HP Pavilion Aero
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HP Pavilion Aero Daniel Cooper / Engadget

HP Pavilion Aero review: HP's lightest laptop yet deserves a closer look

It's an affordable laptop that punches well above its own weight.

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HP, the world’s second-largest PC vendor by market share, says that the new Pavilion Aero 13 is designed for Generation Z. Youthful, vibrant post-teens who love entertainment, communication and — COVID notwithstanding — travel. It’s ironic, then, that when you examine this machine from that perspective, it becomes a less attractive proposition. This is actually a pretty nice laptop, but I doubt it’s top on any Zoomer’s wish list.

Hardware

HP Pavilion 13 Aero Review
Daniel Cooper

The focus here is on making a machine that is as thin and light as possible while still offering a decent amount of power and connectivity. Weighing 2.2 pounds, about the same as the 14-inch LG Gram, the Aero is HP’s first low-end machine to pack a taller 16:10 display. It carries a pair of USB-A ports with kick-out covers, HDMI-out and a single USB-C socket alongside a 3.5mm audio jack and the barrel power connector. I’m still torn over the throwback power connector, which on one hand is acceptable and cost-effective, but, again, does your average Gen-Zer not want to minimize the number of chunky charging plugs they’re carrying around?

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Pavilion Aero 13

Pros

  • Surprisingly capable for its size
  • Generous port selection
  • One of the lightest 13-inch machines you can get

Cons

  • Backlit keyboard is build-to-order
  • Design is a little pedestrian
  • Keyboard could do with one fewer row of keys and more space

Build quality is solid, with no flex or creaks when you hold it open with one hand and wave it around. The one place where I’ll take marks off is in the display hinge, which is designed to push the laptop deck up off the table like ASUS’ ZenBook. It just feels a little bit less sturdy than you might expect, which you’ll need to be mindful of if you rest your weight too much on the front of your hands. The malleability of that hinge feels just weak enough to make me paranoid.

Keyboard and trackpad

HP Pavilion 13 Aero Review
Daniel Cooper

The Pavilion Aero 13’s keyboard is well-engineered and satisfying, with a fair level of travel and a good hit at the end of your press. Interestingly, you need to pony up extra for a model with backlighting, which is either miserly or smart cost-cutting, depending on your perspective. It may not be the same quality as HP’s higher-priced laptops but it’s certainly not a chore to write with.

Except for, and I am being needlessly grouchy here, HP’s inclusion of a function row along the rightmost side of the keyboard. Most 13-inch laptops, for obvious reasons, try to cut down on superfluous keys that you may only find on more spacious models. And that’s fine, because it’s rare that I ever find myself needing to use Home/Pg Up/Pg Down/End when I have other keyboard shortcuts (and, you know, a trackpad) available.

I get why HP insists on using them here, but it means that you’ll have a learning curve when coming off pretty much every other laptop in this class. And, if I were king, I would have opted for a standard layout with more breathing room, not to mention full-size up/down keys with more space around them. After more than a week using this thing, I’m still hitting the home key instead of backspace, dramatically slowing my typing speed, much to my frustration.

As for the trackpad, it’s bigger than on the 2020 model that this replaces, and has a decent click with tolerable accuracy. The lack of a touchscreen on this laptop isn’t, in my opinion, a huge issue given its size and class, so long as the trackpad is solid. And this trackpad is very much that, and there’s not much else to say about it as a consequence.

Display, sound and webcam

HP Pavilion 13 Aero Review
Daniel Cooper

This machine carries a 13.3-inch HD display, although because of its 16:10 ratio, that 1,920 x 1,200 resolution is actually WUXGA. I don’t think anyone would need a 4K display on a machine like this, but you can configure it with a WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) screen should you need to. The 400-nit panel can balance any strong summer light, and the matte screen means that you avoid a lot of glare.

The downward-firing B&O-branded speakers hidden under the edges of the laptop deck provide acceptable audio. They sound a little better than on some ultrabooks I could mention, but it’s still thin and reedy, with tinny equalization presets and nonexistent bass. This is audio you can put up with rather than enjoy during all of those Netflix and Chill sessions where you actually watch Netflix and Chill.

HP Pavilion 13 Aero Review
Daniel Cooper

Perhaps I’ve been reviewing too many laptops of late that have some sort of webcam shutter, but the omission here surprises me. The HP WideVision 720p HD camera is at least sharp enough that people can see your face properly when you’re using it. Even better, it handles most light well enough that blow-outs are occasional rather than ever-present, which is good considering how much we all need to Zoom each other right now.

