Product: HP Envy 15
System Specifications: Intel Core i7-720QM, Windows 7 64-bit, 8GB RAM, 500GB HDD, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5830, VGA, HDMI, USB 3.0, eSATA, WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack, SD, SDHC, USB, 6-cell Li-ion battery
WHEN HP ACQUIRED the luxury high-end computer brand Voodoo in 2006, most pundits saw this as a Dell-Alienware relationship in the making although little fruit was initially born from the resulting deal.
One premium laptop, the HP Voodoo Envy 133, finally tipped up in 2008 with a $2,099 price tag, but that never made it across the pond to Blighty. It was all quiet again until late last year when HP produced two new premium luxury notebooks to be sold on a worldwide scale, keeping the Envy naming convention but dropping the Voodoo brand.
The Envy 15 model the INQUIRER initially received came to us with some inherent problems, which took some time to resolve. The replacement notebook was a brand new version never been seen before in the UK, with some overall improvements to its graphical prowess and the notable inclusion of USB 3.0, which has yet to be seen in a portable computer by the INQ.
HP is calling the Envy 15 the lightest and thinnest quad-core notebook around, which does hold some water as it measures 380mm x 244mm x 26.5mm while weighing in at 2.35kg. Other quad-core rigs are usually much larger where a lot of them are being marketed as desktop replacements rather than high end notebooks.
HP is clearly going after Apple and its Macbook Pro that has a similar premium build and rounded edges.
The Envy's case is predominately made up of a magnesium alloy composite, with laser etching on the palm rests and lid. This does stand out from the usual choice of brushed metal, which appears to be the current flavour of high-end notebook manufacturers these days. Although we're unsure if this was an entirely wise choice of materials as it does seem to conduct the heat output rather a lot. During regular run of the mill operating of the Envy 15, email writing, web browsing, and nothing really too taxing the computer became very warm in certain areas and all without the power supply being connected. The palm rests became uncomfortably warm; the left side of the keyboard became worryingly hot to the touch and the base of the Envy could almost fry eggs.
The formally-known-as-Voodoo branded notebook comes along with an Intel Quad Core i7-720QM 1.6 GHz processor, which can be seen in the system as having eight cores thanks to Intel's Hyperthreading. This does seem a little bit of overkill, but HP is going after the highest of the high in terms of specifications and meeting the requirements of what they expect the customer feels they really need. The computer is expandable to 16GB of memory, with this latest version shipping with 8GB as de facto. This is the most powerful, portable beast we've had in our grubby little mitts of late, but it does come at a cost - both in monetary terms and also in longevity away from a power supply, but we'll get to that shortly.
The original Envy 15 we saw had the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4830 discrete graphics with 1GB of DDR3 memory, that computer was replaced with a new model boasting the improved ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5830 GPU, also with 1 GB of dedicated memory. The new model has a full HD resolution at 1920x1080, instead of 1366x768, using the same 15.6-inch screen, although we're hearing the USA model could always support the fully blown HD video standard, whereas the UK version that is still on sale is crippled in some way. We thought we'd save the best to last - the 5830 GPU also has DirectX 11 graphics capabilities.
HD media playback and game play was very good with those graphics and processor coupled together. A decent experience was to be found on a number of games, with the settings cranked up high in the likes of the Batman Arkham Asylum demo and the recommended Colin McRae Dirt 2 by ATI, which has full DX11 support. The same applies with Blu-ray, MKV files and QuickTime media, all of which worked well on the highest 1080 settings, as you might expect. However, there isn't an internal optical drive on the Envy 15, although an external Blu-ray unit is shipped with this notebook.
The HP Envy's screen is ideal for video media playback with its 16:9 form factor, but it is not ideal for other aspects of computing. Due to the nature and dimensions of the display it comes across small and squat, none more so than within reading or writing text, to just basic web browsing. At its best a few hundred words are only visible on a document, or about an eighth of a 1,500 word review on the Inq, which isn't the most ideal setup for an all-round computer. The screen also halts at an awkward position when it's angled backwards, to the point where it's uncomfortable to regularly use and view. The display should open out a lot more, rather than stopping abruptly where it did, as if you aren't staring directly at the screen in an ergonomically sound way it can cause strain on the neck.
The chiclet style keyboard has a familiar look to the Nokia Booklet and even some mobile phones' physical keyboards, with its individually spaced out non-connecting keys. Unfortunately it's not a great typing experience, as although the keys do have space between them all giving the illusion of a good layout they are all too close together and awkwardly positioned. It's as though the keys have been compacted to accommodate a very small space, where there is nearly two inches of unused space either side of the keyboard that could have been filled to make a larger, better keyboard. As a result of the unconventional design mistakes were often made while writing this review (is that really due to the keyboard though? - Ed). Frequently letters suddenly became capitals halfway through a word, as the caplock key is where you'd normally expect the 'a' key to be; the print screen appeared all too often when pressing the shift key, as that too is located where the shift is usually found. Adding to this unpleasant experience is the incredibly warm palm rest that made that space an almost no-go area, where we had to hover above the keyboard just to type.
The Envy 15 has all the ports one could wish for, along with some that took us by surprise. Video output comes in the form of VGA and an HDMI port, which is ideal as the notebook can actually produce 1080 where a lot we've seen in the past struggled even with 720. There is the expected array of three USB ports and a memory card reader supporting SD and MMC. One of the USB ports doubles up as an eSata socket, in much the same was as seen on motherboards from companies such as Asus. USB 3.0 wasn't present in the previous Envy 15 model we saw from HP and it's a welcome addition to this new version, as the throughput and data transfer speeds are supposedly outstanding although we weren't able to test them out.
There are some other niceties thrown in for good measure, such as the webcam and, for the speakers, HP has teamed up with Beats Audio, just to add premium quality sound to the notebook that is definitely heard when listening to decent audio quality - but you do need decent audio quality otherwise the additional hardware is lost.
The VGA quality webcam has been fitted with an infrared LED, for night-vision-esque ability to be used within low-light conditions, for Skype or similar software. This does actually work rather well, although the images look a little creepy and rather like military night-vision footage seen on the news with a white tint to all the video and everything in very bright black and white monochrome.
Battery life for the HP Envy 15 is very much under par for a notebook and for that matter any standard portable computer, whether they are graphic hungry monsters or budget-laden laptops. In continuous use and within the highest performance settings of Windows 7, the notebook only had one hour of battery life inside it. To recharge the device fully it took just over two hours and thirty minutes while powered down and all for that one hour of battery life. On the most power conservative settings, with WiFi, Bluetooth and the webcam all disabled, with the screen at its dimmest the Envy lasted only five minutes longer. µ
As a concept the Envy 15 appears to be great, where in reality the notebook is a bit disappointing. These faults range from the exorbitant heat output experienced on the notebooks' surfaces and not even after a long time in use, as the computer only lasts an hour away from a power point. It is a powerful computer, with a fast quad core CPU, great graphical abilities and capable of handling fully HD video, but until all those matters of concern are resolved it will not fulfill the potential we believe it could and should live up to.
Quad core fast laptop, decent graphics, USB 3.0
Battery life, expensive for most peoples' tastes, awkward keyboard layout
No internal optical drive, hot surfaces, awkward screen angle