HP Envy Touchsmart 4 Ultrabook

The Envy Touchsmart 4 has a 14in touchscreen, but it's a heavy Ultrabook and it could use a better configuration

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HP Envy Touchsmart 4 Ultrabook
  • HP Envy Touchsmart 4 Ultrabook
  • HP Envy Touchsmart 4 Ultrabook
  • HP Envy Touchsmart 4 Ultrabook
  • Expert Rating

    3.00 / 5

Pros

  • Good selection of ports
  • Decent CPU performance
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • Screen's angles and overall quality
  • Only single-band Wi-Fi
  • Keyboard not backlit

Bottom Line

There just isn't enough good stuff inside the HP Envy Touchsmart 4 to justify its $1599 price tag. It's basically a stock-standard 14in Ultrabook with a touch panel, and it's quite heavy compared to other 14in Ultrabooks, too. We'd like to see this model offered with a better quality screen, more RAM, dual-band wireless and perhaps a 120GB solid state drive for the price.

Would you buy this?

The HP Envy TouchSmart 4 is an Ultrabook that is designed for Windows 8 and it has the touchscreen to prove it. It's not a hybrid Ultrabook though, which means you can't use it as a tablet instead of a notebook. The Envy has a traditional clamshell form factor with a touchscreen that's there to facilitate simple taps and Start screen navigation now and then, rather than prolonged use with your fingers.

Because it has a touchscreen and a 14in form factor, it's an Ultrabook that feels quite heavy to carry. It tipped our scales at just under 2.1kg, which, to give you an example, it heavier than other 14in laptops by HP, such as the Envy 14 Spectre (1.8kg), and the Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition (2kg). The Envy Touchsmart 4 is sturdily built though and a lot of this has to do with its chassis, which has a sealed designed that can't be easily removed by end users.

Specifications and performance

We like the amount of connectivity that is present around the edges of the chassis. The left side has Gigabit Ethernet (which has a spring-loaded door on it that could get annoying), an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card slot. Meanwhile, the right side has another USB port (2.0) and separate headphone and microphone ports. It's a very convenient configuration that allows you easily plug in memory cards from a camera, to connect the laptop to a TV and to attach high-capacity external storage units.

On the inside, the Envy Touchsmart 4 has a configuration that includes an Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, which runs at 1.7GHz and has two cores plus Hyper-Threading, and integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics. It's surrounded by 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM and a 500GB hard drive, along with a 32GB mSATA solid state drive. You also get Bluetooth, a webcam and single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi (via an Atheros QCA9565 module). As you can see, this configuration is nothing special, and considering the $1599 recommended retail price of the unit, we would have at least liked to have more RAM, a 120GB solid state drive and a better wireless networking solution — at least one with dual-band capabilities and even Intel WiDi support.

In our tests, the Envy Touchsmart 4 performed mostly as expected for its CPU class. Its time of 49sec in our Blender 3D rendering test is the same as other laptops that use the third generation Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, such as the Toshiba Satellite Z930 and U840W, but its iTunes MP3 encoding time of 1min 3sec is about six seconds off the mark. The Touchsmart 4 performed quite well in the AutoGordianKnot DVD-to-Xvid conversion test, completing the task in 57min. We expected it to get under one hour, so we're pleased with that result. In 3DMark, the Envy recorded 4495, which is much slower than we expected, especially considering that HP's own Envy Spectre XT recorded 5289 in the same test using a similar configuration.

Storage is handled by a 500GB hard drive with a spin speed of 5400rpm. It recorded a read rate of 116 megabytes per second (MBps) in CrystalDiskMark, along with a write rate of 88MBps. It's definitely not the fastest storage device we've seen, and for the price we would have liked the main drive to be solid state. You do get a 32GB solid state drive though, which works as a cache drive to boost the overall performance of the system. We did find the Envy to be zippy when it came to launching programs and switching between apps, and boot time was also reasonable; a cold boot took just 10sec for the laptop to get the Windows login screen.

Battery life was a solid 3hr 39min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise the screen brightness and loop an Xvid encoded video. This time is identical to the HP Envy Spectre XT, which is also a 14in Ultrabook with a Core i5-3317U CPU. You can get more life out of the Touchsmart's battery if you enable a sensible power scheme, lower the brightness and don't use it for CPU-intensive tasks.

