With the release of the Envy 14, HP's followup to its MacBook Pro challengers, the company made some major improvements in design, ergonomics, and value. And, just as with last year's releases, HP has collaborated with Beats by Dr. Dre on Beats Audio to bring a special edition version to market. The Envy 14 Beats Edition ditches the professional grade mixing tools the 15-inch version offered in exchange for a much lower price. The special features of this version are mostly limited to aesthetic flourishes and the bundled Beats headphones, but you'll be paying $1,149 instead of $2,249. The result is a slick notebook that pumps out some of the best sound we've heard from a laptop for a reasonable $100 premium over the regular Envy 14.
Editor's Note: Portions of this review were taken from our review of the original HP Envy 14.
Stylistically, the Envy 14 Beats Edition looks the same as its predecessor, the special edition Envy 15. Instead of the original Envy's taupe, etched aluminum and magnesium body, the Envy 14 Beats Edition is a smooth, matte black. A red Beats by Dr. Dre logo sits prominently at the center of the lid, and the motif extends to the deck, with its red accents and red backlit keys. We like the soft-touch coating on the palm rest and mostly smooth black bottom (where you can attach the optional slice battery).
As it now accommodates an optical drive, this notebook's dimensions--14.0 x 9.3 x 1.1 inches--make it slightly thicker than previous Envys, but it's still easy to slide into a messenger bag. Just be prepared to carry around some weight; the 5.6-pound laptop weighs the same as the 15-inch MacBook Pro and even more than the original Envy 14 (5.4 pounds) and the Envy 15 (5.2 pounds). We really felt the weight while carrying the notebook in a messenger and backpack. Nevertheless, the Envy 14 Beats Edition is easily one of the tightest-looking notebooks on the market.
One of the biggest problems we had with the original Envy 15 was its poor heat dissipation; that notebook's quad-core CPU raised the touchpad to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wrist rest to 103 degrees. Thankfully, the Envy 14 Beats Edition is not as toasty. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 87 degrees, the space between the G and H keys was 91, and the middle of the underside was a somewhat uncomfortable 101 degrees, compared to the Envy 14's measurements of 81, 82, and 98 in these respective areas. The heat by the vent reached an unpleasant 107 degrees.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like previous Envys, the Envy 14 Beats Edition features a black island-style keyboard. New, though, is backlighting: While it only has two settings (on or off, as opposed to the gradient lighting on MacBook Pros), it's a nice addition. And the red on this special edition just adds another layer of cool. While typing, we liked the smooth surface of the keys and the lack of flex, but we sometimes had to press slightly harder than usual. We appreciated the quick access keys for adjusting the volume and brightness.
As before, HP integrated the mouse buttons into the touchpad, which is a spacious 4.25 x 2.5 inches. We wish it was moved slightly more to the left, but we didn't encounter the problems we had with the Envy 15--namely, our palm accidentally moving the cursor. Overall, navigating the desktop was easy--as it should be.
Historically with all non-Apple touchpads that use the pad for clicking, those who use two hands to navigate will find that the cursor moves abruptly when they click; this was less of an issue on the Envy 14, though it still happened on occasion. Multitouch gestures worked fairly well, but not as smoothly as the glass touchpad on the MacBook. Two-finger scrolling was spotty, and when pinching to shrink an object, we had to remember that our thumb could not start out in the area where the buttons were.
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Display and Audio
Like the Pavilion dv5t, HP opted for a new 14.5-inch widescreen, which provides a pretty good balance between extra screen real estate and portability. The 1366 x 768 screen displays up to 82 percent of the color gamut, and has a max brightness of 350 nits. Whether we were watching movies stored on the hard drive or streamed from the web, colors were bright and crisp and popped off the screen, while blacks were lustrous and deep with no artifacts.
When placed side by side with the 13-inch MacBook Pro, we found the Envy 14 to be pretty evenly matched. While watching the same HD trailer for Iron Man 2, we noticed slightly crisper images on the Mac, but it was a pretty fine point. Viewing angles were excellent, though we found the glossy finish kicked back a lot of reflections in brighter settings.
Unfortunately, Envy 14 Beats Edition owners can't get the Radiance Infinity screen with 1600 x 900 resolution, which was available on the original Envy 14. (This option is also no longer available on the regular Envy 14). You'll have to settle for a max of 1366 x 768.
As this is the Beats Audio Edition of this notebook, you'd naturally expect excellent audio quality, and the Envy 14 delivers. The two speakers on the front edge produced powerful enough sound to fill a medium-size room, though the bass was a little bit weak. Audio was simply superb when we plugged in the included Solo Beats headphones. The combination resulted in bass that came through deep and warm. HP gives users a pretty comprehensive spread of tweaks for the equalizer settings in the Beats Audio control panel. Users can even save their presets if the included settings aren't to their tastes.
We were able to hear the complexities not only in music from a wide range of genres, but also when watching TV and movies. Listening to a live performance of Thunder Road, we could hear the whispers in the crowd while Bruce Springsteen wailed on his harmonica.
Ports and Webcam
Responding to users' suggestions, HP added an optical drive to the Envy 14 Beats Edition. The slot-loading dual-layer DVD-RW is on the left side of the system, along with two USB ports, a combo mic/headphone port (that works with the Solo Beats), and a headphone jack. On the right are an eSATA/USB, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, and a Kensington lock slot. On the front is a 2-in-1 memory card reader.
