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We've been overall very pleased with the second generation of Envy laptops from HP. They offer excellent design and high-end features at a reasonable cost, especially the $999 entry-level 14-inch model.
As with the original Envy, there is also a black-clad Beats Edition of the Envy 14, which highlights the partnership with Beats Audio. Originally, this version included a pair of Beats Solo headphones, and added about $250 to the bottom line, making it a bad deal on paper, if only by a little (Beats Solo headphones will run you about $179 by themselves).
Currently, the Envy 14 Beats Edition is available without the headphones, and we were able to configure an identical--but not entry-level--build in the black Beats and gray standard editions for $1,149 (you can't knock the Beats Edition down to the same $999 starting point as the regular Envy 14). If that remains the case, we'd have no problem choosing the Beats Edition if we liked the color better than the standard gray.
The Envy 14 looks great and generally runs great, but there are also a handful of minor but frustrating issues that seem out of place on a high-end laptop. Using the volume control buttons automatically brings up an onscreen volume bar that bumps you out of full-screen games; the large multitouch touch pad is nowhere as smooth as Apple's version; and the ATI switchable graphics don't switch as seamlessly as Nvidia's Optimus graphics do.
|Price as reviewed||$1,149|
|Processor||2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M450|
|Memory||4GB, 1333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 (switchable)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.4 x 9.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.5 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.3/6.4 pounds|
Like the standard Envy 14, the new HP Envy 14 Beats Edition is made of aluminum and magnesium, but in black with red highlights instead of the usual gunmetal gray, and with a slightly rubberized matte finish that looks and feels very nice. It lacks the subtle pattern of imprinted squares covering the wrist rest and back of the lid on the standard Envy, which makes this version a little more smudge-prone.
The Envy 14, like its Envy predecessors, feels solid and rugged, but is also dense and heavy compared with other laptops of a similar size. At 5.3 pounds, it's not exactly something you'd want to carry in a shoulder bag during a daily commute (and a 14-inch laptop is already just over the line of what we'd consider truly portable), but we could see it working for semi-regular trips to the office or coffee shop.
The system interior consists of a slightly sunken keyboard tray, with a keyboard made up of widely spaced, flat-topped keys and a single power button. Though there are no quick-launch or media control keys, the row of Function keys has media control and other attributes as the primary mapping, with the actual F4, F5, etc., tasks requiring you to hold down the Fn key at the same time (a setup HP and others are using more frequently). One big advantage the Envy 14 has over the older Envy 13 is that the new keyboard is backlit (in this case, with red lights through matte-black keys), which is one of our must-have features in any high-end laptop. One small switch for this Beats version: the "B" key is stamped with a Beats Audio logo, which is in the shape of a stylized letter B.
The volume controls have the unfortunate side effect of jumping to the onscreen volume indicator when you hit the volume down, up, or mute buttons (F7, F8, and F9, respectively). So if you try to use them while playing a game or watching certain kinds of full-screen video, you'll be kicked out of the full-screen mode or even back to the desktop.
The Envy's oversize touch pad is now common on many HP laptops. The look and feel is great, and it rivals Apple for sheer size. Unfortunately, every HP laptop with this new touch pad we've tried has the same problem: the multitouch gesture controls don't work consistently, especially the all-important two-finger-scrolling move. The scrolling movement is stuttery, and the touch pad also lacks the inertial scrolling that helps MacBooks (and iPhones, iPads, etc.) feel so natural.
The 14.5-inch wide-screen LED display (notable, as most 14-inch laptop screens measure only 14 inches diagonally) has a standard 1,366x768-pixel resolution. Our previous Envy 14 had a higher 1,600x900-pixel resolution, but that option does not appear to be currently available from HP.
Most notably, HP has teamed with Beats Audio to include special bass-boosting software and hardware that purportedly works especially well with Beats-branded headphones, but certainly also sounds clear and hefty with other headphones or through the system speakers. Killer audio may not be at the top of most laptop shoppers' lists, but this is certainly one of the best performers in this category.
|HP Envy 14||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||HDMI, mini-Display Port||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The HP Envy 14 has a much better selection of ports and connections than last year's Envy 13. This time around, you get three USB ports, including one USB/eSATA port, an HDMI and a DisplayPort, and a slot-loading optical drive, a feature conspicuously missing from the 13-inch version.
We tested a version with an Intel Core i5-450m CPU. A slower (and less-expensive) Core i3 CPU is available, but only in the non-Beats standard Envy 14. As one would rightly expect from the current Core i5 laptop, it performed well in our benchmark tests, and for all but the heaviest multitasking or high-end gaming, the Envy 14 is more than capable.
The included ATI Radeon HD5650 is a midrange graphics card suitable for mainstream gaming. Playing Unreal Tournament III at 1,366x768-pixel resolution, we got 72.3 frames per second, and we'd feel confident playing any current game on the system at medium detail settings.
The Envy also features switchable graphics, which means the ATI card can be turned off to save battery power when not needed, instead running the default Intel HD graphics. It's a nice option to have, but unlike Nvidia's Optimus solution for laptops running Nvidia GPUs, you have to manually switch the graphics here by clicking an onscreen button, which, frankly, feels archaic at this point (although you can configure the system to automatically jump to the integrated graphics when using the battery).