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HP Envy 14 Spectre review

Verdict

A gorgeous ultrabook with a great display, but it's just too expensive when lined up against faster, better competition

Review Date: 22 Feb 2012

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £999 (£1,199 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

After a sparkling debut at this year’s CES trade show in Las Vegas, HP’s first Ultrabook has finally landed in the UK. With a body clad in toughened glass, a high-definition 14in display, and the latest in wireless networking technologies, the Envy 14 Spectre is the Ultrabook that HP hopes will sweep all before it.

The question is, is it good enough to brush aside its main rivals – the Asus Zenbook UX31E and Dell XPS 13?

The Envy 14 Spectre is certainly eager to step up to the challenge. The glossy black lid might evoke a well-worn laptop design cliché, but this isn’t cast from the usual plastic or brushed metal. Instead, a thick layer of reinforced, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass takes its place. The glossy surface is a veritable fingerprint magnet – you’ll need to keep a cloth handy for such emergencies – but it also feels reassuringly stiff and strong; more than capable of protecting the display within.

HP Envy 14 Spectre

Peel the lid back, and there’s something strangely familiar about the HP’s interior. Squint, and it would be easy to mistake the silver keyboard surround and neat rows of black keys for that of the Apple MacBook Pro. There’s still a glimmer of individuality, though. Another pane of Gorilla Glass is pressed flush across the wristrest area, and with the backlit keyboard and power button gleaming above and the Beats logo glowing on the bottom-right edge, it's just different enough to stave off the patent lawyers.

Despite all that, there’s still a nagging feeling that – physically, at least – the Envy 14 Spectre is just a little ordinary. Indeed, where Asus’ Zenbooks and Dell’s XPS 13 trade on their modern, slimline looks, HP’s Ultrabook is more traditional. At 1.8kg, it’s also around a half kilo heavier than its rival Ultrabooks. Nor does it feel as durable as some: grasp the Envy in both hands, and there’s noticeable give in the base. It’s a far cry from the rigid, unforgiving feel of Asus’ and Dell’s efforts.

Get connected

Look closer, however, and there’s plenty to admire. Where many of its rivals struggle to accommodate ports around their millimetre-thick bodies, the HP has no such problems. With mini-DisplayPort, HDMI, USB 2, USB 3 and Gigabit sockets, plus an SD card reader, the Envy is among the better-connected Ultrabooks on the market.

HP Envy 14 Spectre

This isn’t the end of its talents, however, as HP has also packed the Envy full of wireless connectivity. Intel’s dual-band, dual-stream Advanced-N 6230 chipset delivers speedy wireless networking as well as Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) technology, and HP has also embedded KleerNet’s Wireless Audio for beaming sound to compatible third-party devices. The final addition is that of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology: wave a compatible smartphone near the wristrest, and in theory it's possible to ping data – such as web addresses and media – to and fro with a mere flick of the wrist. We tried this with a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but couldn't get the laptop to recognise the phone at all.

Picture perfect

Then there’s the matter of the display. As with the exterior of the lid, this too is covered in a glossy layer of Gorilla Glass, but thanks to the narrow bezel surrounding the display, HP has managed to shoehorn in a larger-than-usual 14in, 1,600 x 900 display. It struggles to match the likes of Asus’s Zenbook UX31 for overall brightness – the HP reaches 261cd/m[su]2[/sup] to the UX31’s 506cd/m2 – but the overall image quality is leaps and bounds ahead of its peers.

With a contrast ratio of 579:1 and impressive colour accuracy, the HP is capable of delivering bold, realistic-looking images. What’s more, the extra 0.7in of screen diagonal are actually rather noticeable – small text is a degree more legible than that of Asus’ Zenbook UX31, which has the same resolution stretched across a smaller 13.3in panel.

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User comments

Pricing

Not sure of the relevence of '
but it's also £200 more expensive than the Asus Zenbook UX31E' as this was exactly the same price as the HP when reviewed. OK so you can now get it for £1K but surely the same sort of price drop will happen with the HP given a wee while.

By strudders on 23 Feb 2012

All those communication bits yet no 3G? No thanks...

By PaulOckenden on 23 Feb 2012

Why not a mobile i7?

A Core i5-2467M? Woeful! It should be at least an i7! The new Ivy Bridge mobile chips are coming soon as well. These will flatten both! I know, I'm trying to assemble a 3930K supercomputer! http://www.indiegogo.com/DUMFRIES-SUPERCOMPUTER?a=
441422

By ashane on 23 Feb 2012

@ashane

Are you serious?

By JStairmand on 23 Feb 2012

@ashane

There's litte need for an i7 other than a small speed increase. Are you still thinking that all i7 models are quad core perhaps?

By rhythm on 23 Feb 2012

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