While Ultrabooks are starting to come down in price, the least expensive models cost $700. Enter the $599 HP Envy Sleekbook 6z, a 15-inch laptop that combines the portability of an Ultrabook with the affordability of a mainstream system. This machine should be music to students' ears. Speaking of music, the AMD-powered Envy 6 also comes equipped with Beats Audio. However, does the Sleekbook 6z perform well enough to make the savings worth it?
Click to EnlargeSporting a midnight black brushed aluminum lid surrounded by a slim plastic band, the Sleekbook 6z has a simple, clean aesthetic. A chrome HP logo in the lower right corner is the sole embellishment. The brushed aluminum finish continues on the deck.
The bottom of the notebook uses a soft-touch ruby red material that not only turns heads but feels great. You'll also find four raised black feet on the bottom ringed in chrome.
Click to EnlargeThe matte black speaker bar above the keyboard houses the power button on the left and a blood-red Beats Audio logo on the right. While we appreciate the modernity of the brushed aluminum, the lid and interior picked up fingerprints quickly.
At 4.8 pounds, the 14.7 x 9.9 x 0.78-inch Sleekbook 6z cuts a slim profile in the mainstream notebook category. Most 15-inch systems weigh over 5 pounds and are an inch thick or more. However, the Acer Timeline M3, a 15-inch Ultrabook, has a similar 0.78-inch profile and is a lighter 4.5 pounds.
Overall, the Sleekbook 6z feels solid, but we encountered an issue with the first unit we tested. Sometimes the bottom of the lid would catch on the hinge, resulting in an unsettling popping sound. The second unit HP sent us didn't exhibit this issue, but we noticed a mild creaking sound when opening the lid.
Click to EnlargeA lone USB 2.0 port sits on the Envy 6z's right side with a secure lock, headphone and microphone jacks, and the AC adapter. The left side of the notebook houses a pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, a 5-in-1 card reader and an expanding Gigabit Ethernet port.
Click to EnlargeThe Sleekbook 6z features a 15.6-inch LED-backlit, 1366 x 768p display. The screen registered 149 lux on our light meter, failing to meet the 260 lux mainstream category average. On the other hand, this showing was enough to edge out other 15-inch notebooks in the Sleekbook's price range, including the VAIO E15 (141 lux) and Gateway NV (144 lux). The Timeline M3 Ultrabook registered a higher 160 lux.
The panel's viewing angles were decent enough from the front, but colors started to wash out anywhere past the 45-degree mark. As we watched the "Total Recall" trailer, there was a high level of detail, as we could see the deep furrows in Bokeem Woodbine's forehead and a single tear trickle down Jessica Biel's face. In a darker bar scene, though, we noticed a fair amount of fuzziness with washed out blacks and grays.
Click to EnlargeAs expected from a Beats Audio-assisted speaker, the Sleekbook 6z filled our test room with loud audio. Dialogue during the "Total Recall" trailer was nice and crisp, and we enjoyed big, hearty explosions with a sprinkle of crunching metal and flying glass. However, when we listened to Sleepy Brown's "I Can't Wait," the heavily stringed track sounded a little distorted and Brown's usually honeyed tenor was a little muffled.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe HP Sleekbook 6z sports a black matte island-style keyboard that's generously spaced and provides pretty solid feedback. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we scored 47 words per minute which is a little lower than our normal 50 wpm, but we fared better than our usual 1 percent error rate. Shoppers can add a backlit keyboard for an additional $25.
Click to EnlargeThe 4.3 x 2.7-inch Synaptics Imagepad is one of the better looking touchpads we've seen this year. The mylar-coated pad has a spun-metal finish that provided just the right amount of resistance against our fingers.
Multitouch gestures such as two-finger rotate and scroll, three-finger flick and press, and four-finger flick were swift and responsive. The bottom portion of the Imagepad offered just the right amount of click when making selections.
The Sleekbook 6z was a cool customer for the most part. The touchpad reached only 75 degrees Fahrenheit after playing a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes. The space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook registered 84 and 86 degrees, respectively, well below our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, the middle bottom vent reached a disturbing 108 degrees.
HP's CoolSense software senses when the Sleekbook 6z is on your lap, and regulates the fans accordingly. After placing the system in our lap and watching a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 80 degrees, and the space between the G and H keys came in at 84 degrees. The middle vent along the underside of the notebook was cooler but still hot, reaching 100 degrees.
Click to EnlargeThe TrueVision HD webcam inside the Sleekbook 6z captures stills in 1280 x 720 and video in 640 x 480 using Cyberlink YouCam 3 software. Images were rather dark and grainy in both natural and fluorescent lighting.
One of the reasons that the Envy 6 is a Sleekbook, and not an Ultrabook, is that it has a 2.1-GHz AMD A6-4455M APU processor rather than an Intel CPU. In addition, the Sleekbook 6z features 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and an AMD Radeon HD 7500G GPU with 2GB of RAM.
Although AMD's next-generation chip offers better performance and energy efficiency than the previous generation, it lagged behind Intel's last-generation processors during our tests. In fact, this Sleekbook's APU offers comparable performance to Intel's first-generation Core i3 processor.
On PCMark07, the Sleekbook 6z scored 1,400, well below the 2,397 mainstream laptop average. The $499 Gateway NV57H54u, which has a second-generation (Sandy Bridge) 2.3-GHz Intel Core i3-2350M processor, notched 2,060. The $499 HP Pavilion g6t we reviewed in December 2011, featuring a first-gen 2.4-GHz Core i3 chip, wasn't far behind the Sleekbook, notching 1,332.
