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HP Envy 14, Envy 17 Hands-on: MacBook Pro Wannabes No More

HP's Envy line earned some favorable and not-so-favorable comparisons to Apple's MacBook Pros when it debuted last year. Yes, the Envy 13 and Envy 15 had sleek, aluminum and magnesium designs with plenty of power, but HP priced them out of reach for many consumers. For instance, the Envy 13 started at a sky-high $1,699, a good $500 more than the 13-inch MackBook Pro. That's too much of a premium for an ultraportable with a finicky touchpad and mediocre endurance. Now here come the Envy 14 (on sale June 27) and Envy 17 (hitting May 19), which deliver considerably more bang for your buck.

The Envy 14, which you'll see in the video below, starts at a reasonable $999. At 5.3 pounds, this notebook weighs more than the 3.8-pound Envy 13 and 4.4-pound MacBook Pro 13-inch, but it packs a larger 14.5-inch HD Radiance display (nearly 60 percent brighter than competing laptops), an Intel Core i5 processor, ATI Mobility Radeon graphics, and Beats audio while still being portable. New features include a backlit keyboard, DisplayPort, and a slot-loading optical drive, even though the machine measures a svelte 1.1 inches thick.

The paisley-like laser etched design pattern on the deck now carries over to the lid, which may be a turn-off for some. Expect up to 8 hours of runtime with the extended battery slice, which HP says is now easier to install. We would have preferred Nvidia's Optimus graphics on this laptop, so it could seamlessly switch between integrated and discrete mode to save battery life. But overall this $999 system looks like it could give the $1,199 MacBook Pro a run for its money, nevermind the $999 MacBook.

While the $1,799 Envy 15 was a desktop replacement notebook in a mainstream laptop's body--one that got too hot for comfort--HP is giving its latest flagship luxury notebook more screen real estate and presumably more breathing room for heat dissipation. The Envy 17, starting at $1,399, boasts a triple bass subwoofer and ATI EyeFinity technology for running multiple external displays simultaneously. (We saw this in action when playing the DX11 game, Dirt). This multimedia monster includes a 17.3-inch Ultra BrightView display of its own and up to 2TB of storage.

As for that infamously temperamental touchpad, it seems as though HP has addressed our complaints with the earlier Envy models. The integrated buttons worked well during our brief hands-on, and we had no problems navigating the desktop. However, we'll have to see how well each notebook fares ergonomically and otherwise during our in-depth reviews. Stay tuned.

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Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.