HP Omen 15 (2017) review: A good laptop that made some bad decisions

The devil's in the details

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

I’m torn over the HP Omen 15.

Like the larger HP Omen 17 we reviewed (and heartily recommended) in late 2017, the Omen 15 isn’t the flashiest notebook around, nor the fastest. It doesn’t stand out from the wider crowd of gaming laptops with spectacular features. But nevertheless, it's a solid, attractive all-around gaming notebook that’s light enough to actually carry with you. That’s a rare combination in gaming notebook

Yet a few puzzling design decisions in the specific configuration we’re reviewing tarnish its luster somewhat. One aspect might be a complete show-stopper depending on how you use your gaming laptop. The HP Omen 15 serves as a strong reminder that yes, the configuration you choose when buying a PC can matter deeply.

Let’s dig in!

HP Omen 15 specs, features, and price

The Omen 15t gaming UHD (as this specific variant is formally known) is available with several customization options on HP’s website. The base configuration includes an Intel Core i7-7700HQ, a GeForce GTX 1050, 16GB of RAM, a 120Hz 1080p IPS display, and a 1TB hard drive paired with a 128GB NVMe drive for $1,100. That’s a very solid offering for the price! But if you need something more, every aspect of the machine can be changed except for the processor and memory. That includes details like the operating system and networking hardware.

hp omen 15 4 Brad Chacos/IDG

The HP Omen 15 we’re reviewing represents one of the higher-end configurations available.

  • CPU: Core i7-7700HQ
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4/2400
  • Storage: 2TB Seagate 5400rpm hard drive, 256GB Toshiba NVMe M.2 SSD
  • Wireless: Intel dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
  • Display: 15.6-inch 3840x2160 (4K) IPS with G-Sync
  • Ports: 3x USB 3, Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, Mini-DisplayPort, SD card reader, ethernet, microphone jack, headphone jack, lock slot
  • Weight: 5.76 pounds, or 7.74 pounds with power brick
  • Dimensions: 15.3 x 10.85 x 0.98 inches
  • Webcam: 1080p IR webcam with dual-array digital microphone (supports Windows Hello biometric authentication)
  • Price: $1,100 baseline, $1,740 as configured

The specs largely align with what you’ll find in many gaming notebooks, delivering plenty of prowess in gaming and productivity alike. The upgraded webcam includes an infrared sensor to support Windows Hello biometric authentication. Like I said: It’s a smart, solid all-around gaming laptop. A few puzzling hardware choices in this model leap out, however—like the decision to include a pokey 5,400rpm hard drive alongside a speedy, yet small 256GB NVMe boot drive. Talk about a night-and-day performance difference!

Another puzzler: HP’s configuration page lists the graphics card as a "6GB GeForce GTX 1060," leading you to believe it’s the full-fat mobile GPU. But a quick dive into the Windows device manager shows the hardware is a GTX 1060 Max-Q part, instead. Nvidia’s Max-Q tech tunes hardware and software to create more energy-efficient versions of their namesake GPUs, albeit with some loss in performance. Happily, as we’ve discovered in the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (and will see later in this review), the Max-Q version of the GTX 1060 trails its beefier cousin by only a few frames and stands as a damned fine 1080p gaming option. Still, this potential confusion is worth pointing out. We asked HP for clarification, but the company was unable to provide any. 

hp omen press HP

The Omen 15’s 15.6-inch IPS panel is a stunner, dishing out wide viewing angles, vibrant colors, and a luminous 314 nits of brightness. The display includes Nvidia’s G-Sync technology as well, which synchronizes the refresh rate of the GPU and panel to provide buttery-smooth gameplay free of tearing or stuttering. It’s great!

The decision to include a 4K, 60Hz display as an option feels weird with this laptop, though. The GTX 1060 Max-Q inside realistically can’t game beyond 1080p resolution in modern AAA games, and with so many pixels crammed into a modest 15-inch display, HP automatically scales text, apps, and other items up by 250 percent to make them legible, negating 4K’s benefits in most day-to-day uses. G-Sync and 4K resolution each impose a massive penalty to battery life as well, as you’ll see later.

The 120Hz, 1080p G-Sync display option that HP offers might be a better fit for the Omen 15’s capabilities, though we haven’t tested it directly. It’s $200 cheaper, too.

hp omen 15 speakers Brad Chacos/IDG

Visuals are only part of a solid multimedia experience, though. The HP Omen 15’s Bang & Olufsen speakers produce clear, loud audio that sounds nice whether you’re watching movies or blasting through Cabal hordes in Destiny 2. There’s very little bass however, and while the lack of punch isn’t a major detractor to the overall experience, you definitely notice it during action-heavy sequences. You might want to snag a nice gaming headset to toss in your travel bag, but I wouldn’t consider it a must-have.

hp omen 15 8 Brad Chacos/IDG

Red or bust.

Like the rest of this laptop’s design, the HP Omen 15’s touchpad and keyboard deliver a solid core experience. The touchpad isn’t quite as fluid as the gold standard set by the MacBook Air or Surface devices, but it’s responsive (if slightly draggy-feeling) and responds well to gesture commands. It has physical left- and right-click buttons too, which I always prefer. The keyboard's travel is limited but it still feels nicely crisp and clicky. I enjoyed using it for gaming and plowing through emails even though it’s not mechanical. The keys' lettering virtually impossible to read unless you have the red keyboard backlight active, though, because HP decided to use red type on black keys. Overall, the Omen 15’s input experience excels compared to many gaming laptops.

The overall design of the notebook is strong but also makes some small missteps. Even though HP sticks to the black-and-red aesthetic common on so many gaming laptops, it looks damned good—it’s “gamer” done right!—I wish the Omen 15 used more consistent materials. The surface around the keyboard is crafted from gorgeous brushed aluminum, yet the lid itself consists of plastic designed to resemble brushed aluminum, as is the heavily ventilated bottom of the laptop. It’s a bit jarring.

hp omen 15 13 Brad Chacos/IDG

The lid’s design looks great though. A red X in the center separates it into four quandrants, with the left and right quadrants covered in faux carbon fiber. A crimson Omen logo sits in the center of the upper quadrant, striking a beautiful contrast.

Note: The foil Omen logo on our unit was already starting to peel off when we pulled the notebook out of its box—and we saw plenty of similar complaints on HP's support forums. According to HP, however, this was a known issue with early devices like ours that has since been resolved.  

At one inch thick and 5.75 pounds sans power brick, the HP Omen 15 is lighter than many gaming laptops, though not as sleek as some of the Max-Q laptops we’ve seen. The Asus ROG Zephyrus and Gigabyte Aero 15X both weigh in under five pounds despite using more potent graphics cards (they cost hundreds of dollars more, to be fair). You can’t complain about the port selection, either: The HP Omen 15 is loaded, as you can see in the quick-hit specs above. It even has Thunderbolt 3 and a lock slot.

Next page: HP Omen 15 performance benchmarks and bottom line

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Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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