Every now and then, a laptop comes along that feels a lot like a premium product but isn’t priced like one. Our favorite example has been the Asus ZenBook 13, which in its latest UX333 version offers great build quality, solid performance, and a superior display for a budget-friendly price of $850.
HP just released its 2019 Envy 13, and it, too, aims to provide a premium product at a not-so-premium price. And it does just that, garnering a strong review and recommendation. But does the Envy 13 offer enough to take on the ZenBook 13?
Considering their aesthetics, both laptops are far more striking than the usual budget option. The ZenBook 13 has the high-end Royal Blue color scheme with striking gold trim and iconic ZenBook swirl on the lid that adorns its more expensive cousins. The Envy 13 is also a looker, with a choice of Natural Silver and Pale Gold colors to customize its modern chassis that’s angled in all the right places.
The biggest difference between these two is their relative bezel sizes — the ZenBook 13’s bezels are much smaller, falling into the “tiny bezel” category and making it smaller than the Envy 13. The ZenBook 13 comes in at 11.89 inches wide by 7.44 inches deep by 0.67 inches thick, while the Envy 13 is 12.08 by 8.32 by 0.57 inches — the Envy 13 isn’t exactly huge and it’s a bit thinner, but the ZenBook 13’s chassis is nonetheless notably smaller. They’re almost equally heavy at 2.59 pounds (Envy 13) versus 2.62 pounds.
The ZenBook 13 also benefits from Asus’s commitment to build quality. It’s tested to MIL-STD-810g military standards for robustness, and it exhibits no bending or flexing in the lid, keyboard deck, or bottom of the chassis. The Envy 13 has a bit more give in the lid and keyboard deck, meaning that while you won’t worry about it falling apart it doesn’t exude quite the same confidence as the Asus.
Input options are similar between these two laptops. Both have keyboards with good travel and snappy, precise feels, and both have Microsoft Precision touchpad drivers for flawless Windows 10 multitouch gesture support. Interestingly, both also have hinges that prop up the keyboards at an angle for increased comfort and airflow. Where the laptops differ is in the ZenBook 13’s LED inlay that provides a useful virtual numeric keypad — if you enter a lot of numbers for your job, then you’ll find it to be a useful feature.
Both laptops have better legacy than future peripheral support. The ZenBook 13 has a USB-A 3.0 port, a USB-A 2.0 port, a USB-C 3.1 Gen1 port, and a full-size HDMI port. The Envy 13 has two USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports and one USB-C Gen 1 port. Neither laptops, regrettably, support Thunderbolt 3, but both have a microSD card slot and gigabit 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 radios.
These are equally good-looking laptops, but the ZenBook 13 has a more solid build, better connectivity, and a very useful virtual numeric keypad.
The ZenBook 13 is available with an 8th-generation Whiskey Lake quad-core CPU, the Core i5-8265U, which is surprisingly quick and very efficient for such a powerful processor. The Envy 13 can be configured with the Core i7-8565U as well as the Core i5, giving HP the more powerful option. Either is a great choice for anyone with typical productivity tasks.
While the ZenBook 13 has a variant with the entry-level Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU, it’s only available in the US with integrated Intel UHD 620. That gives the Envy 13 an advantage with its GeForce MX250 GPU. This is an update to the MX150 that we’ve found offers no great increase in performance but still makes for a better entry-level gaming platform — at 1080p, at least, with graphics turned down.
Next, the ZenBook 13 has a surprisingly good 13.3-inch IPS Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) panel with exceptional contrast at 1360:1, higher-than-average AdobeRGB colors at 77 percent, and good accuracy at 1.68. You don’t typically find such a good display on a budget-priced laptop. The Envy 13 has a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) option that we found to be bright and of average (but still good) colors and contrast, and then there’s also a Full HD option available for better battery life. You can’t go wrong with the displays on either of these laptops.
The Envy 13 wins this round thanks to its readily available discrete GPU option.
The ZenBook 13 is smaller than the Envy 13 while being just a bit thicker. However, neither of these laptops are hard to carry around or fit into tight spaces.
But battery life is another important portability consideration. The ZenBook 13 is a very good performer in battery thanks to its efficient CPU and Full HD display. It’s hard for us to compare to the Envy 13, though, since we tested the HP with a power-hungry 4K display. Then Envy 13 has a 52 watt-hour battery compared to the ZenBook 13’s 50 watt-hour version, and so we suspect that they’d perform similarly with the same Core i5 and Full HD panel.
These are two very portable laptops, but if battery life matters then make sure you choose a lower-resolution display.
The Envy 13 ekes out a win
The ZenBook 13 is very attractively priced at $850 for a Core i5-8265U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. That’s a great value. The Envy 13 is slightly more expensive at $1,000 for the same configuration, although it’s often on sale and can be had right now for $770.
The ZenBook 13 is a little more solidly built and has a nice LED numeric keypad in the touchpad, but the Envy 13 can be configured with faster components and a higher-resolution display. That flexibility gives HP a narrow win, especially if you can pick it up while it’s on sale.
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