Back in October, my wife and I decided to buy a laptop for my mother-in-law – who lives in São Paulo, so that we could have video conversations over Skype. Brazilian customs allow each passenger to bring goods not exceeding USD 500 in total value without incurring any tariffs, so my target price was about CAD 540.
A week before our trip, we found the HP Pavillion laptop below (with Windows 7) on sale for – guess how much – CAD 538.99! Regular price was CAD 649.99.
Our plan did not work very well due to some logistic problems, so we brought the laptop back to Canada, and it’s now our secondary home computer, at least for the time being. And since I’m not a Mac, nor a PC, having both at home is actually a good thing. I do run Windows XP on my MacBook using VMWare Fusion, but that feels a bit like trying to fit a foot AND a hand inside a shoe: they go better separately.
How can they make it so cheap?
I guess that, to some extent, you get what you pay for. I have no idea why HP designers decided to have the key with the vertical bar (pipe) and backslash available on both sides of the Pavillion keyboard. All the other computers I had to date, Macs and PCs, had a large left shift key beside the “Z”. I keep typing the backslash every time I try to press the left shift key 😦 . Also, the vertical enter key takes a bit to get used to. Just compare the keyboards of the HP Pavillion with the one from the Thinkpad T600 that I use at work:
Also, the Conexant Pebble High Definition SmartAudio microphone was unusable with the original driver and configuration. I had to upgrade the driver and change the setting to “2 channel, 16 bit, 48000 Hz (DVD Quality)”. It’s still not great, but Skype no longer requires screaming.
Finally, the DVD drive is very sensitive to scratches in the media. It was not able to read some of my DVDs, even though they ran smoothly on the Mac.
Are there any positives?
Overall, I think it’s been a good purchase considering the cost-benefit ratio.
Windows 7 is pretty good in my opinion. I still find Mac OS X better overall, but the gap is narrowing. My wife has never been a big fan of the MacBook, especially the Finder and the way Mac OS X deals with special characters. Just try to type “bênção” (blessing, in Portuguese) in your Mac. It did not help that I never bothered getting MS-Office for the Mac. NeoOffice is OK, but not a substitute for a commercial suite yet. I also rely a lot on freeware, and having 2 operating systems always running gives you more choices.
HP support was also surprisingly good. Earlier this week, the Pavillion went completely dead. I visited the HP support website and found that they provide support via chat:
I clicked on the “chat online” link and in a few seconds was already talking to their support rep. In about 5 minutes, everything was solved, with courteous and efficient service. In case you’re having a similar problem, here’s what I did:
- Disconnect the AC adapter and remove battery
- Press and hold down the power key for 1 minute
- Connect the AC Adapter to the notebook
- While turning on the laptop keep tapping F10 key… See More
- You’ll see the “Windows Resume Loader” screen
- Press ENTER to “continue with system resume”
- Shutdown the computer properly this time
- Put the battery back in
- Turn the computer on again
I suspect the problem was not because the battery was faulty, just a loosely connected plug, but I’ll keep an eye on it.
Finally, my son loves the CyberLink YouCam that comes with the Pavillion. It’s like the Mac’s Photo Booth, but by default it’s integrated with your other applications using the webcam. So, you can talk over Skype using all the special video effects like this:
Calling home on Christmas Day will be much more fun this year!