After a long (happy) time with my Dell Inspiron 1520, my previous laptop’s age was catching up - the processor was a bottleneck, the 8600m GT was akin to an oven stove. Figured this would be the best time to get a new laptop. I’ve mentioned previously as to why I chose the HP Envy 14 - you might want to read up that. Like most of the items that I’ve purchased in the past year or so, the Envy 14 was also bought from HP store with certain changes as compared to the base model. Some of them include:
- Opted for an Intel Core i5 520M instead of the base Intel Core i3 370M.
This option bumped the rate by about $100, but I felt it was worth it - going by past experience where I settled for a bare minimum Core 2 Duo T5250 - a decision which I kind of regretted since my processor was holding back severely. (Side note: The i5 520 is no longer available in HP store and has been replaced by the i5 560M.)
- Bumped hard disk capacity from 320GB to 500B
You can never have enough of available space.
- Lower resolution screen
Opted for a 1366×768 resolution screen, instead of a 1600×900. I really do believe that 1280×800 / 1366×768 resolution hits the sweet spot for 14/15″ screens. Here’s a glance at the laptop specifications.
- Processor: Intel Core i5 520M @ 2.4 GHz, Turbo boost upto 2.93 GHz, 3 MB L2 Cache w/ HT, EM64T, VT-x & VT-d & AES new instructions ( CPU-z validation)
- Main memory: 2x2GB DDR3 1066 MHz Dual Channel mode
- HDD: Seagate Momentus ST9500420AS 500 GB 7200RPM SATA 3Gbps ( HDTach result )
- DVD-RW: hp DVD RAM UJ897 Slot loading drive
- Sound Card: IDT High Definition/ ATi High Definition ( if you’re going to use HDMI )
- Graphics Card: ATi Mobility Radeon 5650 1GB / Intel HD ( switchable graphics) (GPU-z validation)
- WiFi: Intel Centrino 6200 802.11 A/G/N
- System Chipset: Intel HM55
- Expansion & Misc ports: 2xUSB, 1x Shared USB/eSATA, 1xRJ-45, 1xHDMI, 1xHeadphone out, 1xMicrophone In, 1xMedia Card reader(SD/MMC), 1xMini DisplayPort
**** The packaging was pretty good. The Envy 14 was shipped in a laptop briefcase-esque carton, with lots of of foam padding which offers shock protection.
Inside the “briefcase” was the laptop enclosed in a nice, svelte velvet cover, a single page quick usage guide, System Restore DVDs ( no installation DVD, btw). Another sheet of paper containing the warranty details and surprise, surprise, a 2GB SD card. Conspicuously missing where the thick book manuals - the manuals and guides are available in electronic format on the 2GB SD Card. Smart move.
Looks, Build Quality & Weight:
**** The Envy 14 is often known as the MacBook Pro clone, predominantly due to HP’s use of the unibody enclosure present on the MacBook Pro. The Envy 14 looks and feels solid thanks to it’s no-plastic policy. The outside laptop lid and the interiors have a distinctive metallic diamond shaped floral pattern which sets it apart from the crowd. The area on and surrounding the keyboard have a nice metallic/ matte finish and does not attract any fingerprints. The bottom right corner of the laptop lid comes with an hp-logo engraving and like the Apple logo on the Mac, is backlit. Although I do feel that the shade of gray is a little drab and could’ve been better.
At 5.25 pounds ( ~ 2.2 kilos) the Envy 14 isn’t very light, but not very bulky either. The underneath of the Envy 14 feels plastic, but in reality it’s a magnesium alloy which is used for heat dissipation.
The Envy 14 comes with the standard assortment of USB ports, headphone /microphone jacks and the Ethernet ports. In addition, the Envy also features a hybrid eSATA /USB port as well as a MiniDisplay port - something which you don’t see often. With just 3 USB ports ( 2, if you decide to use an eSATA device) you might fall short of USB ports if you use lot of USB peripherals.
The front of the Envy features grills for the speakers and a slot for the SD/MMC card reader. The rear of the laptop is clean, with no connectors save for an exhaust slot in the center.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The keyboard is fantastic, with big chunky chicklet-style keys. The response of the keys is fantastic and makes you want to type on and on! To make things better, the keys are backlit and there’s a dedicated key to switch off/on backlight as you wish. Certain keys however doesn’t respond well and you would need to punch in a little harder to register the entry. The lack of dedicated media keys is another disappointment.
