Each new Ultrabook seems to bring with it a new innovation, and the HP Envy 14 Spectre is no different. This stunning 14-incher is the first laptop to feature a glass lid and palm rest, making it one of the sleekest machines we've seen. However, the Spectre is much more than a pretty face. It packs a Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD, a bright 1600 x 900 display and Beats Audio for your multimedia pleasure. In another first, the Spectre comes with a built-in NFC chip that can be used with an NFC-capable smartphone. But is all this worth the $1,399 price tag?
Where the Envy 15 and 17 use a matte black aluminum on the outside, HP went a different route with the Envy 14 Spectre. The lid is made of a beautiful, high gloss midnight black glass. (Don't worry, it's scratch-resistant.) We were immediately taken with the Spectre's clean lines and soft rounded corners; a chrome backlit HP logo in the lower right corner is the lid's only flourish. Unfortunately, as with most glass surfaces, the Envy 14 Spectre picks up fingerprints very easily.
Opening the lid was a bit of hassle, forcing us to slip a fingernail between the lid and the deck to slide it open. Inside, the edge-to-edge glass display and silver deck are nearly a dead ringer for the MacBook Pro, but there are some key differences. The palm rest is made of scratch-resistant glass. While it also picked up fingerprints quickly, they were less noticeable, thanks to the silver aluminum deck that shows through.
Another unique touch is the cheerful red backit Beats logo underneath the keyboard on the right side, which points to the analog volume dial on the notebook's right. Instead of the long prominent speaker bar found along the top of the Envy 15 and 17, there are two medium-size speakers on the notebook's bottom lip.
The Envy 14 Spectre has a solid feel, helped by the soft-touch finish on the underside of the chassis. However, the design is relatively heavy and somewhat thick for a notebook without an optical drive. At 4 pounds, the 12.8 x 8.7 x 0.8-inch Envy 14 Spectre weighs the same as the 14-inch Samsung Series 5 (13.1 x 9.0 x 0.82 inches), which has a tray-loading DVD drive. The Dell XPS 14z (13.2 x 9.2 x 0.9 inches; 4.4 pounds) and the Lenovo IdeaPad U400 (13.4 x 9.1 x 0.9 inches; 4.4 pounds) are heavier but use slot-loading optical drives.
The upcoming Samsung Series 9 14-inch weighs only 3.5 pounds, but it lacks the flair of the Envy Spectre.
Keyboard and Clickpad
Typing on the Envy 14 Spectre's expansive island-style keyboard was pleasurable. The large flat keys were well-spaced and provided firm springy feedback, but there was a small amount of flex toward the middle of the keyboard. Our favorite feature was the HP Radiance Backlighting. Individual LEDs in each key made typing a piece of cake in dim settings. A helpful LED sensor turned the backlighting on and off according to our proximity.
The large 3.9 x 2.4-inch Synaptics clickpad on the Envy 14 Spectre is made of durable scratch-proof glass, and it gave us plenty of room to maneuver. Navigating through documents and websites was swift and accurate. Executing mulititouch gestures, including pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and rotation, and three-finger flicks was seamless for the most part. We really appreciated the four-finger flick, which allowed us to view every open application in Windows Aero.
There were a couple of instances where we experienced trouble when attempting to scroll up and down documents and websites. The bottom corners of the clickpad delivered strong feedback.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre is only the second Ultrabook to sport a 1600 x 900 display. (The ASUS UX31 was the first.) The HP's Radiance HD+ Infinity LED-backlit screen delivered sharp detail. Watching a high-def YouTube trailer of "The Avengers" was a blast, full of huge orange explosions. We were also able to see the detail in Nick Fury's scars as well as the fine scratches in Iron Man's armor. The glossy display kicked back reflections, but horizontal viewing angles were still pretty wide.
The Spectre's average brightness reading of 249 lux is well above the 179 lux thin-and-light category average, as well as the Series 5 (222 lux) and the U400 (165 lux).
