HP 250 G4
£299 inc VAT • hp.com/uk
Compared to some of the colourful and stylish budget laptops around, such as the Dell Inspiron 11 3000, the HP 250 G4 is a plain-looking laptop with no fancy design features. There is something special hidden inside, though. This is one of the cheapest new laptops you’ll find to use an Intel Core-series processor, instantly solving many of the most serious day-to-day problems you’ll run into using a cheap computer. If your laptop fund is limited, you can’t argue with this bargain machine.
If you’re thinking this is familiar, we reviewed the similar AMD-based model, the HP 255 G4, earlier this year. The 250 G4 shares the same chassis and design: it isn’t out to thrill – it’s a workhorse. In fact, this design has been around a while: even HP’s website still has photos of the laptop back when it was sold with Windows 8.
None of this matters though, if you’re simply after a basic laptop with good performance for little money. Decked out in black and dark grey, many will think its design is boring. But there are some little aesthetic gems. There’s an embossed diamond pattern on the lid, for example, and a dotty texture on the keyboard surround. Both look good when they catch the light, but their biggest benefit is in putting a sensory layer between your fingers and the basic plastic that makes up the HP 250 G4’s shell. We’re glad the part around the keyboard doesn’t feel like the plain rough plastic above it.
You’d probably guess this was a cheaper laptop, but it doesn’t feel like a budget computer. Compared to the similarly-priced Asus X553SA, the HP is extremely sturdy. No part of the laptop flexes much under finger pressure and the hinge feels very solid. Treat it roughly and the mechanical hard drive will probably fail before the shell becomes too damaged.
You won’t want to take the 250 G4 out too often anyway. This is not a hugely portable laptop. It weighs 2.14kg and the 15.6in frame isn’t going to fit easily into a lot of bags. If you’re after something to use on-the-go, check out a 13.3in display laptop or smaller first.
This is the sort of laptop you can use as your main machine, not least because it has a good spread of connections for a cheaper model. There are three USB ports (one USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0), an SD card slot, and Ethernet port and both VGA and HDMI video connectors. HP has clearly designed this machine knowing that some of you will want to plug in a monitor and keyboard/mouse.
Keyboard and trackpad
Typical of the 250 G4’s practical style, the keyboard and trackpad are decent. The keyboard is a standard chiclet design, also fitting a numberpad to the right side of the normal keys. Key travel is a little shallow and feedback on the soft side, but it’s still clearly-defined and non-spongy. None of the keys have been radically shaved down or moved to silly positions either. The keyboard is not fancy, but solid. Like other laptops at this price, there’s no backlight.
None of the keys have been radically shaved down or moved to silly positions either. The keyboard is not fancy, but solid
At first glance, the trackpad appears far more unusual. The pad isn’t separated from the keyboard surround. It’s just an area where there aren’t glossy dots, just plain roughened plastic. This is not the nicest surface for a trackpad, and is one of the few disappointments of this laptop. Something a bit smoother would give the machine a much less budget feel.
From a pure practical perspective, the trackpad is fine, though. Its buttons are separated out, sitting below the pad in a plastic bar. A nice little touch, the right button requires a much lighter press than the left one, a conscious nod to the fact that you’re more likely to be pressing it with a digit other than your index finger.
As comfortable as the trackpad is to use from a position and button-prodding perspective, the pad surface could be nicer.
Typical of an entry-level laptop, the 250 G4 has a basic 15.6in 1366x768-pixel screen. This is the sort of display that has been used in laptops for well over a decade. It’s not very sharp either. Colours are undersaturated, making the display look a little anaemic. In our tests, it hit just 55.2 percent of the sRGB gamut, which is poor but predictable given we’re looking at a pocket-money PC. Its native contrast of 200:1 is dismal, too.
Horizontal viewing angles are passable, suffering from some loss of brightness, but it’s only the vertical angle that causes the contrast shift we associate with the TN LCD panel used here.
This all makes the HP’s screen sound awful, but when used in a lit room, all you will notice is that the colours are weak. The display looks its best when there’s a decent amount of ambient light, letting the reflection-busting matt finish show off what it can do.
Maximum brightness is 273cd/m2, a typical entry-level result, but thanks to the matt finish you can use the HP 250 G4 nearby a bright window or outdoors.
With an Intel Core i3-5005U (dual-core, 2GHz) processor and 8GB of RAM, there are almost no creaky pauses as Windows 10 goes about its daily business. It’s refreshing to see such an affordable laptop whose general performance does not feel compromised, a legitimate budget machine that can handle genuine multi-tasking without becoming a chore to use.
Our test unit recorded a PCMark 8 score of 2171, which is much closer to that of a high-end laptop than the circa-1000 score you might see from some of the Celeron-based laptops that sit around the £200 to £250 mark. As long as you’re not expecting a powerhouse PC, you should be happy.
At lowest settings, 720p resolution, Alien: Isolation is almost playable, reaching an average 18.6fps. By cutting the settings down to their bare bones we scored 24.5fps (average), which some might consider that acceptable.
Our other standard gaming test, Thief, is also a no-go. At Low settings you’ll get 12.8fps, which is too low to be any fun. And at high settings you get just 6.1fps. If you only have a few hundred pounds and want to do some gaming, buy a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. However, one the plus side the HP 250 G4 is still much more adept than many laptops at the price.
The most noticeable performance issues with this laptop, day-today, come from the 5400rpm 1TB hard drive. It can read and write at just under 100MB/s (98MB/s read, 93MB/s write), but as this is a hard drive and not an SSD, it’s much slower at juggling bits and pieces of data from throughout the storage.
Unlike some laptops with the ‘U’ version of the Core i3, the HP’s fans run all the time during use, but are quiet. The noise steps up a bit under strain, but never becomes worryingly loud.
Like most 15.6in laptops, the 250 G4 isn’t designed for amazing battery life. The battery unit can be removed, though, held in place with a clip at the back of the underside. This is a very traditional design. Battery life is on the higher-end of what you might expect for from a very conventional 15.6in laptops. It lasts for five hours five minutes when playing a 720p MP4 video, which is similar to what you’d get while writing documents and doing the odd bit of browsing.
The 250 G4 has two speakers that sit on the underside of the laptop, and their output varies hugely on whether you use the Dolby DSP software or not. Without it, the output is weak and quiet. With it, the sound has a lot more mid-range power, and seems fuller.
However, it also involves a lot of compression, meaning the volume of parts of a music track seems to go up and down as the arrangement becomes busier or more sparse. It also sounds boxy, but the extra weight to the sound is all-but necessary.
Those after something flashy may not find an awful lot of appeal in the HP 250 G4. However, it’s one of the best-value, low-cost laptops you can find right now. As well as having a decent CPU for an affordable machine, it has loads of storage, good build quality and plenty of RAM. While the display here is practical, poor colour and contrast don’t make it a good fit for an entertainment device.