HP Envy 17

HP's Envy 17 is obviously the product of a series of excellent design decisions and while it's not perfect, it stood out enough to gain a rare PC World Platinum award.

NameLaptop: HP Envy 17
At a glance:Large 17.3-inch screen,Best performance in all 720p benchmarks,VGA, DisplayPort and HDMI,Great keyboard and touchpad
Summary:The perfect multimedia machine if you long to be envied.

The Envy 17 from HP was a late arrival in our August 2010 multimedia laptop roundup, almost missing out on the test. In the end, I’m glad it didn’t.

Despite a large 17.3-inch screen, the Envy’s native resolution is below 1080p at a reasonable 1,600 x 900 pixels (16:9 ratio, if you haven't had a coffee today). This results in nice readable text without making individual pixels visible, so I can’t complain too loudly. Still, (complain, complain) being able to watch 1080p video at its native resolution would have been a nice add-on: the Envy 17's processor and graphics card can most certainly handle it, as you'll find if you connect up an HD monitor or TV.

The whole thing is set into a metal case, with a subtle floral texture on the lid and keyboard wrist-rest. Opinions on the design were divided throughout the office, but I like it far better than fingerprint-laden piano black. It also offers far better grip than my own aluminium-cased MacBook Pro, whatever you think of the aesthetic.

The keyboard is gorgeous: simple, square buttons with good key travel and a full-sized number pad. Power, Caps Lock, Wi-Fi and Mute status lights are all inset into the relevant keys.

Like Apple and many Dell models, HP has decided to make the function keys second-class to a set of utility buttons – brightness, volume, Wi-Fi and so forth. This is something I normally can’t stand, but HP’s choice of functions is so well thought-out that I’m less annoyed than usual. Every button is one I’d use on a daily basis, perhaps even more than the function keys. Or, perhaps not. Disabling it requires you to change “Action Keys Mode” to “Disabled” in the BIOS settings: not exactly obvious, but at least it can be done.

The touchpad is massive, almost five inches diagonally. No space is wasted on buttons: the whole pad is touchable, with the buttons set beneath the surface. To click, you just press near the bottom of the pad in one of the lined-off areas. This is a fantastic design, letting you cross the entire screen from side-to-side or top-to-bottom with a single swipe across the pad. Yes, like most of the Envy, it's very reminiscent of Apple's MacBook Pro design philosophy.

Turning off the touchpad while typing is easy: just double-tap in the top left corner, on the little “touchpad off” light. This is perfectly located so you can tap it easily with your thumb as your fingers reach toward the home row.

It's not just good looks and design, however, that the Envy 17 has going for it. Performance was stunning. The Envy 17’s high-speed, Intel Core i7 620M dual-core processor and high-spec ATI graphics card saw it blaze through our gaming benchmarks, topping the range in all but Call of Pripyat. It also “played” the best in the Mass Effect 2 real-world gaming benchmark, from framerate, visual-quality and comfort standpoints.

The downside is the Envy's massive heat output when the processor is cranking away: the air exiting the vent could probably cook a chicken given adequate time. Certainly, it warmed my misplaced Red Bull to an undrinkable temperature during a half-hour of gaming.

Connectivity is also best-in-range with VGA, DisplayPort, HDMI, four USB ports (one of which doubles as eSATA), an SD card reader, slot-loading DVD drive, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Sound quality is exemplary; significantly better than the desktop speakers I use at home. Even at maximum volume (which is fairly loud indeed) there’s no audible distortion – you could happily provide the background music for a small gathering without hooking up any external speakers.

Altogether, HP’s Envy 17 is the best notebook I’ve used in a long time. It’s obviously the product of a series of excellent design decisions and while it’s not perfect, its pros far outweigh its cons. This made it a clear winner among our top multimedia laptops of 2010, and deserving of the rare PC World Platinum award.

Update (30/05/2011): This review went to print in PC World August, 2010 (issue 240), as part of our Multimedia Monsters laptop feature. The review missed its curtain-call for the web back then, and we've since had several requests to make it available online. Here you go, dear readers.

It should be noted that although it's almost a year old, the Envy 17 is still an impressive machine. While it's no longer the best notebook I've used in recent times, it's still right up there. We hope to get our hands on the 2011 model soon, which (again, we're hoping) will ship with the latest in Sandy Bridge processory goodness from Intel. In other words, watch this space. - Harley, PCW

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Harley Ogier

Harley Ogier

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