As expected of a notebook outfitted with Beats Audio, the Envy 14 Spectre easily filled a large room. We were pleasantly surprised that the speakers kicked out big sound even when resting in our lap. As we listened to R. Kelly's "Step In The Name Of Love" and Chris Brown's "Turn Up The Music," we heard crisp clear vocals from both artists with reasonably strong bass. However, the highs were noticeably distorted at maximum volume.
The right side of the Envy 14 Spectre houses a volume dial along with a dedicated button for launching the Beats Audio control panel and a mute button.
HP also packaged the Envy 14 Spectre with HP Wireless Audio, essentially a KleerNet transmitter that allows users to stream music to any KleerNet receiver, similar to an Apple AirPlay device. When we reviewed the HP Wireless Audio accessory ($99), which connects to any speaker system, we liked how well it performed.
After watching a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes on the Envy Spectre 14, the touchpad, the space between the G and H keys, and the underside measured 78, 88 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. The Envy 14 Spectre also comes equipped HP CoolSense technology, which turns on the fan more frequently when it detects that the laptop is on a user's lap. However, we didn't find the feature to be very effective. After 15 minutes of watching Hulu with the notebook in our lap, the touchpad and space between the G and H measured 83 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The underside of the Spectre measured a 98 degrees, 3 degrees over what we consider to be comfortable (95 degrees).
Touch to Share
Thanks to a built-in NFC chip, users can transfer websites between an NFC-enabled Android phone and the Envy 14 Spectre using Touch to Share. After downloading the HP Touch to Share app from Google Play on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and turning on the phone's NFC radio, we simply placed the Nexus on the left side palm rest to pair it with the Spectre. Pairing took approximately 2 seconds.
To transfer a website from the Nexus to the Spectre, we opened the Touch to Share app on the phone, opened the website we wished to transfer and pressed the Home button. From there, we placed the Nexus on the Spectre's left palm rest, which loaded the site almost immediately.
We hope that HP will find other uses for this technology. As it stands, though, we don't like all steps it takes to transfer information. It's not really intuitive to open a webpage and go back to the homescreen before touching the phone to the notebook.
Ports and Webcam
Along with the analog volume dial and buttons for Mute and Beats Audio, a power jack rests on the right side of the Envy 14 Spectre. A USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0, HDMI, miniDisplayPort, a 2-in-1 card reader, Gigabyte Ethernet and a combination headphone/microphone jack can be found on the left.
The HD webcam captures images and video in 720p using CyberLink YouCam. Images were slightly grainy but delivered accurate color.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre delivers impressive performance in our testing, thanks to a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor with 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD drive and an Intel HD 3000 Graphics GPU. We were able to stream movies from Netflix with eight open tabs in Google Chrome and Internet Explorer with no problems.
On the PCMark07 benchmark, which measures overall performance, the Spectre scored 3,217, well above 2,142 thin-and-light laptop average. The Samsung Series 5, which also has a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2467M CPU but a standard hard drive, scored 2,042. The Dell XPS 14z's 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-2640M processor scored 2,329 while the Lenovo IdeaPad U400 and its 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-2430M CPU notched 2,307.
On the File Transfer Test, the Envy 14 Spectre duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 68 seconds, a blistering transfer rate of 75 MBps, well above the 28MBps category average. The Series 5's hard disk mustered only 22 MBps, but other Ultrabooks with solid state drives have fared much better. The ASUS UX31 registered a much higher 97.9 MBps, while the 13-inch MacBook Air notched 127 MBps.
On the OpenOffice test, the Spectre matched 20,000 names to their corresponding address in 6 minutes and 56 seconds. That's 51 seconds longer than the 6:05 average. The Series 5 delivered a sluggish 7:37 while the U400 and the XPS 14z finished the test in 5:34 and 4:26 respectively.
