The HP Envy 14-1196ea laptop sports the Beats by Dr Dre colours and packs some potentially powerful components. Sadly, we didn't find the sort of performance we were hoping for.
Our model came with a quad-core Intel Core i7-Q720 processor and 4GB RAM. It's available now for around £1,000.
Design and build quality
The Envy 14-1196ea is immediately recognisable as being part of the Beats audio range; the black plastic lid has a humongous red Beats logo taking up the middle, which dwarfs the actual HP logo in the bottom corner. Evidently, when HP goes toe-to-toe with Dr Dre, there's only going to be one winner. Other than the Beats logo, there's not much going on with the lid; it's a standard matte black affair.
It's not bad looking though, so long as you don't mind proudly displaying to all and sundry that you worship at the church of Dre. Sadly, once you get your hands on the laptop, the matte coating proves to be a total fingerprint trap; a smart-looking machine is soon transformed into a grimey slate of grease.
It doesn't feel particularly well built either. We prodded and poked at the lid and found a fair bit of flex, which is never a good sign. The plastic also seems rather brittle and we wouldn't be surprised if it cracked if it were to take a stern tumble to the floor. If you're going to be taking it out and about with you, we suggest using a well-padded laptop bag.
Things are somewhat better around the edge, where you can find metal banding that feels a lot more secure, as well as giving it more of a premium look.
The keyboard, surround and wrist-rest are every bit as black as the lid -- if you're after a pretty, colourful machine to brighten up your work day, the moody-looking Envy 14-1196ea is not for you. The wrist-rest has a rubberised finish that feels good enough to stroke but did pick up marks quite easily. Thankfully, it feels much more sturdy than the lid and provided no flex beneath our vicious poking.
It may be part of the Beats line, but the speakers on the Envy 14-1196ea are nothing to shout about. They reach an average volume for a laptop, but they lack the clarity at the high end and the punchy bass at the low end that we had hoped for. You'll certainly need a good pair of headphones -- perhaps the Monster Beats Solo to match the laptop -- if you want to enjoy some brain-shaking sound.
Keyboard and trackpad
It's not all gloomy and dull though; the lettering on the keyboard is in the distinctive Beats red -- even the letter B has been changed to the Beats logo -- so there's no mistaking who is responsible for this laptop. The keyboard uses square, isolated keys that are very easy to type on without making too many errors; they're comfortable enough to keep going for long periods of time. It's not backlit though, so if you want to type at night, you'll have to try and catch those red letters in the right light.
The trackpad is pretty big and responsive and the whole thing is clickable, dispensing with separate buttons. It doesn't have the easiest click to it -- it's certainly not as pleasant as the clickable pad on the-- so if you're settling down for an evening of web browsing involving a lot of clicks, you might want to pop in a USB mouse.
Set into that metal edge you'll find a slot-loading DVD drive, an HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 2.0/eSATA port, a mini display port, headphone and microphone jacks and a SD card reader. There's sadly no sign of USB 3.0 on the Envy so you can forget about super-quick transfers to an external hard drive.