HP Envy 14 Spectre review
A gorgeous ultrabook with a great display, but it's just too expensive when lined up against faster, better competition
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/m[sup]2[/sup] – 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.
|Price ex VAT||£999|
|Price inc VAT||£1,199|
|Features & Design||5|
|Value for Money||3|
|Dimensions||329 x 221 x 20mm (WDH)|
|Weight with extended battery||2.2kg|
|Travelling weight with extended battery||2.2kg|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core i5-2467M|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,600|
|Resolution screen vertical||900|
|Resolution||1600 x 900|
|Graphics chipset||Intel HD Graphics 3000|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||0|
|Hard disk||Samsung SSD|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||no|
|Wireless key-combination switch||yes|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||1|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial ports||0|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||0|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||2|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||no|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||no|
|Smart Media reader||no|
|Compact Flash reader||no|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Hardware volume control?||yes|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||7hr 31min|
|Battery life, heavy use||2hr 9min|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||23fps|
|3D performance setting||Low|
|Overall Real World Benchmark score||0.59|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit|
|OS family||Windows 7|