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HP Envy 14 Review

Highs

  • Robust chassis
  • Excellent performance
  • Above-average display
  • Surprisingly good battery life
  • Runs cool

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 0

Lows

  • Fan can be a bit loud
  • Heavy
  • Less stylish than prior Envys
By making all the right compromises, the HP Envy 14 doesn’t feel like a compromise at all.

Looks as good as it sounds

Though the Envy’s display resolution of 1366 x 768 isn’t going to cause geeks to weep tears of joy, the rest of its qualities are worthy of praise.

Due to edge-to-edge gloss that spans both the display and its border, reflections can be a bit of a problem, but they’re usually defeated by the backlighting. The benefit of that gloss is strong contrast that gives colors real punch. Place this laptop next to most others, and it’ll become instantly apparent that HP has something good going on.

hp-envy-14-displayBlack level performance is a bit short of stellar, but strong for a laptop LCD, as all but the first two blocks of the Lagom LCD black level test are visible. In gradient test images, there is almost no banding apparent, and while dithering is visible in the darkest regions of the sample, it’s minor and likely won’t be apparent in normal use.

Audio comes courtesy of HP’s Beats Audio branding, and it’s clear that the company’s focus on sound quality has paid off. There isn’t as much bass available, as one might expect considering the Beats name, but that’s actually a benefit, because it prevents bass heavy music from inducing distortion. Vocals remain clear even when there’s a lot happening behind them, and the volume is enough to fill a living room. Most consumers probably won’t feel the need to supplement this laptop with a set of external speakers.

Putting on the pounds

While this laptop’s name (emphasis on 14) suggests a relatively small PC, the reality is different. The display panel is actually a 14.5-inch unit, and the chassis remains 1.16 inches thick throughout. Even the weight of 5.69 pounds is more than one might expect from a premium laptop.

Clearly, this is no ultraportable, or even a thin-and-light. Yet the size and weight is manageable, as this laptop will fit into almost all backpacks and larger messenger bags without issue. While a hardcore traveler would likely find this laptop too unwieldy for use on or between flights, those who simply move about town shouldn’t have trouble toting this laptop along.

hp-envy-14-lid-side-openEndurance certainly isn’t going to restrict your use. In our Battery Eater test that taxes the PC to its max, the HP Envy 14 lasted exactly an hour and 45 minutes, which is impressive for any laptop with discrete graphics. The Reader’s Test, which does not engage the graphics card, extended battery life to just shy of five hours. While this may be a bulky laptop, you won’t find yourself having to hunt for a power socket too often.

Pleasurably cool

Given the powerful hardware inside this laptop, it’s not surprising that the system fan spins without pause. It’s loud enough that it will be audible in most situations, but not loud enough to become annoying.

The benefit of the noticeable fan noise is cool system temperatures. At idle, and during light use such as web surfing, the laptop’s surfaces remain nearly as cool as when the laptop is turned off. This is one of the only laptops we’ve recently reviewed that remained comfortable after hours of lap use.

Stress-testing did little to change the situation. While the fan become much louder, the system warmed only slightly. Lap use would be uncomfortable for most users, but the keyboard area never warmed noticeably with the slight exception of the right side, which received some heat from the system fan exhaust. This laptop would enjoyable to use even with the processor pegged at a consistent 95-percent load – an unlikely real-world scenario.

Some software value added

Surprisingly, there were no stray icons to be found on the desktop when Windows was first booted. Instead, HP has placed the handful of pre-installed software icons on the taskbar. Arguably, this is more annoying, since you’ll see them at all times, but the icons are easily removed if you’re not interested.

hp-envy-14-lid-angle-standYou might be, however, because the software includes Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Premiere Elements, and CyberLink PowerDVD 10. These programs do present some utility, and for many consumers they’ll be a welcome addition.

One piece of software notably lacking is a paid anti-virus app. Instead of relying on Norton or McAfee, with their alarmist pop-ups, this laptop came with Microsoft’s free Security Essentials. Testing by AV-Comparatives has shown this to be an effective security solution, and its inclusion in lieu of an aggressive trial version of third-party protection is appreciated.

Vying for first-place performance

Intel’s Core i5-2410M, clocked at 2.3GHz with Turbo Boost speeds of up to 2.9GHz, is the Envy’s default processor. We’ve tested it before, and our results from this laptop were in line with those from competitors equipping the same hardware. SiSoft Sandra’s processor arithmetic benchmark reported a combined score of 36.57 GOPs, while 7-Zip reported a combined score of 7,207. Both results are better than average.

What’s more interesting about this laptop’s hardware, however, is the Radeon 6630M graphics solution. This powerful GPU turned up a score of 7,405 in 3DMark 06 and 954 in 3DMark 11. These results are among the best we’ve received from any laptop, and on par with the recently reviewed Sony Vaio C Series. As well it should be, because that laptop sported the same processor and graphics solution as our Envy 14 review unit.

PCMark 7, which tests a wide range of system components, returned a result of 2,053. Again, this is on par with the Sony Vaio C Series, and again, that’s not surprising. While this laptop has an extra two gigabytes of RAM, both this and the Sony are equipped with 7200 RPM mechanical disk drives

Conclusion

There’s no one area where this laptop obviously excels. While it gives the Sony Vaio C Series a run for its money on performance, it did score slightly slower overall. Though reasonably portable, it’s a far cry from the Asus U36JC. Using the keyboard and touchpad is pleasurable, but Apple’s MacBooks have a clear edge.

Yet there are small victories that vault the Envy above much of the competition. Heat buildup, for example, is rarely an issue, which means this laptop doesn’t induce sweaty-palms syndrome. The resolution of 1366 x 768 isn’t great, but image quality is above par. Battery life is solid, yet you’re not asked to give up performance in exchange, as this laptop can run with the best. Even the unusual 14.5-inch display panel feels like the perfect compromise between mainstream functionality and thin-and-light portability.

Just as critical is the fact that there isn’t anything unforgivably wrong. All of the flaws are minor and easy to forget, something that can’t be said for too many laptops. By making all the right compromises, the HP Envy 14 doesn’t feel like a compromise at all. It is instead a fast and enjoyable laptop with broad appeal. If you want a premium Windows laptop, and extreme portability is not a concern, check this one out.

Highs:

  • Robust chassis
  • Excellent performance
  • Above-average display
  • Surprisingly good battery life
  • Runs cool

Lows:

  • Fan can be a bit loud
  • Heavy
  • Less stylish than prior Envys

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