The HP Envy 4-1030us joins a suddenly crowded field of Ultrabooks priced around or under $800. All of these machines offer slim designs, more than five hours of battery life, plus an SSD cache paired with a larger hard drive to deliver fast resume and boot times. How does this 14-inch Ultrabook stand out? HP's aluminum alloy design certainly turns heads, and the Envy 4 boasts Beats Audio for adding a little oomph to your music and movies. Is this $799 Ultrabook the best bet for the money? Let's find out.
Following the tradition of HP's Envy family of notebooks, the Envy 4 features a sleek, modern aesthetic. A black matte aluminum alloy covers both the interior and exterior of the entire machine, except for the soft dark red underside. We love the look feel of the red soft-touch, slip-resistant base. In fact, we wish the color and material played a more prominent role in the overall design.
Weighing just 3.7 pounds, the Envy 4 is lighter than the Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814, (4.4 pounds), the Dell Inspiron 14z (4.2 pounds), as well as the Toshiba Satellite U845 (3.9 pounds). To be fair, though, the Acer and the Dell both have optical drives. The Envy 4 measures 13.4 x 9.3 x 0.8 inches, which is a little smaller than the Toshiba Satellite U845 (13.5 x 9.1 x 0.8 inches) and only a hair thicker. The Envy 4 fit comfortably in our messenger bag and its light weight made it great for travel.
The Envy 4's metal lid certainly looks attractive, complete with a chrome HP logo at the bottom right corner. However, the lid quickly picks up smudges and fingerprints. Worse, the lid flexes, and caught the back edge of the notebook upon opening, producing a soft pop. We experienced the same issue on the first of two Envy 6 units we tested.
This issue left us concerned about the build quality of the system, so we visited two area Best Buys to try other machines. The Envy 4s at these locations exhibited the same design flaw, but not nearly to the same degree. We could feel and hear the lid creak slightly as we opened it.
The Envy 4 has a black matte island-style keyboard, matching the interior and exterior of the notebook. There was a slight amount of keyboard flex, but the overall typing experience was comfortable. There was enough springy tactile feedback for accurate use.
Like other Envy laptops, the Envy 4 features an HP Radiance Backlit Keyboard, which means each key is given its own LED light, allowing the layout to be uniformly lit.
The Envy 4 features a large 4 x 2.5-inch Synaptics clickpad. Like the rest of the Envy line, this touchpad has a horizontal gray line separating the touch area from the click zone. Although you can left-click from anywhere on the touchpad, right-clicking could only be performed in the right side of the click zone. The spun metal texture covering the entire pad felt unusual at first, but we were able to adjust after a few minutes of use. However, because the pad isn't centered under the G and H keys, we found ourselves constantly shift our wrists.
HP claims its Imagepad boasts an HD image sensor for "highly precise multitouch gesture control." The Imagepad lived up to the hype, as we performed multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom, three-finger flick, and two-finger scrolling with ease and accuracy.
Watching movies on the Envy 4's 14-inch 1366 x 768 screen was pleasant, but did not blow us away. The screen brightness measured only 142 lux, far below the category average of 229, not to mention the Inspiron 14z (171 lux) and the Acer Aspire M5-481TG (185 lux). We found ourselves wishing we could click the brightness just a few notches higher.
Nevertheless, the LED-backlit display provided crisp and clear images when viewed head-on. During the trailer for Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," we could easily make out individual flower details and the beautiful city lights of New York. None of the colors really "popped," however. Horizontal viewing angles were fairly good, but the glossy surface resulted in a lot of reflections.
Beats Audio provided excellent audio quality on the HP Envy 4-1030us. The dual speakers and subwoofer easily filled our testing room. In Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," the background piano was clear, each cymbal crash was crisp and clean and the vocals sounded great. Switching to Kanye West's "Mercy," the song sounded good, but even when we maxed out the bass settings in the Beats Audio Control Panel, we still wanted more. It just wasn't as thumping as the Beats Audio in the Envy 17 or 15; both of those machines also have a lot more room in the chassis to produce extra power.
The Envy 4 takes advantage of HP CoolSense technology, which uses a combination of hardware configuration, design materials, and software to regulate the notebook's temperature. After 15 minutes of playing a Hulu video at full screen, the Envy's touchpad was a comfortable 74 degrees, the bottom was 86 degrees, and the heat between the G and H keys was 81 degrees. We consider anything over 95 degrees to be too hot.
Ports and Webcam
The left side of the Envy 4 holds an Ethernet port, HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader. The right side of the notebook has a charging USB 2.0 port as well as the headphone and microphone jacks.
The Envy 4's HD webcam captures both videos and stills and is supported by HP's TrueVision, a technology that improves image quality in low-light situations.