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Not only is the webcam on the Envy 14 capable of high-def video (though it doesn't work with Skype HD), but it also has low-light capabilities. During a Skype session, the caller said that our face was a little washed out, but he could make out plenty of details, and colors were accurate. When we closed the blinds and turned out the lights, our hair was hard to see (as was the surrounding room), but he could see our face and shirt as if it were day.
Click to enlargePacking a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-450M processor and 4GB of RAM, the Envy 14 Beats Edition acquitted itself well on our benchmark tests, scoring similarly to the original notebook, which is no surprise. The PCMark Vantage score of 6,119 is about 1,700 points higher than the thin-and-light notebook average, and 800 points higher than the Toshiba Satellite M645, which has the same processor and RAM, but a slower hard drive. It's also right between the 13-inch MacBook Pro (4,164) and the 15-inch MBP (6,699).
The Beats Edition booted into Windows 7 Home Premium faster than the original, taking just 53 seconds as opposed to the longish 1 minute and 22 seconds. The 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive didn't perform as well as the original, scoring just 25.1 MBps on the LAPTOP File Transfer test, compared to 29.8 MBps. Still, this drive is faster than the average thin and light (23.9 MBps). Lastly, the Envy 14 Beats Edition the converted a 114MB MPEG4 video clip to AVI in 51 seconds, more than ten seconds faster than average. It was beat out by the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which completed the test in just 47 seconds.
The Envy 14 Beats Edition has two graphics cards (ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 and Intel GMA HD), but unfortunately, ATI has yet to come up with a seamless way to switch between the two, a la Nvidia's Optimus technology. The notebook automatically switches to integrated mode when you unplug the notebook, but otherwise you have to do it manually and there's a second or so where the screen goes black.
The good news is that this discrete GPU is more than capable of playing the latest titles. Its 3DMark06 score of 6,906 (original Envy 14: 6,876) is a good indicator; that's more than 4,000 points above the category average, and even bests the 15-inch MacBook Pro (which uses an Nvidia GeForce GT 330M) by over 100 points. Still, the original Envy 15 was more powerful, notching 7,236.
In World of Warcraft, the Envy 14 Beats Edition delivered frame rates of 78 fps with the resolution set to native, and effects on ultra. That's well above the the 13-inch MBP (50 fps), the Satellite M645 (55 fps) and the 15-inch MBP (69 fps). In Far Cry 2, the Beats Envy 14's scores (71/32 fps) creamed the 13-inch MacBook Pro (47/19 fps), and even nudged out the 15-inch MacBook Pro (62/24 fps).
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Click to enlargeThe one area where the Envy 14 Beats Edition is somewhat lacking is endurance. On integrated graphics mode the machine lasted 4 hours and 20 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, on a par with the original's score (4:26). This is 20 minutes shy of the average thin and light notebook and well below the 13-inch MacBook Pro (7:48), not to mention the 15-inch MacBook Pro (7:54). HP sells a slice battery that should double this notebook's runtime, but will also add 1.5 pounds to this already beefy machine.
Wireless scores from the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 Wi-Fi card were a mixed bag, though not identical to the original Envy 14 with the same wireless card. At 15 feet from the access point, we saw a decent throughput of 37.9 Mbps, less than the 48 Mbps the original scored, but above the average (29 Mbps). At 50 feet, throughput dropped to 20.9 Mbps, which isn't stunning, but above the original's 18.3 MBps, and just above the 20.5 Mbps average.
Click to enlargeThe original Envy 14 starts at $999, but when configured to match the $1,149 Beats Edition's base specs, it comes out to $1,049, just $100 less than the original version. Configuration options for the Beats Envy 14 include upgrades to more powerful Core i5 and quad-core Core i7 CPUs for $100 to $800 more; extra RAM up to 8GB for $20 to $200 more; a 640GB or 750GB hard drive ($50 to $90) or a 256GB solid state drive for $525; and an extra slice battery for $200 more. There's no option to upgrade to the higher resolution 1600 x 900 display that was available on the original Envy 14. Currently, this option is not available for either version of the notebook.
Software and Warranty
The Envy 15 Beats Edition included premium software designed to attract music aficionados, including Native Instruments' Traktor LE software and Audio 2 DJ. Determining that this bundle added too much to the cost, HP no longer pre-loads this software. However, as mentioned, the Beats Envy 14 still comes with the Beats Audio equalizer utility.
HP-branded applications and utilities abound. HP QuickWeb is an instant-on environment that lets you surf the Web and chat on Skype, among other things. HP includes a small utility called Fences that is intended to keep your desktop looking tidy; it lets you create small windows where you can store shortcuts to apps. HP's MediaSmart suite includes programs for watching DVDs, listening to music, viewing and editing photos and home videos, recording webcam videos and watching TV.
Other nice additions include the full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.0 and Adobe Premiere Elements 8.0. We also like that Hulu Desktop and Microsoft Silverlight come pre-loaded, so users can get right to watching streaming video.
The Beats Envy 14 comes with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll free technical support. Check out HP's performance in our customer support showdown.
HP certainly got more right in the second-generation Envy 14 than it did with the 13 and 15-inch releases from last year. The $1,149 Beats Edition also shows improvement, not just in performance, but in value. For more than $300 less than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, you're getting a machine with a comparable display, better graphics, superior audio, and (some might argue) a better look. If you're willing to put up with relatively short battery life, this special edition is definitely worth the investment.