The HP Notebook 15-ac121nr is a fairly affordable 15-inch notebook with big aspirations. It has a sharp 1080p display for enjoying flicks and photos, a big 1TB hard drive for all of your files and an attractive chassis that looks good on your desk. The $649 laptop falls flat in a couple of areas, but overall, it's a good value.
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The HP Notebook 15-ac121nr is made of plastic, but it's still an attractive device. The laptop's lid features HP's logo in black on a silver, diamond-textured pattern that strikes a handsome modern profile. Opening the lid reveals a silver deck with a subtle crosshatch design (it comes in other colors, including red, blue, white and purple); a black, Chiclet-style keyboard; and a 1080p display surrounded by a chunky, black bezel.
At 4.8 pounds and 15.1 x 10 x 0.96 inches, the Notebook 15 is not the most portable machine, but it's light enough to take with you. The Toshiba Satellite L55-C5340, the Asus F555LA and the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 are all similar in size. The Satellite L55-C5340 and the F555LA are of similar weight, at 4.8 pounds and 4.6 pounds, respectively. However, at 5.4 pounds, the Inspiron is much heftier.
Ports and Webcam
The HP Notebook 15-ac121nr has a DVD drive and a plethora of ports. The left side has an Ethernet jack, USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, and the mic/headphone combination input. On the right is an SD card slot, another USB 2.0 port, the disc drive and a lock slot for security.
When I took a selfie in the Laptop Mag labs using the notebook's 720p webcam, I was disappointed with the visual noise and the lack of detail; my hair and beard showed up as blobs of brown, while the stitches on my sweater were almost nonexistent. It's good enough for the occasional Skype call with grandma, but I wouldn't use it for business webcasts.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Number crunchers will appreciate the full number pad on the HP Notebook 15's keyboard, but the typing experience is merely adequate. The Chiclet-style keys have just 1.1 millimeters of travel, which caused me to bottom out immediately as I typed. The keyboard has virtually no flex, though. That helped me reach a typing speed of 108 words per minutes with a 1 percent error rate on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is about average for me.
The 4.8 x 1.7-inch touchpad is accurate but a little slippery. It's built right into the deck, which looks clean. Two discrete buttons are used for left and right clicking -- but both are on the stiff side, so you may want to consider tapping to click. Gestures worked well, and I pinched, swiped and zoomed around the Web without experiencing any problems.
I have to commend HP for putting a 1080p display on the Notebook 15 -- some laptops in this size settle for lesser 1366 x 768 displays, including competing machines such as the Toshiba Satellite L55-C5340 and the Dell Inspiron 15 5000. But although the screen is sharp, it makes some other compromises in quality.
I watched the trailer for Ghostbusters on the Notebook 15's screen and noticed that colors simply didn't pop as they do on other displays. The slime that a ghost vomited onto Kristen Wiig was a pale pastel, rather than a bright green, and the blue ghosts flying through Times Square left trails that were more pale than azure.
The display reproduces only 63 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which helps explain the lack of vivid colors. (The average for mainstream notebooks is 88 percent.) However, other mainstream budget notebooks don't do much better -- the Satellite L55-C5340 also covered 63 percent; the Asus F555LA did a little better, at 70 percent; and the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 was worse, at 59 percent.
The Notebook 15 turned in a Delta-E color accuracy score of 3.51 (the closer to 0, the better). That's not great, but competing machines -- including the Inspiron 15 (3.8), the Satellite (4.5) and the Asus F555LA (6.3) -- were less accurate.
And at 220 nits, the Notebook 15's screen wasn't the brightest, either. (The average for mainstream notebooks is 250 nits.) I found myself cranking up the brightness as far as it would go. The Inspiron 15 5000 fared better, at 239 nits, but both the F555LA and the Satellite were dimmer, falling below 200 nits.
You can't expect a laptop in this price range to be an audio superstar, but the HP Notebook 15 will be just fine for streaming videos and listening to music while you browse the web. When I listened to Future and The Weeknd's "Low Life," this laptop provided crisp mids and highs, and clear vocals -- I could easily understand every word the Weeknd crooned -- but the bass was a little weak.
I tried to fix that with the included DTS Audio Control Panel app. Using sliders and preset equalizers, I was able to boost the volume and vocal clarity, but I never managed to get the bass as powerful as I wanted it.
For 4GB of RAM and 4TB hard drive in the HP Notebook 15 performed competently. With 10 tabs open in Google Chrome (one of which was streaming 1080p clips of Saturday Night Live) and OpenOffice Writer in the background, I noticed only a bit of lag when scrolling and switching between websites.
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