Laptops with touch screens aren't new territory for HP. Windows 8 and its touch-friendly interface, however, gives consumers more of a reason to have one, even on traditional laptop designs like the HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 (4t-1100 series to be precise).
It looks like a pretty standard laptop, albeit a nice-looking one, with brushed black metal on the outside with nothing but a simple HP logo decorating the lid. There's silver trim around the outside, giving you a hint about the brushed silver metal inside surrounding the keyboard.
The ultrabook branding may make you think the Envy is especially thin and light; it is not. However, at a little less than an inch thick and weighing 4.5 pounds, it's certainly not huge and heavy.
Open it up and you'll see there's barely a bezel around the 14-inch touch screen, so you can more easily take advantage of Windows 8's active edges for opening the Charms bar, closing apps, or flipping through your open windows. The screen's hinges are fairly stiff, but there is still some bounce when tapping and swiping the screen (just how much depends on the angle of the screen and strength of your taps). It does not go all the way flat, so drawing or writing or using the onscreen keyboard isn't a great experience; a Windows 8 tablet or something like the Dell XPS 12 would be a better choice.
For those expecting a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution display, you'll have to spend more money for the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart; the Envy's resolution is 1,366x768 pixels, which is what we're seeing on many sub-$1,000 ultrabooks. The quality is good with nice color and contrast, though it does invert when you're looking up at it. Off-angle viewing to the sides is fine, though.
The keyboard is shallow, so there's not much key travel. But that can be said of many ultrabooks with island-style keyboards; it's something that gets sacrificed with slimmer bodies. It's otherwise a nice keyboard, with big, square well-spaced keys.
The touch pad is big, but it lacks discrete mouse buttons. Instead you'll just see a line sectioning off the bottom of the pad for left and right clicks. The touch pad is a bit too sensitive to brushes from your palm when typing at the default settings, but it can be adjusted somewhat with its software. A double tap in the upper left corner quickly shuts the pad off.
You can also turn on and off multitouch gestures for pinch-to-zoom, rotate, and two-finger scrolling. And for those times when you don't feel like getting fingerprints on your screen, you can use the touch pad for the active edge functions of Windows 8, such as bringing up the Charms bar.
The speakers are under a grill above the keyboard and are fine for casual listening. They're capable of pushing out decent audio, but, regardless of their Beats Audio processing, you won't mistake them for a good set of external speakers.