HP Envy 14 Review

Introduced as a replacement for the Voodoo Envy in 2009, the Envy series originally kicked off with 13 and 15-inch models. The premium notebook line was expanded in mid-2010 with 14 and 17-inch flavors, the former of which we received for evaluation. It’s been just over a year since we published that review and we’ve since been graced with the second-gen Envy 14. Although it looks quite similar on the outside, the 2011 iteration has revamped internals.

Now, here’s where I make a pause to explain the tricky timing we went through in testing and reviewing the Envy 14. This second-gen model was launched in August and we received our test system about a month later. That was around the same time HP suddenly halted their webOS business and hinted at a possible PC unit spin off. Weeks went by, HP received all kinds of good and bad press (mostly the latter), their relatively new CEO went out the door, and in late October we finally received a final answer: HP is keeping its PC business and we should see more products in the near future.

Back to business as usual, HP revamped the Envy 15 and 17 models in late November, while the Envy 14 remained mostly the same, receiving a couple of speed bumps and price cuts.

 

Our evaluation system used to cost $1,079.99 but now you can get it for $899. The Envy 14 comes with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M with Turbo Boost, 6GB DDR3 SDRAM, a Western Digital 750GB hard drive, Radeon HD 6630M switchable graphics, a 14.5″ HD BrightView Infinity LED display, 8X DVD+/-R/RW with Double Layer support, Intel HM65 Express Chipset, Intel 802.11a/b/g/n WLAN with Bluetooth and an 8-cell 3800mAh Lithium Ion battery. Windows 7 Home Premium is the operating system of choice.

If you are familiar with the Envy line, there aren’t any surprises from last year’s models. The computer arrived in similar packaging and includes a power adapter, removable battery, power cord and a quick setup guide. The power adapter includes a USB port for charging mobile devices which is a nice touch.

 

From the outside the 2010 and 2011 Envy 14 models are nearly indistinguishable. The Envy has a strong resemblance to Apple’s MacBook Pro which for the most part could be considered a good thing. The latest version features the same gunmetal lid with an attractive etched pattern. A reflective HP logo is positioned on the back corner of the lid on the right side and emits a subtle white glow when the system is on.

On the front of the notebook are two speaker grills with the Beats audio logo prominently displayed beside the left grill. A SD / MMC card slot flanks the speaker on the right. On the right side of the system is a power and hard drive activity light, USB 3.0 port, HDMI port, mini DisplayPort, Kensington lock slot, Ethernet jack and an array of exhaust vents.

 

 The back of the system is clean besides another series of exhaust vents. On the left side is the slot-loading optical drive, two USB 2.0 ports and headphone / microphone jacks.

 

 There are four anti-slip pads on the bottom of the notebook although one of the feet was broken on our sample. HP cycles review samples through multiple media outlets and we have no idea how many others have tested this Envy before we received it. Even so, a broken foot calls into question the durability of the notebook a bit and upon further inspection, the access panel that had the broken pad feels pretty flimsy.

Feet aside, the bottom of the Envy 14 is relatively plain. There’s the aforementioned access panel that hides the removable battery and hard drive.

 

Opening the lid, we see the beautiful infinity display with the Beats audio logo on the top left and the Envy 14 badge on the right. The display has a resolution of 1366×768 which isn’t quite the 1600×900 pixels found on last year’s Radiance display. Unfortunately, HP no longer offers the Radiance display option as they were unable to obtain enough from suppliers for 2011. There’s a “Skype-certified” 720p webcam above the display with microphones on either side of the lens.

 

Also returning is the full-size backlit chiclet keyboard that has a nice solid feel when typing. There are no dedicated media keys but the function buttons across the top row double as secondary buttons without having to first press the Fn key. For example, pressing F5 turns the backlight on rather than refreshing the page you are currently viewing.

 

  The touchpad and click buttons are once again integrated into a single unit. I’ve had mixed experiences with this in the past; some good, mostly bad. Last year’s Envy 14 was one of the worst, but we were told by HP those issues have been corrected thanks to a new ImagePad that is more accurate and can handle more fingers at once. We’ll check these out in better detail next.

