HP Envy 13 review: HP Envy 13

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.7
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Battery life: 7.0
  • Service and support: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Slick, modern design; big touch pad; bright display; premium support services.

The Bad Very expensive; heavier than it looks; no backlit keyboard; limited ports and connections.

The Bottom Line HP's upscale Envy 13 looks and feels like an expensive status symbol, with performance and features that impress us--but its high price makes it a tough sell over the similar-looking MacBook Pro.

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Even a cursory glance will tell you the HP Envy 13 is a very nicely made premium 13-inch laptop. It's a solid slab of aluminum and magnesium, etched with interesting visual details, and filled with capable components, such as a dual-core low-voltage Intel CPU and discrete ATI graphics.

It's also clearly a shot across the bow of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, even if Hewlett-Packard leaves that challenge unstated. The edge-to-edge glass over the display and oversize multitouch touch pad all add to a Mac-like look and feel. Unfortunately, the Envy 13 is priced more comparably with ultrathin systems such as the Dell Adamo or even Apple's MacBook Air, starting at $1,699 (our test unit was $1,799, or $2,149 if you include the external Blu-ray drive and secondary battery).

With a better display (1,600x900-pixel resolution), newer CPU, and more options--the Envy 13 certainly makes a compelling case against the $1,199 13-inch MacBook Pro, but the $500-and-up price difference makes it a tough sell. That said, if price is no object, this is a great mix of power and portability, and sure to attract envious (no pun intended) stares in coffee shops and airport lounges.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $2,149 / $1,699
Processor 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9600
Memory 3GB, 1,066MHz DDR2
Hard drive 250GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Quanta 307B
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330
Operating system Windows 7
Dimensions (WD) 12.6x8.5 inches
Height 0.8 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.4 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.8 / 4.5 pounds
Category Thin and light

While the Envy originated as part of HP's premium Voodoo line, that Voodoo branding is now gone, leaving this a pure HP-labeled product. Indeed, compared to some of the more outre Voodoo designs, the Envy 13 has more of a traditional HP look and feel, although significantly spruced up. The aluminum body, with a magnesium base, is reasonably slim, and the anonymous gunmetal gray lid contrasts nicely with a semirandom pattern of imprinted dots on the wrist rest.

The entire package feels a bit heavier than it looks, and when you add the secondary slice battery, which is a thin flat battery that clips onto the entire bottom surface, it's positively bricklike at 5.2 pounds. Still, unlike some of the thinner 13-inch models we've seen, the Envy 13 feels extremely solid and like it could withstand a lot of abuse.

The system interior is sparse, with a sunken keyboard made up of widely spaced, flat-topped keys and a single power button. There are no quick-launch or media control keys, but the row of Function keys now has their media control and other attributes as their primary mapping, with the actual F4, F5, and so on, tasks requiring you to hold down the Fn key at the same time. Vital keys such as the Backspace, Tab, and Shift buttons are thankfully full size, and the only real keyboard compromise we noted was small up and down arrow keys. The keys have a solid feel and a pleasant matte finish that made them comfortable to use. However, we did miss the backlit keyboard--quickly becoming a standard feature on many even-slightly upscale laptops.

Its oversize touch pad is a welcome addition--it's our primary laptop navigation method, so it's a shame so many laptops keep them small and hard to use. This version has the left and right mouse buttons built right in at the bottom edge, with the lower corners of the touch pad clicking down when pressed. Touch the upper left corner for a few seconds and the entire touch pad deactivates when you're using an external mouse. However, because the touch pad is physically combined with the buttons, the entire thing had a bit of a floating feel to it--and tapping anywhere on the pad produced a tiny bit of movement and a barely audible clacking sound.

Some of its multitouch gestures also bothered us. Using two fingers to scroll up and down long Web pages and documents was frustrating, because unlike the MacBook, this touch pad requires your two fingers to be almost exactly lined up on the horizontal plane to register the gesture. When you bring your hand in from its usual position on the left or right, your first two fingers will naturally fall on a slight diagonal, which the touch pad won't register as a scrolling gesture. We had to unnaturally contort our hands to come straight at the pad--as one might do in a demo video for how use a multitouch touch pad. This seems like an easy enough firmware fix, and something HP should consider doing before the Envy 13's October 18 launch.

The 13.3-inch wide-screen LED display offers a 1,600x900-pixel native resolution, which is higher than you'd find on a comparable MacBook Pro (a lower 1,366x768-pixel screen will also be available).

The screen was one of the system's highlights, with impressive brightness and excellent off-axis viewing angles. Audio was also excellent, with special bass-boosting software provided by Beats Audio, and sounded especially good through headphones.

  HP Envy 13 Average for category [thin-and-light]
Video HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, single headphone/microphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive External Blu-ray DVD burner

For a laptop, while svelte, it is not extraordinarily thin or light. We were also surprised to find only two USB ports and no internal optical drive. External drive options include a standard DVD burner for $100 or a Blu-ray/DVD drive for $250. However, no built-in mobile broadband option is offered, so a USB dongle would take up one of the available USB ports.

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Where to Buy See all prices

HP Envy 13-1030nr - 13.1" - Core 2 Duo SL9400 - Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit - 3 GB RAM - 250 GB HDD

Part Number: VM173UA#ABA Released: Oct 18, 2009
MSRP: $1,899.99 Low Price: $989.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct 18, 2009
  • Resolution 1366 x 768 ( HD )
  • Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition
  • Installed Size 3 GB
  • Weight 5.1 lbs
  • Optical Drive DVD±RW (±R DL) / DVD-RAM
  • Graphics Processor ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 - 512 MB
  • CPU Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400 / 1.86 GHz