Externally, the dm3 is a beautiful machine at first glance. It's very similar to the dv2, which we were also quite fond of, but the Intel processor inside doesn't run nearly as hot as the dv2's AMD chip, so there's no insane fan noise, and temperatures stay fairly low -- it gets warm, sure, but it's not anything like the dv2's nuclear-meltdown heat levels.
Structurally we've got to hand it to HP -- we've felt quite a few thin-and-lights flex in our hands as we've picked them up, but the dm3 is remarkably solid -- it's hard to even bend or twist with two hands at opposite corners. As you might expect, that means the chiclet-style keyboard is equally solid, and we had no major complaints as we typed this review on it -- sure, there's a slight gummy feeling to each keypress, but you'd have to be a major keyboard snob (like us) to really notice or care about it, and we'd bet most people will be thrilled with it.
Up top the 13.3-inch 1280 x 800 display is, well, pretty awful. Not only is it relatively dim, but it suffers from some abysmal vertical viewing angles -- we found ourselves constantly adjusting the screen tilt to compensate for washed out colors and poor contrast. We have no idea why display quality is always the first casualty of lower prices, but that's just how it goes, and the dm3t doesn't buck this unfortunate trend.
Software and performance
It's sort of interesting that we've all gotten used to how good Windows 7 is in its pure, factory-fresh state, when Microsoft is upfront in saying that most people will first experience 7 preloaded on a new machine -- complete with vendor modifications and additions. So it was actually kind of a shock to use WIndows 7 as installed by HP on the dm3t, since you have to deal with a lot of extra sluggish junk, like endless Norton pop-ups, a pushy, semi-automated HP software updater that will default to installing all updates without confirmation if you so much as breathe on it, and HP's MediaSmart toolbar and software, which just seems like a waste of time. After a while we were longing for our pristine install of 7 Home Premium -- we'd recommend dm3t buyers reinstall and clean house before settling in.
All that said, the dm3t was a more than capable performer when we finally got to work, and we never experienced any meaningful slowdowns or choppiness while we went about our business -- editing documents and photos, browsing, watching videos. We even managed to play that new 1080p YouTube clip, which is pretty impressive for a machine of this size. (Watching HD video on such a mediocre display was pretty sad, though. Thank god for HDMI out, right?) If you're a gamer you're going to want to spring for the optional $50 NVIDIA GeForce G 105M card -- the Intel integrated GMA4500MHD graphics in our tester couldn't really handle anything more than light duty, as you'd expect.
Battery life was pretty terrific -- Intel's CULV chips sip juice, and we got a fairly consistent nine hours or so of general usage on a charge. We're sure that would have gone down if we'd been really pushing the system, but if you're just generally using a computer to do computer stuff, the dm3t should last you a solid day. Hard to complain about that.