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HP Envy 23 review: Nothing to see here

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You can't blame computer makers as they try to shake off the low margin shackles of the commodity PC market. It's reasonable, though, to ask that they put out a product worthy of a premium price tag.

HP Envy 23 d160qd
5.9

HP Envy 23

Pricing Not Available

The Good

A lower-end version of the <b>Envy 23</b> would make a decent, if unremarkable touch-screen all-in-one.

The Bad

This high-end review configuration has no distinguishing characteristics, leaving it outmatched next to its competition in this price range.

The Bottom Line

A bland effort, the HP Envy 23 has nothing to recommend it over other Windows 8 touch-screen all-in-ones.

The touch-screen version of the Envy 23 line starts at $1,049, but HP submitted a $1,949 version for review. The implication is that that HP wants you to think of this PC as a serious computer for performance or home entertainment. The problem is that its distinguishing features, Windows 8 Pro and 16GB of RAM, are easily added to other PCs in this price range, while many of those systems have their own unique features that you can't add to the Envy 23.

With nothing to really set it apart, the Envy 23 is an overly safe Windows 8 all-in-one. In its lower-end configurations, this system is comparable with other PCs in the $1,000 to $1,300 price range. In this more expensive tier, the Envy 23 is nothing special.

The Envy line represents classic HP blandification to suit its big-box retail partners and the presumed preferences of mainstream customers. What started as an exciting off-shoot brand from its boutique, now-dead, Voodoo PC arm has instead become just another black, mostly plastic computer. The Envy 23 is neither ugly nor attractive. It's not really anything.

The design at least meets the basic standards of a modern touch-screen PC. You can tilt the display back 30 degrees for a more ergonomic touch-screen experience while you're standing. The touch screen itself has the same "good enough" responsiveness as the screens on the Dell Inspiron 2330 and the Toshiba LX835. You will notice some drag, but not enough to disrupt basic swiping and selection interactions.

HP Envy 23 Apple iMac (27-inch) Dell XPS One 27
Price (as reviewed) $1,949 $1,999 $2,299
Display size/resolution 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen 27-inch, 2,560x1,440 27-inch, 2,560x1,440 touch screen
CPU 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 3770S 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 3770S 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 3770S
Memory 16GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB Nvidia Geforce GT 630M 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M
Hard drives 2TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm, 128GB solid-state hard drive 2TB 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner NA Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth
Operating system Windows 8 Pro (64-bit) Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8 Windows 8 Pro (64-bit)

Coming in for review with such a high price tag puts the HP in tough competitive territory. Every other Windows 8 PC I've reviewed so far in this price range has a 27-inch display, in Dell's case with a 2,560x1,440-pixel screen for the XPS One 27. That puts the 23-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel Envy 23 at a screen size disadvantage.

In general, the HP keeps step with its various components. The Core i7 3770S is par for this price range, and its 16GB of system of RAM is actually above the norm. The extra memory didn't help much on our performance tests, though. Professional-grade video editing and other demanding workloads will benefit from more RAM, but the mainstream consumers most likely to buy this PC won't likely notice it.

You can always swap out the extra memory and put the cost savings toward the AMD Radeon 7650A graphics chip upgrade via HP's configurator. That would make a more meaningful contribution to overall system functionality than 16GB of RAM/entry-level Nvidia GeForce 630M combo in our review unit.

As I alluded to earlier, the bigger issue with this higher-end Envy 23 is that it has no features you can't easily replicate on other desktops. Adding RAM or Windows Pro to almost any all-in-one post purchase is trivial. But the Dell XPS One 27 also has the highest-resolution screen among consumer-level Windows all-in-ones. The Apple iMac has the same resolution and Thunderbolt ports. Even the comparatively affordable Asus ET2300INTI, a $1,399 Windows 8 all-in-one, has Thunderbolt and wireless display (WiDi) capabilities. All of those features are integrated into their respective PCs, and you cannot upgrade to them with an aftermarket part.

HP has nothing unique in the Envy 23. I might even welcome more dubious features, like NFC or gesture control, just to show that HP was giving this PC the same attention as its other Windows 8 all-in-one, the Spectre One. That system also has its flaws, but it at least tries something new. All HP has managed to do here is overcharge for a memory upgrade. Going from 8GB to 16GB will cost you $320. Even Apple, notorious for high-priced component upgrades, only asks $200 for an extra 8GB in the iMac.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking: iTunes and Handbrake
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs
Rendering Single CPU

The good news is that the Envy 23 keeps pace with the Apple and Dell systems that use the same Core i7 3770s CPU. I'd also hoped that the HP's added memory might show itself on either our Photoshop or our iTunes/Handbrake multitasking test, but the results don't indicate that the memory adds a significant benefit on those benchmarks. Again, some more-demanding users may appreciate 16GB. I suspect if you count yourself among that class of user, you're not looking for an HP touch-screen all-in-one.

The Nvidia graphics chip also bears some scrutiny. Apple sets a high bar with the high-end GeForce GTX 680M chip in its $1,999 iMac, and both the Dell and the HP look underfeatured with their lower-end GPUs. You can still use this HP for gaming, but you can expect to make sacrifices to image quality and resolution on more-demanding titles. Again, dropping down to 8GB of memory and configuring the higher-end AMD graphics chip would be a smarter choice for this PC for most mainstream users. That upgrade only adds $30 to the price of the system, too.

Portwise, the Envy 23 includes all of the ports you expect in a mainstream desktop, but almost none of the more interesting inputs you'd want to see in a PC that costs nearly $2,000. USB 3.0, HDMI input, and the SD card reader are all present and accounted for. HP also includes a TV tuner, a dedicated subwoofer output, and a digital audio jack. Optical digital audio, Thunderbolt, or anything else of note are all absent. The Envy 23 has a set of hard buttons on the side of the system for swapping to the external HDMI device, and volume controls on the wireless mouse and keyboard, all expected.

Conclusion
HP didn't help the cause of this system by submitting such a high-end configuration. Yes, a baseline unit would put the Envy 23 in line with recent, similarly unremarkable lower cost all-in-ones, but then we could at least say that this system offered similar value to that of its competition. Up against higher-priced systems from Dell, Apple, and other vendors, the HP Envy 23 is simply lost. Look for another PC if your shopping in the $2,000 price range. If you're looking for something less expensive, the Envy 23 should serve just as well as any other mainstream touch-screen all-in-one.

Performance testing conducted by Joseph Kaminski. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations

HP Envy 23 (November 2012)
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770S; 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012)
Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive, 128GB solid-state hard drive

Acer Aspire 7600U
Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 768MB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Asus ET2300INTI
Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i5-3330; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell XPS One 27
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

HP Envy 23 d160qd
5.9

HP Envy 23

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 5Performance 7