Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Holiday Roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
A big brother to HP's 13-inch Envy 13, this upscale 15-inch model crams more computing power into a midsize laptop than anyone outside of Alienware's m15x. And while that system is a 10-pound monster, the Envy 15 manages to be both slim and reasonably lightweight, partially by ditching the internal optical drive--an unusual move for a larger laptop.
While the design and build quality are great, the $1,999 price is going to leave a little sticker shock, although that does include a second extended battery and an external DVD burner (a Blu-ray drive option is available if you order directly from HP).
As a svelte gaming/multimedia machine, we found a lot to like about the Envy 15, and it's certainly designed to be a bit of a status symbol. But we also ran into a few rough edges--difficulties playing back Blu-ray Discs and using certain software--that we chalk up to the difficulties of being the first generation of a new product line.
|Price as reviewed||$1,999|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM|
|Memory||6GB, 1,066MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 7,200rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel PM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4830|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.9x9.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.4/6.9 pounds|
The Envy brand was originally used as part of HP's premium Voodoo line, but that Voodoo branding is now gone, leaving this a pure HP-labeled product. Like the 13-inch version of the Envy, this system features an aluminum body with a magnesium base, and the anonymous gunmetal gray lid contrasts nicely with a semi-random pattern of imprinted dots on the wrist rest.
For a 15-inch laptop, it's very slim and sexy, comparing positively to the 15-inch MacBook Pro. When you add the secondary slice battery, which is a thin flat battery that clips onto the entire bottom surface, the entire package gets thicker, and it feels more like a traditional boxy 15-inch laptop.
Also like the Envy 13, the Envy 15's interior is sparse, with a sunken keyboard made up of widely spaced, flat-topped metal-capped keys. Besides a simple power button above the keyboard, there's also a line of quick-launch buttons to the left of the keyboard for actions such as launching a Web browser or HP's MediaSmart software.
Speaking of software, the Envy 15 has a handful of issues and annoyances we encountered during our hands-on testing. Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the default Web browser, comes with a hideous HP Smart Web Printing sidebar turned on, as well as a mostly useless HP toolbar across the top. These add-ons are easily disabled if you know how, but it's annoying to force consumers to go through the motions to regain screen real estate.
We also ran into some issues with HP's included MediaSmart software that organizes and plays video, music, and photo files. The software generally works well (even if its superfluous for most tasks next to Windows Media Player or iTunes), but when we hooked up an external USB Blu-ray drive, we couldn't get the MediaSmart software to play a Blu-ray Disc--which seems like a waste of a perfectly good 1080p display. The software version number was exactly the same as found on the 13-inch Envy 13 (which played Blu-ray movies just fine), and we've had no trouble using external Blu-ray drives before, even on unusual hardware such an Apple iMac (running Windows under Boot Camp). We were, however, finally able to play a Blu-ray after installing PowerDVD, a third-party media playing app.
The Envy line, including both the 13- and 15-inch models, are branded with Beats Audio technology--the kind found in the popular Beats by Dre headphones. While the built-in speakers were surprisingly quiet, and next to useless for a cinematic experience, the headphone signal was nice and strong, and when we tried the audio paired with a set of Beats by Dre headphones, the result was excellent--we even had to turn the system volume down below 50 percent because the headphone output was so loud.
The 15.6-inch wide-screen LED display offers a 1,920x1,080-pixel native resolution, which is as good as you'd find in any high-end 17-inch desktop replacement, and the perfect resolution for 1080p HD video. The screen wasn't excessively glossy, and both games and video looked great. The only thing we missed was the sharp-looking edge-to-edge glass found on the Envy 13.
|HP Envy 15||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||External DVD burner||DVD burner [high-end: Blu-ray]|
Even thought it's a mid-size 15-inch laptop, the Envy 15's ports and connections are more like what one might find on an ultra-thin 13-inch laptop. Thanks in part to the slim body, there are only three USB ports and a single video output. Even the optical drive has been outsourced to an external box.
At the same time, HP manages to fit in one of the most powerful processors currently available, the 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM. That gave us amazing performance, very similar (but a few seconds slower than), one of HP's other Core i7 laptops, the Pavilion dv7-3085dx. We've only seen significantly better overall benchmark scores from a handful of systems, such as the $3,000 Alienware m15x, which has a faster Core i7 920XM CPU.