When word slipped in August that HP was looking to kill off its personal computing business, it came as a shock to many consumers. Some have wondered if HP would simply going to stop making laptops, leaving holes on the shelves of Best Buys across the nation.
Whatever fate holds for the future of the company’s PCs, the short term impact is zip. Zero. Nada. For evidence, I refer to exhibit A: an HP Envy 14, the company’s flagship, which recently arrived in our office for review.
The Envy sub-brand itself was born out of corporate buyouts, growing fully-formed out of the head of boutique manufacturer Voodoo PC after it was purchased by HP to beef up its selection of high-end products. Early versions were beautiful, but not exactly in line with the design of the company’s less expensive laptops, making its usefulness as a halo product questionable.
Far from satisfied to rest on their laurels, however, HP has consistently updated the Envy, bringing its style more in line with relatives and keeping the hardware cutting edge. This brings us to this current model, which packs a Core i5-2410M processor 6GB of RAM and a Radeon HD 6630 graphics card into a 14-inch laptop frame. Although these specifications are impressive, they actually represent a base model. Our review unit’s only upgrade was a 750GB Western Digital hard drive, bringing the retail price to $1079.
That’s a premium price tag, so the Envy needs to live up to it. Let’s see if it can deliver.
My, you’ve grown
Early HP Envy laptops were beautiful, thin aluminum nuggets of awesome which, ultimately, under-performed their aesthetics. Compared to that benchmark, the new HP Envy 14 is a little disappointing. That’s not to say it is unattractive, but the new models have a subtle textured design that reminds us of the wallpaper in our grandparent’s house. Some may think its retro-cool, but personally, we find it gaudy.
Fortunately, the texture is so subtle that you can typically ignore it if you choose, at which point the Envy’s dark gunmetal color scheme is a bit dull, but also suggestive of the robust chassis that becomes evident the moment this laptop is handled. The Envy doesn’t feel particularly thin or light, but it does feel solid, as if it has a unibody chassis (it doesn’t). No squeaks or rattles will be found here, and even the display hinges feel sturdy and deliberate as the laptop’s lid is opened.
As with other recent HP laptops, the underside of this model is smooth, with no battery to be found. Users can still remove it easily, but it is now hidden behind a panel that is released with the flick of a single latch. Other laptop manufacturers might want to take note of this design, as it adds a feel of luxury without sacrificing functionality.
Speaking of which, there’s a fair amount of connectivity, including three USB ports (one is combined with eSATA), HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, Ethernet and individual headphone and mic jacks. Up front, a card reader lurks near the touchpad. Not a bad set of ports.
Touchpad saves the day
Given the 14-inch display size and corresponding chassis, this laptop lacks room for a numpad, but offers plenty of space for a full-sized keyboard and an extra row of function keys along the right side consisting of home, page up and down, and a few others.
Each key is separated in the island style, with large gaps providing tactile feedback for touch typists on the hunt for the proper key. Though we no longer have it available for comparison, the layout of this keyboard seems very similar to that of the HP ProBook 5330m we recently reviewed.
That’s not entirely a compliment. While generally a pleasurable experience, some additional key travel and crisper feedback would be of benefit. There’s also some keyboard flex evident even under light use, which is easily noticed due to the top-notch feel of everything else on the laptop.
Fortunately, the Envy’s touchpad is a pleasure to use. To click, users must depress the lower half of the touchpad, similar to a MacBook. While we generally prefer individual buttons, this solution works nearly as well, and has the benefit of expanding the usable surface. Multi-touch gestures work as well on this laptop as they do on any Windows machine, and scrolling feels particularly smooth.