There was a time, last year or so, when an ultrabook represented a distinct product within a computer line. Now, as is the case with Hewlett-Packard, there are whole lines of ultrabooks. Yes, that makes shopping a little more difficult, but the extra choices can theoretically work out to your advantage.
Finding the sweet spot, though, has never been tougher. Exhibit A is the HP Envy 4, a 14-inch laptop that's part of a line of Intel processor-bearing ultrabooks and AMD processor-bearing "Sleekbooks" in both 14- and 15-inch sizes. These thin laptops represent a different part of the thin-and-light landscape than the stylish and expensive HP Envy 14 Spectre released earlier this year, or the thinner Spectre XT. While AMD versions of the HP Envy 6 cost less than their Intel counterparts (the 15.6-inch Envy Sleekbook 6 is available for as low as $599), the 14-inch Envy 4t only comes with Intel CPUs.
The least expensive of all the 14-inch Envy 4 configurations costs $699, or $679 at some retailers (the HP Envy Ultrabook 4-1015DX I reviewed is a retail configuration available from Best Buy). It comes with a last-gen Intel Core i3 processor, a 500GB hybrid hard drive, and 4GB of RAM in a body that feels like the Editors' Choice Award-winning HP Folio 13 ultrabook I loved last year and the HP dm4 thin laptop combined together, with little bits of Beats Audio design touches.
On a whole, the HP Envy 4 is a larger ultrabook, one of those slightly thicker, bigger, and heavier laptops that you would perhaps expect to have an optical drive, or discrete graphics. It's in a similar category to the Toshiba Satellite U845, but better-designed. And, yes, it's a replacement of sorts for the highly versatile HP Folio 13. But December 2011 was a different time than August 2012.
Having an SD card slot, an Ethernet port, and a long-life battery for a reasonable price was rare for an ultrabook back then. Not anymore. If I were buying the admittedly nicely designed HP Envy 4, I'd pay up for a more full-fledged configuration. Or if I wanted to save money, I'd opt for the more affordable but larger AMD-powered Envy Sleekbook 6, instead. Or perhaps I'd just consider paying up for the HP Envy Spectre XT. That's the problem with having too many choices: suddenly, the ultrabook landscape becomes no different from, or less crowded than, the rest of the midrange consumer laptop universe. And that's not exactly a great thing.
In the $679 entry-level Core i3 configuration I reviewed, the total product feels decent, and certainly ample for most people, but it's not a standout. It'll get the job done, and it has good speakers. Back-to-school shoppers, take note: this could be for you, if you don't mind not having a DVD drive. I only have one question: didn't the Envy brand used to be high-end? Not anymore. It makes me wonder how Envys will co-exist with rest of HP's Pavilion products.
|Price as reviewed||$679|
|Processor||1.5GHz Intel Core i3-2377M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB, 5,400rpm + 32GB SSD cache|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.4x9.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.9 pounds / 4.7 pounds|
Weren't ultrabooks supposed to restore sexiness to the laptop? Don't tell that to this Envy. Hey, I've seen this design before. So have you, if you've been window-shopping for HP laptops over the last year or so. The brushed aluminum and black plastic look of the HP Envy 4 feels like a hybrid of recent Envy designs and laptops like the Pavilion dm4, with more than a touch of the HP Folio 13. It's not a bad look at all -- in fact, it's far better than most laptops -- but it doesn't exactly break the mold.
The Envy 4t has a bigger screen than the Folio 13 (14 inches instead of 13.3 inches), and is somewhat thicker and heavier, too. At 3.9 pounds and 0.78 inches thick, the Envy 4 isn't obese for an ultrabook, but it feels bulkier all around, much like the Toshiba Satellite U845.
With a different size class come different expectations. There's no DVD drive on this laptop, but it feels like there could have been -- the Dell Inspiron 14z and Acer Timeline U M5 both managed to include one. The chassis tries to look high-end, with premium-style finishes from the angled top lid to the soft-touch underside, but the whole package feel more budget than that. The aluminum keyboard deck feels like a finish, not solid metal. The keyboard itself flexes, and far more than I'd like. The back lid is brushed aluminum (available in black/red or silver/black finishes, both with black back lids), but the screen itself is surrounded by generic, glossy black plastic.
The backlit keyboard isn't the best I've seen from HP, mainly because it exhibited flex in the middle, causing me to miss keys on more than one occasion. Pressing down harder was the solution, encouraging me to aggressively type out this review. Results improved, but the added column of right-side keys cramping access to Enter, Shift, and Backspace feels unnecessary.
Media control keys assigned to function buttons above the keyboard are function-reversed, meaning they'll work directly without the Fn key. Above that, a single thin power button lurks near the lid hinge on the left.
A multitouch Synaptics clickpad below is slightly recessed from the keyboard deck and amply sized. Two-finger gestures like pinch-to-zoom didn't always register. It was hard to tell whether the problem was the touch-pad hardware's clickzones or Windows 7 itself.
The 1,366x768-pixel glossy 14-inch display feels strictly budget; black levels were weak on my review model, and viewing angles were less than ideal. The resolution's also a step down from what's starting to appear on higher-end laptops, but 1,366x768 is still the mainstream baseline for everyday computing, and will get the job done.
A Beats-branded speaker bar above the keyboard angles upward slightly, affording better projection of sound than the standard ho-hum ultrabook. However, the sound quality of those speakers, while loud, wasn't particularly great. It lacked force and depth, and was distorted at high volumes.
Also, take note: HP has preinstalled a good chunk of trialware and other software on this Envy, creating more than a fair share of pop-up windows.
A 1,280x720 Webcam looked good enough to have effective Web chats on, with decent light sensitivity.
|HP Envy 4-1015dx||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
The HP Envy 4t has all the basic necessary ports and connections, including a pull-down compact Ethernet port, USB 3.0, and an SD card slot, plus Bluetooth. There's no DVD drive.