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HP Envy Ultrabook 4-1015dx review: HP Envy Ultrabook 4-1015dx

The attractive Envy 4 shows HP's high-end laptop brand repurposed as a budget laptop. The marriage may be strange, but the result's not bad if you pick the right model.

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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There was a time, last year or so, when an ultrabook represented a distinct product within a computer line. Now, as is the case with Hewlett-Packard, there are whole lines of ultrabooks. Yes, that makes shopping a little more difficult, but the extra choices can theoretically work out to your advantage.

HP Envy 14
7.2

HP Envy Ultrabook 4-1015dx

The Good

The <b>HP Envy 4-1015DX</b> has an aggressive price, a sleek design for a budget laptop, strong battery life, and extras like Bluetooth and a backlit keyboard.

The Bad

This entry-level configuration has an older, slower Intel Core i3 processor, although HP's site has affordable upgrade options; also, the heavier chassis and lack of DVD drive don't quite make sense.

The Bottom Line

HP's Envy 4 is an attractive, affordable type of ultrabook with a basic but solid set of features, even if it lacks the speed of more expensive alternatives in our entry-level configuration. Your best bet is to pay more for a faster version, or consider the even more affordable larger-screened AMD Sleekbook 6 instead.

Finding the sweet spot, though, has never been tougher. Exhibit A is the HP Envy 4, a 14-inch laptop that's part of a line of Intel processor-bearing ultrabooks and AMD processor-bearing "Sleekbooks" in both 14- and 15-inch sizes. These thin laptops represent a different part of the thin-and-light landscape than the stylish and expensive HP Envy 14 Spectre released earlier this year, or the thinner Spectre XT. While AMD versions of the HP Envy 6 cost less than their Intel counterparts (the 15.6-inch Envy Sleekbook 6 is available for as low as $599), the 14-inch Envy 4t only comes with Intel CPUs.

The least expensive of all the 14-inch Envy 4 configurations costs $699, or $679 at some retailers (the HP Envy Ultrabook 4-1015DX I reviewed is a retail configuration available from Best Buy). It comes with a last-gen Intel Core i3 processor, a 500GB hybrid hard drive, and 4GB of RAM in a body that feels like the Editors' Choice Award-winning HP Folio 13 ultrabook I loved last year and the HP dm4 thin laptop combined together, with little bits of Beats Audio design touches.

On a whole, the HP Envy 4 is a larger ultrabook, one of those slightly thicker, bigger, and heavier laptops that you would perhaps expect to have an optical drive, or discrete graphics. It's in a similar category to the Toshiba Satellite U845, but better-designed. And, yes, it's a replacement of sorts for the highly versatile HP Folio 13. But December 2011 was a different time than August 2012.

HP_Envy_4_1015DX_35414201_04.JPG
Sarah Tew/CNET

Having an SD card slot, an Ethernet port, and a long-life battery for a reasonable price was rare for an ultrabook back then. Not anymore. If I were buying the admittedly nicely designed HP Envy 4, I'd pay up for a more full-fledged configuration. Or if I wanted to save money, I'd opt for the more affordable but larger AMD-powered Envy Sleekbook 6, instead. Or perhaps I'd just consider paying up for the HP Envy Spectre XT. That's the problem with having too many choices: suddenly, the ultrabook landscape becomes no different from, or less crowded than, the rest of the midrange consumer laptop universe. And that's not exactly a great thing.

In the $679 entry-level Core i3 configuration I reviewed, the total product feels decent, and certainly ample for most people, but it's not a standout. It'll get the job done, and it has good speakers. Back-to-school shoppers, take note: this could be for you, if you don't mind not having a DVD drive. I only have one question: didn't the Envy brand used to be high-end? Not anymore. It makes me wonder how Envys will co-exist with rest of HP's Pavilion products.

Price as reviewed$679
Processor1.5GHz Intel Core i3-2377M
Memory4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive500GB, 5,400rpm + 32GB SSD cache
ChipsetIntel HM65
GraphicsIntel HD 3000
Operating systemWindows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD)13.4x9.3 inches
Height0.78 inch
Screen size (diagonal)14 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter3.9 pounds / 4.7 pounds
Categorymidsize
HP_Envy_4_1015DX_35414201_09.JPG
Sarah Tew/CNET

Weren't ultrabooks supposed to restore sexiness to the laptop? Don't tell that to this Envy. Hey, I've seen this design before. So have you, if you've been window-shopping for HP laptops over the last year or so. The brushed aluminum and black plastic look of the HP Envy 4 feels like a hybrid of recent Envy designs and laptops like the Pavilion dm4, with more than a touch of the HP Folio 13. It's not a bad look at all -- in fact, it's far better than most laptops -- but it doesn't exactly break the mold.

