The HP 550 (£299 inc. VAT) maintains the basic design of the older 530 model, but changes have been made to the keyboard, as well as to the base specification.

The design of the HP 550 is simple, but perfectly practical.

Made from tough plastic, it has a smooth finish that feels great to the touch. With plenty of protection behind the screen and to the base of the unit, it will certainly survive being crushed into a carry case.

Limited battery life

Weighing 2.6kg, this is a reasonably lightweight machine. A battery life, under test, of less than three hours, still doesn't bode well for long-term mobile use.

The widescreen panel is big and bright and we found images looked crisp, making it the best option out of the four on test. Graphics are handled by the Intel GMA X3100, which is great for watching movies using the built-in DVD rewriter optical drive, or for viewing web pages, but it won't allow you to play anything but the most basic of games.

The screen tilts back, covering the rear of the chassis when open, so you won't find any ports on the back of this machine. HP has placed ports on the sides of the laptop and you'll find the three USB ports grouped together, which is fine as long as you don't need to add peripherals larger than the average USB memory key.

Keyboard rattle

You'll find an Intel Celeron CPU in place, backed by 1024MB of memory. This is sufficient to load and run Windows Vista, but you won't be able to run multiple applications. That said, as long as your needs are basic, such as word processing and the internet, you'll be generally happy with this laptop.

The previous HP model had one of our favourite keyboards at this price point. Sadly, this has not been carried through with the 550. The keys have the same square shape with a slight dip in the centre, so you won't slip when typing. However, the quality has been reduced, resulting in a keyboard that rattles as you type.

We were also disappointed with the mouse buttons, which have a very soft response to them.

Great usability

When it comes to performance, the HP 550 is overshadowed by the competition in terms of speed, but this is a far more accomplished laptop when it comes to sheer ease of use.

The keyboard may not be as good as we'd have liked, but we still found it comfortable to use and the large, bright screen makes this laptop a pleasure to use.