HP Envy 15 (2020) review: Insane performance, incredible price

hp envy 15 2020 review 04

HP Envy 15 (2020)

“HP's Envy 15 delivers top-notch performance at a dazzling price.”
  • Incredibly strong performance
  • Beautiful and color-accurate AMOLED display
  • Solid build quality
  • Excellent keyboard and touchpad
  • Display supports touch and pen
  • A bit heftier than rivals
  • No full-size SD card slot
MSRP $1,600.00

Dell has seen a lot of success with its XPS 15 — a sleek, professional laptop with a surprising amount of performance. HP has never had its own MacBook Pro 16-inch competitor — at least not in terms of performance.

The HP Envy 15 fills that hole, and does it at a discount compared to both Dell and Apple. My review unit costs $1,600 at HP.com as configured, with an Intel 10th-gen Core i7-10750H CPU, 16GB of RAM (32GB is an option), 512GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage, 4K AMOLED display, and RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU. A similarly configured XPS 15 will cost you well over $2,000 by comparison, and you’ll need to jump up to the even more expensive XPS 17 if you want to match the graphics.

There has to be a catch, right? After all, it takes more than just performance-per-dollar value to compete with its high-end rivals. I searched hard for compromises, and even though the Envy 15 isn’t perfect, HP didn’t cut any corners with the Envy 15.

Design

Compared to the gem-cut, tiny-bezeled HP Spectre x360 15, the Envy 15 is a pretty conservatively designed laptop. Taken on its own, though, the Envy 15 is quite an attractive 15-inch laptop with its silver color scheme adorning an all-aluminum chassis that’s very robust — no bending or flexing anywhere. The Envy 15 has just enough chiseled parts to make it unique — like the small indentation between the keyboard deck and the wrist rest. It adds some pizzazz, but not so much that it outdoes the Spectre based on looks alone. Let’s not forget that the Envy 15 is technically a “midrange” laptop, making the build quality and size that much more impressive.

The Envy is no dainty laptop. It’s a bit large and heavy, as is to be expected with an all-metal 15-inch machine, at 0.73 inches thick (actually not bad for a 15-inch laptop) and 4.75 pounds. The Dell XPS 15 comes in at 0.71 inches thick and 4.5 pounds, for comparison.

The Dell XPS 15 also has a sleeker profile, largely thanks to the smaller bezels. The Envy 15’s 82% screen-to-body ratio is quite a bit lower, in part due to a chin that’s rather large. Because the XPS 15 uses a display with a 16:10 aspect ratio, the two laptops are similarly sized. It’s just that the XPS 15 smartly fills the space with display rather than bezel.

While the Envy 15 has some of its own design tricks up its sleeve, the focus is more on performance. It includes hidden rear vents that are effective at moving air without detracting from the look of the laptop’s backside. The Envy 15 also has a large pair of feet on the bottom, propping it up from the table more than competitors for additional airflow.

Connectivity is a strong point with the Envy 15. You get two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, along with a full-size HDMI 2.0 port (upgraded from the previous model’s HDMI 1.4), meaning you can plug three displays into the machine without a dock. You also get two USB-A 3.1 ports and a microSD card reader. HP made a mistake by not including a full-size reader, though. The target audience for the Envy 15 includes those who want to quickly transport data directly from their cameras.

Wireless connectivity is up to date thanks to an Intel Wi-Fi 6 chipset and Bluetooth 5.0.

HP also built in a nice bonus in the form of a second SSD slot that allows for either a RAID configuration or extra storage. Add a couple of two terabyte (2TB) SSDs, and you suddenly have an unusual amount of storage space, which is particularly valuable to creative types.

Display

The Envy 15’s 4K AMOLED 16:9 display is spectacular, according to my colorimeter — although you can save some money by dropping down to a Full HD option. The AMOLED panel is bright at 404 nits (and the anti-glare feature makes it seem even brighter), has incredible contrast at 404,410:1 (the best IPS displays come in at around 1500:1), and its gamma is spot-on at 2.2. That makes it a productivity and multimedia watcher’s dream machine — turn on HDR, and you’ll have one of the best Netflix experiences around, and black text pops on a white background. As a writer, I just love that feature. Those results rival the best you’ll find, including the Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16-inch. Their IPS displays are similarly bright but can’t come even close in terms of contrast.

The Envy 15’s display is also excellent for the creators that HP is targeting with all that performance. The color gamut is very wide at 100% of sRGB and 97% of AdobeRGB. The XPS 15 fares slightly better in color gamut at exactly 100% of both color spaces. The Envy 15 has excellent color accuracy as well at 0.73 (the human eye can’t discern anything under 1.0), again only marginally behind the XPS 17’s 0.37 and the XPS 15’s 0.65.

Most important, though, is that HP, for the first time, has a machine with both the power and the display to compete with the best creative laptops around. There isn’t an HP Spectre laptop with 45-watt CPUs, powerful GPUs, and color-calibrated displays. The Envy 15 is HP’s first consumer laptop that pulls everything together into a truly competitive package.

