The HP Pavilion SE 14 is an impressively competent budget laptop with few big weaknesses
- Excellent value
- Nippy performance
- Good quality keyboard and speakers
- Battery life is nothing special
- Colourless display
- USB-C port doesn't support power or video
If you are looking for a laptop for under £500, there’s every possibility you’ll end up with something built around an outdated or puny chipset like an 8th-generation or Celeron-class Intel processor.
You may also end up with a horrible TN display and speakers that sound like two tin cans connected by a piece of string. A fuzzy webcam, a lack of biometric security and short battery life are also all very real possibilities.
Thankfully, HP thinks the impecunious laptop buyer deserves better, and its Pavilion SE 14 has few such glaring deficiencies.
HP Pavilion SE 14 review: What you need to know
The Pavilion SE range of compact laptops has long been HP’s entry-level for general home and business users who want a competent, compact and, more importantly, affordable laptop.
Over the years, the internal components have been updated to keep the Pavilion SE on the path of modernity. To that end, the latest incarnation is built around an Intel Core i5-1335U, a CPU only released in the first quarter of 2023. That makes it a very modern chip for such a cheap laptop.
All the other components have been brought reasonably up to date, too, so you also get a 512GB PCIe 4 SSD, a fingerprint scanner and a 1080p webcam. Those last two are features you will look for in vain on even some more expensive laptops.
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HP Pavilion SE 14 review: Price and competition
Configuration tested: Intel Core i5-1335U CPU, Intel Iris Xe GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 14in 1,920 x 1,080 60Hz IPS. Price when reviewed: £449
Depending on when and where you look you’ll generally find the Pavilion SE selling for between £599 or £449, the latter seemingly a pretty common “£150 off” offer price. It’s good value at the regular price and exceptional value at the offer price. Very few laptops offer as much for as little, but there are a few alternatives to consider.
The Acer Aspire 7 is more expensive at £715, but you get a larger 15.6in display with a 144Hz refresh rate and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2050 GPU, which gives the Acer decent gaming performance. You can also easily add more memory and storage. For the price, it’s a great machine.
If you see the word “Plus” after Chromebook, it’s a guarantee of at least 128GB of storage, a 1080p webcam, a Full HD IPS display and a ten-hour battery life. The Asus Chromebook Plus CX34 is one of the best of the breed and is great value at the usual price of £400, but it’s often on sale for far less. Indeed, it was a mere £279 at the time of writing.
The Surface Laptop Go 3 is no longer the bargain it once was, thanks to Microsoft removing the entry-level 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD option. That means the cheapest model now comes in at £799, making it a rather expensive “cheap” laptop. Still, you get a lovely 12.4in 1,536 x 1,024 IPS touchscreen, an Intel Core i5-1235U CPU and build quality that is without equal at the price.
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HP Pavilion SE 14 review: Design and build quality
You can’t expect an award-winning design for this sort of money. However, the HP Laptop 14 is a smart and attractive little laptop, especially considering the low price. The rounded edges on the lid and chamfered base are redolent of the MacBook Air, and you can’t give a cheap laptop a greater compliment.
Once the Pavilion SE is in your hands, you can tell it is made entirely from plastic. Despite that, it feels solid, and the lid is impressively rigid for something that’s not fully laminated. The silver plastic finish feels almost metallic and is entirely resistant to fingerprints. It’s eminently portable, weighs just 1.4kg and measures 324 x 215 x 18mm (WDH).
For a cheap and cheerful laptop, the Pavilion SE 14 has a good selection of ports with 5Gbits/sec USB-A data ports on each side, a 5Gbits/sec USB-C port, an HDMI 1.4 video output and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. The USB-C port doesn’t support charging or DP Alt Mode video, so you’ll need to keep the small 45W DC charger on hand.
It’s also possible to perform upgrades yourself, though removing the base involves ripping off the two full-width rubber feet glued to the underside. Once inside, you can upgrade the SSD, but the RAM is soldered to the motherboard.
HP Pavilion SE 14 review: Keyboard, touchpad, and webcam
The keyboard is a simple affair with just a little too much give in the middle of the deck, giving away the laptop’s budget underpinnings.
The keycaps are made from a slightly rough grey plastic, not unlike some of Microsoft’s Surface laptop keyboards, which I much prefer to the smooth silver finish generally found on other HP laptops. The white keycap graphics are very clear, which is handy given that there’s no backlight.
