Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
Keyboard – The V4000's keyboard is similar to other keyboards we have seen from Compaq and HP. In fact, the keyboard layout is the same as the one seen on the previously reviewed HP ZE2000. The only difference is that color scheme has been inverted so that the keyboard button is white and the text is black. There is reasonable tactile feedback considering this is a consumer notebook, but it feels pretty average. It doesn't have the same feel as the keyboard on the ZE2000, perhaps due to the use of a different manufacturer or our own recollection.
The only two problems we have with the layout is, one, that the home/end/page up/page down keys are all clustered on the right hand side. While this means you don't have to stretch your fingers to access them, you don't get the same feel for the notebook, because their placement is counterintuitive when it comes to keyboard ergonomics. "Correct" placement is debatable, but generally speaking, it should be a three by two button arrangement in the upper right hand corner. The second problem we have is that the keyboard seems spaced too close to the front. As you can see, HP has enough real estate to space it further up. The fact that they didn't might make it uncomfortable for some, if you don't like having your wrists sit close to or on the edge of the notebook.
LEDs – There is only really one true LED strip, which is located on the front left side of the system. The LED strip includes LEDs for (left to right): power status (orange when powered on), charging status (solid orange when charging), and hard drive activity (orange when active).
There is no secondary strip of LEDs for keyboard key status like caps lock. Instead, caps and num lock have their LEDs situated right next to the keys themselves (orange when active). There is no LED for scroll lock. The only other things that light up are the icons inside the power, wireless, and mute buttons (orange when on, blue when active, and orange when muted, respectively).
The only problem we have with the LED strip design is that the straight faced front side design of the notebook provides a limited range of vision, considering the posture most people have when they are typing away. For example, the only way to see the charger status is to sit back and see.
TouchPad & Buttons – Like the keyboard, the touchpad is spaced appropriately, enough so that switching between the two is about the same as any other average notebook. Though, Compaq could make the experience better by scooting both items forward.
Compared to other notebooks, the touchpad has a fairly smooth texture, as it uses carbon fiber material. In the long term, we found this to be a disadvantage for the V4000. The reason is because the inherent smooth surface only gets really smooth after time, if you use this as your primary computer for roughly 6 months. Once this happens, you will see that the center of the touchpad has been worn down, enough so that the smooth texture provides almost zero texture for scrolling. If you look at it from an angle with direct lighting, it will look like there is a shiny reflective spot in the center. At that point, using the notebook with an external mouse becomes a must, because the touchpad no longer has a natural feel. As it stands, the smooth texture is not a problem, but you will find that you will have to constantly wipe the skin oil that collects on the touchpad. In our experience, carbon fiber collects finger oil at a factor faster than other materials, which will cause interaction problems in terms of low tracking/scrolling feedback. Our recommendation is for Compaq to switch the construction material to polycarbonate or something of that variety. We won't dispute the fact that for the short term it provides a really good feel for tracking.
For vertical and horizontal scrolling, Compaq's use of a wide touchpad provides enough space for a scrolling region. Personally, we prefer either the scroll button or touchpad scroll zone over a scroll toggle (vertical or vertical and horizontal).
We should make note that unlike other notebooks, the buttons on the V4000 are inlayed with rubber. As far as designs go, the rubber pieces don't look like they will fall off. In fact, we tried to deliberate generate situates where the rubber might peel off, and we found no flaw other than possibly the factor of time and moisture weakening the adhesive. If the rubber strips fall off, you can reattach them with a thin film of clear double sided tape (not the typical white opaque stuff you find everywhere).
Personally, we like the rubber inlay, but in the past, we have found that rubber tends to smooth out much faster than other material. While smoothed out rubber doesn't reduce texture/gripping, the smooth rubber feel is going to be a matter of preference. There will be some that don't mind and some that do. As a new system, the texture can be considered smooth with a very fine grain.
Microphone – Unfortunately, there is no integrated microphone on the V4000, which is too bad for those that like audio messaging and the like. The only way to get a microphone up and running is to hook up one via the microphone port.
Speakers - The speakers on the V4000 are reasonably good quality considering that this is they are intended for multimedia use. At max they are loud enough to be slightly heard in the next room over in your home. When we listened to Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," the audio clarity is typical of what we see on consumer multimedia notebooks, i.e. the instrumentals and voice inflections get slightly distorted above roughly 65%. When it comes to movies, you probably won't hear the enough of a difference at max volume to distinguish distortion, unless there is a audio track playing during segment of video.