By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Thursday, September 23 2010; 6:15pm EST
The G42 is HP's 14" widescreen notebook entry into a truly saturated mid-level notebook segment.
Construction is clean and overall solidly built... hinges are well built, very little flex in the chassis and materials are generally of good quality, particularly for the price point. The outer shell and inner surface area is a textured silver plastic that feels good and a pleasant change from the barrage of smudge and scratch magnet polished finishes flooding the market in recent years. Consumers are burnt out and tired of constantly babying high maintenance finishes, so the HP scores well with this durable solution. The "single piece" of the work area is clean, exposing only a keyboard, power button and track pad button. Ports along the sides of the unit are well laid out and are adequate for most users. Overall quite a contemporary design that would fit in well at the local hot spot enabled espresso bar.
Specifications read well, 4GB DDR3 memory, 500GB 7200rpm drive, 802.11n wireless, LED back-lit screen, ATI 4250 graphics, webcam, DVD burner, HDMI out, all-in-one media card reader, Windows 7, last and least a pretty stock-standard run of the mill dual core Athlon II 2.1GHz processor found on pretty much every low to mid end notebook. Overall though, pretty damn good for a notebook at this price point.
Performance is good; by no means a miracle of modern technology, but it will certainly get you through all the mainstream office applications and typical productivity programs. Just don't expect ultra frame rates on the latest first person shooter. The vast majority of the time it keeps up with you, only on rare occasions does it experience a sluggish geriatric moment. The most likely bottleneck candidate would be the Athlon processor, the rest of the specifications are a pleasantly surprising combination of decent performing parts that are absent in many of the G42's competition, such as the 7200rpm drive and 4GB of DDR3 memory. The system also runs incredibly cool and quiet, no whirring fans and blisteringly hot case here. The overall unit weight was very comfortable as well, its weight is ideal for long haul travel and being dragged through airports, hats off to HP in this department.
The keyboard is attractively laid out both in a visual and ergonomic perspective. HP did a decent job of cramming all necessary buttons into the 14" form factor without any problematic compromises. Key response is a little shaky (if not even chintzy) but gives sufficient feedback and tactile feel to be comfortable for long term usage. The trackpad on the other hand is not such a winner. The textured design lowers tracking accuracy as your fingers run across the ridges of the design; and the single piece button for both left and right click is frankly a disappointment. Often you will perform a "select and scroll" and it will often simply stop selecting half way through. The trackpad features "gesture recognition" for scrolling and zooming functions, however its default disabled status will give you an indicator of what to expect. It's erratic, lacking in configurable settings and a severe disappointment for anyone that has used real gesture implementations like an iPod Touch. The trackpad attempts to retain the "single piece" aesthetics by concealing itself giving a very clean appearance to the work area. This really is its downfall.
The screen offers decent image quality, provided you're dead on in front of the screen. The poor viewing angle (in all fairness, an issue that is endemic with almost all notebooks at this price point, and even above) results in substandard image quality even only slightly out of the "sweet spot" causing contrast to flatten and colour rendering to degrade rapidly. This puts watching movies in all but the most specific circumstances, awful to sit through, as being off center causes the movie to have an "X-Ray" look. The brightness is sufficient, but you will most likely have brightness on full most of the time. We would like to see more 14" and 15" notebooks come with higher screen resolution options such as the offerings from the Dell Studio line; as applications requiring docks and multiple menu bars quickly consume a lot of the 1366x768 real estate in a typical notebook screen.
The stereo speakers mounted within a black strip just above the keyboard were woefully underpowered (again, as with most notebooks in this segment). Tinny, unrefined and lacking in fidelity, to put it politely. We often had them close to full volume during media playback, luckily they are low in distortion.
On the subject of disappointments, the installed software is a train-wreck assortment of "pay per play" games that would make even your grandmother frown; tons of trial-ware, toolbars, add-ons; and most insidious of all, a collection of HP produced software that masterfully gets in the way; weighs your system down; pesters you with endless reminders that put you through a labyrinth to disable; and ultimately offers little actual benefit. You know from the moment you power it up for the first time the barrage of privacy related questions and things "HP recommends" to enable are signs of trouble ahead. Even right out of the box, take a quick peek at the Task Manager and gasp at the sheer number of system processes running (over 70, wowsers!), you will be taken aback by how much resources are being used to do pretty much nothing. HP really does live up to its reputation of bloatware on this one.
Unfortunately the only real remedy is a fresh Windows 7 installation which is time consuming and difficult for those that just wanted it to work out of the box. Not only that, you are not actually provided a Windows 7 install disc, only a system restoration image on the hard drive that brings you right back to square one. And trying to uninstall the countless applications pre-loaded with the system resulted in an unstable system that exhibited erratic behaviour and constant problems.
If you fit the parameters of a user that installs their own Windows 7 clean image and uses an external mouse, you're in luck. The G42 is almost a perfect mid-level performer for the price. Otherwise you really need to consider some of the primary drawbacks of the machine and weigh them against the likely downfalls of other notebook contenders at the same price point. The gripes sound overblown, but try putting up with a finicky trackpad for a few hours while writing up a critical business proposal and all of a sudden it's not overblown, its real anger.
At this price, it's all about compromises, the notebook you really want is $1,400, but you have half that budget and these are the types of idiocies you will most likely contend with regardless of which model you choose. Overall the performance and build quality were the highlights, it really has a decent package under the hood; while the negatives are a lacklustre screen and speakers, awful trackpad and repulsive collection of pre-installed software. The G42 typically retails for $599.95 CAD, is immediately available from electronics retailers across the nation and comes with a standard 1 year warranty.
About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.