The Envy 4t has a bigger screen than the Folio 13 (14 inches instead of 13.3 inches), and is somewhat thicker and heavier, too. At 3.9 pounds and 0.78 inches thick, the Envy 4 isn't obese for an ultrabook, but it feels bulkier all around, much like the Toshiba Satellite U845.

HP_Envy_4_1015DX_35414201_06.JPG
Sarah Tew/CNET

With a different size class come different expectations. There's no DVD drive on this laptop, but it feels like there could have been -- the Dell Inspiron 14z and Acer Timeline U M5 both managed to include one. The chassis tries to look high-end, with premium-style finishes from the angled top lid to the soft-touch underside, but the whole package feel more budget than that. The aluminum keyboard deck feels like a finish, not solid metal. The keyboard itself flexes, and far more than I'd like. The back lid is brushed aluminum (available in black/red or silver/black finishes, both with black back lids), but the screen itself is surrounded by generic, glossy black plastic.

HP_Envy_4_1015DX_35414201_03.JPG
Sarah Tew/CNET

The backlit keyboard isn't the best I've seen from HP, mainly because it exhibited flex in the middle, causing me to miss keys on more than one occasion. Pressing down harder was the solution, encouraging me to aggressively type out this review. Results improved, but the added column of right-side keys cramping access to Enter, Shift, and Backspace feels unnecessary.

Media control keys assigned to function buttons above the keyboard are function-reversed, meaning they'll work directly without the Fn key. Above that, a single thin power button lurks near the lid hinge on the left.

HP_Envy_4_1015DX_35414201_05.JPG
Sarah Tew/CNET

A multitouch Synaptics clickpad below is slightly recessed from the keyboard deck and amply sized. Two-finger gestures like pinch-to-zoom didn't always register. It was hard to tell whether the problem was the touch-pad hardware's clickzones or Windows 7 itself.

The 1,366x768-pixel glossy 14-inch display feels strictly budget; black levels were weak on my review model, and viewing angles were less than ideal. The resolution's also a step down from what's starting to appear on higher-end laptops, but 1,366x768 is still the mainstream baseline for everyday computing, and will get the job done.

A Beats-branded speaker bar above the keyboard angles upward slightly, affording better projection of sound than the standard ho-hum ultrabook. However, the sound quality of those speakers, while loud, wasn't particularly great. It lacked force and depth, and was distorted at high volumes.

Also, take note: HP has preinstalled a good chunk of trialware and other software on this Envy, creating more than a fair share of pop-up windows.

A 1,280x720 Webcam looked good enough to have effective Web chats on, with decent light sensitivity.


HP Envy 4-1015dxAverage for category [midsize]
VideoHDMIVGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
AudioStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacksStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
NetworkingEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, BluetoothEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical driveNoneDVD burner
HP_Envy_4_1015DX_35414201_07.JPG
Sarah Tew/CNET

The HP Envy 4t has all the basic necessary ports and connections, including a pull-down compact Ethernet port, USB 3.0, and an SD card slot, plus Bluetooth. There's no DVD drive.

Finding the right configuration price and bang-for-the-buck value on the new Envy ultrabook isn't easy. A ton of processor, RAM, and hard-drive configurations abound, including an optional AMD discrete graphics option. HP's site doesn't exactly make shopping easy to figure out. Even more confusingly, having an Intel processor doesn't even technically make the HP Envy 4 an ultrabook; according to HP's site, upgrading the 500GB hard drive with a 32GB solid-state drive (SSD) cache ($50) is what transforms your Envy 4 into an ultrabook, adding Intel Rapid Start technology and faster bootup times. (A 32GB SSD cache is included in this model's hybrid hard drive.)

The version of the Envy I reviewed, the HP Envy 4-1015DX, is an entry-level retail configuration from Best Buy. At $679, it undercuts most other Intel-powered ultrabooks out there, but there's a big caveat: this laptop config has a Core i3 processor that's last-gen versus current-gen (Sandy Bridge, not Ivy Bridge), along with a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive with 32GB SSD cache, and 4GB of RAM.

The Intel Core i3-2377M processor is similar to the one in the Asus Zenbook UX32A, but a little faster (1.5GHz versus 1.4GHz). And, in that sense, you're getting a better deal: the UX32A costs about $779 for that older processor plus a 320GB hard drive, while the HP Envy 4-1015DX has a 500GB hard drive for $679. It's a bigger laptop, but still easy to carry around.

On HP's Web site, upgrading to a current-gen Intel Core i3 processor over last year's version only costs $25; you can upgrade all the way to a third-gen Intel Core i5-2467M processor plus AMD Radeon 7670M graphics for an extra $150, which isn't such a bad proposition. I'd certainly take that option. RAM can be upgraded up to 16GB, but there are no SSD-only drive upgrades, only the 500GB + 32GB SSD hybrid drive option.

