Most of the 13-inch laptops I’ve reviewed over the past few years have been high-end options, typically starting at or above $1,000. Usually you’d get pretty decent hardware and features for this price, including metal bodies, gorgeous high-resolution displays, and powerful Intel Core i5 or i7 processors.
But for many people, spending $1,000 on a laptop is not feasible, even if high-end hardware is important. This is where the HP Envy 13 comes in: it packs hardware that’s comparable to a $1,000 laptop in a MacBook Air-like package, complete with a price that starts at just $800. In some ways, the Envy is the budget high-end laptop that price-conscious shoppers may be after.
For $800, you get a very respectable collection of hardware. On the processor side, it’s equipped with an Intel ‘Skylake’ Core i5-6200U, paired with 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB solid state drive. The display is a 13.3-inch 1080p IPS LCD, although for just $50 (a bargain in the PC space) you can upgrade that to a high-resolution QHD+ panel.
In other markets, such as Australia, there’s an even cheaper model available with a Core i3-6100U and just 4 GB of RAM. That’s the model I have on hand for review, and it will be interesting to see how the weaker hardware on offer stacks up.
As far as the design is concerned, the Envy 13 is one of the better laptops I’ve seen at this price point, and it competes very well with Apple’s more expensive MacBook Air. By far my favorite feature is the size: yes, it’s larger than Dell’s XPS 13 in both axes, but it’s much thinner at just 12.95mm at its thickest point. The Envy is also quite light, at 1.27 kg (2.81 lbs), which helps make the laptop feel very portable.
HP’s all-metal body for the Envy 13 is excellent from both a visual and textural standpoint. The use of silver aluminium on the lid, around the keyboard, on the bottom, and even around the sides of this laptop gives it a wonderful unibody look. The only seam I noticed was between the bottom panel and the sides, which is hidden in most cases. And let’s not forget how awesome it feels to hold a metal laptop; it’s simply leagues ahead of anything plastic.
Due to widespread use of metal, there’s not much flare to the design. The lid features a simple monochrome HP logo, while the keyboard surrounds includes a few basic text logos. There is no color found anywhere around the body, and the only point of contrast is the black display bezels. This gives the Envy a clean and understated look, which is something I prefer in my laptop design.
Not every visual aspect to the Envy 13 is great, and not everything is truly made from metal. I’m not a fan of the plastic black bezel that surrounds the display, and after opening the lid for the first time it immediately stood out to me as looking cheap. The matte finish to the plastic, combined with an inset matte non-touchscreen display, is great for reducing fingerprints, but it reminds me of an entry-level laptop rather than something top-tier.
On the other hand, I’m a big fan of the Envy 13’s hinge design. The lid is curved at the hinge, and when opened, this curve transforms into the rear stand for the laptop, propping up the base at a comfortable angle for typing. Aside from its great functionality, it looks awesome, and from some angles makes it look like the base is floating above the display’s curved stand. The hinge allows for a decent range of display angles, though you’re not getting a 180- or 360-degree hinge like some competitors.
The main feature to the base of the Envy 13 is the Bang & Olufsen audio system, which sees two prominent speaker grilles on either side of the keyboard. Obviously these grills are mostly for show – the speakers aren’t actually as large as they’re made out to be – but I was impressed with their quality considering they’re small laptop drivers.
The bottom of the Envy includes a few small rubber feet to raise the laptop for cooling. As for cooling, there are just a few small vents towards the rear of the body that intake and exhaust into the hinge area. For the most part, the cooling solution remained inaudible in all but the most intense use cases.
For ports, the Envy includes an average selection. On the left is a USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and SD card slot; while on the right are a further two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and a proprietary power port. One notable and disappointing omission is USB Type-C, which is becoming increasingly popular, and as a result you miss out on Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 gen 2. I’d have liked to see a USB 3.0 port replaced by Thunderbolt 3 to future proof this laptop to a better extent.
The other notable feature found on this laptop is a swipe fingerprint reader, which is located at the bottom right edge of the keyboard. The sensor works with Windows Hello to provide better security for the laptop, and it was reasonably accurate and fast to use during my time testing the feature. I’d have preferred to see a touch fingerprint sensor like on modern smartphones but I’m yet to see this on any laptop.