Hands-On: HP Envy 13 / Envy 15 in Review
HP EnvyBook Pro.
The new HP Pavilion Consumer Notebooks do not look a bit like being made of plastic: With the Envy Notebooks HP introduces two aluminium-flagships that are meant to set new standards regarding haptics as well as performance. This is also true for the price: While the Envy 13 starts at 1699 Euro (Envy 13), the bigger 15 inch Notebook costs as much as about 2000 Euro - Greetings from the Apple Macbooks, not only regarding this point...
At first two models should constitutes the Envy line-up. On one hand there's a compact mobile 13-inch device with the suiting name Envy 13, on the other hand there's a bigger high performance 15-inch wide screen device, the Envy 15.
According to HP, they have focused on designing the entire premium customer experience with their Envy series. Referring to this, entry level models can be found within the Compaq Mini and Compaq Presario line-up, followed by the well known and wide spread Pavilion notebooks. While the TouchSmart Notebooks - together with the Envy Notebooks - are the highest category of consumer notebooks offered by HP.
Case & Design
Although the responsible product managers of HP call it a coincidence, that the Envys in many aspects resemble the MacBooks by Apple, and ascribe this to a recently very well accepted and commonly used style, we almost found the countless analogies between the Envys and the Macbook a little bit suspicious.
The aluminium case is very stable and its shape gives it an extremely compact look. All in all the haptics of the presented pre-samples (changes in the versions that will be for sale are still possible) is excellent and the materials as well as the design- remind us of the aluminium-bricks from California.
Speaking of aluminium-bricks. Here we find an essential difference to the mentioned notebooks. Only the outer case of the Envys by HP is aluminium, while Apple mills the case tray out of a massive piece of aluminium. This nicely solves the necessary assembly steps, but the high quality impression of a single massive piece can impossibly be reached.
A typical Pavilion design element literary made it onto the cover of the Envy Notebooks. The palm rest as well as the display lid (Envy 15) have been decorated with a fine texture, carved into the metal sheet by a laser. Same as before: Overall nicely done, but in detail not on the same level as the microscopically fine permeations in the area of the MacBooks status LED or its perforation at the speakers.
The hinges of the Envy 15 consist of a wide, massive flip mechanism on the back, while the Envy 13 comes with two conventional, small hinges. Both solutions in the pre-samples looked very convincing. In closed state the flip mechanism of the Envy 15 holds itself close, while the Envy 13's lid is sufficiently held in place by magnets in the frame of the screen.
Whatsoever, credits to the very good quality of the Envys cases. No more plastic look and feel as in the Pavilion models. In this respect the Envys even get ahead of some business notebooks from HP.
This would have been a category where HP could have shamelessly taken advantage of a well known weakness of the Apple MacBooks. Sadly, the outcome is only satisfactory. The Envy 13's ports are limited to two USB Ports, a digital Display Port as well as an audio interface. Now, you might wonder where, for example, the LAN Port is. HP integrates the LAN Port into the power supply pack, which sends the LAN signal into the computer through the power supply. In case you would want to connect the Envy 13 to a cable based home or office network, HP put a USB-RJ45 adapter into the bundle, though using this means that only one USB Port is free for other possible uses.
Except for the power supply (left), all ports were placed on the right case side in the middle area of the case. Although this is not the best solution if you're using all ports, users will have to put up with it.
The Envy 15's approach to the port arrangement is very similar to the more compact 13-inch model. Like the Envy 13 it has all ports at the right. With two USB 2.0 ports, a display port, a combined eSATA / USB 2.0 port and an integrated LAN port, the connectivity of the Envy 15 is only slightly better than that of the Envy 13.
Looking at the port arrangement, the concentration towards the middle area of the right edge is certainly not the best solution. It's a pity that even the 15-inch model doesn't come with an integrated optical drive.
What about the parallels to the MacBooks? Right, the 15" as well as the 13" MBP also concentrate all ports to one side, though, in this case, it's the left side, which is advantageous for righties. A further pro for Apple is that they manage to built an optical drive into both versions. This is something HP users have to pass on - a clear disadvantage in mobile use.
What else than a single-key-layout would you expect? Admittedly, you'll find such in many up-to-date notebooks. The pre samples used an English key layout, which brings about a single-row enter-key. Otherwise the key size is comfortable.
First typing tests on-site didn't bring up any difficulties. Typing is characterized by a short key travel and, nevertheless, a clear feeback. At the caps-lock key you'll find a nice feature: a small indicator LED. Users of the Envy 13 will have also have to live with slightly smaller arrow keys.
Let's continue with the next feature probably already well-known from Apple: The multi-gesture touchpad. HP dismisses the standard touchpads and equips, both the Envy 15 and the Envy 13, with a large touchpad with comfortable surface. The special thing about it: The pad doesn't have any separate buttons, but can be clicked as a whole. Does that ring a bell?
There's a definite difference though: The pad recognizes a left-click as well as a right-click. Also, an integrated button for deactivating the touchpad in form of a discreet LED has been smartly integrated into the upper left corner of the touchpad.
Now, how about the response characteristics of this "new" input device. First tries proved promising. The pad has appealing gliding properties and recognizes some special gestures (turning, zooming,...), which can be triggered very smoothly. Although we couldn't directly compare both systems, Apple probably is still better in this discipline, last but not least, because the OS and the input devices, especially the touchpad, are carefully tuned.
Both, the Envy 13 and Envy 15, use a 'HD BrightView Infinity Display', which is LED-back-lit. Both models have a resolution of 1366x768 pixels, which gives a cinema-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio. In case of the smaller Envy 13 this is a comprehensible decision, in case of the bigger 15-inch model one could definitely ask for a higher resolution - even more because the installed graphics board is definetly capable of more.