Software and Performance
The Envy 14 ships with Windows 7 Home Premium. On top of the vanilla Windows installation are a few HP-branded applications like HP MovieStore. There are still a some programs I would remove, including the Bing Bar, but overall HP did a fairly good job at keeping the system clean out of the box. In fact, there are quite a few useful apps including full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, Adobe Premiere Elements 9 and CyberLink DVD software. 

HP was quick to point out their CoolSense technology which lets you control system cooling through a software interface, something not often seen on notebook computers. There are three pre-configured settings to choose from: maximum cooling, quiet or optimized performance.

A built-in accelerometer parks the hard drive when excessive movement is detected to prevent damage to the drive’s platter. The accelerometer also puts the system into maximum cooling mode when in transit to prevent any potential overheating.

 

  The Beats audio software suite is split into four tabs: volume, listening experience, recording experience and advanced settings. The interface is a bit plain but there are plenty of options to work with, including a graphic equalizer with four different presets: Beats Active NR, Beats In-Ear, Beats Passive and Default. Under Recording Experience, users can toggle Noise Cancellation, Acoustic Echo Cancellation and Beam Forming.

The Envy 14 features Intel’s Turbo Boost technology, which is built into Core i5 and i7 chips and is designed to better manage workloads by dynamically adjusting individual processor core speeds when more processing power is needed.

HP Envy 14 (2011) System Specs

 

  • 14.5″ HD BrightView Infinity LED 1366 x 768 display
  • Intel Core i5-2430M (2.4GHz – 3GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
  • 6GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • AMD Radeon HD 6630M
  • Western Digital 750GB hard drive
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

 

HP EliteBook 8460p System Specs

 

  • 14.0″ LED-backlit HD anti-glare 1366 x 768 display
  • Intel Core i5-2520M (2.5GHz – 3.2GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
  • 4GB of 1333MHz DDR3 memory
  • 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6470M
  • 320GB 7200RPM hard drive
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)

 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 System Specs

 

  • 13.4″ TFT 1366 x 768 display (covered with Corning Gorilla glass)
  • Intel Core i5-2520M (2.5GHz – 3.2GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
  • 4GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • Intel HD 3000 Graphics (650MHz – 1.3GHz)
  • Hitachi 320GB 7200RPM hard drive
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)

 

HP Envy 14 (2010) System Specs

 

  • 14.5″ HP Radiance 1600 x 900 display
  • Intel Core i5-450M (2.4GHz – 2.66GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
  • 4GB DDR3 system memory
  • 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650
  • Seagate Momentus 500GB 7200RPM
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

 

Benchmark Results

 

Synthetic Tests Envy 14 (2011) EliteBook 8460p ThinkPad X1 Envy 14 (2010)
3DMark 06
3DMark Score 7486 3DMarks 5029 3DMarks 3750 3DMarks 6866 3DMarks
PCMark Vantage
PCMark Suite 5734 PCMarks 7408 PCMarks 7607 PCMarks 6840 PCMarks

 

Application Tests Envy 14 (2011) EliteBook 8460p ThinkPad X1 Envy 14 (2010)
iTunes Encoding Test 01 min 12 sec 01 min 15 sec 01 min 34 sec
File Transfer Test
Small files 1 min 21 sec 1 min 23 sec 1 min 23 sec 1 min 20 sec
Large file 52 sec 1 min 5 sec 1 min 2 sec 1 min 14 sec

The iTunes encoding tests consist of converting 14 MP3s (119MB) to 128Kbps ACC files and measuring the operation’s duration in seconds. For the file transfer test, we measure how long it takes to copy two sets of files from one location to another on the same hard drive. On the small files test we transfer 557 MP3s, totaling 2.56GB. For the large file, these same MP3s were zipped into a single file measuring 2.52GB.

