HP Envy 15 notebook
Good audio performance and a useful set of features make this a worthwhile notebook, but it could use some refinement
- Looks good
- Backlit keyboard
- Core i7 CPU and 8GB RAM
- Audio quality
- Touchpad could be better
- Screen too glossy
- Keyboard is a little bouncy
While it's not the perfect specimen of a premium laptop, the HP Envy 15 still has a lot to like. It comes with a good configuration, it looks attractive and it sounds great. However, its input devices could use some refinement and its screen is too glossy for our liking.
Price$ 1,699.00 (AUD)
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HP's Envy 15 is a 2.7kg, 15.6in notebook with a good set of specifications and a very nice design. It looks good and has a couple of features that can't be found on other notebooks, such as a large, rotational volume control and a six-speaker system. It also uses a Beats Audio interface, which makes adjusting the sound output very easy. It's not a perfect notebook though, and there are still some areas that we think need refining, but overall, it's still a unit worth considering.
Build quality and features
The Envy 15 is made of metal and feels sturdily built for the most part. It's approximately 30mm thick with the lid closed and it has a tapered design that makes the edges of the chassis really stand out. A good range of features is present around these edges, including an elegant slot-loading DVD burner. It's the type of drive that's a joy to use and we had lots of fun ripping CDs and DVDs with it. You can also find three USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0 ports), HDMI, DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card slot, a Microphone jack and two headphone jacks. We're not fans of the Kensington lock's location though, which is between the SD card slot and the USB port on the right side. If you want to keep this notebook cable-locked while you use it, the lock could get in the way.
You don't get a physical Wi-Fi toggle, but the F12 key is set up so that enabling and disabling the wireless module is its primary job -- it even has a little light. In fact, the majority of the F keys are set up so that their primary functions are to control media (through play/pause and skip buttons), change screen brightness, enable the keyboard backlight, eject optical disks (the slot-loading drive has no eject button on it) and change video output. If you want to use the F keys for tasks such as refreshing a Web browser, you'll need to press them in conjunction with the Fn key. This can be reversed in the BIOS if you wish.
The keyboard itself is fairly comfortable to type. The keys don't require a lot of pressure in order to leave their mark on the screen, possessing adequate softness and bounce. However, we think they could use a tad more travel. Furthermore, the left side of the keyboard feels a little too "bouncy" and this is because the optical drive is located under it and creates a void. A white backlight illuminates the keys and makes it easy to type at night. You can enable this backlight manually, or you can rely on the proximity sensor that's built in to the screen to switch it on and off when it detects that you're sitting in front of the computer.
The proximity sensor is noticeable on the left side of the screen thanks to its two red lights, which can be a little annoying at night. It's a feature that was very much hit-and-miss during our tests. More often than not, the proximity sensor did not work and the keyboard remained illuminated long after we'd left the computer on its own. Occasionally though, it switched off the backlight after the 10 seconds of idle time we set were up and didn't come on until we moved in front of the sensor. We asked HP why it decided to include a proximity sensor rather than a conventional timer for the backlight, to which a spokesperson responded that it's "believed to be the most effective in waking up the backlit keyboard and giving the laptop a 'life' like personality". Considering this feature only seemed to work whenever it felt like it, we can vouch for the life-like part.
Here is the keyboard backlight in action. It lights up (and switches off) in segments, which is something we've never seen before in a notebook, and we think it's a nice touch.
There is a 110x68mm Synaptics ClickPad touchpad located on the Envy 15's ample palm rest. It feels smooth, supports gestures such as two-finger scrolling and three-finger flicks, and its left- and right-click buttons are located under the pad, which provides more room for moving the cursor. However, the right-click button felt terrible during our tests; it seemed like it was hitting a part of the chassis, making each single click feel like a double click. We also noticed that the touchpad sometimes wouldn't recognise our gestures or taps and we had to perform these actions two or three times before they would work.
As for audio, this is one are in which the Envy 15 is a cut above many notebooks on the market. Its speakers, of which two are at the front, two are at the top and two are located under the unit (as a sub-woofer), produce clear sound and a nice range of frequencies. They allow for a fuller music listening experience than most typical laptops can supply. The focus isn't on being loud, which means you can turn the volume all the way up and not have it distort at all. It's still loud enough to fill a bedroom or a modest living area with an enjoyable listening level.
