X

HP Envy 13 (2016) review: A sleek laptop that leaves you wanting more

HP's Envy 13 would be an easy laptop to recommend, if not for weak battery life and more competent alternatives.

seanhollister.jpg
Sean Hollister
seanhollister.jpg

Sean Hollister

Senior Editor / Reviews

When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.

See full bio
4 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Last year, something wonderful happened in the world of Windows laptops. Quality became affordable. Companies like Dell, HP and Asus started selling sleek notebooks made of strong aluminum and carbon fiber for less than $1,000.

hp-envy-laptop-0762-004.jpg
6.9

HP Envy 13 (2016)

The Good

The HP Envy 13 is a slim, lightweight notebook with a comfortable keyboard and decent speakers -- plus a fingerprint sensor that makes signing into Windows a snap.

The Bad

This thin laptop's battery life falls far behind the competition. No touchscreen option.

The Bottom Line

HP's Envy 13 is a pretty good notebook, but why settle for good? Dell, Lenovo, and even HP sell better thin-and-light laptops.
hp-envy-laptop-0762-004.jpg

The new HP Envy 13.

Josh Miller/CNET

The 13 is the latest of those computers to enter the ring. It starts at just $800 (£699) for a no-compromise configuration that comes with a 2.3GHz 15-watt Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 128GB of speedy solid-state storage, and a crisp 1080p screen -- all in a chassis that weighs just 2.8 pounds and measures 12.9mm thick. It's one of the thinnest laptops ever made.

Thin laptops compared

HP Envy 13MacBook Air (13-inch)Asus Zenbook UX305Lenovo Yoga 900Dell XPS 13Vaio Z Flip
Dimensions 12.85 x 8.9 in. (326 x 226mm) 12.8 x 8.94 in. (325 x 227mm)12.76 x 8.9 in. (324 x 226mm)12.75 x 8.86 in. (324 x 225mm)11.98 x 7.88 in. (304 x 200mm)12.76 x 8.48 in. (324 x 215mm)
Thickness 0.51 inch (12.95mm)0.68 inch (17mm)0.48 inch (12.3mm)0.59 inch (14.9mm) 0.6 inch (15.2mm)0.66 inch (16.8mm)
Weight 2.81 lbs. (1275g)2.96 lbs. (1350g)2.65 lbs. (1202g)2.84 lbs. (1288g)2.7 lbs. (1224g)2.96 lbs. (1343g)
Processor 6th-gen 15W Intel "Skylake"5th-gen 15W Intel "Broadwell"2nd-gen 4.5W Intel Core M6th-gen 15W Intel "Skylake"6th-gen 15W Intel "Skylake"6th-gen 28W Intel "Skylake"

But after spending a week with the 13, I can't quite recommend it. It's just not as good as the competition. (Skip to the conclusion to find out what to buy instead.)

There's no one giant glaring deal breaker that ruins the Envy 13. In fact, there's a lot to love. My favorite feature: a fingerprint sensor that lets me swipe my way into Windows instead of typing a password. It's one of the most responsive I've used on a consumer PC.

hp-envy-laptop-0762-004.jpg
Josh Miller/CNET

Not that typing passwords would be much of a chore. I've been banging out every word of this review on the Envy 13's well-spaced backlit keyboard, and I've had no trouble yet. Same goes for the glass touchpad: Even though the extra-wide mousing surface means the base of my thumb hits it every so often, the mouse cursor doesn't jump around like it has with cut-rate laptops. (Two-finger scrolling is a smidge jerkier than with the best touchpads I've used, but it's definitely passable here.)

While typing, I'm marveling at how good Pandora Radio can sound on the Envy 13's Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers. Some tunes can sound pretty tinny, but it's remarkable how wide a sonic field these speakers are able to project. I can clearly hear the distinctions between the instruments, and/or feel dubstep beats exploding all around my head.

hp-envy-laptop-0762-004.jpg

Insert your favorite "Envy" joke here.