The keyboard only has one flaw: the power button sits between the Delete and Print Screen buttons, which resulted in me accidentally putting it to sleep on a couple of occasions. Compulsive messengers will undoubtedly appreciate that the F1 key opens the Windows emoji menu, which is more convenient than typing Win + > whenever you want to send a quick graphic.
And I was surprised to find a fingerprint reader conveniently situated on the right of the keyboard deck below the cursor keys. Biometric security is never given in laptops selling for under £500, so kudos to HP for fitting it to the Pavilion SE 14.
The touchpad is a plastic 110 x 75mm affair and isn’t quite as good. It has a slightly loose click-action in the lower corners, but works well enough with all Windows swipes and gestures.
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HP Pavilion SE 14 review: Display and Audio
At this price level, the most you can expect from a Windows laptop display is that it’s reasonably bright, 1,920 x 1,080 in resolution and IPS rather than TN, and that’s exactly what the HP 14 delivers.
Maximum brightness is a reasonable 267cd/m2, which, when combined with a matte finish, keeps reflections at bay effectively. Maximum black luminance registered at 0.2cd/m2, resulting in a reasonable contrast ratio of 1,270:1.
The blacklight wasn’t the most uniform I’ve encountered with some noticeable bleed down the left edge of the panel. Whether this is an issue with all machines or just our review unit, I can’t say, but it’s only noticeable when looking at a black screen.
Colourful, the screen is not. It covers a measly 59.6% of the sRGB gamut, 41.1% AdobeRGB and 42.1% of DCI-P3. The Delta E colour accuracy was a wayward 5.3, which means anyone with a trained eye can spot that the colour registration is not right. To the rest of us, it just looks dull and dreary, but again it’s completely acceptable for a budget laptop.
The speaker system, on the other hand, is outstanding for the price. Maximum volume measured against a pink noise source at a 1m distance was an impressive 76dBA and the sound quality was very good with plenty of bass and detail. Even at maximum volume, there was no distortion, making listening to music and podcasts a pleasant experience.
The 1080p webcam is another feature of the Pavilion SE that punches well above its weight, producing a sharp and colourful image even in low light. I’ve encountered much worse quality webcams on laptops that cost twice as much (and more). As an added bonus, the camera has a physical privacy shutter.
HP Pavilion SE 14 review: Performance
The Pavilion SE is built around an Intel Core i5-1335U processor with 8GB of DDR4 RAM and Intel’s integrated Xe graphics. The 1335U is a ten-core chip with two performance cores and a maximum Turbo Boost speed of 4.6GHz. It’s not what you would call a speed demon, but it has more than enough power for everyday home and business tasks.
In our standard 4K multimedia benchmark, the Pavilion SE scored 151 points, which put it ahead of the latest Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3 and the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, both of which cost much more, and on a par with the Lenovo Yoga Book 9i which uses the same CPU.
The Pavilion is quite the grinder, too. Running stress-test apps simultaneously on the CPU and graphics the system soon settled down at 80% CPU and 100% GPU performance with minimal fan noise and little heat generation. Three hours later, nothing had changed.
You don’t buy a laptop like the Pavilion SE 14 to play games on. Still, it’s not entirely hopeless: Serious Sam 4 and Prodeus ran at around 40fps at 1,600 x 900, which is all you can ask from a cheap laptop with a Core i5 U-series processor and integrated graphics.
The SSD inside the HP 14 is a Samsung-made 512GB PCIe 4 unit that achieved average sequential read and write speeds of 2,831 MB/sec and 1,428MB/sec, respectively. That’s a decent level of performance when, at this price point, you often get a pedestrian PCIe 3 drive from a manufacturer you’ve never heard of.
The Realtek RTL8852BE wireless card isn’t quite as good, only supporting 2.4Ghz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, but again this is a cheap laptop and that’s perfectly acceptable.
The laptop’s weak spot is its battery life. The rather low-capacity 41Wh capacity unit put the lights out after just 6hrs 30mins in our video playback test, which runs with the laptop in Best power efficiency mode, the screen set to 170cd/m2 and flight mode engaged. That’s not a terrible result, but it does mean that to get through an eight-hour working day, you will need to find a power socket.
HP Pavilion SE 14 review: Verdict
For £450, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the HP Pavilion SE 14. Performance is good, there are several unexpectedly high-end features like the 1080p webcam and powerful speakers, and it’s all wrapped up in a stylish, solid body.
The battery life could be longer, and the display could be better, but that is more a case of getting what you expect for the money rather than getting more than you expect. As a general-purpose laptop for home, school or work use, the HP Pavilion SE 14 ticks all the boxes.