Why mess with a winner? The HP Envy 14 returns with the same stylish looks and solid Beats Audio as in the original model, but it adds a second-gen Core i5 processor and automated switchable graphics for improved performance and power management. At $1,079, this notebook is more affordable, too. Read on to find out how the Envy 14 stacks up to other premium portables.
Like its predecessors, the Envy 14 focuses on elegant rounded corners and clean lines. As before, the beige-gray aluminum lid has an interesting paisley design comprised of different-sized squares, which is more than enough to distinguish it from the MacBook Pro. This motif continues on the interior deck, the exception being the keyboard well, which is pattern-free. The bottom of the deck, which houses the large black clickpad, features more of the textured paisley design. Also like its predecessors, the Envy 14 sports a magnesium body.
At 5.6 pounds, the Envy is on the chunkier side compared to the 13-inch MacBook Pro (4.6 pounds) and the waifish Sony VAIO S (3.8 pounds). However, the 14 x 9.3 x 1.2-inch laptop can still fit comfortably in a messenger bag or a large purse despite being noticably larger than the MacBook Pro (12.8 x 8.9 x 1 inches) and the VAIO S (13.0 x 8.8 x 0.9 inches).
Keyboard and Clickpad
The Envy 14 features a black matte island-style keyboard with large flat black keys. The layout has generous spacing, but the clickpad isn't centered beneath the G and H keys. This arrangement will likely be a distraction to touch typists. Feedback was fairly strong with minimal flexing, and the layout is evenly backlit--great for typing in dim lighting.
As before, the Envy 14 has a 4.3 x 2.6-inch Synaptics clickpad, but the software has been updated for faster, more intuitive gestures. For example, pinch-to-zoom can now be activated without placing your fingers on a diagonal slant, and two-finger rotation now works by rotating both fingers instead of one digit.
Flicking horizontally with three fingers let us easily skim through photos. The three-finger press has been retooled to launch a designated application which we set in the Synaptics Control Panel. Two-finger scrolling was smooth in Internet Explorer but choppy in Google Chrome. Our favorite gesture on the Envy 14 is the upwards four-finger flick, which activates Windows Aero Task Switcher. From this view you can scroll through open windows and launch the one you want using one finger.
The clicking action on the Envy 14's touchpad worked well, but the hinge design means you'll need to press down closer to the bottom of the pad. On the MacBook Pro you can click pretty much anywhere on the surface.
Ports and Webcam
HP switched out the USB 2.0/eSATA port on the last-generation Envy 14 with a USB 3.0 port on the right side. It's accompanied by HDMI, mini DisplayPort, Gibgabit Ethernet, a Kensington Lock slot, and the power jack. Two USB 2.0 ports, two headphone jacks, and a slot-loading DVD player occupy the left side, while a 2-in-1 card reader resides on the front lip of the laptop.
Images and video captured with HP's TrueVision HD webcam were clear, even at 1280 x 800p. Colors were vivid using the included CyberLink YouCam app, but the camera really shined during our Skype call. Callers reported crisp images from the Skype-HD certified webcam with sharp background detail. Audio was loud and clear with minimal background noise.
After 15 minutes of streaming a Hulu video at full screen, the Envy's touchpad registered a brisk 76 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys was slightly cooler at 75 degrees, while the underside stayed a cool 83 degrees. The hottest point on the laptop was the bottom vent, which only scored 87 degrees--well below what we consider uncomfortable (95 degrees).
HP takes things one step further with HP CoolSense software, which optimizes the laptop's thermal settings to coincide with the computer's performance. Depending on the power setting (Maximum, Optimized, and Quiet), CoolSense will adjust the internal fan speed. CoolSense also works with the built-in accelerometer, allowing the computer to detect when it is placed on someone's lap and turn on the fan. The only drawback is that the Envy 14's fan can get a little loud.
Display and Audio
The Envy's glossy 14.5-inch LED display (1366 x 768 pixels) is surrounded by an equally glossy black bezel. Despite some distracting reflections, we appreciated the vibrant pinks, greens, and yellows in the 1080p trailer of The Help on YouTube. This panel is certainly bright, but we could barely make out Katy Perry and Kanye West in the space-themed "E.T." video when we took the notebook outside. We also wish there was an option for a higher resolution. The Dell XPS 15, for example, offers a 1080p display upgrade for $100.
Taking full advantage of the Beats Audio technology under the hood, the Envy 14 has loud, crisp speakers that easily fill a small room. We got the best results when we used the Beats Audio Control Panel to switch between Movie, Music, and Voice settings. However, we did notice that bass was lacking. We had better results when we plugged in a pair of headphones and tweaked the equalizer setting to create our own custom preset. Big Hollywood explosions had that necessary oomph, while Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Otis Redding had the appropriate timbre on the soul-laden "OTIS."