You can see on our comparison charts that the last-gen Core i3 processor in the HP Envy 4-1015DX is slower than the average current-gen Core i5 processor by a significant margin; it's actually pretty close to the performance of the HP Envy Sleekbook 6's AMD A6 processor. That AMD Sleekbook 6 (admittedly, a larger laptop with a 15.6-inch screen) only costs $599, which raises the question: why not get that instead? If I were comparing the to entry-level 14-inch HP Envy 4-1015DX, that's exactly what I'd do. HP does offer current versions of the Core i3 processor and faster Core i5 configurations of the HP Envy 4t, and while I haven't tried out those models, they're probably worth the upgrade if you're serious about making the Intel version your laptop of choice. The model I tested didn't feel as zippy as other ultrabooks I've recently reviewed. A cold bootup took about 30 seconds. Most everyday programs, including Web browsing and office apps, ran at a speed most users would find perfectly suitable. HP CoolSense automatic fans tended to kick in frequently, but the technology can be switched off in system settings.

Graphics do take a hit on this Core i3 configuration, because this laptop has Intel HD 3000 graphics as opposed to this year's improved HD 4000 integrated graphics. Street Fighter IV only ran at 15.9 frames per second at 1,366x768-pixel resolution. That means, except for some basic casual titles, this Envy laptop is not ready to play most games. You could upgrade to HD 4000 graphics or even discrete AMD graphics in other configurations.

The integrated battery in the HP Envy 4-1015DX lasted 5 hours and 58 minutes in our video playback test, and 6 hours for a budget ultrabook is pretty good indeed. The Asus Zenbook UX32A only lasted 5 hours and 15 minutes on the same test, although that's a smaller 13-inch ultrabook. You can at least rest easy that this particular HP Envy ultrabook's got enough juice to match more expensive models.

35414201_HP_Envy_4_1015DX_35414201_08.JPG
Sarah Tew/CNET

HP includes a one-year parts-and-labor warranty. Warranty upgrades are confusing, with discounts that don't show up until you've added a specific plan and laptop to your shopping cart on HP's Web site. HP's service and support tools are perfectly navigable, and product manuals and software and driver downloads were easy to find. The 24-7 toll-free number can be tricky to spot, however. It's 800-474-6836.

The HP Envy 4 is a curious ultrabook: it feels too big to be perfectly portable, but it's still nicely designed considering its lower-priced configurations. At $679, the Envy 4-1015DX is a hard deal to beat for what you get, even if that means an older Intel Core i3 processor. Still, upgrading to a faster CPU is a likely bet for most people. However, even at its current price and configuration, the HP Envy 4-1015DX is a decent ultrabook-territory value.

Juice box
Off (60%)0.35
Sleep (10%)0.57
Idle (25%)5.7
Raw kWh number24.27
Annual power consumption cost$2.75

Annual power consumption cost

Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A

$2.74

HP Envy 4-1015DX

$2.75

HP Envy Sleekbook 6

$3.12

Toshiba Satellite U845-S406

$3.40

Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2

$3.58

Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814

$3.69

Sony Vaio T13112FXS

$4.36

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2
556

Toshiba Satellite U845-S406

618

Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814

629

Sony Vaio T13112FXS

650

HP Envy Sleekbook 6

1,004

HP Envy 4-1015DX

1,040

Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A

1,162

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2
174

Toshiba Satellite U845-S406

187

Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814

196

Sony Vaio T13112FXS

198

HP Envy Sleekbook 6

297

Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A

306

HP Envy 4-1015DX

330

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2
111

Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814

126

Toshiba Satellite U845-S406

129

Sony Vaio T13112FXS

131

HP Envy 4-1015DX

223

HP Envy Sleekbook 6

234

Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A

244

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

HP Envy 4-1015DX
358

Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814

350

Sony Vaio T13112FXS

342

HP Envy Sleekbook 6

341

Toshiba Satellite U845-S406

337

Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A

316

Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2

259

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

System configurations:

HP Envy 4-1015DX
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.5GHz Intel Core i3-2377M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Acer Aspire Timeline U M5-481TG-6814
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE / 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Vizio Thin and Light CT14-A2
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Toshiba SSD

HP Envy Sleekbook 6
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.4GHz AMD A6-4455MM APU; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 7500G; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Asus Zenbook UX32A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.4GHz Intel Core i3-2367M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB(Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Toshiba Satellite U845-S406
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio T13112FXS
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

HP Envy 14
7.2

HP Envy Ultrabook 4-1015dx

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6Battery 9Support 7