Help Me, LAPTOP: I Need a Portable Multimedia Machine

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Just because you know what you want and what you like doesn't mean picking the right machine is that simple. There are a lot of factors that go into narrowing the field, including design, battery life, portability, and performance. Wyn, a self-described avid reader, has been able to get his array of choices down to three: HP Envy 14 Beats Edition, Dell XPS 14, and the Dell XPS 15. But then he got stuck, and came to us for help.

"I can't seem to decide which one to get. I want [a notebook] that's great on the gaming and multimedia side, but at the same time is great for portability. The speakers of these machines are made by independent manufacturers such as Beats and JBL. And I can configure each of these to about $1,400, which matches my budget."

Each system has its own pros and cons, but our choice would be the HP Envy 14 Beats Edition. Its stylish black and red design is striking. You get great audio quality, a bright and vidid 14.5-inch screen with 1366 x 768-pixel resolution. The Envy 14 weighs a portable 5.6 pounds, and comes with a Core i5 processor and a 7,200-rpm 500GB hard drive. It lasted 4 hours and 20 minutes on our battery test. Plus, this $1,149 system (which earned 4 stars from us) can shave a few bucks off your budget.

While the Dell XPS 15 also earned 4 stars, and it offers strong performance and great audio, the bulky design runs a bit hot and the battery life of 3 hours and 55 minutes isn't great. The Dell XPS 14 isn't bad either, although we only gave it 3.5 stars, but it took the 9-cell extended battery to get decent battery life. Also the performance wasn't as stellar as your other two choices and it's a bit heavier and not as good looking.

If you have a question about fixing a technical problem or buying a new product, drop us a line at helpme@laptopmag.com and we’ll respond.
Author Bio
Anna Attkisson
Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor
A lover of lists and deadlines, Anna Attkisson covers apps, social networking, tablets, chromebooks and accessories. She loves each of her devices equally, including the phablet, three tablets, three laptops and desktop. She joined the Laptop Mag staff in 2007, after working at Time Inc. Content Solutions where she created custom publications for companies from American Express to National Parks Foundation.
Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor on
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5 comments
  • Mugsy Pinckrton Says:

    Before you go picking up the HP Beats edition you might want to look at two others that laptop mag
    has failed to review yet? The ASUS N53jf model laptop is only $975.00 offers similar specs. killer sound quality
    Dedicated graphics and about the same battery life as the HP. Plus it has nvidia optimus, automatic switchable graphics, which the HP lacks and also the Asus comes with USB 3.0 ports and a standard two year warranty and one year accidental damage included. The HP beats does not. But the Asus is slightly heavier. If you prefer portability
    and can sacrifice some graphics muscle. The new Samsung QX410 is a sweet laptop light, portable, has some graphics muscle and nvidia optimus, also gets 6 hours battery life easily. It looks sleeker and better then the HP beats edition. It is only $850.00 depending on discounts etc. Check these out before you go giving HP your hard
    earned dollars you may be pleasantly surprised.Cheers!

  • Midas Says:

    I bought the XPS and the audio is outstanding. The battery wasn't an issue. The design looks like a business computer so that is fine. It is not as bad in actuality as they describe it as far as design. I personally didn't want a thin and light piece of crap. I just migrated from one of those. Performance is the key factor.

    Went from a led 1080p to a 1366 x 768 hand them both side by side. The 768 is easier on my eyes when typing or reading in low light. Less eye strain. The 1gb graphics card makes up for the lost in resolution for me. Everybody is different. My guess is most people will not be traveling with a laptop anyway if they have a tablet. So if you are looking for something which qualifies as a desktop replacement this laptop would be it.