Sporting a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor and 6GB of RAM, the Envy 14 performed admirably, posting-above average results on many of our benchmarks. The Envy 14 scored a respectable 6,956 on PCMark Vantage, besting the 5,596 thin-and-light average. The Core i5-powered MacBook Pro and the Sony VAIO S, which also have 4GB of RAM, scored 5,534 and 6,106, respectively. The pricier Dell XPS 15z scored a more impressive 8,094, thanks to its 2.7-GHz i7-2620 processor with 8GB of RAM.
With its 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, the Envy blew past its Windows-based competition, booting Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 49 seconds, 17 seconds faster than the category average. The XPS 15z (750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive) and the VAIO S (500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive) were left in the dust with 67 and 69 seconds respectively, but the MacBook Pro's 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive booted OS X in a zippy 41 seconds.
On the LAPTOP File Transfer test, the Envy only took 2 minutes and 34 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of mixed-media files for a transfer rate of 33 MBps, well above the 26 MBps average. The XPS 15z came in second with 32.2 MBps, followed by the MacBook's 28.1 MBps. The VAIO S brought up the rear with a sluggish 22.5 MBps.
The Envy 14 continues the series' trend of switchable graphics with a discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630 GPU with 1GB of VRAM and a Mobile Intel HD GPU. The notebook can switch GPUs on the fly depending on the application. However, unlike with Nvidia's Optimus technology, you must manually assign programs that the discrete graphics will use. Using the Catalyst Control Center software, you can browse for applications that you want to designate as "High Performance."
In 3DMark06, the Envy 14 scored an average-shattering 7,240, which is about 3,200 points above the typical thin-and-light system. However, the VAIO S, which also has an AMD Radeon HD 6630 GPU with 1GB of VRAM, returned a slightly better 7,353. The XPS 15z (Nvidia GeForce GT525M GPU with 2GB of VRAM and an Intel HD GPU) scored an even more impressive 7,420. The MacBook Pro's integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 card could only muster 4,509.
We had a great time gaming on the Envy. Playing World of Warcraft at 1366 x 768 with effects set to Good, the notebook achieved a brisk 61 frames per second, which puts the system between the XPS 15z (59 fps) and the VAIO S (66 fps). To be fair, though, both of those notebooks have higher-resolution displays; the Dell has a 1080p panel and the VAIO S' display is 1600 x 900. The MacBook Pro clocked in at 74 fps at 1400 x 900. With the settings maxed out, the Envy posted a still-playable 31 fps.
The Envy held its own on the graphically taxing Far Cry 2, notching 42 fps at 1024 x 768 on autodetect. On maximum, the Envy dropped several frames to 35 fps.
While the Envy 14 has many attractive features, long battery life isn't one of them. Despite having an eight-cell battery, the notebook lasted only 4 hours and 57 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing via Wi-Fi), 18 minutes shy of the thin-and-light average. The Sony VAIO S' six-cell battery lasted 5:25, but with an additional battery slice, the endurance jumps to 10:42. The Dell XPS 15z gave us a solid 6:08, while the MacBook Pro lasted 8:33. If you want more endurance, you can opt for HP's $140 six-cell Slim Fit Extended Battery, which promises 8 to 10 hours of juice.
Our $1,079 Envy 17 came equipped with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and switchable graphics (discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630 GPU with 1GB of VRAM and a Miobile Intel HD GPU). The $999 base model has similar specs except for a smaller 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive. The $1,329 recommended configuration has a 2-GHz Core i7-2630 processor and 8GB of RAM, but it comes with a slighlty smaller 640GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive.
Consumers can upgrade to a Core i7 CPU for an additional $500. HP also has a number of hard drive options starting with a 640GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive for $40 and ending with a 160GB SSD for $350. Additional RAM can also be purchased up to 16GB with prices starting at $60 for 8GB.
Software and Warranty
In terms of utilities, the Envy 14 comes with HP Recovery Manager, HP Support Assistant for troubleshooting and diagnosing your PC, HP CoolSense Technology, and the HP Connection Manager for mobile broadband connectivity.
We watched a few movie trailers on the Roxio-powered HP MovieStore. The web portal has a slick panel interface that let us navigate titles smoothly and quickly. We could rent a flick such as Rio for $3.99 or purchase it for $15.99. Older and lesser-known titles can be rented for $2.99 or purchased for $9.99 and up. This is a nice option, but we don't think the MovieStore will win any converts from Netflix.
One of the Envy 14's more compelling pieces of software is provided by Synaptics. The Scrybe app uses multitouch gestures as shortcuts to launch apps and websites and perform functions including cut, paste, and undo. A three-finger tap launches a large gray panel on the desktop, in which you draw a symbol for the function you wish to execute. There are a total of 27 preset gestures, and we could create our own custom gestures.
Third-party software includes Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, Abobe Premiere Elements 9, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office Starter, and Windows Live.
There was already a lot to like about the HP Envy 14, including a bright display, elegant design, and Beats Audio. Now you get speedier Core i5 performance, beefier switchable graphics, and a clickpad that's easier to use. Just as important, our configuration costs a very reasonable $1,079, which is $120 less than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The battery life could be better--and the design is still a bit hefty for a 14-incher--but overall the Envy 14 is a great premium notebook with an affordable price.