HP Envy 14 Spectre review

22 Feb 2012

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

Price when reviewed: 
1,199(£1,199 inc VAT)
4

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/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.

Details

Price ex VAT £999
Price inc VAT £1,199
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 3
Performance 4

Physical specifications

Dimensions 329 x 221 x 20mm (WDH)
Weight 1.800kg
Travelling weight 2.2kg
Weight with extended battery 2.2kg
Travelling weight with extended battery 2.2kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i5-2467M
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3

Screen and video

Screen size 14.0in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,600
Resolution screen vertical 900
Resolution 1600 x 900
Graphics chipset Intel HD Graphics 3000
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 128GB
Hard disk Samsung SSD
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 no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 1
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel 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
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Hardware volume control? yes
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

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
Responsiveness score 0.78
Media score 0.57
Multitasking score 0.41

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7