HP 15t Touch review: Great looks, good performance, this budget laptop's got it all

We're crowning this the best all-around laptop under $500.

If I didn't know better, I'd say HP had something to prove. Early on in this reviews round-up HP sent over its Pavilion x360 11T Touch Select—a beautiful machine, and already one of our top recommendations in the sub-$500 range. And then at the eleventh hour it sent over the HP 15t Touch, which not only looks better but performs better too.

HP's not messing around.

The design

The Pavilion x360 HP sent over was clearly meant to stand out, with its bold candy apple red case. And the HP 15t Touch is clearly meant to stand out too—just not quite as overtly.

Here it's all about the subtle touches—a matte black finish with a faint diamond design that's almost soft to the touch. It's also, I should mention, an absolute fingerprint magnet. The 15t Touch looks fantastic fresh out of the package, but it's going to take some effort to keep it looking that way.

The diamond motif continues once you've opened the lid, where you'll immediately notice two-thirds of the hard plastic tray is embossed with the tiniest of diamonds. It looks almost like the tray's been drilled with speaker or ventilation holes, except it's purely decorative design work. Classy looking, too.

And then there's the trackpad, which is flush with the tray instead of embedded—and made from seemingly the same matte material as the rest of the interior. The only sign it's the trackpad is the lack of the familiar diamond pattern, plus the two physical mouse buttons located underneath. It's elegant—the type of trackpad you'd expect to find on a much more expensive machine.

08 hp 2 Rob Schultz

HP's Pavilion 15t Touch is one of the stand out laptops here but an absolute finger print magnet.

It's not just a pretty face, either. This is one of the most responsive trackpads we've dealt with in the sub-$500 range, though I'd recommend turning up the sensitivity a bit. The hardest part is actually finding the trackpad. The trackpad is ever-so-slightly depressed into the tray, but not a lot. And since it's the same material as the rest of the laptop, it can be a bit difficult to figure out where your hand needs to go in the dark. I guess that's the price you pay for something that looks this badass.

The keyboard is also top-of-the-line for this tier. The keys are fun on the 15t Touch, with both an excellent click and a decent amount of travel. And as far as design, I was impressed by both the slightly rough texture of the keys and the understated typeface HP used. The 15t Touch is simply designed to look good.

A paltry screen is the only aspect of the 15t Touch's design I find truly lacking. Not only is it the standard $500-laptop resolution of 1366x768, but it's a lackluster 15.6-inch TN panel with very poor color (despite the WLED tech HP touts). And while the viewing angles are admittedly better than the screens on the Toshiba C55-C or the Acer E-15, it's a far cry from the IPS display on the Pavilion x360. The panel also doubles as a touchscreen, though it was poor at tracking fast gestures and I eventually gave up on using it—something I'm fine with, as I hate fingerprints on my laptop screen regardless.

Port-wise, the 15t Touch is rocking power, Ethernet, one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, HDMI, and the audio jack on the left side, while the right features an additional USB 2.0 slot, an SD card reader, and an optical drive. The left side is also equipped with a sizeable ventilation grate, which unfortunately spins up noticeably loud at times.

You could always drown it out with the 15t Touch's speakers though. While lacking the B&O branding of its Pavilion x360 cousin, the 15t Touch's audio is respectably loud and clear. It does have the same flaw as the x360 though in that the main speakers are located on the bottom front of the laptop, meaning the audio is perfectly fine on hard surfaces but gets muffled and grainy when placed on any soft surface (i.e. a lap).

The specs

Like the Pavilion x360, the HP 15t Touch is pretty much neck-and-neck with the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Series as far as performance goes. Unlike the Pavilion x360 though, the 15t Touch's benchmarks really do tell the whole story.

The Pavilion x360 is a perfectly serviceable machine, but a lot of its benchmark performance comes from a zippy 128GB SSD drive—allowing it to seemingly "outperform" the Inspiron 15 5000 even though it's only packing a Core M-5Y10c processor.

The 15t Touch, on the other hand, outperforms the Inspiron 15 5000 in certain tests because it basically is the Inspiron 15 5000. Except slightly better. Under the hood, the 15t Touch packs an Intel Core i3-5010U processor at 2.10GHz (compared to the Inspiron 15 5000's i3-5005U at 2GHz).

Aside from that, the 15t Touch and the Inspiron 15 5000 are identical—integrated Intel HD 5500 graphics, 6GB of RAM, and a 5,400 RPM hard drive (though the 15t Touch's is only 750GB as opposed to the Inspiron 15 5000's 1TB drive).

And no surprise, both machines turned out very similar benchmark scores. In PCMark 8's Home Conventional test the 15t Touch scored 2,159, which compares favorably to the Dell's score of 2,210 (though the Toshiba C55-C outperforms both with a score of 2,527).

The 15t Touch also outperforms the Inspiron 15 5000 in the Creative Conventional and Work Conventional tests, with scores of 2,000 and 2,485 to the Inspiron's 1,933 and 2,436 respectively. Again, both are outperformed by Toshiba's machine, with scores of 2,198 and 2,771. These are marginal differences though, and Toshiba's machine is nowhere near as sexy as either the 15t Touch or the Inspiron 15 5000.

And importantly, the 15t Touch performs favorably in our Handbrake test too. Here we feed the machine a 30GB MKV file in Handbrake and ask it to transcode it to a 1GB-ish file. The 15t Touch completed this task in 2 hours and 48 minutes, edging out the Dell's 2 hour and 55 minute mark—and handily beating the Pavilion x360's 3 hours and 43 minutes.

All this to say the 15t Touch isn't just a good-looking machine. There's a decent amount of power backing up HP's fantastic design work.

08 hp 1 Rob Schultz

The bloat

Unfortunately, the 15t Touch is just as packed with useless/semi-useless software as HP's Pavilion x360.

McAfee's set up squatting rights on the 15t Touch, as per usual. Like always, I recommend finding yourself a better antivirus program (if you're going to run one).

There's also the usual suite of HP first-party programs, with HP Connected Drive and Connected Music leading the charge.

But even worse is the absolutely phenomenal amount of third-party apps HP stuffs their machines with. Our review laptop came loaded down with Netflix, Dropbox, CyberLink Media Suite et al, WildTangent Games, SnapFish, Simple Solitaire, Microsoft Mahjong, Amazon, The Weather Channel, mysms, Evernote, and—most baffling of all—Priceline and TripAdvisor.

Like the Pavilion x360, none of the stuff HP's loading onto these laptops seems harmful, per se. It's all from names you know, like Netflix. But it's still ugly clutter on a brand new machine.

The verdict

It's a tough call, but I'd say the HP 15t Touch is overall the best sub-$500 laptop. Other laptops come close—the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 and HP's own Pavilion x360 11T are both great all-around machines, and the Toshiba Satellite C55-C obviously takes the performance crown.

But damn, the 15t Touch is a gorgeous machine. I was impressed with the look of the 15t Touch as soon as I pulled it out of the box, and aside from its penchant for fingerprints I'm still impressed with it days later. And considering it has a great trackpad, fantastic keyboard, and the specs to back up its sleek look? And you can find the model we reviewed for only $430? I'm definitely comfortable saying the 15t Touch is the best laptop we took a look at in this tier.

If HP came into this with something to prove, it proved it.

This story, "HP 15t Touch review: Great looks, good performance, this budget laptop's got it all" was originally published by PCWorld.

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