Tech vendors usually send me pitches for products that push technological boundaries and challenge aesthetic conventions. Thing is, these aren't the gadgets most people end up buying. We might like to read about stereoscopic video cameras and pilot-grade noise cancelling headphones, but when it comes time to open our wallets we tend to be much more conservative, spending our money on cheaper, proven technology from trusted brands.
Like HP's ProBook 6560b, a plain, practical business-class laptop. It's not groundbreaking or luxurious, but instead a functional, reliable work tool.
A member of HP's popular B-series, which was recently refreshed with improved specs, the 6560b sports a utilitarian case made of a brownish bead-blasted aluminum that proved resistant to my attempts to scuff it up by carrying it for a couple of days in a bag filled with pens, a phone, a wire-ringed notebook, and a camera. A magnesium-reinforced chassis gives it a solid feel, while a cleverly designed base with drainage grates allows any liquids one might inadvertently splash on the keyboard to safely seep out the bottom.
At about 2.8-kilograms, battery inserted, it's not exactly a featherweight, but you won't find many similarly priced 15-inch notebooks that weigh much less. Plus, I came away with the distinct impression that it would prove sturdy enough to withstand years of the kind of abuse dished out by frequent commuters.
People who spend their days crunching numbers will welcome the number pad found to the right of the keyboard, while workers of all kinds will appreciate having a choice between using a large multi-touch touchpad with gesture support or a pointer nub in the centre of the keyboard (though you should be aware that the nub's placement changes slightly the shape and feel of the G, H, and B keys that surround it).
The sides and back of the book are cluttered, but offer a wealth of connectivity options, including FireWire, USB/eSATA combo, DisplayPort, VGA, Ethernet, modem, mic, headphone, and a quartet of USB ports, as well as express card and memory card slots and a DVD writer with HP's LightScribe label maker tech. Simply put, it has all the inputs and outputs you're likely to need in a work environment-save perhaps HDMI-and a whole lot of stuff you'll probably never touch.
The 6560b's main performance upgrade comes by way of Intel's second-generation Sandy Bridge processors. HP offers consumers their choice of Core i3, i5, and i7 CPUs. Combined with four-gigabytes of RAM (upgradeable to 16) and integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 (or, for workers with graphics editing needs, an AMD Radeon HD 6470M with 512-megabytes of dedicated DDR3 video memory), it's easily speedy enough to handle anything an average white collar worker might throw at it.
Its 15.6-inch LED-backlit screen with a resolution of 1366-by-768 isn't ideal for movies and pictures, but proves quite sufficient for viewing documents. Plus, its matte finish kills all reflections and keeps the display satisfyingly viewable in sunlit rooms. Smaller entries in the B-series-including the 13.3-inch 6360b and 14-inch 6460b-are probably better options for road warriors, but the 6560b's bigger screen won't go unappreciated by executives tied to their desks.
The 6-cell battery that comes in the box proved sufficient to get through a (short-ish) day of word processing and web surfing with screen brightness set low. HP's useful Power Assistant app keeps tabs on power currently being used and records usage history for later analysis. If you need more juice, HP offers a larger 9-cell battery, as well as a 620-gram "Ultra Extended Life Notebook Battery" that purportedly delivers up to 32 hours of operational time. Docking stations for office use are sold separately.
Better power efficiency is possible if you opt for HP's 128- or 160-gigabyte solid state drives, but the energy savings probably won't be worth the jump in price for most consumers. Assuming a hard disk meets your needs, HP offers SATA II drives between 250- and 750-gigabytes in size. Security-minded users can opt for self-encrypting drives up to 320-gigabytes big.
HP has also preloaded several easy-to-use security apps that may prove handy for small and medium enterprises. HP ProtectTools lets users manage their passwords and shred and bleach files to ensure other users can't recover deleted data. If you're buying several machines to be used as company workbooks, ProtectTools can be used to set the level of authentication required by employees and to encrypt individual disk drives. Computrace-a program that lets a user remotely manage a machine in the event it has been stolen and/or reformatted-is accessible through ProtectTools, but needs to be purchased and activated.
A connection manager, meanwhile, allows users to manage WiFi, Bluetooth, and-if available-WWAN network connections from one spot. If you plan to hand notebooks out to your staff, your IT manager can interface with this app to track mobile data usage on each device.
The ProBook 6560b starts at $799. Consumer-oriented books with similar specs can be found for a little less, but may lack the ProBook's durability and security options. It may not offer much to set a gadget lover's heart aflutter, but it gets the job done.