Software

One thing to note is that HP pre-installs a number of apps onto its laptops, including McAfee, LastPass and ExpressVPN. This means you’ll start getting pop-ups after installing Chrome, telling you that plugins are about to be installed. That I think this is an unacceptable thing to happen, even for a relatively low-cost laptop, should go without saying.

Performance and battery life

PC Mark 10

3D Mark Night Raid

Geekbench 5 Compute

HP Pavilion Aero 13.3 (2021) AMD Ryzen 7 5800U w/ Radeon Integrated, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD

5,775

12,799

14,960

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 15" (2021), AMD Ryzen 7 MS w/ Radeon Integrated, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD

4,620

15,517

11,909

Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 15", Intel Core i7 1165G7 w/ Intel Xe, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD

4,648

N/A

16,659

Both Intel and AMD have made enormous strides toward integrated graphics units that don’t suck. This is thunderingly relevant in the ultrabook market where thinness and portability are prized over pretty much everything else. After all, even a few years ago you couldn’t have done much more on a machine of this class beyond mash the odd spreadsheet. Now you can expect passable, even quite pleasant performance on a wide variety of tasks, from intensive Chrome browsing to video games.

The model that HP sent to reviewers retails for $999, and includes AMD’s Ryzen 5800U with Radeon Integrated Graphics, which packs 512MB of dedicated DDR4 VRAM. Rounding out the spec list is 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, which sits on the higher end of what you can expect to get for this sort of money. Certainly, the benchmarks make this thing look a lot less powerful, but I suspect the Aero simply isn’t set up for intensive gaming. It’s worth saying that even the fan noise isn’t that aggressive under heavy load, too.

That said, I was able to play Fortnite pretty smoothly on this machine with the graphics set to Medium, and an evening’s marathon session of Two Point Hospital passed without comment. Certainly, if you are happy with undemanding titles, you’ll be able to squeeze a lot of fun from this machine. GTA V’s benchmarking tool was able to produce a fairly consistent 30fps, and if you dial down all of the visuals, you can get this running fast enough to play in a pinch.

Battery Life

HP Pavilion Aero 13.3 (2021)

9:43

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Nano

9:14

Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360

15:20

Battery life is similarly resilient, with this machine clocking in at 9 hours and 43 minutes in our standard rundown test. When untethered from power, I didn’t feel any nagging urgency to head back to a socket while using this thing, and you should expect this to last for the length of your working day. And, to be honest, if this had conked out any sooner I would be screaming from the rooftops about it, since the whole point of an ultraportable is, after all, to be portable.

Price and the competition

HP Pavilion 13 Aero Review
Daniel Cooper

As I said, the model I’m testing costs $999. That’s a fair price, especially if you try to configure a similar spec list with some rival machines in the same category. There are some alternatives, and if your priority is a slender, lightweight machine, then LG’s Gram 14 can be picked up for $799.99. It has a 14-inch WUXGA display and weighs 2.2 pounds. Sadly, its specs fall far short of HP’s offering, with an Intel Core i3-1115G4, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. You could also opt for ASUS’ ZenBook 13 OLED, which packs a Ryzen 7 5700U, 8GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and an OLED display for $899.99.

If you’re feeling picky, you could do worse than to wait for more AMD-toting laptops to enter retail channels in the near future. I expect that we’ll see models similar to Lenovo’s ThinkPad X13 and Acer’s Spin 3 with comparable internals coming very soon. At which point, you should have your pick of any number of high-quality machines that can do jobs similar to this one.

Wrap-up

HP Pavilion 13 Aero Review
Daniel Cooper

This isn’t a fair comparison at all, but in my head I keep thinking about Dell’s XPS 13 which, for many people, is either the gold-standard ultrabook, or in the top three. And, right now, that on both specs and price, the Pavilion Aero 13 is a more compelling choice. When you look at the base model XPS 13, which starts $1,019.99, the only thing that HP loses out on is aesthetics. In almost every other regard, I’d much rather have this Pavilion Aero than the XPS and that, to me, is wild.

I think the Pavilion Aero 13 is a very good machine, with a solid thin-and-light body and performance that punches well above its weight. For some people, the 5800U running the show is enough of a reason to buy one of these that everything else is broadly immaterial. Do I wish it was priced a little more aggressively? Yes, because I could forgive the learning curve with the keyboard if it was a hundred bucks cheaper. Despite the keyboard and sound, though, it’s a good machine for folks who want a little bit of everything.

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