For people who either can't afford Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro or are just stalwart PC loyalists, it would behoove them to check out HP's Envy 17 (starting at $1,399; $1,599 as configured). For much less money (the MacBook Pro starts at $2,299), this big-screen beauty offers an equally elegant design and more powerful components. Despite one noteable flaw, the Envy 17 is an excellent choice.
The Envy 17 shares the same minimalist-chic design as the smaller Envy 14, including a rock-solid taupe chassis made of aluminum and magnesium. A few touches, such as a paisley-esque pattern of raised bumps on the lid and palm rest, and HP's glowing logo on the lid, mark this as a premium laptop. Between the machine's durable feel and details such as quiet keys (more on that later), the Envy 17 feels like a luxury laptop.
At 7.5 pounds, the Envy 17 is a reasonable weight for a notebook this size, although you won't want to do more than tote it around the house (and then, you'll need the AC adapter, as you'll see in the battery section). With a maximum height of 1.5 inches, the Envy 17 also feels thick, especially compared to Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro, which is just 0.98 inches thin.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Envy 17 has a chiclet-style keyboard and number pad that stretch across the 16-inch-wide chassis. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we typed at a fast rate of 94 words per minute, even with little practice on the keyboard. In addition to the keyboard's backlighting, we like that the keys have a soft finish, and make little noise when you type. We also like the fact that you don't have to press the Fn key to access media controls in the function row of keys.
The Envy 17 has a large 4.2 x 2.5-inch touchpad, which doubles as a clickable button. Although we've given HP's touchpads much flack in the past for being either jumpy or having too much friction, the Envy 17's was easier to use. Occasionally, the cursor jumped slightly, but for the most part we had little problem dragging the cursor to specific spots on the screen. And the integrated touch buttons were always easy to press.
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Despite having some powerful components, the Envy 17 operated at relatively cool temperatures. For instance, we measured 80 degrees and 91 degrees on the touchpad and on the underside of the notebook (the average desktop replacement's temperature rises to 89 and 96 degrees in these spots). The only spot where the Envy 17 ran warm was the center of the keyboard; it reached 98 degrees, whereas the typical laptop this size gets as hot as 94 degrees.
Display and Sound
The Envy 17's display comes in two flavors, each with a dash of marketing speak: There's a BrightView Infinity display, which has 1600 x 900 resolution, standard viewing angles, and a 60 percent color gamut. Then there's the Ultra BrightView Infinity display, which has 1920 x 1080 resolution, wide viewing angles, and a 72 percent color gamut. (Our unit has the latter.) The cost of upgrading from BrightView to Ultra BrightView is $100. The notebook also packs ATI's Eyefinity multi-display technology, which lets users connect up to three external monitors, something most notebooks can't do.
When we watched World Trade Center on Blu-ray, we were impressed by the level of detail. As promised, the display was bright, too, and the colors were true. We were also able to watch the movie comfortably from the sides and even with the lid pushed far forward, but that required us to dim the lights; with the lights on, the display was too reflective to watch at odd angles. We also wish HP included skip buttons on the keyboard, so if you want to skip chapters in a DVD or Blu-ray, you have to use the touchpad and touch buttons.
The Envy 17's speakers, which are tucked discreetly onto the front lip of the notebook, are powered by Beats audio technology. When we listened to tracks such as "Float On" by Modest Mouse and "Kids" by MGMT, the drums came in loud and clear alongside the shriller guitar sounds. Even when we cranked the volume to the maximum, we noticed very little, if any distortion, while listening to "Three Seed" by Silversun Pickups.
Ports and Webcam
Click to enlargeThe Envy 17's ports include HDMI and VGA output, four USB ports (including one that doubles as an eSATA connector, and one that meets the new and faster USB 3.0 standard), an Ethernet jack, Kensington lock slot, and two headphone jacks, one of which doubles as a microphone connector. The notebook also has a five-in-one memory card reader.
Using the HD webcam, which has a max resolution of 1280 x 800, our photos and videos looked crisp, and had balanced lighting and colors, to boot. Our videos, too, were particularly fluid, and the sound quality was excellent: Voices sounded natural, and the notebook's mics were strong enough to pick up on our conversations taking place off camera as well. We like that HP's MediaSmart Webcam software offers fun filters and 2D effects aplenty, but after playing with the ASUS U45Jc-A1, we wish you could apply more than one effect at once.
