With a 15-inch 1080p touch-screen display, discrete Nvidia GeForce graphics, and integrated Beats Audio technology, the HP Envy Touchsmart 15 aims to be a powerful entertainment notebook. This $1,058 Windows 8 laptop has an elegant build and plenty of enticing apps, too, but does it warrant the envy of its peers?
The HP Envy Touchsmart 15 has a sleek understated design, with a circular HP logo in the center of its lid. The notebook's wedge-shaped aluminum unibody chassis is thickest nearest the hinge.
Inside, the silvery deck is offset by a black island-style keyboard, which is surrounded by a small indent with a red border. A set of quad Beats Audio speakers rests above the keyboard, while two Beats subwoofers rest on the black underside.
Users will find the power button resting prominently in the upper left corner of the keyboard deck, while a fingerprint sensor lies at the bottom right.
At 14.94 x 9.87 x 1.18 inches, the Touchsmart 15 is slightly wider than the Samsung ATIV Book 6 (14.75 x 9.8 x 0.9 inches) but not as wide as the ASUS N550JV (15.08 x 10.03 x 1.09 inches). The 5.6-pound Touchsmart 15 is a bit hefty to carry around, weighing more than the 5.4-pound ATIV Book 6 but less than the 5.7-pound ASUS N550JV.
Like the ATIV Book 6 and the ASUS N550JV, the Touchsmart's 15-inch BrightView LED touch- screen display boasts a resolution of 1920 x 1080. The Touchsmart did an impressive job playing the 1080p "Gravity" trailer, as it conveyed the film's devastating images of a space shuttle being destroyed over planet Earth in rich detail. The trailer was still clear while we watched at a 75-degree viewing angle, making the Touchsmart suitable for multiple viewers.
Despite its vivid visuals, the Touchsmart's backlit display failed to burn as bright as its competitors. We measured an average brightness of 184 lux, which is lower than the ATIV Book 6's 246 lux, the ASUS N550JV's 275 lux, and the mainstream notebook category average of 202 lux.
In addition to its four speakers and subwoofer, the Touchsmart 15 boasts Beats Audio technology, which results in excellent audio. When blaring Eminem's "Till I Collapse" on full volume, we had no problem making out the haunting instrumentation behind the rapper's fierce delivery, and the bouncy guitars of Paramore's "Grow Up" sounded equally crisp.
While the notebook has impressive audio output, it's not the loudest laptop out there. The Touchsmart registered 85 decibels on our audio test, lower than the N550J's booming 94 decibels, and short of the category average of 88dB.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Touchsmart 15's soft-touch island keys made typing a breeze. The notebook's keys provided satisfying feedback. We typed 74 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing test, with an error rate of zero percent. While our typing experience was accurate, it was slower than our normal 80 to 86 wpm range.
Our configuration of the Touchsmart 15 lacked a backlit keyboard, but you can add one for $30.
The Touchsmart's 4.26 x 2.65-inch touchpad remained responsive through hours of Web browsing. The touchpad's multitouch functionality made it easy to instantly pinch-to-zoom and tap-to-click, as well as perform Windows 8 functions, such as launching the Charms menu.
Ports and Webcam
The left edge of the Touchsmart 15 hosts an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, and a multi-format card reader. On the right side, there's a headphone/microphone combo port, an Ethernet port, a power jack and two additional USB 3.0 ports.
The notebook packs HP's TrueVision HD Webcam, which captures photos and videos at 1280 x 800. Skin tones and clothing colors were bright and clear while shooting photos under fluorescent light in the LAPTOP offices, but we couldn't make out smaller details such as the white dots on our blue shirt. The Touchsmart produced equally clear video, even as we continually tilted the laptop left and right.
Users can configure the Touchsmart 15's fingerprint reader with the included HP SimplePass software, which allows owners to register all 10 digits with the device.
You can use the fingerprint reader to log on to the laptop itself as well as any websites that are stored in the SimplePass software. Once we saved our Twitter and Facebook logins on the software, we were able to log into each site instantly with a single swipe of our finger.
The Touchsmart's fingerprint reader also supports multiple profiles, so you can switch from one person's account to another simply by swiping your finger.
Despite its user-friendly design, the Touchsmart can get a bit hot for comfort when used in your lap. After streaming HD video for 15 minutes, the notebook reached 102 degrees near the right fan on its underside, which is far higher than our 95-degree comfort zone. However, the rest of the notebook remained at a usable temperature; the touchpad reached 85 degrees while the G and H keys went up to 92 degrees after the same streaming session.
The Touchsmart wasn't quite as lap-friendly when we played "Bioshock Infinite." After 15 minutes, the G and H keys reached 102 degrees, while the middle of the underside crawled up to 96. The touchpad reached a manageable 90 degrees, but the top-right portion of the underside got as scorching as 118 degrees.
Our configuration of the Envy Touchsmart 15 packs a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU with 8GB of RAM, and a 5,400rpm Hard Drive with a 24GB flash cache. When browsing the Web with 10 Chrome tabs open and an HD video playing on YouTube, the notebook ran without a hiccup.