Both displays have a reflective BrightView surface, in case of the Envy 13 in edge-to-edge design. According to HP, the final release of the Envy 15 will also be equipped with an edge-to-edge screen. Obviously, HP is not going to also offer a model with a matte display. Details about brightness or illumination levels are not available after our first contact. Even more so, because the screens might be different in the final version. Nevertheless, one thing seems to be sure: It's a pity that we will have to live with distracting reflections and mirror-effects.
Focusing on mobility and low power consumption the smaller Envy 13 uses a ULV dual core CPU by Intel. When we take a look at the CPU used in the HP Envy 15 it gets exiting. In the pre-sample we already find the processor that's going to be build into the final version. According to first rumors, it can only be one of the first CPUs of the upcoming mobile Core i7 processors. At least also because HP calls it its "...thinnest and lightest i7 notebook". That's easy to believe as there isn't any i7 competition so far...
Let's take a look at graphic performance. The Envy 13 features a combination of an integrated Intel GMA 4500M HD graphics chip and an activatable ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 graphics card with 512MB DDR3 video RAM of its own. This enables the user to switch between maximum power saving with integrated graphics chip and acceptable graphics performance with active dedicated graphics card. The HD 4330 graphics card achieves about the same performance as the Geforce 9400M G (MacBook Pro 13) and allows older games to run on high detail and also some recent titles to run on limited detail level.
Using a high performance graphics card by ATI, i.e., an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4830 with one gigabyte DDR3 video RAM, HP equipped the Envy 15 a little better. The HD 4830 is one of the most powerful graphic processors available today. Using 40-nanometer technology, it can nevertheless be integrated in compact notebooks. With 826 billion transistors and - believe it or not - 640 shading units, it promises a respectable surplus of performance.
According to data available so far, this graphics card should be approximately on the level of a Geforce 9800M GS or the new Geforce GTS 160M, both by ATI's biggest opponent, Nvidia. However, several times in the past we could already observe that benchmarks and actual gaming performance differ. It's going to be interesting.
Besides, the RAM equipment of the Envy models is also well worth mentioning. Based on the upcoming Calpella platform, the Envy 15 definitely sets new impulses. This is not only indicated by the 8 GB RAM ex factory, but also by the maximum RAM capacity. Because four RAM slots are available, a maximum of 16 GB are possible.
As a 32-Bit OS can only provide just above 3 GB of RAM for applications, using such would not be feasible. So, HP pre-installed the upcoming Windows 7 Premium 64-Bit.
Concerning the installed hard drives, HP is talking about using a 250 GB HDD in the Envy 13, respectively a 500 GB hard drive in the bigger Envy 15. Details are unknown right now. Nonetheless, you can assume that there will be some configuration options available or fast 7200 rpm models.
System Noise / Temperature
We couldn't measure the exact temperature on-site, but in the Envy 13 we observed a nearly inactive fan when idling. The Envy 15 is quite different. Even in idle mode it blows a lot of hot air out.
This impression is confirmed by the observed case heating. We'd call the surface temperatures of the Envy 15 quite high. Especially the palm rest areas become subjectively rather warm and reach a temperature of estimated 40°C when idle (!).
We'd say the bottom side feels with about 45°C even hot. So, considering the high performance hardware components inside, we are quite interested in the Envy 15's heat management under load...
The Envy 13 case also became lukewarm. However, it's temperature emissions were clearly lower than those of the Envy 15. As the fan stays inactive it can be assumed that the developers also utilized passive cooling in the Envy 13.
HP promises up to 10 hours battery life for the Envy 13 and up to 7 hours for the Envy 15. Although this sounds promising at first, considering the configuration of the 15-inch-model this does not seem plausible. Soon it gets clear that the advertised battery life can only be achieved with the optional supplement battery docked, which is included in the delivery by default. According to HP about 50% of the runtime should be possible with the integrated lithium-polymer batteries. However, only if all energy options are activated.
In practice the battery life of both notebooks is likely rather moderate with the main battery and explains why the concept of supplement batteries was developed. Nevertheless, it's an interesting solution, even more because the supplement battery is included free of charge and its design goes with the laptop's.
So far the only information about power consumption is available at the power packs. The Envy 13 uses a 65W power pack, while the Envy 15 needs a 120W mains adapter. Under load an energy consumption with peak values clearly above 100W are likely for the Envy 15.
The aluminium case is probably the most noticeable innovation of the Envy notebooks by HP. Apart from a couple of details, it is well done. This is also true for the design which we'd like to describe as very worthy.
The connectivity, locaction and variety of interfaces, provokes criticism. Last but not least, some users won't be very happy without an integrated optical drive.
Thumbs up for the input devices. The keyboard as well as the touchpad knew how to convince from the beginning. This is especially true for the multi-gesture touchpad, which proved to be exceptionally smooth in use.
The display is open to criticism. First of all because of the distracting reflections of its glare-type surface. Furthermore, some users might not be satisfied with the low resolution of the 15-inch model.
You can expect a good performance of the Envy 13 as well as of the Envy 15. Using cutting-edge components they could even convince power users.
However, under load it might get interesting how the Envy 15 can cope with emissions. Already idling the metal case tended to heat quickly and the fan had a lot of work to do. So, we are eagerly waiting for test data under load, e.g., while running computer games. A throttling because of high temperatues would of course have a negative impact on its promising performance.
Even though HP won't like their notebooks to be compared to the MacBook Pro models, the Envys are playing in the same league concerning prices, performance, and emotions and are courting a similar design-oriented audience.
HP did really good work with the Envys and raised the bar for other Windows-based notebooks. But, after the first contact it is also clear that it can only on the surface seem that the Envys can keep up with Apple's design notebooks.