The Sleekbook 6z's 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive booted Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 43 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the 55-second category average. However, most Ultrabooks start up in less than 30 seconds because they use either an SSD cache or full-fledged SSD. The notebook also notched a wake from sleep time of 2.5 seconds, keeping pace with most Ultrabooks that resume in under 7 seconds.
During the File Transfer Test, the Sleekbook 6z duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 4 minutes and 31 seconds, a transfer rate of 18.8 MBps. That's far below the 36 MBps average.
On the OpenOffice spreadsheet macro test, the Sleekbook 6z matched 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 9 minutes and 10 seconds. That's almost 3 minutes behind the 6:17 category average. The NV57H54u completed the test in 7:10, while the older Pavilion g6 took 6:55. The only 15-inch laptop we've tested this year that trailed the Sleekbook was the $399 Toshiba Satellite C655 (9:29), and that system had an Intel Celeron CPU.
Despite the low performance numbers on our synthetic tests, the AMD-powered Sleekbook 6z fared well in some of our real-world tests. For example, we played the hack-and-slash game "Bastion" in Google Chrome with seven tabs open -- along with eight open tabs in Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox -- all with barely any hiccups. However, we did encounter some stuttering when we began a full system scan in Norton Internet Security 2012.
When we played 1080p trailers of "Total Recall," "Savages" and "Craigslist Joe," we saw an average frame rate of 12.4 fps while running a virus scan with eight open tabs in Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. When we turned off the virus scan and closed all the tabs, the average frame rate jumped to 18.8 fps. The Intel-powered Lenovo Z580, by comparison, delivered an average of 18.4 fps during our multitasking test and 23.4 fps with everything turned off.
While the AMD Radeon HD 7500G GPU in the Sleekbook 6z are touted as "discrete class graphics," in reality, they're no better than the integrated Intel HD 4000 GPU. Not surprisingly, more graphically taxing titles such as "Batman: Arkham City" are out of reach, but gamers can effectively zap their productivity with games such as "World of Warcraft" and "Street Fighter X Tekken."
The Sleekbook 6z notched 3,648 during 3DMark06, 1,784 points below the mainstream category average. The Gateway NV57H54u and its Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU notched 4,454. The Sony VAIO E15 and the Lenovo Ideapad Z580 and their Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU scored much higher, reaching 5,964 and 5,876.
On the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the Sleekbook 6z averaged 45 fps on autodetect at 1366 x 768. That's certainly playable but slightly below the 50 fps category average. When we cranked the settings to maximum, the Sleekbook 6z's frame rate dropped to 18 fps, missing the 26 fps average.
Click to EnlargeDuring the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing via Wi-Fi), the HP Envy Sleekbook 6z delivered 6 hours and 18 minutes of battery life. That's 52 minutes longer than the 5:26 mainstream category average and quite impressive given the short endurance AMD-powered notebooks have provided in the past.
HP Launch Box and Start Menu
Our favorite HP-branded software is the LaunchBox Manager. First spotted in the HP Pavilion dm1-4010us, this utility eliminates clutter in the taskbar. It places specific icons (Blio, HP Security Assistant, Cyberlink Webcam and HP MyRoom) into organized folders, making for easier navigation. Mousing over the LaunchBox cues up a larger menu with additonal shortcuts. A Windows Live Folder holds icons for Mail, Messenger, Movie Maker and Photo Gallery. We also created our own LaunchBox where we could place up to eight shortcuts.
HP has retooled the Start Menu, too. Instead of listing every application in the All Programs tab, HP groups pre-installed programs together, making it easier to find what you're looking for. For example, clicking on the Communication and Chat folder reveals icons for Skype and Cyberlink YouCam, while HP Help and Support has icons for HP Application Assistant, LaunchBox Manager and Connection Manager.
Software and Warranty
Click to EnlargeThe Sleekbook 6z's HP Recovery Manager comes in handy for troubleshooting and installing drivers. Security Assistant backs up files and manages passwords. Music lovers might want to check out the shortcut rara.com, a music-streaming service similar to Spotify that allows users to steam ad-free music to their PCs.
Third-party apps include Microsoft Office Starter, Windows Live, Adobe Reader X, Skype, Evernote, Blio, an e-reader service and shortcuts to eBay and Snapfish. There's also a 60-day free trial of Norton Internet Security 2012.
The HP Envy Sleekbook 6z comes with one-year limited hardware warranty support.
Our $599 review unit of the Envy Sleekbook 6z features a 2.1-GHz AMD A6-4455M APU processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and an AMD Radeon HD 7500G GPU with 1.9GB of RAM. An additional $100 will upgrade the notebook's processor to a AMD Quad-Core A10-4655M processor.
Consumers who want Intel's more powerful CPU can step up to the $799 HP Envy Ultrabook 6t, which features a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2467M (Sandy Bridge) CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB mSSD and an Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU.
Click to EnlargeWhether you're a student looking for a thin laptop with a big screen or you just want a cheap Ultrabook alternative, the $599 HP Envy Sleekbook 6z is definitely worth considering. Aside from a striking design, this sleek laptop features above-average audio and long battery life.
However, while the Sleekbook is powerful enough for everyday tasks such as surfing the Web and playing HD video and mainstream games, Intel-powered Ultrabooks perform better. HP's Envy 6t offers a faster Core i5 CPU for $200 more, or you could spend $699 to get the smaller 14-inch Envy 4T or Inspiron 14z with Intel's second-gen Core i3 chip.
Bottom line: if you're on a tight budget, the Envy 6z is a fine choice. Just don't expect Ultrabook-like performance.