HP Compaq 2230s: “almost a netbook” for grown-ups

Designed for business professionals on the move the new HP Compaq 2230s is positioned as an ultra-lightweight notebook that is only slightly larger than a netbook but with considerably more computing features.

While the 2230s is meant to ship with Vista Business and in fact has a sticker for Windows Home Basic our review unit was supplied with Windows XP SP2. This is probably a good thing given that the unit only came with 1Gb of RAM – enough to provide reasonable performance under XP but insufficient for Vista. We understand that 2230s has two memory slots which allow it to support up to 8Gb of RAM but we don’t know whether that configuration will be available in Australia.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the 2230s is that it is very light and compact yet it sports a 12.1-in screen with a native 1280 x 800 screen resolution. When plugged into the power the screen is bright and easy to use with even illumination reasonable contrast and sufficient sharpness to support this relatively high resolution for the size. The default settings in low-power mode when running on battery are not so good as the screen becomes relatively dull and lacking in contrast which gives the impression of blurriness. It might be OK for watching a movie or doing a bit of browsing but I personally would find staring at the screen when on batteries quite tiring and would choose to sacrifice battery life rather than my eyesight.

It may be a good thing for security but the viewing angle of the screen is also relatively narrow which means on the one hand it is hard for the person next to you to see the screen but also makes it hard to show a presentation or document to a colleague.

The 2230s is supplied with a 4-cell (37WHr) lithium ion battery that provides around 2.5 hours of use with the default power management settings. During this time we performed some wireless web-browsing and watched around 2 hours of DivX movies from the DVD drive to simulate a balance of processing and data transfer. The battery is quite accessible and relatively light so it would be realistic to pack a spare if you intended to use the 2230s for a full day of work.

The 2.26Ghz processor supplied in our test unit was no sloth although this was running XP which puts less load on a system than Vista. The unit was quick to power up and quite responsive although if we were going to run (rather than walk) Vista we would insist on a memory upgrade. The 2230s had no difficulty decoding high definition (720p) DixV video and was quite responsive even with other tasks in background. Again we put this down to running XP as we suspect that integrated Intel graphics adaptor and limited RAM would slow things down under Vista.

The overall layout of the notebook is fairly typical with a full-size keyboard small touchpad and two mouse buttons. The keyboard is reasonable for a notebook of this size with reasonable key travel and firmness. The keys have a matte finish which may not look as stylish as the glossy piano style but they don’t show fingerprints as badly. 

A unique feature is the touch control above the keyboard for speaker volume enabling or disabling wireless networking muting the sound selecting presentation mode (even under XP) and accessing the HP Help and Security software. At the bottom right-hand side of the keyboard is the fingerprint reader which works with the supplied HP Security Suite to provide a biometric form of authentication (in addition to the optional Java Smartcard). We understand that fingerprint reader is only available on HP’s business notebooks as opposed to their consumer range.

On the side of the unit is the power socket wired Ethernet port a USB port and Lightscribe DVD writer. On the other side is an SD card reader ExpressCard slot an additional 2 USB ports and an HDMI output for high-definition video and presentations. We understand that Roxio Creator Business 10 is supplied with the Vista install but no DVD-writing software is included if you choose to use XP. A stereo microphone is included above the screen but without a built-in webcam the unit is limited when it comes to business communications and video-conferencing. This seems a strange oversight.

The supplied software has a clear business focus with the main package being the HP Protect Tools. These tools provide utilities to encrypt the hard disk prevent unauthorised access pre-boot wipe sensitive data and control access with an optional Java Smartcard or via the inbuilt fingerprint reader. Thankfully the only extra software loaded is a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007 which can be activated or uninstalled as required.

In terms of connectivity the 2230s comes with Marvell 10/100/1000 Ethernet and built-in modem. While the modem is probably largely obsolete for Internet connectivity it is handy if you need to send or receive a fax while on the move. Wireless connectivity is provided through a Broadcom wireless adaptor that supports 802.11a/b/g/n draft 2.0 standard as well as Bluetooth 2.0. Although it’s not difficult to hook the unit up to a wireless network within Windows the supplied HP Wireless Assist software makes it even easier.

Another nice business feature is HP’s 3D DriveGuard which uses a 3-way accelerometer to detect any sudden movement (such as dropping the notebook) and protect the hard disk. Giving the notebook a sudden jolt did pause data transfer so we assume that this system works!

Overall the construction of the notebook seems quite robust. The display panel hinge seems solid and while we wouldn’t want to actually drop the unit (or leave it to aircraft baggage handlers) we expect that the 2230s will stand up to the punishment of everyday business travel.

If you need something more than a netbook but don’t want to weighed down by a full-size notebook the HP 2230s is a reasonable compromise. I would personally want more than 1Gb of RAM and possibly a larger hard drive but as long as you’re happy running XP the supplied configuration will suffice.