Under a heavy work load, the Envy's fan kicked in to cool the system. While it made an audible, low whirring sound, it never got to the point of being annoying. The chassis got only slightly warm and wasn't too uncomfortable for lap use, although we did have to be careful not to block the vents at the rear.

Usability

As for usability, the HP Envy Touchsmart 4 lacks one ingredient that we think should be essential for a $1599 Ultrabook, and that is a backlit keyboard. Instead, our Envy came with a stock-standard keyboard with matte keys. It's not a bad keyboard at all, and we didn't have any problems typing on it for prolonged periods of time during our review. The response and travel, as well as the spacing of the keys felt good. We did have to get used to the small Up and Down arrows, as well as the location of the Home, Down, Page Up and Page Down keys, but apart from that the layout is conventional. The palm rest is spacious and it felt good in our tests. Basically, it's a comfortable Ultrabook to type on while resting it on your lap.

The Synaptics touchpad is good overall, but it does have a spiral texture that can get very annoying -- and it will make 'scratching' sounds depending on how you move your fingers. We don't care for this texture and wish that the pad just had a smooth finish; it made some gestures feel awkward, such as swiping in from the sides to use the Charms or to switch Windows 8 apps. You can use multi-finger gestures (two-finger scrolling and three-finger flicks) in addition to Windows 8-specific swipe gestures, and the pad was mostly accurate and responsive in its performance. However, it didn't execute three-finger flicks at all, even after we disabled and re-enabled this gesture in the Synaptics ClickPad V8.1 software from the Control Panel.

Another aspect of the Envy Touchsmart 4 that could be better is the screen. It's a touch panel with a standard resolution of 1366x768, which is just enough pixels to support Windows 8's Snap feature for apps. It's not a great screen, and the resolution is only part of the reason why. It's also way too reflective and it just looks too dull for our taste. Furthermore, the vertical viewing angles are narrow and we had to constantly change the tilt of the screen in order to make the image look less muddy or less pale (depending on the angle).

As for the screen's touch response, we had no problems with it. Swipes in from the sides and from the top worked well and we were easily able to bring up the Charms, switch apps and close programs. While it's impossible to use the Envy Touchsmart 4 as a tablet, the touchscreen comes in handy when you want to use those Windows 8-specific touch gestures, and it's also quite useful when you want to point the cursor to a specific part of a document, or flick through photos in a folder, for example. You probably will have to clean the screen regularly if you use the touch features, because finger marks will be visible.

Sound is handled by a pair of tiny speakers that use Beats Audio processing, which needs to be enabled if the sound from this laptop is to sound good. Unlike other Beats laptops, you don't get a dedicated volume knob or other physical audio controls that can bring up the Beats equaliser settings. You'll have to settle for double-clicking the 'b' icon in the System Tray to get to the audio settings. The sound quality from the built-in speakers is neither loud, nor full. External speakers or headphones will be needed for an enjoyable listening experience.

Conclusion

While it's a decent Ultrabook overall, there is still nothing about the HP Envy Touchsmart 4 that makes it a must-buy. In fact, it's fairly generic (apart from offering a touchscreen) considering the price HP is asking. There is no backlight for the keyboard, the screen's quality could be a lot better, the wireless networking could be better, the storage solution could be better. That's the basic motto for this laptop and its $1599 price tag: it could be better.

If you need help using the new Windows 8 interface on a laptop such as this one, be sure to check out our Beginner's Guide to Windows 8. We show you how to use the Start screen and all of the other features that the new operating system offers.

Related Windows 8 laptop reviews:

Toshiba Satellite L850 Windows 8 laptop
ASUS Taichi 21 Windows 8 hybrid Ultrabook
Medion Akoya S4216 (MD 99081) Windows 8 Ultrabook
Toshiba Satellite U920T hybrid Ultrabook
Dell XPS 12 convertible Ultrabook
ASUS Vivo Book F202 touchscreen notebook
Acer Aspire S7 touchscreen Ultrabook

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