The display is also touch and pen capable, which is an added bonus. It’s not easy to write on a clamshell laptop display, but the feature is there if you need it.

I’ll note here that the Envy 15’s HDR support is also better than on the 2019 Spectre x360 15 with AMOLED (I haven’t had a chance to test the 2020 version). You’ll get the best HDR performance in Netflix if you turn HDR on in display settings, and unlike with the Spectre, doing so doesn’t completely alter the display’s overall qualities. There’s a small drop in color saturation, but it’s not dramatic, and Netflix HDR looks great with “real” HDR turned on. That’s one benefit of HP’s current AMOLED — it supports VESA DisplayHDR, and Windows 10 seems to handle it better than before. It’s still not as good as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s Dolby Vision HDR, which in my experience is the best HDR you’ll find on a laptop.

Audio is provided by two angled downward-firing speakers. Volume wasn’t impressively loud, but it was very clear, with zero distortion. There was more bass than you might expect, and mids and highs were pleasant. You could watch Netflix on the Envy 15 and not yearn for a pair of headphones as long as it’s just you listening. It still can’t match what Apple has achieved with its MacBooks, but the Envy 15’s speakers aren’t bad.

Performance

The Envy 15 is HP’s shot across the bows of laptops like the XPS 15 and 17 that also aim at creative professionals. As such, the laptop needs to be fast.

The problem is that the Envy 15 uses a slower processor than the XPS 15 and XPS 17 — at least, based on the units we’ve reviewed. The Core i7-10750H has two fewer cores and four fewer threads than the Core i7-10875H in the Dells, putting the Envy 15 at a disadvantage in many applications used for content creation.

That disadvantage is most clearly demonstrated in both Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R20, where it tested as low as 27% behind the XPS 15 in multi-core performance. The XPS 17, of course, is even faster. The Envy 15 handles its chosen processor just fine, of course, right in line with other Core i7-10750H laptops we’ve tested.

Real-world performance is what counts, though, so I switched to the video encoding application Handbrake. Restricted to just the CPU, I converted a 420MB video to H.265, and the Envy 15 finished in a little less than two and a half minutes. That compares to the XPS 15 at just over two minutes and the XPS 17 at a bit under two minutes. The ROG Strix G15 with the i7-10750H took three seconds longer than the Envy 15.

Finally, I ran our Premiere Pro video rendering test that exports a two-minute 4K project to ProRes 422. This process can use both the CPU and GPU in conjunction, which allows a graphics card like the RTX 2060 Max-Q to flex. The Envy 15 took just five minutes and one second to complete the test in default mode. Compare that to the XPS 17 that took three minutes and 38 seconds — that’s a faster score than is recorded in our XPS 17 review because the latest, and much faster, version of Premiere Pro was used for this test. Given the price differential and the fact that the XPS 17 is using a faster processor, this is an impressive showing for the Envy 15.

I also tested out HP’s Command Center software, which offers different performance modes. By default, the company tunes the Envy 15 to be relatively quiet and to run relatively cool, which is how I ran all the tests above. If you really need to squeeze the most possible performance out of the system, the Performance mode makes quite a difference. Other laptops have similar utilities, but I’ve found HP’s to be particularly aggressive. The setting didn’t affect performance in synthetic benchmarks, but bumped up Handbrake and Premiere performance to match the XPS 17. Given that price difference, that’s an impressive result.

Gaming

HP isn’t advertising the Envy 15 as a gaming laptop, but when you have an RTX 2060 Max-Q packed away inside, there’s no reason not to make use of it. And in our suite of gaming tests, it quickly became apparent that the Envy 15 makes for a nice midrange gaming machine.

I ran our tests at 1080p and 4K, because 1440p wasn’t an option in this set of drivers. And that’s likely just fine because 1080p is likely where you’re going to want to do your gaming.

Starting with the synthetic 3DMark benchmark, the Envy 15 scored 5,123 in the most demanding Time Spy test, which is a bit behind the XPS 17’s 5,801 with its RTX 2060. As we’ll see, these two machines are pretty evenly matched when it comes to driving today’s modern titles, with the XPS 17 holding a slight edge.

In Civilization VI, the Envy 15 hit 121 frames per second (fps) at 1080p and medium graphics, compared to the XPS 17 at 143 fps and the XPS 15 with its GTX 1650 Ti at 114 fps. Interestingly, at ultra graphics, the Envy 15 managed 100 fps compared to the XPS 17 at 90 fps and the XPS 15 at 64 fps. The Envy 15 also beat the XPS 17 and 15 at playing in 4K resolution.

In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the Envy 15 hit the sweet spot exactly at 60 fps at 1080p and high graphics, compared to the XPS 17 at 61 fps and the XPS 15 at 47 fps. Finally, the Envy 15 was able to play Fortnite at 1080p and Epic settings at 84 fps, while the XPS 17 hit 82 fps. That makes both laptops able to maintain a solid 60 fps in Fortnite unless you jump up to 4K, where both dropped off to about 30 fps.