The Touchsmart 15 netted a strong 5,363 on the PCMark 7 performance test, beating both the ATIV Book 6's 2.4-GHz Intel i7-3635QM CPU (4,357) and the ASUS N550J, which has a 2.4-GHz i7-4700HQ processor (3,546). The Envy's score is also significantly higher than the mainstream category average of 3,183.
The Touchsmart booted Windows 8 in 19 seconds, quicker than the ATIV Book 6 (23 seconds) but not as fast as the N550J's speedy 16 seconds.
During the LAPTOP File Transfer test, the Touchsmart transferred 4.97GB of mixed media in 3 minutes and 2 seconds, a 28 MBps transfer rate. This is the same as the N550J, while the ATIV Book 6 transferred files at 25 MBps. All three notebooks performed slower than the 45 MBps category average.
The Touchsmart took 4 minutes to complete our OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which pairs 20,000 names and addresses. While HP's notebook was a few seconds slower than the N550J (3:58), it outperformed the ATIV Book 6 (4:23) and the category average of 5 minutes and 44 seconds.
While the Touchsmart 15 held up well in terms of overall performance, the notebook's Nvidia GeForce GT 740M GPU produced mixed results during our graphics tests.
The Touchsmart 15 scored 2,021 on the 3DMark11 benchmark, well ahead of the category average of 1,395 but not as strong as the AMD Radeon-powered ATIV Book 6 (2,199) or GeForce GT 750M-powered N550J (2,684).
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With the resolution set to its native 1080p and effects on Ultra, "World of Warcraft" averaged 33 frames per second on the Touchsmart 15. That's playable and the same as the ATIV Book 6, but lower than the 39 fps category average. The N550J was more impressive under these settings, with a frame rate of 52 fps.
Things got choppier when playing the more demanding "Bioshock Infinite," as the Touchsmart 15 ran the game at 26 fps on low settings and a mere 9 fps on high settings, both at 1080p. Both scores are below the category averages of 46 and 17 fps.
By comparison, the N550J ran the game at 40 fps on low and 14 fps on high, while the ATIV Book 6 played the title at 34 fps on low and 13 fps on high.
The Touchsmart 15 comes with Nvidia's Optimus technology, which automatically shifts between discrete graphics and the more power-efficient integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU -- based on how you're using the computer.
The notebook's 6-cell, 47WHr battery lasted 4 hours and 54 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). That's just two minutes longer than the N550J (4:52), and nearly half an hour less than the ATIV Book 6 (5:26) and the mainstream category average (5:23).
Software and Warranty
The Envy Touchsmart 15 comes preloaded with a variety of HP apps, including various HP "Connected" programs. HP Connected Photo allows you to sync photos from Facebook, Snapfish and your mobile phone with the Touchsmart, while HP Connected Music is a digital music store in the vein of iTunes that also allows for free radio streaming.
HP Savings Center serves as a virtual coupon book that links users to printable offers, and HP Games is a standard gaming portal that gives users a few free tokens for playing popular titles like "Bejeweled 3" and "Plants vs. Zombies."
There are a variety of Cyberlink applications pre-installed on the Touchsmart, including PhotoDirector and PowerDirector for photo and video editing, respectively. The CyberLink YouCam application improves on the default Windows 8 camera app by allowing users to draw on and distort their photos.
The HP Envy Touchsmart 15 comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty with toll-free customer support.
HP offers several pre-configured models of the TouchSmart 15. The HP Envy TouchSmart 15t-j000 "Select Edition" starts at $749, and has a 3rd- generation Intel Core i5-3230M processor, 6GB of RAM, a 1366 x 768 display, Intel HD Graphics 4000, and a 750GB hard drive.
The $899 HP Envy TouchSmart 15t-j000 Quad Edition includes an i7-4700MQ processor, 8GB of RAM, Intel HD Graphics 4600, a 1366 x 768 screen and a 1TB hard drive.
The $989 HP Envy TouchSmart 15-j050us Quad Edition offers the same RAM, resolution and GPU as the 15t-j000, but includes a 4-core version of the i7-4700MQ CPU and a 1TB, 5400rpm SATA hard drive.
These models can be customized with upgrades, as our $1,058 config adds the Nvidia GeForce GT 740M graphics card for $70, a 1920 x 1080 display for $50, and a $39 24GB flash cache to the base $899 model.
If you're looking for an attractive touch notebook with a full HD display and a comfortable keyboard, the $1,058 HP Envy Touchsmart 15 is definitely a strong contender. We also like the sharp and bright webcam on this notebook and crisp Beats Audio. However, this laptop had trouble with the most demanding games, and it can run hot under stress.
The $1,066 ASUS N55 has slightly stronger graphics, and the $1,199 Samsung ATIV Book 6 offers better battery life. Overall, though, the Touchsmart 15 is a good premium laptop for work and play.