 

Gaming Performance Envy 14 (2011) EliteBook 8460p ThinkPad X1 Envy 14 (2010)
Far Cry 2
1024×768 Medium Quality 41.87 FPS 27.05 FPS 26.59 FPS
Native Resolution, High Quality 35.14 FPS 22.28 FPS 17.94 FPS
StarCraft 2
1024×768 Medium Quality 67.56 FPS 44.70 FPS 15.23 FPS
Native Resolution, High Quality 45.28 FPS 27.78 FPS 10.42 FPS
 
Usage Impressions, Wrap Up
It’s unfortunate HP no longer offers the Radiance displays on this generation Envy 14 as the increased resolution and vivid colors were unique selling points. That’s not to say the 1366×768 infinity LED display is bad though — it’s actually a very well-rounded panel. Horizontal viewing angles are very acceptable, but the vertical angles leave a bit to be desired and that’s the only real negative I could find with the screen.As with last year’s product, the keyboard is a strong point for the Envy 14. There’s no mushy feel when typing and the backlit keys help when it’s dark. More importantly, however, are the changes that HP made to the touchpad and click buttons. Last year’s touchpad was extremely bad. The company was aware of the issue and supplied updated drivers that helped to an extent but it was still a bad system.

 

I’m happy to report that HP’s new image sensor technology delivers. The touchpad worked as it should, even with multi-touch gesturing. Furthermore, I was able to keep my left index finger on the mouse click button without the pointer going haywire when I used my right index finger to move it. I still prefer independent, physical mouse click buttons but this combination isn’t bad either.

I conducted our standard notebook battery tests on the Envy 14. Our video playback test consists of looping a 720p rip of one of my favorite movies (Inception) in Windows Media Player at full screen with max brightness and Wi-Fi disabled. This is a taxing test that resulted in 3 hours and 25 minutes of usage.

Our endurance test is run with five Firefox windows open with the “Reload Every” add-on refreshing each page every five minutes to simulate real-world browsing. Max screen brightness is used and Wi-Fi is enabled. This test resulted in 3 hours and 6 minutes of life. For comparison, the HP EliteBook 8460p with a faster processor lasted about an hour and a half longer on each test.

 

The Beats Audio subsystem also comes standard on all Envy models and was included on last year’s model as well. HP worked with the team at Interscope Records (think 50 Cent, Dr. Dre and U2) to develop a unique and real audio experience through hardware and software. The team created an audio profile based on Interscope’s feedback of what music “should” sound like. On the hardware side, HP has beefed up some of the components to avoid crosstalk and feedback and included a better-than-standard amplifier.

It seems that HP might have beefed up the dual speakers on this system. That’s a good thing of course, but you still shouldn’t expect much bass — after all, they are notebook speakers.

The real benefit of the Beats audio system comes when plugging in a pair of headphones or an external speaker system. Music here sounds much better than a standard notebook provides. If this was my system, I’d carry a nice set of headphones with the notebook at all times as I often find myself rocking out on Spotify or Pandora.

 

HP made it easy to access the 3800mAh battery and hard drive, both of which are tucked out of sight under a tool-less access panel. The memory, however, remains hidden deeper in the system. 6GB is more than enough for a modern notebook and is exactly how I’d configure my own system.

Noise generation and heat output are in line with other Sandy Bridge notebooks we have recently looked at. Both attributes are noticeable but neither is excessive, especially considering how powerful the CPU is.

Our informal YouTube 4k resolution video test taxed the CPU up to 92% percent usage and around 80% on average. The video feed remained lag-free despite the high processor utilization.

HP’s 2011 Envy 14 picks up right where last year’s model left off by beefing up the internals, adding modern connectivity options like USB 3.0 and DisplayPort and greatly improving the touchpad. The optical drive is a convenience feature should you find yourself still using DVDs on a regular basis. We’re pleased with the Envy 14, and it’s a good value for a solidly constructed laptop at $900, however it remains to be seen if it can handle the stiff competition from thinner and lighter ultrabooks that are expected to arrive early 2012. We wouldn’t discard an impending update to the Envy 14 itself as part of that thin and lighter movement as well.

 

80

Pros: Solid construction, good keyboard and touchpad. Good performance.

Cons: Average battery life. No higher-res screen option. Fierce competition from thinner and lighter systems could force to a model update very soon.

Advertisements

One comment on “HP Envy 14 Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s