Of course, none of those frame rates higher than 60 fps will do you any good, as the Envy 15’s screen is locked at a 60Hz refresh rate. It also doesn’t include any anti-screen-tearing technology, such as G-Sync or FreeSync. Like many of these productivity-minded machines, some casual gaming on the side is suitable, but a proper gaming laptop with a higher refresh rate will provide a far smoother gaming experience.

Keyboard and touchpad

Apple’s Magic Keyboard on its latest MacBooks is the best laptop keyboard on the market. That said, HP’s keyboard that has made its way from the Spectre to the Envy lineup is my second favorite. There’s plenty of travel and just the right balance between a light touch and a snappy feel, with a confident bottoming action. The mechanism is perfect for me, allowing me to get up to speed immediately and to type for hours without fatigue.

I like the keyboard on the XPS 15 and some other laptops (Lenovo’s ThinkPad line comes to mind), but I prefer HP’s version over any other Windows 10 laptop. I’m very happy to see that HP isn’t reserving the keyboard for the Spectre line, and I’ll note that you can get the same one on the HP Envy x360 13, which is well under $1,000.

Interestingly, the Envy 15’s touchpad is better than the Spectre x360 15’s. It’s not the same widescreen version, meaning it’s larger and takes up far more of the available space on the wrist rest. It’s glass-covered and so very comfortable for scrolling and swiping. It also supports Microsoft’s Precision touchpad drivers and the full complement of Windows 10 multitouch gestures. It’s as good a touchpad as you’ll find on a Windows 10 laptop.

As mentioned earlier, the display is touch-enabled, and it’s as precise as always. And if you want to use HP’s active pen with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, then you’ll have that option as well. Windows 10 Hello password-less login is provided by a fingerprint scanner nestled in the keyboard next to the arrow keys — and it worked quickly and without error.

Battery life

Pack this much power into a laptop and equip it with a power-sucking AMOLED display (which can be aided by using a dark color scheme, since AMOLED uses the least power when the screen has lots of black), and you’re not going to expect much longevity. That’s true even with 83 watt-hours of battery capacity.

According to our standard benchmark tests, that’s exactly what we experienced. In our most demanding Basemark web benchmark test, the Envy 15 lasted almost exactly three hours. That’s not terrible for such a powerful laptop, but it means that if you’re really pushing the CPU and GPU, then you’re likely to run out of battery life well before lunch. Interestingly, the XPS 15 with its 86 watt-hours of battery and the XPS 17 with its 97 watt-hours didn’t do any better. The XPS 17 lasted for six minutes less, and the XPS 15 lasted for 16 minutes more.

Due to the 4K screen, you’ll need to keep the battery charger on hand.

Moving on to our web browsing test, which is the best indication of productivity life, the Envy 15 lasted for about 6.75 hours, which is not terribly long. Once again, though, the XPS 15 and 17 were close, with the XPS 17 lasting 19 minutes less and the XPS 15 coincidentally lasting 19 minutes more. Finally, I looped the laptop through our Full HD Avengers test trailer and it made it for roughly eight hours. And you guessed it — the XPS 15 was close again, at 30 minutes less. The XPS 17 made it more than an hour longer.

The bottom line is that these high-powered creative laptops with power-sucking displays are not likely to last you through a full day of real work. You’ll want to carry your charger around with you, which is quite the task given that these are rather large power bricks. But that’s the price you pay for fast laptops with beautiful displays.

Our take

The HP Envy 15 is the company’s fastest consumer laptop and the one that best meets the needs of creative professionals with demanding workloads. Really, it’s not even close — if you want similar or greater power, you’ll need to step up to HP’s commercial line, specifically its workstations. And the Envy 15 does its job well — it’s fast, can be configured with even faster components if you want to spend more money, and provides the kind of display that will meet any creative need.

The Spectre line is excellent for productivity users, creative types with lesser demands, and those who value good looks and a smaller chassis. But it’s the Envy 15 that will make power users happy — and for hundreds of dollars less than you’ll spend on competitive laptops.

Are there any alternatives?

The Dell XPS 15 and 17 both offer equal or better performance with awesome displays, and will do just as well with creative workflows. But you’ll spend a lot more money, getting slightly more elegance and a more useful 16:10 display but not much more.

If you’re not a creative professional and you want a 15-inch laptop with more flexibility and panache, then the HP Spectre x360 15 is a good alternative. You’ll spend similar money and have an option for an equally great AMOLED display, but you won’t get nearly the horsepower.

Finally, don’t forget the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme and MacBook Pro 16-inch. Those, too, can be configured with the same powerful components, and both offer superior displays. As with the XPS options, though, be prepared to spend a lot more money.

How long will it last?

The Envy 15 is built well and should last for years. We do wish the warranty was longer than a year, though.

Should you buy it?

Absolutely. If you’re looking for a laptop that can tackle demanding creative tasks at a cheaper price, the Envy 15 does the trick.

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