When is an ultrabook not an ultrabook? This new addition to the HP Envy line asks that very question, with two nearly identical models. One thin 15-inch HP Envy has an Intel Ivy Bridge CPU and is called an ultrabook, while this specific model, the 15-inch HP Envy 6 Sleekbook (the 6-1010us, specifically) is instead called a sleekbook, because it has an AMD CPU and a handful of other component differences.
The look and feel are very similar, and this is one of the thinnest 15-inch laptops you can find, in either the sleekbook or ultrabook versions. In fact, the AMD model reviewed here might even have an edge over the Intel one, because it costs just $599, versus a minimum of $799 for the HP Envy 15-inch with the official ultrabook tag.
You'll trade some performance for the cost savings, and AMD's latest chip family (the company calls it an APU rather than a CPU, which is an Accelerated Processing Unit, combining a CPU and GPU in one package) still don't measure up to Intel's third-generation Core i-series processors in power or efficiency. But, battery life was better than expected and the AMD A6 inside is more than capable of handling everyday online tasks.
Let's be honest. The "sleekbook" name is, to be generous, inelegant. Why not call it a skinnybook? Or a slimtop? Maybe those names didn't focus group test as well. Frankly, the term "ultrabook" has not exactly taken the world by storm, so I don't see a real reason to ape it. It's a needless distraction, or at least confusing to shoppers.
But don't let the awkward name put you off. This is one of the best-looking midsize laptops I've ever seen for $599. If you're shopping for that Intel name brand, or high power for gaming (or a high-res screen), this isn't for you, but for mainstream appeal at a budget price, it's a top contender.
|Price as reviewed||$599|
|Processor||2.1GHz AMD A6-4455M APU|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 7500G|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.7 x 10 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.6/5.4 pounds|
HP's Envy family has always (since its 2009 introduction, anyway) been the company's high-end line, with superior design, construction, and materials. I've previously compared them, loosely, with the MacBook Pro or Dell's XPS line, and most HP Envy models have gotten excellent reviews.
This new line, both the AMD and Intel models, take a serious risk by dropping the price and some of the high-end features. While it's great to see a $599 laptop with a brushed-metal look, Beats Audio sound, and a body that's 0.78 inch thick, it also potentially dilutes the Envy brand, which has been a rare high-end success story, refuting the idea that only Apple can sell an expensive laptop.
But, on the positive side, you get a very nicely designed laptop for the same price you might normally pay for a thick, plastic box. This configuration is nearly all black, with a brushed-metal lid and wrist rest, offset by a deep red/burgundy bottom panel. I showed the system off to several people, asking each one how much they thought it cost, and everyone was (pleasantly) surprised by the price.
That said, there are a few physical flaws. The long center hinge is anchored on the inside only, making the screen feel a bit wobbly. The hinge also creaked a bit, especially when holding the laptop in the air while opening or closing it. The metal finish is especially susceptible to fingerprints and smudges. Maybe an antismudge coating was one of the corners cut to keep the price down.
The keyboard and touch pad are very similar to what the other new HP Envy laptops offer. The island-style keyboard had a little flex in the center when typing, but that's typical of budget laptops. A bigger problem is that the keyboard is not backlit, and with black keys against a black keyboard tray, it can be hard to see in even moderately dim lighting conditions. This exact model is a fixed-configuration system, but HP also offers a configurable version (called the Sleekbook 6z-1000, with a silver interior, rather than black) that has a $25 backlit keyboard option.
The touch pad looks like the one on the new high-end Envy Spectre XT; both have a touch pad surrounded by an indented, slightly sunken perimeter. It's a cool look, but I'm not sure what practical impact it has, other than to help differentiate the touch-pad surface from the rest of the wrist rest.
The display has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for budget or mainstream midsize laptops (and nearly all smaller ones). There's not much more you can ask for at $599, but that 1,366x768-pixel res is definitely starting to look dated on bigger 15-inch displays.
Despite the presence of a Beats Audio subsystem, which gives you an onscreen control panel for tweaking the sound, the built-in speakers are predictably wimpy. The Beats software did allow for a greater range of audio flexibility through headphones, however.
|HP Envy Sleekbook 6-1010us||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, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
It's always interesting to see what corners get cut in a budget laptop. In this case, the trade-offs seem smart, with the standard VGA video output getting dropped, but USB 3.0 and Bluetooth staying. It's sometimes hard to fit an Ethernet jack into a slim laptop, and the jack here is the type with a little folding door to fit a Cat5 cable, as seen occasionally on ultraportable laptops.
The big question mark here is the AMD A6 processor. Is it worth giving up that familiar Intel sticker to save a few hundred dollars? It doesn't help that the latest generation of Intel Ivy Bridge processors is excellent, with better performance and power efficiency than even last year's Sandy Bridge models.
From our benchmark results, it's clear the A6 isn't as fast as Intel's mainstream Core i5 CPU, especially when it comes to multitasking. To be fair, AMD isn't claiming that it is a direct performance match. That said, you should think about what type of tasks you use a laptop for. If it's the same as the vast majority of users, that's surfing the Web, e-mail, social networking, and streaming online video.