HP ENVY TouchSmart 15 laptop
HP’s latest 15-inch ENVY laptop instils anything but.
HP’s ENVY brand once represented the finest consumer laptops the company had to offer. You were certain to pay for it, but you could also be fairly certain you weren’t going to be disappointed by what you got.
AU$1,399/NZ$1,899 for the latest HP ENVY TouchSmart 15 may seem like a great deal, but the 15-j038tx model we tested is no premium laptop, and ‘disappointed’ is just how we ended up.
The ENVY TouchSmart 15 has a metal lid and upper chassis, reminiscent of the Apple MacBook Pro. However, the lower chassis is matte black plastic, with a decidedly ‘cheap’ feel. Plastic construction is forgivable, even welcome, in ultra-light models, but the ENVY is 3cm thick and weighs a daunting 2.56kg.
It does look attractive enough, from the top with the lid open or closed. Even the plastic side isn’t bad looking, and the construction does feel solid overall. I’ve seen just as solid construction at much lower weights, though.That really is the main disappointment from a build standpoint.
Exhaust is to the left, so right-handed users needn’t worry about cooking their mouse hands.
Keyboard and touchpad
Besides screen size, a great advantage of 15-inch laptops is that they allow for a full-sized keyboard and numeric keypad.
Many consumer models, HP’s included, often omit the numeric keyboard in favour of speakers along the sides, or simply wasted space around a keyboard floating in the middle.
The ENVY TouchSmart 15 makes good use of that space, with a nearly full-sized island keyboard and a numeric keypad. Though the keys have short travel, there’s a fair bit of flex in the keyboard tray, creating the illusion of a slightly deeper, softer keystroke. I’m going to guess this isn’t intentional, and that the keyboard tray was supposed to be rigid. Some may actually like the effect, though. I prefer less marshmallow action and more ‘click’ in my keystrokes, but that’s entirely a matter of personal preference.
The touchpad is a good 125mm/4.9in diagonally, with click buttons built into the pad itself (so to ‘hard click’, you push down on the bottom-left or -right corner of the pad). It’s fairly accurate, and the large size would be well suited to navigating a high-resolution screen. Which leads us in to...
The 15.6-inch ENVY sports a ‘high definition’ 1366x768-pixel display. While that’s certainly high compared to CRT televisions of the 1990s (the ‘standard definition’ that ‘HD’ compares to), don’t be fooled by the marketing speak.
1366x768, or ‘WXGA’, is one of the most common resolutions in laptop displays today. In a 13-inch model, it looks fine. 14-inch, it might be passable, depending on the user base the laptop was aimed at. Stretched over a 15.6-inch display, however, that leaves you with a paltry 100 pixels-per-inch and a very sub-par experience.
While 1366x768 is certainly 'high definition' compared to CRT televisions of the 1990s, don’t be fooled by the marketing speak.
I’ll interject here: the ENVY’s display isn’t technically bad. It’s bright, and colours look good. The touchscreen does tend to retain fingerprint smudges, but so do they all. It’s not bad, it’s just too low-res for its size. In one case, this could actually be an advantage: if you suffer from a visual impairment and don’t do well with small, ultra-sharp screens, low resolution plus large size is a good way to go. That is one niche case, however, and I doubt that’s quite what HP was aiming for.
There are two independent problems with the ENVY’s display, both caused by that lack of resolution. The first is the aforementioned lack of sharpness – the 100 pixels-per-inch that leads to visible pixelation.
The second problem is that at 1366x768, there just isn’t very much screen real-estate. The ENVY TouchSmart 15 is a powerful laptop, but most applications that would make use of that power also benefit from (or require) a high-resolution screen. Photo, video and audio editing, 3D modelling, software development, data analysis – the sort of applications that might compel you to buy a high-powered Core i7 laptop generally have sprawling, complex interfaces that were never designed to fit into a resolution so low.
Specs & Performance
The ENVY TouchSmart 15 contains 8GB of DDR3-1600RAM, and the same Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor found in Dell’s Alienware 14: four cores, eight threads, 2.4GHz with turbo boost up to 3.4GHz. It’s a great CPU for processor-hungry applications – our benchmarks showed admirable performance in CPU-based rendering, data compression, and video transcoding.
Graphics are handled by the basic but capable NVIDIA GeForce GT 740M, with 2GB of dedicated GDDR3 graphics memory. It’s not a gaming laptop and our benchmarks confirm that, though it is possible to eke out playable framerates in some modern games at very low graphical quality settings.
The GT 740M provides good hardware acceleration for applications such as 3D modelling, though as discussed above, the low-resolution display is unsuitable for such software.
Storage is down to a 1TB, 5400RPM hard drive that doubtless contributes to the disappointing weight.
Storage is down to a 1TB, 5400RPM hard drive that doubtless contributes to the disappointing weight. The ample storage is nice, but really? For the price, we’d expect a hybrid 20GB SSD + HDD setup, or even a 128GB SSD instead of the hard drive. At the very, very least, a 7200RPM hard drive for a little extra disk performance. The slow drive really provides a bottleneck in disk-intensive activities, and showed pathetically low results in PCMark 7’s storage test.
Despite its thickness and weight, the ENVY TouchSmart 15 has no optical drive. Not that we think it should have one, in this day and age, but at least it would help excuse the bulk.
Battery life was very average, at 2hrs 41mins in our intensive ‘productivity’ battery test.
Though it doesn’t particularly impress when it comes to connectivity, the ENVY TouchSmart 15 doesn’t disappoint, either.
It has a generous four USB 3.0 ports (two on each side), SD card reader, full-sized HDMI output, combined headphone/microphone socket, and Gigabit Ethernet. There’s also Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity.
The ports are all in fairly logical places, though it’s worth noting that the headphone socket is on the right-hand side, whereas the cable connects to most headphones on the left ear. It’s a minor thing, and not an oversight unique to the ENVY, but there you go.
I wanted to like HP’s ENVY TouchSmart 15, I really did. HP built up some real brand loyalty in my head, thanks to a couple of exemplary ENVY models back when the name was young and fresh. Brand loyalty can’t compete with experience and testing, however, and the latest ENVY really let me down.
I’d like to say the ENVY TouchSmart 15 is good for someone – that is has some niche use – but I’d really be struggling to invent use cases. That’s HP’s job, not mine.
Initially I thought that with an external screen, the ENVY could be a good desktop-replacement. It’s got plenty of grunt in the processing department, but it’s let down by the slow storage. Furthermore, an external screen often means an external keyboard. One of the ENVY’s few advantages is its almost full-sized keyboard, and its numeric keypad. If you’re not even using that, what’s the point?
It’s not a bad laptop, technically. It’s just an odd mix of ups and downs, leaving it without a target audience. Good processing power, but too low-res a screen to run applications that would make use of it. Heavy and bulky, but no corresponding advantage like extended battery life or a DVD drive.
For AU$1,400/NZ$1,900, we’d expect a whole lot more – or at least something a whole lot more consistent.
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