But the HP Pavilion dv3 also has enough drawbacks to keep us from wholeheartedly recommending it.
To hit its appealing price, the HP Pavilion dv3 ships with AMD's 2.3GHz Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile ZM-84 CPU. That configuration, combined with 4GB of RAM, adequately but unimpressively runs the 64-bit flavour of Windows Vista Home Premium. The HP Pavilion dv3 earned a mark of 68 on our WorldBench 6 speed benchmark.
The HP Pavilion dv3 also stands its ground in the stamina department, lasting an impressive 5 hours, 24 minutes in our Mobile Mark battery life tests.
With the HP Pavilion dv3 (and with the Pavilion dv2, for that matter), HP embraces high-definition resolutions. Capable of 1280 by 800 pixels, the Pavilion dv3 has a glossy coating that helps images pop (and yes, there will be some sunlight-induced glare as a result). But as with the dv2, as you push the brightness up, you'll be surprised that it's still delivering an acceptable, viewable image. It just makes some colours on the brighter end of the spectrum seem a little more subdued.
We also like the HP Pavilion dv3's connectivity options. HP crams in both HDMI and VGA video outputs, two USB 2.0 ports, one hybrid USB/eSATA port (perfect for high-speed data jockies), a PC Express Card slot, a flash-card reader, ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth onboard.
The HP Pavilion dv3 also has a slot-fed DVD burner and a 320GB hard drive. But the dv3 manages to accommodate all this into a fairly slim profile and a fairly lightweight body. We should add that the 9-cell battery included with our review unit creates a wedge underneath - but one that props up your notebook to a more ergonomic angle.
Which leads us to the HP Pavilion dv3's keyboard. It feels great, almost sensual to the touch. It has a special coating that helps your fingers feel as if they're dancing over the supple keys (and probably repel abrasion from Wotsits grit). HP even went to the trouble to migrate its neat touch-inductive shortcut buttons from the HP HDX16 and HP HDX18 to this low-end model.
We just wish that HP had opted to buy back some room to give equal love to the function keys. They are barely there - microkeys lingering at the top of the keyboard. We have to crane our head in just to see what button we're trying to hit. If this sounds even remotely familiar, it's because we recently had the exact same beef with the Pavilion dv2.
But by all that's holy, this computer's touchpad is possessed. We need an electronics exorcist: as we're trying to write this review, we go to highlight and bold a section to make a note, and the touchpad's multitouch drivers read it as our wanting to zoom in, instead. Multitouch drivers are handy, but if we have to dig into the drivers and try to turn them off or disable the built-in mouse altogether, those functions have failed. For all that the touchpad does right - and we would have given props for its feel and the rigid-but-comfortable feedback of the buttons - these issues subtract points in my book.
The front-firing Alec-Lansing speakers sound good, not great - but certainly better than what you get from a lot of other value proposition portables at this point. So you might as well grab for the headphones now. And then there's the software.
HP continues loading its notebooks with software that you're bound to uninstall the second you get home (games, demos, and such). However, we appreciated the HP Advisor bar that sits atop the desktop view. While the bar is borderline obtrusive, it gives you a handy shortcut for online searches, and the "PC Health & Security" button is as good as any one-stop window to get a full status report on your PC.
It's by far the handiest of the preinstalled apps. A second runner-up, the digitalPersona Personal app, is built to take advantage of the fingerprint scanner. Keep those, ditch most of the rest (hint: don't delete Cyberlink's DVD Suite either), and you're pretty much set.
The HP Pavilion dv3 is a bit of an odd bird when it comes to an up-or-down recommendation. The performance is lacklustre on paper, but we didn't have any major holdups in everyday use. We didn't like the touchpad, which kept trying to second-guess our moves. Tweak that touch sensitivity enough - or just be extra careful while highlighting - and it shouldn't be a big a burden. But why should you have to wonder if it will be a burden in the first place? The HP Pavilion dv3 gets enough right to make it worth considering, but we'd recommend you go to the shop and lay hands on it yourself. Alternatively, keep your eye out for the HP Pavilion dv2, the cheaper brother. It's good for the basics and is pretty flexible for most everyday needs.