While video and image captures were just decent in dimmer settings, there was a significant improvement with more natural light.
The Envy 4 is powered by a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317M (Ivy Bridge) processor with 4GB of RAM, enough power to provide a seamless experience under everyday conditions. On the PCMark07 benchmark test, the Envy 4 scored 3,836, which is about 1,000 points higher than the thin-and-light average, as well as the Dell Inspiron 14z (2,984) and the Acer Aspire M5-481TG (2,824), both of which have the same CPU.
The three notebooks were more evenly matched on Geekbench, with the Envy 4 scoring 5,783, the 14z at 5,971 and the Acer at 5,897. The Toshiba Satellite U845, which has a second-generation Intel Core i3 processor, scored 1,707 on PCMark07 and 3,713 on Geekbench.
Using its 32GB SSD cache, it took 31 seconds for the Envy 4 to boot into the 64-bit version of Windows 7, easily beating the average boot time of 42 seconds. That's also better than the Acer M5-481TG (36 seconds), but the 14z took just 25 seconds. The Envy 4 also awoke from sleep in 1 to 2 seconds, in line with most Ultrabooks.
On the File Transfer test, the Envy 4 duplicated 4.97GB of mixed media files in 2 minutes and 42 seconds, a transfer rate of 31.3MBps. This was on a par with both the Dell Inspiron 14z (2:51) and the Acer Aspire Timeline (2:50), but almost half the thin-and-light average of 58 MBps.
When we ran the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which involves matching 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses, the Envy 4 completed the task in 5 minutes and 51 seconds, about two minutes less than the category average, and on a par with the 14z (5:48) and the Acer M5-481TG (6:11). The Toshiba U845 took nearly twice as long (10:36).
The Envy 4 has an integrated Intel Graphics HD 4000 GPU, providing enough power for moderate gaming. While its 3DMark11 score of 562 falls below the category average of 812, the HP's score is on a par with the Dell Inspiron 14z, which has the same GPU. The Acer M5-481TG, which has a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics card, scored a much higher 1,499.
With the screen set to its native resolution and effects on autodetect, the Envy 4 averaged 38 fps in the game "World of Warcraft," which is certainly playable. Not surprisingly, the Acer M5-481TG crushed this result with an average of 132 fps. Turning up the effects on the Envy 4 to their max dropped the frame rate to a mere 19 fps, an unplayable rate. The Dell fared a little better, at just 23 fps, while the Acer cruised along at 68 fps.
Those looking for more gaming muscle can buy the Envy 4 with AMD Radeon HD 7670M graphics, a $50 option.
During the LAPTOP Battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing via Wi-Fi, the Envy 4 lasted 6 hours and 18 minutes, about half an hour shy of the category average of 6:48. Still, that's pretty good compared with its direct competition: The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG lasted 6:27, the Dell 14z ran out of power after 5 hours and 35 minutes, and the Toshiba U845 endured for 6:28.
Software and Warranty
There is a solid suite of utilities and software preinstalled on the Envy 4. As with most of HP's notebooks, HP CoolSense Technology, HP Connection Manager, and HP Support Assistant, for troubleshooting and running diagnostics, makes an appearance.
While the Envy 4 does not have a Proximity Sensor that controls the keyboard backlight, as on the Envy 14 Spectre, a function row key let us easily turn the backlighting on and off. Also included is Microsoft Office Starter 2010, Skype, Adobe Reader X, Evernote, Blio eBooks and CyberLink YouCam.
The HP Envy 4 includes a one-year limited hardware warranty, which also includes battery care. However, unlike the Envy 15 and 17, Envy 4 owners do not get a dedicated customer support line. See how HP fared in our Best and Worst Brands report.
The HP Envy 4-1030us we reviewed comes with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and a 32GB SSD cache. It costs $829 on HP.com, but you can find this unit for $799 on Amazon.com and elsewhere. The starting $699 configuration features a slower 2nd-generation Core i3 processor and no SSD. Adding a backlit keyboard to this config costs $20. For $50 more than our review configuration, you can step up to AMD Radeon HD 7670M graphics, but it's paired with an older 2nd-gen Core i5 CPU.
For $799, the HP Envy 4-1030us is a highly portable and stylish Ultrabook that provides snappy performance at a reasonable price. Add to that excellent audio, a comfy backlit keyboard, a cool-running chassis and fairly long battery life, and this could easily be one of our favorite value-priced Ultrabooks. We're just concerned about quality control. If the lid didn't rub against the back of the chassis on the units we tried, we would likely make this system a top pick. Otherwise, the Envy 4 is a very good choice.