Boot and Wake Times
Having an SSD instead of a mechanical hard drive means fast boot times and speedy file transfers. The Envy 14 Spectre booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 35 seconds. That's 26 seconds faster than the category average. However, thanks to its 16GB Express Cache SSD, the Series 5 loaded Windows in a swift 31 seconds.
A key ultrabook feature is its ability to resume from sleep within a few seconds. The Spectre took between 1 and 2 seconds to wake from sleep, putting it on a par with other ultrabooks, including the MacBook Air 13.
With its Intel HD 3000 Graphics, the HP Envy 14 Spectre can easily play high-def videos and casual games, but will run into trouble with more challenging titles. On 3DMark06, the Spectre scored 3,438. That's 1,479 points below the 4,917 thin-and-light category average, but was enough to edge out the Samsung Series 5 (3,430), which also has Intel HD 3000 Graphics.
Thanks to their switchable graphics, the Lenovo IdeaPad U400 (AMD Radeon HD 6470M/Intel GMA 3000 with 1GB of VRAM) and the Dell XPS 14z (Intel HD 3000/Nvidia GeForce GT 520M, 1GB of VRAM) notched 4,489 and 5,461 respectively, though they're not thin enough to be called Ultrabooks.
During the "World of Warcraft" test, the Spectre notched a lackluster frame rate of 24 fps on Good at 1600 x 900p. That's 31 points below the 55 fps thin and light category average. Even when we dropped the resolution to 1366 x 768, the Spectre's average only increased to 27 fps.
Software and Warranty
HP packages the Envy 14 Spectre with a solid suite of software comprised of old favorites and new arrivals. Proximity Sensor controls the keyboard's backlighting via the red sensor embedded in the top bezel. We could adjust the proximity range and period of time before the backlighting shut off. Wireless Audio Manager handles audio streaming, displaying available compatible devices. However you'll need the $89.99 HP Wireless Audio solution to use this feature.
Similar to other Envy notebooks, Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 and Adobe Premiere Elements 10 are also included. In terms of entertainment, there's the Roxio-powered HP MovieStore, which allowed us to buy or rent new releases such as "The Guard" for $19.99 and $3.99 respectively. Older titles are offered at $9.95 and $2.99. There's also Rara music, an audio streaming service similar to Spotify. Thanks to a three-month promotion, users can pay $.99 a month for unlimited PC streaming, after which the cost jumps to $4.99 per month while the mobile option goes up to $9.99.
Third-party offerings include Skype, Microsoft Office Starter, Adobe Reader X, Windows Live and a two-year free subscription to Norton Internet Security. HP Support Assistant, which offers troubleshooting, maintenance and diagnostics support, is here too.
The HP Envy Spectre warranty includes one year of limited hardware support, and 30-Day Free Limited Software assistance. See how HP fared on our annual Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brands report.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Spectre delivered 6 hours and 24 minutes of battery life. That's 14 minutes longer than the 6:10 category average. The Lenovo U400 lasted 5:45 while the Samsung Series 5 and the Dell XPS 14z clocked in with 5:29 and 5:23, respectively.
Our $1,399 review unit, which is the starting configuration of the Envy 14 Spectre, comes equipped with a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2467M CPU with 4GB, a 128GB SSD drive and an Intel HD 3000 Graphics GPU. The $1,899 model features an Intel Core i7-2677M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD drive and Intel HD 3000 Graphics.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre is a highly functional work of art, fusing stunning good looks with strong performance, a fast boot time, good audio and satisfying battery life. However, the design feels a little heavy for a notebook without an optical drive, and the $1,399 price is $100 more than the 13-inch MacBook Air. If you can live with a slightly heavier design, you could pick up the Dell XPS 14z, which features a faster Core i7 processor and switchable Nvidia graphics for $200 less than the HP. Consumers looking for a more portable Ultrabook should also check out the $999 Asus Zenbook UX31, which has comparable specs to the Spectre but a smaller screen. Overall, though, the HP Envy Spectre is a great choice for consumers searching for an Ultrabook with a one-of-a-kind design.