Review: HP Envy 14 Spectre
- — 13 March, 2012 22:00
|Name||Ultrabook: HP Envy 14 Spectre|
|At a glance:||Beats Audio provides good laptop sound,Screen is crisp, bright and with good colour accuracy,Fast Core i7-2677 and Samsung SSD provide good peformance|
|Summary:||Slick and fast Ultrabook with a lovely screen, but that price tag!|
You know how, when you plug in a USB cable, it’s always the wrong way up first time? The HP Envy 14 Spectre is a little like a USB stick – every time I picked it up and went to open it, I got it the wrong way round, and tried to open it hinge-first. Whoops.
The reason for this is the design of the Envy; its monolith-like symmetrical black glass has just one directional cue in the form of the HP logo. Even the lid latch is just a wafer-thin nubbin of plastic – barely visible in bright sunlight.
Still, as complaints go, that’s not a gadget-killer, and the rest of the Spectre is rather pleasing.
Unlike many Ultrabook models, the Spectre isn’t trying to look like the MacBook Air – okay, it’s true, the black, backlit island keyboard and silver wrist-rest does look suspiciously familiar, but there are a few unique design touches here. Take, for example, the Gorilla glass lid and screen. It makes the whole lid an even 5mm thick, but it feels astonishingly robust. We don’t recommend throwing it at the nearest footpath, but it’ll resist scratches. Sadly, it won’t resist fingerprints.
The chassis is mostly plastic, which seems a little bit of a step down from the Asus Zenbook’s aluminium and Toshiba Satellite’s magnesium-alloy enhanced bodies, but it’s attractive enough.
The Envy Spectre is 23mm thick in total, and weighs 1.8kg.
There’s a bit of flex in the lid, but nothing worrying – the screen shows little deformation even with heavy pressure. The chassis feels plasticky around the keyboard, but the underside is solid and reassuringly sturdy. Honestly, the fact that it looks so very Mac-like probably makes me judge the silver plastic more harshly than I might otherwise.
The screen is a 14-inch 1600 x 900 glossy number, with excellent colour reproduction and sharpness. When you consider that this model also comes with Beats Audio, it works very well for video. I watched my favourite football team crush its opposition in 720p with plenty of atmosphere.
In fact, the Beats Audio is quite impressive. There’s no subwoofer, but the speakers underneath the front chassis produce decent quality for a laptop of this size. The Beats Audio controls, however, are tucked on the front right side of the chassis. It’s very convenient for quick access, but I found myself bumping the volume up or down by accident frequently.
The specifications make up for any disappointment, though. As with the Asus Zenbook, the Spectre runs the fast Intel Core i7-2677 processor with Intel HD 3000 graphics. The Core i7 is enough to provide a bit of oomph for those considering graphical tasks. The lack of a dedicated graphics card limits any pro-gaming aspirations you might have, but at least you’ll be able to manage monster-sized photo editing and a little gentle video editing, with luck. To support that kind of workload, the Spectre packs in 4GB RAM and a fast Samsung 128GB SSD for additional speediness. The only downside is the HP motherboard – the only potential weak point in an otherwise tasty soufflé of parts. More on that later.
The keyboard is fairly standard for an island, or ‘isolated’, keyboard, with a nice soft feel to the keys and good travel. We found it comfortable for long stretches of typing, and while the keys at the four corners of the keyboard are rounded for design reasons, this didn’t hinder anything.
The touchpad is a single flat area, with flex in the bottom corners to register left and right clicks. It’s nothing special, but it works.
Connectivity is via Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, and it offers Bluetooth 3.0 in addition. Ethernet access is via an expandable socket, and it sits alongside one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, card reader, DisplayPort, and HDMI ports.
Performance isn’t the key thing for most ultraportable laptops, but HP calls this a premium Ultrabook, and we were interested to see how it performed compared to our current best-of-breed Asus Zenbook.
The Spectre is neck-and-neck with the Zenbook for CPU and RAM-based benchmarks, putting it firmly among the best of the Ultrabooks we’ve seen so far. When it came to storage-based benchmarks, the HP recorded some very fast times indeed – in some cases, double the transfer rates of the Zenbook. The Samsung SSD chosen by HP looks like a winner in the storage stakes.
So far, so great, but then we checked the graphics benchmarks. Our experience thus far with the Intel HD 3000 graphics is that it performs moderately well, but the HP, unlike the Toshiba (page 37) and Zenbook, just doesn’t come up to speed. In fact, it performs 25% slower than those two models, even with the exact same settings. We can’t think of a good reason why this might be, unless there’s some factor in HP’s motherboard that is throttling the speed. We asked HP for comment, but a spokesperson had not gotten back to us by the time we put this review online. If we get any comments, we'll update this review.
The graphics performance won’t affect too many aspects of the Envy Spectre – it will affect gaming, but since the HD 3000 is capable mostly for 2D gaming anyway, it’s not a major flaw.
We didn’t run our usual productivity battery life test – instead, a small error on my part meant that I ran a slightly more intensive version. However, the HP managed four hours and 20 minutes even with the more heavy duty battery life testing. While we can’t compare that directly to the likes of the Zenbook, and didn’t have time to retest it, the six-cell battery will handle several hours of hard work comfortably. HP claims up to 9 hours of battery life, and we wouldn’t be surprised if, with brightness lowered, you got close to that figure.
It doesn’t wake up quite as rapidly as we’d expected, or as fast as other Ultrabooks we’ve tested, but again, this is a minor grievance. The major grievance is the price. At $2,899, the high-spec Envy 14 we tested is more than $1000 more than the Asus Zenbook, for almost equivalent performance. The screen is better, and the storage-based performance is better, but it’s not $1000 better. And really, it’s the overall price that prevents the Spectre from earning a Platinum Award.
Would you like to WIN an HP Envy 14 Spectre? Just tell us which New Zealander you most envy, and you'll be in the draw! Entries close midnight, March 22.