You can tinker with the quality of the output through the Beats Audio console, which can be accessed by pressing the volume control button. It allows you to adjust the bass, treble and mid-range frequencies with great ease. We wish the notebook had a line in port though, as it doesn't allow you to plug in and listen to (or record) audio from analogue devices. The microphone port is strictly for external microphones only.
While we like the rotational volume control a lot, it could stand to be better. After using the Envy 15 for a couple of weeks straight, the button on the volume control started to feel like it was sticking. Furthermore, the location and size of the control, as well as its looseness, means that it's very easy to change the volume accidentally while moving your hand up and down the right side of the keyboard. If the audio is muted, accidentally moving the volume control will un-mute it.
Here is the Beats Audio processing in action. The sound is lifeless without it enabled.
Other features of the HP Envy 15 include a webcam and a built-in microphone, Bluetooth and a dual-band, 802.11n wireless adapter (Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230). Its screen has a native resolution of 1366x768 and features edge-to-edge plastic, which gives it a reflective and therefore annoying finish. It can be hard to watch videos and edit photos because of the screen's glossiness.
The Envy 15 ships with Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and Adobe Premiere Elements 9 pre-installed, so you can start being creative right away.
Specifications and performance
On the inside, the HP Envy 15 is stocked with a potent configuration that can tackle pretty much anything except enthusiast-level gaming. It features a quad-core, Intel Core i7-2670QM CPU, which is a 2.2GHz CPU that also has Hyper-Threading, allowing it process eight software threads simultaneously. It's great for multi-tasking and for running multi-threaded media encoding or editing applications. It's joined by 8GB of DDR3 (1333MHz) SDRAM, automatically-selected Intel HD 3000 and AMD Radeon HD 7670M graphics adapters, and a 750GB, 7200rpm hard drive (model number W7500BPKT-60PK4T0).
This configuration put up a time of 29sec in our Blender 3D rendering test, 47sec in our iTunes MP3 encoding test and 44min in our AutoGordianKnot DVD-to-Xvid conversion test. These results aren't quite as fast as what we've seen from other laptops equipped with this CPU, such as the MSI X460, but they are still very good. The hard drive recorded a transfer rate of 64.3 megabytes per second (MBps), which is a satisfying showing, while in CrystalDiskMark it recorded a read rate of 123MBps and a write rate of 83MBps, which are also very decent results.
In 3DMark06, the AMD Radeon HD 7670M graphics adapter put up a strong score of 10418, while in 3DMark11 it returned a mark of P1326. Despite its results in these benchmarks, the Envy 15 didn't impress when it came to running the latest games. Running Battlefield 3 proved to be a hard slog for this notebook: the menus barely worked and sometimes all we'd get was a blank screen. We updated the drivers and made sure the notebook was using the AMD adapter to run this game, but kept getting the same result. On the odd occasion when we could get into the game, we witnessed average frame rates between 20 and 30, depending on the level of action. If you're after a gaming laptop, you're better off opting for something like the Toshiba Qosmio X770.
When using this laptop for a prolonged period of time for Web browsing and creating documents, it does get a little warm and some of that warmth travels up through the palmrest. There is a vent on the spine of the laptop through which the fan pushes warm air out of the chassis and it's not an overly loud fan, even when it's working at its hardest (while processing 3D graphics). During regular operation in a quiet room, the sound of your typing will be much more audible than the fan. It definitely doesn't get as loud as the fan in the Samsung Chronos laptop.
Unlike many recent premium notebooks we've seen, such as the Samsung Chronos, the HP Envy 15 has a removable bottom panel that allows you to access its battery. It's still not easy to remove the battery though, as you'll need a star-shaped screwdriver to do so. The battery has a 72 Watt-hour rating, allowing it to last a reasonably long time. In our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the Envy 15 lasted 3hr 54min. Anything close to four hours for a 15.6in laptop, and especially one with an Intel Core i7 CPU at the helm, is a very good result. You can get more out of it if you dim the screen and just use the laptop for basic Web browsing and document creation.
With good looks and a solid configuration, the HP Envy 15 is a laptop that's worth considering. It's not overly expensive considering it's a premium model, but it's also not as refined as a premium model should be. We'd put in a touchpad with better reliability, a screen with less gloss, a slightly more solid keyboard and a better quality volume control, and we'd add a line input. That said, we did enjoy using this notebook a lot and we like its feature-set as well as its audio quality.
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