HP Envy 13 review

25 Nov 2009

A lavishly designed ultraportable with staggering battery life, but more liable to frustrate than excite

Price when reviewed: 
1,500(£1,499 inc VAT)
4

It's taken them quite a while, but PC manufacturers are increasingly seeking to compete on even terms with Apple's iconic designs. The Dell Adamo was among the first to try its hand, and despite a weak, low-voltage CPU, keen pricing and a gorgeous physique won it a deserved place on our A-list. Now there's one more contender ready to enter the fray: HP's Envy 13.

Just like its big brother, the Envy 15, the 13 seeks to justify its considerable expense from the off. The plain, dark aluminium exterior looks smart and businesslike - a definite improvement on the somewhat overwrought, textured finish of the Envy 15. Peer inside, and those geometric dimples we found tattooed across the Envy 15's frame are applied with more reserve, spread only across the wristrest. It's still an odd decision, though, given those dimples are in the one place most likely to build up dirt and grime.

Practical and aesthetic qualms aside, the Envy 13 feels like it's worth every pound of its £1,304 asking price. Build quality is beyond reproach, with barely a hint of flex anywhere to be found on its 21mm thick chassis. It's all the more impressive as, while it might not trouble Apple's anorexic MacBook Air in the weight stakes, it weighs a creditably light 1.69kg.

Sturdy, portable, almost rather dashing in the right light, it's an impressive first showing from HP's new darling, but there's more. It's a minor thing, but the glossy power supply makes some attempt to look the part, and its practical too - a little loop of rubber at its rear helps bundle the power leads together when it isn't in use.

Far more interesting, though, is the battery slice. This moulds neatly to the Envy's underside, and swells battery life by an impressive margin. Working alone, the Envy's integrated battery manages a credidable 6hrs 12mins in our light use tests. Clip the battery slice into place, though, and while it pushes the Envy's weight to 2.34kg, battery life soars to an astonishing 15hrs 1min.

The Envy 13's stamina is partly due to the choice of a frugal, power efficient Intel processor. The SL9400 is the same processor found in Apple's £999 MacBook Air, and while it's dual core architecture nips along at a mere 1.86Ghz, the 3GB of DDR3 memory keeps Windows 7 feeling light on its feet. It's no speed demon, but a creditable 1.02 in our benchmarks proves it has enough oomph for most tasks.

HP Envy 13 rear

The Envy 13 also has switchable graphics. ATI's Mobility Radeon HD 4330 chip provides the brawn, while one of Intel's integrated chipsets steps in when stamina is required. It's a sensible addition, with the switching software providing the option to automatically default to the spendthrift Intel chipset when on battery power. Allow the ATI chipset to take the reins, however, and it's man enough to manage our Medium Crysis test at an average of 13fps.

And while we might have moaned about the Envy 15's display, the Envy 13 gets it emphatically right. Colour reproduction is vastly improved and brightness levels are staggering; a combination that means photos, games and movies positively burst forth from the screen. And here, applied to a 13.1in panel, even the 1,366 x 768 resolution seems to make more sense.

There is evidence of less favourable aspects to the Envy's personality, though. Hunt around the Envy's smoothly contoured edges and you'll find just two USB ports, an HDMI socket, a single headphone socket - which like Apple's laptops, doubles as a microphone socket - and a card reader on the left flank. There's no Ethernet socket either: instead, the Envy 13 forces you to occupy one of the two USB sockets with an adapter (supplied in the box).

Details

Price ex VAT £1,304
Price inc VAT £1,500
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 3
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 321 x 216 x 21mm (WDH)
Weight 1.690kg
Travelling weight 2.1kg
Weight with extended battery 2.3kg
Travelling weight with extended battery 2.8kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo SL9300
RAM capacity 3.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 13.1in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset ATI Mobility Radeon HD4330
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 250GB
Hard disk usable capacity 233GB
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Toshiba MK2529GSG
Optical disc technology External DVD writer
Optical drive HP
Battery capacity 2,700mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset IDT HD Audio
Speaker location Front edge
Hardware volume control? yes
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 2.0mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Overall application benchmark score 1.02
Office application benchmark score 1.10
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.09
Encoding application benchmark score 0.90
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.99
3D performance (crysis) low settings 40fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition, burn own recovery discs
Software supplied CyberLink DVD Suite, Core VideoStudio X2, Corel Paint Shop Pro X2, HP Mediasmart Suite