Starting life as a MacBook Pro competitor, the Envy is even more so in its latest incarnation. This doesn't mean that it doesn't have its own identity; red trims, a beautiful screen, a volume jog dial and HP's continued relationship with Beats Audio bring it uniqueness. The semi-matte laptop lid will also ensure that no one ever confuses it with a MacBook.
The Envy 15 tends to fall into the prosumer category, which is aimed a little more at content creators than the average laptop is. None of this is emphasised more than in the IPS (although HP locally would only commit to "IPS-equivalent") "Radiance" screen, using an LGD0323 panel. At 1920x1080, its colours are richer and its viewing angles wider than the vast majority of the pantheon of laptops.
Unfortunately, it also has a rather vexing flaw: it displays pure red as orange, something rather problematic for those working on colour-sensitive projects. This is a widely reported issue, and one that appears to be a design fault with the display rather than the occasional faulty panel.
Both screens are displaying R:255 G:0 B:0, the purest red colour possible. Only one of them gets it right.
With this display and a 1TB hard drive, the Envy will cost you AU$1999. You can choose to purchase the Envy 15 without the Radiance display, however, for AU$1699, dropping the resolution to 1366x768 and hard-drive capacity to 750GB, although speed increases from 5400RPM to 7200RPM.
At the bottom left of the display are two flickering, red, extremely annoying lights. These are used to sense whether a user is sitting nearby, and, if not, will dim the keyboard backlight. It's a great idea, but the red lights are so annoying that you'll end up turning the feature off through HP's Proximity Sensor program.
Both models come with the Radeon HD 7690M, a reasonably powered mobile graphics chip. When the system is under light load, it uses Intel's HD Graphics to save on battery, and it seems that AMD has done a lot of work here on its switchable graphics. Gone are the vexatious graphics-switching prompts, and the system successfully switched to the AMD card for our gaming tests without fuss.
The Beats Audio system is rather impressive, offering a significant volume increase, a superior sound stage and a richer tonal tapestry. In a complete about-face, we found that we actually had to ramp the bass up using the included EQ software — Beats Audio is usually far too bass heavy. Similarly, we had to bring the top end down slightly to dull the harsh trebles. Playing with EQ can be problematic, and an exercise in trade-offs; while we got our desired tone, we had to keep playing to avoid clipping and distortion.
HP bundles Microsoft Office Starter Edition, Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements. Each of these provides a significant subset of its parent programs completely for free, and is honestly one of the best bundle solutions we've seen — and it will surely help curb casual piracy.
The aforementioned jog dial, found at the top right, can be spun to adjust volume, or the button can be pressed to load the Beats Audio control panel. The backlit keyboard is very much appreciated, although the response is mushier than we'd like, especially for a premium laptop.
The touch pad could be better, if only it were a little lower friction. Function is fine, but as a click pad (that is, the buttons are integrated into the touch pad, rather than being separate), the whole thing can get a little confused if you're someone who leaves one finger resting on the left click button while you navigate with another. As has become common on HP laptops, double tapping the icon at the top left of the touch pad will disable it.
Expandability is bang on for a laptop of this stature, with two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, dual headphone jacks, a microphone jack, an SD card reader, gigabit Ethernet, HDMI and DisplayPort out and a DVD drive (although, given the screen, we would have thought that Blu-ray would be a more appropriate pairing). Wireless networking is achieved by Bluetooth and 802.11n, with the latter capable of connecting to 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies.