Usage, Battery Life and Closing Thoughts
The HP Envy 14 is a solid notebook with plenty of processing power and top notch build quality. It weighs 5.2 pounds with the included 8-cell battery which is a little on the hefty side for its size, but the additional weight can be credited to the quality aluminum construction, making it a justifiable trade-off.
Our machine featured the upgraded 14.5" HD+ HP Radiance LED display running at 1600 x 900. While I personally love the increased resolution and colors were very vibrant, I couldn't help but notice that whites seemed a bit too warm. I was able to adjust this to a more acceptable level using Windows 7's calibration tools, but I can still tell a difference between the whites on the HP display and those of other notebook or LCD monitors. I can't really say if it's good or bad, it's just different.
Another complaint with the display has to do with brightness level adjustment. There are 10 different brightness settings, but the brightest scales too greatly between settings. Either you have a very bright (perhaps too bright) display, or one that's not quite bright enough. I couldn't find a happy medium. The difference between all the other levels was much more subtle.
As is, I'm not sure the improved display is worth $300. Other notebooks we have reviewed, like the Lenovo ThinkPad T510, only charged an additional $50 for their 1600 x 900 panel upgrade. Personally I would probably stick with the default 1366 x 768 display and spend the extra $300 on a solid state drive.
The keyboard on the Envy 14 is a strong point for the system. The island style keys look and feel great as you type and the backlit keyboard is a great addition for low light situations. They keyboard layout is perfect; I wouldn't change a thing here. The touchpad, however, is a different story. HP has integrated the mouse click buttons within the touchpad, which is a terrible idea. There is no difference in tactical feel between the touchpad and click buttons, but what really ruined the experience for me was the fact that the mouse pointer sensitivity carries over onto the click buttons.
This resulted in erratic behavior whenever I kept one finger on the left mouse click button and used another to move the cursor. Surely Im not the only one that surfs like that. I brought this up to HP in a conference call and was assured that this could be fixed via a Synaptics driver update, which they sent over to me a few days later. The new driver did allow me to disable the touch zone on the mouse click buttons, restoring a bit of my sanity. That said, if the Envy were mine I would likely just use an external mouse as I'm not a fan of the hybrid touchpad + mouse click button design.
Mouse buttons aside, the touchpad worked pretty well. Some may find it a bit oversized, but any interference from your palms during typing can be alleviated with the driver software. You can also double tap the top left corner of the touchpad to disable it completely.
The Envy's cooling system remained quiet for the most part. Only under 100% CPU utilization the cooling fans kicked into high gear. The right exhaust port did a good job of expelling heat, but as anticipated, the rear exhaust port is partially blocked by the display when opened, thus redirecting warm air up in front of the display and near your hands on the keyboard. This wasn't a big issue but worth pointing out.
I conducted four different battery tests on the Envy 14, during which I set the notebook to maximum performance mode (no energy saving features) and measured battery life with the system fully charged and sitting idle at the desktop. When using the integrated graphics at full screen brightness, the battery was good for 3 hours and 25 minutes. Dropping down to half screen brightness resulted in 3 hours and 53 minutes of battery life. Switching to the discrete Mobility Radeon HD 5650 graphics, I noted 2 hours and 59 minutes at full screen brightness and 3 hours and 5 minutes at half.
The HD 5650 is a standard addition to the Envy, and one I really like. While modern Intel HD graphics are fine for everyday usage like web surfing and watching videos, they leave a lot to be desired on more demanding tasks. The 5650 isn't quite a gaming powerhouse, but it'll certainly allow you to play most modern titles at reasonable graphics settings. Note that even though the Envy 14 does have 'switchable' graphics, you have to manually set the discrete GPU to function or not, unlike Nvidia's Optimus that does the work for you. Alternatively, you can set Windows to turn off the discrete graphics whenever you go into battery mode.
The Beats Audio subsystem also comes standard on all Envy models. HP worked with the folks at Interscope Records (think 50 Cent, Dr. Dre and U2) to develop a unique and real audio experience through hardware and software. The team created an audio profile based on Interscopes feedback of what music "should" sound like. On the hardware side, HP has beefed up some of the components to avoid crosstalk and feedback and included a better-than-standard amplifier.
When using the Beats Audio system through the notebook speakers, the results aren't terribly impressive. In fact, the speakers on the Acer Aspire One 11.6" actually sound better than those of the Envy. Speakers this small usually sound tinny and lack any bass, and the Envy is no different.
The difference, however, comes when you plug in a set of headphones or output to dedicated speakers. I didnt have any real good quality headphones on hand, but even with the ear buds I have, I could tell a very noticeable difference in both quality and power.
In an attempt to fully appreciate the audio output, I connected the notebook to my home theater stereo receiver. After fine-tuning the equalizer in the Beats control panel, I was left with very rich sound that anyone could appreciate. So if you plan to listen to a lot of music on your Envy, do yourself a favor and pick up a quality set of headphones to complement the Beats Audio subsystem.
The HP Envy 14 ($1,389.99, as tested) is a competent multimedia notebook that is small and durable enough to toss in your bag and stand up against the elements. The 14.5" HD+ HP Radiance LED display is overpriced in my opinion but the switchable ATI 5650, Beats Audio and backlit island-style keyboard are all quality features. Subtract the $300 Radiance display and the Envy 14 is a much better value in my book.