As good as the keyboard is, the touchpad is equally crappy. Taking the Macbook cue, HP decided to replace the standard trackpad + 2 dedicated keys to a single slightly recessed pool. Result being the touchpad is a utter mess, with no proper response. The response is not even predictive. The cursor either skips too fast or just does not respond at all. Scrolling is another exercise in frustration. The touchpad is multi-touch capable, but the drivers are real bad and as a result you get so frustrated with the touchpad that you feel like ripping off the touchpad and throwing it away. Thankfully, the newer drivers improve this experience a lot, but still isn’t good enough.
One point which HP keeps harping upon the Envy 14 is the audio. Dubbed as “Beats”, this supposedly delivers excellent quality & bass response. Which is true - there is significant difference in sound quality when Beats is turned off & on - the sound is just pathetic with Beats on. You can only imagine how it can be with beats turned off. I don’t kow if it’s just me or whether my previous Inspiron 1520’s sound was that good ( and it was) - but for a laptop which touts “Beats” or “professional” audio quality as one of its selling points, you really expect the sound quality to be top notch. I wouldn’t mind if the sound was low but crystal clear - this is a mix of both - crappy quality combined very low loudness. Thankfully, I use a Fiio E5 amp in conjunction with a Denon AH-C360 and this ( almost) makes up for the crappy quality.
The Envy 14 comes with a 14.5″ 1366×768 resolution LED backlit screen, which HP calls as “Brightview”. The LCD screen hinges are pretty tight and you cannot open the screen beyond 140degrees. The display is pretty bright, and has a very wide viewing angle - so even watching the screen at odd angles will not result in odd images.
Performance-wise, the Envy just screams. With an Core i5, ample 4GB of RAM & the 5650, Envy can chew whatever you can throw at it. Mulit-tasking with bazzilion programs, virtualization with multiple, simultaneous virtual machines - doesn’t matter the Envy just glides over them. Games aren’t problem either - you can run most of them at native resolution details at maximum details.
Some benchmarking results:
- Super pi (1M) - 17.43 seconds
- Wprime 32M - 19.278 seconds
- Cinebench 10 - 3726 / 7846 CB
- Fritz (Relative speed) - 9.67
- 3D mark 06 - 6905 3D Marks
- Crysis -Details: All at high. CPU benchmark, average FPS: 17 ( looped 3 times), GPU Benchmark, average FPS: 19.84 (looped 3 times)
Stellar performance notwithstanding, what makes the Envy awesome is that - you don’t see any of the overheating observed traditionally with other gaming laptops. Even after prolonged gaming sessions ( > 2 hours) the areas around the entire keyboard were really cool. HP has done a fantastic job with the cooling & heat dissipation system.
The battery life is pretty good - with normal browsing, media playback, half brightness and full volume - the battery lasted about 4 hours. Given the form factor, this is surprising. If you wish for higher battery backup, you can opt for the optional battery slice which adds about o.5″ in thinkness and yields an extra 3 hours.
Bundled Utilities & Other Miscellaneous Stuff
The Envy 14 comes with lot of bundled utilities - Corel PaintShop Photo Pro, Corel VideoStudio, CyberLink DVD Suite, HP Media Smart, HP QuickWeb, HP Recovery Manager, Roxio CinemaNow, StackDock MyColors, ObjectDesktop, HP Barnes & Noble Desktop eReader, Hulu Desktop, Fences and ofcourse, Norton Internet Suite & Microsoft Office Starter. At first boot, in addition to creating user accounts, you are also prompted if you want to use the Envy theme or Windows’ theme.
The HP QuickWeb is a small utility which starts when you switch on your Envy - it provides a small fast to boot environment for simple websurfing - though I’d rather wait for a bit and use the OS. The Envy also comes with switchable graphics - i.e., the laptop can make use of either the onboard graphics or the dedicated graphics. Selecting between the 2 is simple - just right click and select which adapter you want to be in use. The Envy also automatically switches automatically to onboard graphics if laptop goes into battery mode - nice way to save on some battery. Having the switchable graphics brings in a problem though - the drivers need to be updated by the OEM - and given past experience, this can be a long arduous wait.
The Envy is a great laptop. There are certain drawbacks - the touchpad and the audio being the main ones. But these are dwarfed by the positives - and at price of of $1153 - this is a great deal.
- Great looks
- Doesn’t overheat
- Great performance
- Lousy touchpad
- Bad sound