choose between two Intel processors: the Core 2 Duo SP9300 or the Celeron SU2300. One downside is memory; with only one slot it maxes-out at 4GB of SDRAM. On the storage side, SATA II is available up to 320GB, or a 128GB SSD.

For a business looking to offer its employees a sexy laptop while being able to exercise a little tighter IT control, the 5310m can be a good fit. It’s also a good choice for the mobile user who wants a balance between the portability of a netbook and the power of a full-fledged laptop. The buy-up from a high-end netbook is pretty marginal.

Just be sure you can live without the optical drive. And take the keyboard for a lengthy test drive before purchasing to ensure my space bar troubles were just an isolated incident.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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