HP Envy 14 Spectre review: HP Envy 14 Spectre

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MSRP: $1,599.00
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Unusual glass design stands out from other ultrabooks; Powerful enough for everyday tasks; handy volume control wheel.

The Bad Expensive; Only average performance; fatter and heavier than most ultrabooks; awkward trackpad.

The Bottom Line The HP Envy 14 Spectre's glassy design makes it stand out from most ultrabooks, but it's fatter, heavier and pricier than its competitors, which is likely to put many off. If you're after an ultrabook purely for portable use, your money looks to be better spent elsewhere.

7.5 Overall

Ultrabook is the buzz word this year, with a swathe of launches planned. HP aims to separate the Envy 14 Spectre from the chaff by covering it in glass.

It will be available towards March, starting at £1,199, which will get you an Intel Core i-series processor and a 128GB SSD. Annoyingly, final configuration options haven't been finalised yet.

Design and build quality

With ultrabooks coming at us left, right and centre, it's all too easy to see them as one big grey blur of slim chassis and Intel processors. HP evidently hates nothing more than to be lost in the crowd, so it's gone to great lengths to make sure the Spectre sticks out.

Instead of a muted grey colour, a huge slab of black glass covers the entire lid. It's an extremely bold statement and one that we're quite keen on. It's encouraging to see companies appreciating that we don't all want to carry around identical-looking laptops.

HP Envy 14 Spectre glass lid
Decked in primate-friendly toughened Gorilla Glass, the HP Envy 14 Spectre's lid should survive some Neanderthal treatment.

If alarm bells are ringing at the idea of lugging a big sheet of glass about, worry not, as HP has used Gorilla Glass -- famously toughened and extremely resistant to scuffs and scratches. We still reckon it will shatter like a Fabergé egg if it takes a tumble to a concrete floor though. But the same can be said of most technology, so it's not an immediate concern.

We spent a good while poking and prodding at the Spectre and were chuffed with its resistance. The lid offers no flex and our experience with Gorilla Glass on the iPhone 4 makes us confident that it will shrug off attacks from errant keys in your bag.

The black glass top also makes the Spectre look rather similar to the glass-fronted iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S too, although sadly the curved matte black plastic underside is lifted straight from the rest of HP's Envy line so it doesn't offer the same succulent looks.

HP's efforts to make the Spectre stand out have sadly had a negative impact on the overall weight. At 1.83kg, it's at the top end of the ultrabook scales, and considerably less bag-friendly than the 1.3kg Asus Zenbook UX31 . At 20mm thick, it's also rather porky too, especially in light of the new crop of ultrabooks boasting 15mm bodies.

HP Spectre reflection
We popped it somewhere colourful to show off that reflective glass top. Taste the rainbow!

Under the lid you'll find a keyboard that uses square, isolated keys that have a good travel on them and are easy to press. We found typing was extremely comfortable, even at speed for long periods. The keys are spaced very evenly over the base so your hands don't feel squashed up.

It's backlit too, so you needn't get up to pop a light on when typing into the night. HP has also whacked in a proximity sensor, which automatically dims the backlighting when you're not nearby. We found this works really well. It's an excellent touch that we haven't seen on other models.

The wrist rest is made from more Gorilla Glass, which makes it stylishly shiny, but we can't help but feel it's overkill -- would metal have really been so bad? The trackpad is a decent size and supports multi-touch gestures such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom.

Swiping around was responsive, but the buttons are incredibly firm, making clicking needlessly uncomfortable. We found ourselves just tapping to click, rather than physically pressing down. This becomes more of an issue if you have to click and hold while scrolling.

HP Envy 14 Spectre trackpad
Even the wrist rest is made of Gorilla Glass so you're likely to smear your banana all over the shiny surface in no time, you grubby ape.

Like much of HP's computer range, the Spectre comes with Beats Audio branding, so expect the low frequencies to have been given a boost. There's also an unusual analogue wheel on the side of the body for quickly altering the volume -- this machine has music on its mind.

Although it has the Beats branding, the speakers aren't exactly the most powerful things we've ever heard but they will do the trick if watching TV shows. You'll definitely want to plug in a proper set of speakers to do your music library justice.

In general, while the Spectre is a refreshing change from many of the new ultrabooks, we're not sure it's a shift in the right direction. The glass panels make it much thicker and heavier than its competitors, which frankly defeats the object of it being an ultrabook in the first place. The focus of the Spectre is clearly more on design than on portability. If travelling light is your top priority, other ultrabooks will likely suit you better.

HP Envy 14 Spectre volume wheel
Now that's innovation -- a wheel to turn the volume up and down. Astonishing that nobody thought of it before.

Screen

The Spectre packs in a 14-inch screen, which is bigger than the typical 11 or 13-inch displays found on most ultrabooks. It offers a 1,600x900-pixel resolution -- the same as you'll find on the 13-inch screen of the Asus Zenbook UX31 -- so we're a little disappointed not to see a few more pixels here.

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