Now, here's where I make a pause to explain the tricky timing we went through in testing and reviewing the Envy 14. This second-gen model was launched in August and we received our test system about a month later. That was around the same time HP suddenly halted their webOS business and hinted at a possible PC unit spin off. Weeks went by, HP received all kinds of good and bad press (mostly the latter), their relatively new CEO went out the door, and in late October we finally received a final answer: HP is keeping its PC business and we should see more products in the near future.
Back to business as usual, HP revamped the Envy 15 and 17 models in late November, while the Envy 14 remained mostly the same, receiving a couple of speed bumps and price cuts.
Our evaluation system used to cost $1,079.99 but now you can get it for $899. The Envy 14 comes with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M with Turbo Boost, 6GB DDR3 SDRAM, a Western Digital 750GB hard drive, Radeon HD 6630M switchable graphics, a 14.5" HD BrightView Infinity LED display, 8X DVD+/-R/RW with Double Layer support, Intel HM65 Express Chipset, Intel 802.11a/b/g/n WLAN with Bluetooth and an 8-cell 3800mAh Lithium Ion battery. Windows 7 Home Premium is the operating system of choice.
If you are familiar with the Envy line, there aren't any surprises from last year's models. The computer arrived in similar packaging and includes a power adapter, removable battery, power cord and a quick setup guide. The power adapter includes a USB port for charging mobile devices which is a nice touch.
From the outside the 2010 and 2011 Envy 14 models are nearly indistinguishable. The Envy has a strong resemblance to Apple's MacBook Pro which for the most part could be considered a good thing. The latest version features the same gunmetal lid with an attractive etched pattern. A reflective HP logo is positioned on the back corner of the lid on the right side and emits a subtle white glow when the system is on.
On the front of the notebook are two speaker grills with the Beats audio logo prominently displayed beside the left grill. A SD / MMC card slot flanks the speaker on the right. On the right side of the system is a power and hard drive activity light, USB 3.0 port, HDMI port, mini DisplayPort, Kensington lock slot, Ethernet jack and an array of exhaust vents.
The back of the system is clean besides another series of exhaust vents. On the left side is the slot-loading optical drive, two USB 2.0 ports and headphone / microphone jacks.
There are four anti-slip pads on the bottom of the notebook although one of the feet was broken on our sample. HP cycles review samples through multiple media outlets and we have no idea how many others have tested this Envy before we received it. Even so, a broken foot calls into question the durability of the notebook a bit and upon further inspection, the access panel that had the broken pad feels pretty flimsy.
Feet aside, the bottom of the Envy 14 is relatively plain. There's the aforementioned access panel that hides the removable battery and hard drive.
Opening the lid, we see the beautiful infinity display with the Beats audio logo on the top left and the Envy 14 badge on the right. The display has a resolution of 1366x768 which isn't quite the 1600x900 pixels found on last year's Radiance display. Unfortunately, HP no longer offers the Radiance display option as they were unable to obtain enough from suppliers for 2011. There's a "Skype-certified" 720p webcam above the display with microphones on either side of the lens.
Also returning is the full-size backlit chiclet keyboard that has a nice solid feel when typing. There are no dedicated media keys but the function buttons across the top row double as secondary buttons without having to first press the Fn key. For example, pressing F5 turns the backlight on rather than refreshing the page you are currently viewing.
The touchpad and click buttons are once again integrated into a single unit. I've had mixed experiences with this in the past; some good, mostly bad. Last year's Envy 14 was one of the worst, but we were told by HP those issues have been corrected thanks to a new ImagePad that is more accurate and can handle more fingers at once. We'll check these out in better detail next.
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