  • Andrew Lam Says:

    Wow, I have been pondering the past weeks on which laptop to get. My choices are also between the Envy 14 Beats and Dell XPS 15. My main focus is on impressive audio, occasional gaming, multimedia, and portability. Both offer great performance and audio. Dell XPS 14 was also on my list at first, but I excluded it since I found it does not have a subwoofer compared to the 15 and 17 series. Here is how I compare to these two:

    Audio:
    Sound quality on Envy and XPS 15 is undoubtedly excellent. Therefore both stand strong on this point.
    Envy --> Altec Lansing speakers with Dr.Dre Beats audio + Dr.Dre SOLO Headphone(this deal seems to be available on Amazon)
    XPS --> JBL speakers with Waves Maxx Audio 3

    Performance:
    Price plays a great role in this category. XPS 15's base processor is i5-460M and Geforce GT 420M with the grand total before tax is $849. Envy Beats($1149) has the same processor but with much stronger graphic of ATI 5650.

    Although XPS does not allow stronger graphic(Geforce GT 435M with 2GB > ATI 5650) unless i7-740QM is also picked along with it, and with $300 more, a stronger processor and far greater screen display are available. i5-560M (which is fast than i7-740QM) requires $90 and with another $130, full HD 1080p 1920x1080 display while the ENVY sits with 1366x768. Even with extra $25 for backlit keyboard, XPS is still at $55 cheaper.

    Portability:
    ENVY definitely outshines XPS on this category with nearly 1lb less and its sexy, attractive, smaller size. ENVY also last roughly 1 hour more.

    Side Ports:
    The only noticeable differences between these two great laptops are the USB, HDMI, and the dvd/blue-ray slot/tray load. ENVY has slot load which is very convenient, unlike XPS where we have to press for the tray to pop out.

    XPS get to have 2 impressive USB 3.0 ports and a HDMI 1.4 port where as the ENVY gets the USB 2.0 and the normal HDMI.

    Conclusion:
    I still don't know which is more suitable for me yet lol. But hopefully you do. I do agee with Laptopmag's recommendation because the ENVY is more balance with performance and portability. XPS, on the other hand, is much more on performance(if configured to ENVY's price range) than portability and more affordable than ENVY.

  • Ken Lynch Says:

    I have bee in a quandary similar to Anna and Dave, and have considered the above named laptops, and others. With the newer wide screens, high resolution seems a must for those of us that love to read/write/edit, and play a few games or videos on the side. And I'd prefer a matte or anti-glare screen as well, for those long battery draining sessions. Oh, and a 6-8 hour battery seems only reasonable.

    And just to be clear, a 2 button, multi-gesture touchpad, an adjustable backlit keyboard w/ nicely spaced, scalloped keys like the Mac or Lenovo. And a 2 year warranty like some Asus. A magnesium or titanium alloy case would be nice. And no high polish please (fingerprints). And let's not neglect connectivity either. And don't forget the subwoofer.

    Any suggestions? Does a thousand dollars sound about right?

  • MyteeDave Says:

    I was looking for a similar-sized laptop do the same (light gaming but with decent portability), but also to do photo editing with Photoshop Elements. After reading tons of reviews, I was ready to buy the HP Envy 14. But then I noticed that they had changed the display from the higher resolution Radiance to the lower res BrightView. Most of the reviews I read were based on the HP Envy with the Radiance monitor. Doesn't make sense to me that they no longer offer a higher res display option, esp. since it was no small role in what helped it do so well in reviews. After speaking with a couple sales folks at HP, it looks like they have no plans to add it back either. The XPS is decent, but as Anna mentioned above, both models are bulky and not as sexy. Yes, I want a sexy laptop! :) Really, I just want it to be thin.

    So then I went looking around for other options with a high-res monitor in a 14-15 inch form factor. I only found two- 1) the Sony Vaio Z series or 2) the MacBook Pro. The Viao Z would work, but once I spec'ed it out with a reasonable sized hard drive (they only offer SSD) and ramped up on the RAM, the price was obscene. The MacBook seems like it would work for me, but it's limited on the running games, unless you run Bootcamp. Then there's the fact that they are likely going to come out with an overhaul to the MacBook Pro line soon.

    Keeping in mind that I want something thin/sexy, have I missed another good option? Maybe I'm just being too picky...

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