HP Compaq nc2400 review
A great-value ultraportable with a flexible range of options to make up for slightly disappointing battery life
From the moment you open up the graphite-coloured lid of the HP 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 reflections (unlike the Sony VAIO opposite), because it doesn't have a glossy coating. It doesn't appear quite as bright as the TX3's screen, but this is an illusion - the only real disadvantage is that colours aren't as saturated.
The keyboard's bold white lettering is among the clearest we've seen, and the layout is excellent. Along with Dell, HP sticks with the tried and tested format of a desktop-style keyboard, keeping the Ctrl, Windows and punctuation keys in the normal places. As you type, there's no sponginess and the trackpoint control, while not to everyone's taste, is much more precise than a touchpad. Since the buttons are mounted just below the spacebar, there's plenty of room for your wrists on the space below - an advantage it holds over the Sony.
Unlike the TX3's carbon fibre chassis, the nc2400 uses tough and light magnesium alloy. The only area of concern is the TFT housing, which is thicker than the Sony's but still flexes a fair amount.
At 1.5kg, the nc2400 isn't quite as light as the VGN-TX3XP, but it shares a similar specification. There's a built-in DVD writer, a 60GB hard disk, 802.11 a/b/g, Bluetooth, a ULV Core Duo U2500 dual-core CPU and 1GB of memory. Only the CPU beats the Sony, but this specification is all the more impressive considering the price, which is well over £350 less.
In our 2D application benchmarks, the HP didn't set the world alight, but the 0.66 overall score means it's easily fast enough for running complex office tasks, as well as simply showing a PowerPoint presentation. And for the latter, the nc2400 has a handy presentation button that instantly switches the display to the VGA output.
This, along with the WLAN button and volume controls, are all touch sensitive. You simply drag your finger to the right to increase volume, and to the left to turn it down - a feature you'll never get bored of. Another neat touch is the row of labels on the TFT lid, which line up with the LEDs when it's closed so you can see what each one represents.
On a serious note, the nc2400 gives more than a passing nod to security and boasts a fingerprint scanner, a TPM encryption chip, plus HP's ProtectTools software to tie everything together. There's also Backup & Recovery Manager, which takes care of scheduled backups to a recovery partition on the hard disk. It also allows you to burn recovery DVDs - a wise move, since a hard disk failure would render the recovery partition useless. A smart card reader is optional - it's a Type II PC Card that comes with accompanying software for £63. There's also an accelerometer onboard to help protect your data by parking the hard disk heads should the notebook take a fall.
HP offers a range of accessories for the nc2400, including an £80 docking station, a £51 monitor stand and a £64 MultiBay II cradle. This can accept either a second optical drive or a hard disk.
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 when a mouse and a USB flash drive will use them up immediately. The optional docking station sports three more USB ports, but that doesn't help you when you're away from your desk.
The other problem is that the tiny three-cell battery doesn't even last three hours with minimal use. Start crunching numbers and this will drop to less than two hours. Again, you can buy a bigger nine-cell battery (part code: EH768AA) for £109, which nearly 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 makes Sony's one-year return-to-base offering look paltry. You can also upgrade to next-business-day on-site cover for only £76.