HP Compaq nc2400
A great-value ultraportable whose only flaw is battery life
From the moment you open up the graphite-coloured lid of the Compaq nc2400, you know you're onto a good thing. The 12.1in TFT has a crisp 1,280 x 800 resolution and doesn't suffer from the reflections of others here since it doesn't have a glossy coating.
The keyboard's bold white lettering is the clearest we've seen, and the layout is simply excellent. No moving keys around - HP sticks with the tried and trusted format. As you type, there's no sponginess and the pointing stick is much more precise than a touchpad.
At 1.5kg, the nc2400 is supremely light, yet it has a built-in DVD writer, a 56GB hard disk, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an ultra-low voltage Core Duo U2500 dual-core CPU and 1GB of memory. That's all the more impressive considering the price.
In our Office benchmarks, the HP didn't set the world alight, but the 0.72 score means it's easily fast enough for running complex Excel macros as well as simply showing a PowerPoint presentation. And for the latter, the nc2400 has a handy presentation button which instantly switches the display to the VGA output.
This button, the Wi-Fi button and volume controls are all touch-sensitive, and you simply drag your finger to the right to increase volume, and to the left to turn it down - a game you'll never get bored of.
On a more serious note, the nc2400 gives more than a passing nod to security and boasts a fingerprint scanner, an encryption chip plus HP's ProtectTools software to tie everything together. There's also a software recovery manager and a hard disk shock absorber should the unthinkable happen.
While we like the nc2400 a lot, it isn't perfect. It doesn't have a card reader and there are only two USB 2 ports - simply not enough these days. You can buy a docking station for 80 that has three more USB ports, but that doesn't help you when you're away from your desk.
The other problem is that the tiny 3-cell battery doesn't even last three hours with minimal use. Start crunching numbers and you'll see this drop to under two hours. Again, you can buy a bigger 9-cell battery for xx which approximately triples these times, but it makes the nc2400 a lot more bulky and adds weight. The good news is the three-year collect-and-return warranty, which is respectable at this price. You can also upgrade to next-business-day, on-site cover for only 72.
The upshot is that, while the HP has poor battery life, it can be 'fixed' easily at a reasonable cost. And while this brings the price closer to the Dell, the nc2400 still has the advantage of the integrated DVD writer. It still lacks a smart card reader, a USB port and an on-site warranty - all reasons contributing to the Dell winning overall - but if you don't like glossy TFTs (such as the Fujitsu Siemens') and need an optical drive at all times, the HP is a great alternative.
A great-value ultraportable whose only flaw is battery life - an easy problem to fix.
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