Josh Miller/CNET

Though the Envy's design definitely resembles a certain Apple laptop, there are enough differences here that the similarities aren't too embarrassing. The lid's dark black bezel does a great job of highlighting the screen, which has a matte finish that doesn't produce the distracting reflections we typically see with glass. It's also pretty neat how the J-shaped lid lifts the laptop up to a comfortable typing angle.

The Envy 13's performance is what we expect from one of Intel's latest 15-watt Core i5 processors. It's nothing exceptional, but it's more than fast enough for everyday tasks -- unless you run into a weird issue I saw where the laptop can slow down while you charge it. (There's an easy fix I'll share later.)

Even the port situation isn't as dire as you might expect on a laptop this thin. There's a full-size HDMI port, a full-size SD card reader that doesn't leave the card hanging out the side, and three full-size USB 3.0 ports as well as a standard 3.5mm headset jack. My only complaint is that the USB ports are extremely tight. When I try to yank out my thumbdrive, it feels like I'm going to break it.

hp-envy-laptop-0762-004.jpg
Josh Miller/CNET

The Envy's primary weakness is battery life. We measured just over seven hours in our standard battery drain test, and I only saw four-and-a-quarter hours in my own day-to-day use.

You also might run into a strange issue if you try to charge the Envy 13 and use it at the same time. On three different review units, I found the processor would often grind to a halt when the machine was plugged into an outlet with a low battery. Even switching between browser tabs would take several seconds, and yet the computer would start running at full speed the moment I yanked out the cord.

Update, March 10: While the issue initially stumped HP's engineers, there's now a simple fix: a new BIOS, dubbed F.34 Rev.A, which you can download and install at this link: (sp74847.exe) I've been testing it for nearly a week without issue.

HP's Envy 13 is one of the thinnest laptops ever made (pictures)

See all photos

Conclusion

But the real reason you shouldn't buy the Envy is that you can probably afford something better.

For just $100 more, HP's own Spectre x360 is the obvious pick. It's a little bit thicker and heavier, but has nearly double the battery life (12 hours in our test) and a backflipping touchscreen, while most everything else stays the same. I'd probably recommend the $1,000 configuration (£899, AU$1,974) to ensure you get enough RAM.

If an antiglare screen is a priority, you can also get that nearly-doubled battery life (12 hours) in the excellent Dell XPS 13. Again, you'll probably want to spring for the $1,000 config (£949, AU$1,999) to avoid getting an underpowered system.

Lastly, if you really are looking for one of the thinnest laptops money can buy, your choice is clear (at least in the United States): the $1,200 Lenovo Yoga 900 (£1,450, AU$2,199), which justifies its price with a super-high-res backflipping touchscreen, a Core i7 processor and 256GB of storage.

hp-spectre-x360-09.jpg
Enlarge Image
hp-spectre-x360-09.jpg

We'd definitely pick this HP Spectre x360 over the Envy 13.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The only alternative I wouldn't recommend right now: while Apple's MacBook Air also has excellent battery life and solid construction, it's due for an overhaul. Apple is likely to update it with faster chips and a better screen as soon as next month.

The Envy 13 is a quality laptop for around $1,000. At one time that was enough, but today it's just one of several very worthy competitors. If I bought the Envy, I might be a little envious of people with laptops that are even better.

Handbrake Multimedia Multitasking 3.0 test

HP Spectre X2 654HP Envy 13 626Lenovo Yoga 900 586Microsoft Surface Book 552
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 268HP Spectre X2 246HP Envy 13 227Microsoft Surface Book 214Lenovo Yoga 900 212
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Apple iTunes encoding test

HP Spectre X2 114Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 107HP Envy 13 105Microsoft Surface Book 101Lenovo Yoga 900 95
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Video playback battery drain test

HP Envy 13 433HP Spectre X2 437Lenovo Yoga 900 537Microsoft Surface Book 684Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) 1080
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)
hp-envy-laptop-0762-004.jpg
6.9

HP Envy 13 (2016)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6Battery 6