There are few people for whom the Envy 17 won't be powerful enough: This machine comes armed with a quad-core 1.6-GHz Intel Core i7-720QM processor 6GB of RAM, a 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium. On paper, that's a better value than the 17-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at a steep $2,299. The base model of that laptop has a Core i5, not Core i7 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB, 5,400 rpm hard drive, and has 512MB video memory, not the full gigabyte that the Envy 17 includes for $1,599 (more on graphics later).
The Envy 17's score of 6,160 on PCMark Vantage, a Windows benchmark, is more than 500 points above the desktop replacement category average. Its boot time of 50 seconds, too, is more than 20 seconds faster than average. While fast, though, its 7,200 rpm hard drive isn't the fastest: It transferred a 4.97GB mixed media folder at a rate of 32.4 MBps, whereas the average is 33.6 MBps. The notebook also transcoded a 114MB MP4 file to AVI in 1:07, using Oxelon Media Converter, which matches the category average perfectly.
When doing simple things such as launching applications and switching between various open tabs in Internet Explorer, the Envy 17 felt zippy. But when pushed to its limits, the notebook stuttered on one occasion.
For example, after beginning a full system scan using Windows Defender, we slid World Trade Center back into the Blu-ray drive so that we could pick up where we left off. The movie froze, and then the screen went black, leaving just the sound of the vent exhaling air noisily. Even after we used the eject button to remove the disc, the screen remained black and unresponsive. However, when we performed this torture test a second time, the Envy 17 didn't flinch.
The Envy 17 also has great gaming potential, thanks to a discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 graphics card, along with a full gigabyte of video memory. For starters, its score of 10,788 on 3DMark06 is about 3,000 points above average.
In real-world gaming, too, the Envy 17's frame rates were often higher than average. For instance, in World of Warcraft, the Envy 17 reached 96 frames per second at its native resolution. In the same game, the average desktop replacement peaks at 53 fps at whatever its native resolution is (and often, it's not as high as the Envy 17's). In Far Cry 2, a more graphically demanding game, the Envy 17 peaked at 30 fps at native resolution and 69 fps at 1024 x 768. The average desktop replacement manages a similar 31 fps at its native resolution and 71 fps at 1024 x 768.
Although the Envy 17's has some pretty good gaming chops, it's no match for the similarly priced ASUS G73jh ($1,599). That notebook, which has a slightly more powerful ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5870 card, peaked at 111 fps in World of Warcraft and managed 51 fps in Far Cry 2 at its native resolution.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The Envy 17's only real weakness? Battery life. This notebook lasted just 1 hour and 20 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi); that's half the endurance a t ypical notebook of this size offers. Desktop replacements aren't exactly known for having long battery life, but it would be nice to be able to use the Envy 17 on the sofa, in the kitchen, or anywhere else unplugged for a longer period of time.
The Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/draft-N wireless radio in side the Envy 17 delivered faster-than-average throughput. The notebook delivered a data rate of 35.4 Mbps at 15 feet and 21.3 Mbps at 50 feet, whereas the average desktop replacement has wireless strength of 28.1 Mbps and 18.6 Mbps at these respective distances.
Click to enlargeThanks to its short battery life, the Envy 17 is hardly an energy efficient notebook. It takes 1:10 to charge to 80 percent of its battery capacity, and 2:06 to fully recharge. By dividing the total amount of watts consumed during charging by the battery life, we derive the LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Index (lower numbers are better). Needless to say, the gap between the Envy 17's rating of 119 and the average desktop replacement's score of 67 is telling.
Software and Warranty
The Envy 17's bundled software didn't stop it from booting in a speedy 50 seconds. Much of it includes HP-branded utilities, such as support and wireless assistants, as well as a MediaSmart suite that helps users organize and view photos, music, video, and images captured with the webcam. Other pre-installed programs include Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 and VideoStudio Pro X3, CyberLink DVD Suite and Power2Go, Roxio CinemaNow, and Windows Live Essentials. The only glaring piece of bloatware is MSN Toolbar. Oddly, there's no trial security software installed, but we're not complaining.
The Envy 17 comes with a one-year warranty, including 24/7, toll-free phone support. To see how HP fared in our annual tech support showdown, click here.
While $1,599 isn't exactly a budget price for a notebook these days, it's a steal when you consider everything the HP Envy 17 offers. You get a stunning but understated design, bright full HD display, fast performance, and strong graphics. Only the short battery life and Blu-ray playback issue we encountered keep this system from being an Editors' Choice pick. While Apple's (much more expensive) 17-inch MacBook Pro caters to a similar audience, you'll be hard-pressed to find another big-screen laptop that offers this much speed and style for the money.