HP Omen (15-inch, 2017) review: HP's Omen is a devil of a deal if you’re looking for 4K gaming
When Nvidia unveiled its Max-Q laptop architecture earlier this year, it told us we'd see gaming machines with the power of a desktop in the shape of a MacBook Pro -- mainly in thanks to more efficient GeForce 10-series GPUs. HP's new Omen 15 is the latest product under the Max-Q umbrella, but it's too thick to live up to that promise. Don't count it out though. As long as you're not expecting some hypothetical laptop from the future, you'll find a machine that strikes a good balance between style, power and price.
The first Max-Q machine to hit the market was the Asus Zephyrus, but you wouldn't think that and the Omen are cut from the same cloth. Both run 15.6-inch displays, but the Zephyrus packs a Nvidia GeForce 1080 GPU into a 17.9mm thick, five-pound frame. The Omen's GeForce 1060 card and its 33mm-thick body can't compete. But the Omen won't burden you with the same financial weight as the Zephyrus: The unit we reviewed will set you back $1,700 (AU$2,900, £1,400), while the Zephyrus weighs in at $2,700 (AU$5,000, £2,800).
So no, don't get too excited by the Max-Q branding the HP Omen carries. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to be excited about. It's a much better-looking laptop than last year's blandish model, and the aforementioned GeForce 1060 is a new option for this year's Omen. The best GPU you could get in last year's 15-inch Omen was a 1050Ti, which was still fine for mainstream gaming, but the 1060 is much more VR-friendly.
The 15-inch range starts at $999, for which you'll get a machine powered by AMD Radeon RX550 graphics. You'll net a GeForce 1050 for an extra $30, though it'll only have 2GB of VRAM. The Max-Q version of the Omen 15 starts at $1,589, comes with a 1060 with 6GB of VRAM and a UHD panel. That's the model we reviewed, though the extra storage on ours boosts the price up to $1,700. Every configuration runs on a 2.8GHz Intel Core-i7-7700 CPU.
For Australian gamers, the range starts out at AU$2,000 for a model with a GeForce 1050 with 4GB VRAM. In the UK you'll get a similarly specced machine for £850, though it has an i5 processor, not an i7.
Betwixt and between
Just because it's not as svelte as a Razer Blade doesn't mean the Omen isn't nice-looking laptop. HP's older Omen models shied away from the ostentatious laptop designs you'd see from companies like MSI and Asus, going instead for something more subtle. That's great for those who think gaming laptops too gaudy, but the end result wasn't particularly stylish or interesting to look at.
This year's design strikes a good balance: It's eye catching, and clearly a gaming laptop, but doesn't get too out of hand. The two-tone top shell is part plastic, part carbon fibre and emblazoned with the blood-red Omen logo. One big design plus is on the bottom frame, which slopes inward under the port section -- meaning it's slimmer on the sides, where you'll grip it when moving around.
HP Omen 2017
|Price as reviewed
|15-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display
|2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ
|16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz
|6GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with Max-Q Design
|256GB SSD + 2TB HDD
|802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
|Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)
It's not just a gaming laptop from the outside. Above the keyboard, you'll find two pentagonal hinges reminiscent of something you'd see on an Alienware laptop. The keyboard, like previous models, is lit up with red backlights. With no numberpad or freaky trackpad placement, there's plenty of keyboard space, and for me the key depth felt just right.
The comfortable keyboard is one of many utilities the laptop gets right. The Bang & Olufsen speakers are loud and not-too-tinny, unlike the Asus ROG G752VS. Plus, its touchpad isn't awkwardly placed, missized or too finicky, which you can't say about the Razer Blade Pro or the the Origin Eon15-S.
High-powered with a power plug
Packing a GeForce 1060 into a 15-inch laptop is impressive, but it's a trick that's been pulled off a few times now. If you're after the more robust 1070 GPU, you'll have to go for the 17-inch unit (17-inch Omens with a 1070 start at $1,589 -- AU $3,000, £1,800 -- though, for the US model, that's with only 8GB RAM and no SSD).
With the Max-Q design, it's something of a disappointment that there's no option for a 1070, although 15-inch laptops armed with top-of-the-line GPUs tend to cost an exorbitant sum (see Razer Blade Pro and ROG Zephyrus, which both run 1080s). But still, a GeForce 1060 was more than enough firepower for me -- even if the machine lagged behind the competition on some benchmark tests.
My game of choice right now is Overwatch, which I was able to play at highest possible settings at 100 frames per second, and in full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution. That's a game that you can play without even having a discrete graphics card, but the Omen fared just as well with the more graphically intense Just Cause 3, handling it with no problem with all the settings as high as they can go. How much of an improvement 4K screens (3,840x2,160) are over FHD (1,920x1,080) or QHD (2,560x1,440) displays is a point of contention, but in absolute terms, these games looked gorgeous on the Omen.
But you'll pay for that beauty in battery life. The laptop lasted exactly 180 minutes in our streaming video test, which is less than half of what you'll get out of an Acer Aspire VX 15 or a Dell Inspiron 15 7000. That can mostly be chalked up to to the 4K resolution. In practical terms, I watched Netflix for one hour on full brightness and volume and the battery went from 100 to 29 percent.
Gaming laptops are known for their substandard battery life, but even in that category the Omen 15 is far below average. Since you're not going to do a lot of 4K gaming with just the Nvidia 1060 card, a standard FHD screen is usually better middle ground for gaming laptops, and will offer better battery life. Unfortunately, the 1060-equipped Omen isn't available with anything other than a 4K screen.
There are some silver linings, though. The screen is a battery killer, but it's an IPS display, meaning the viewing angles are better than normal LCDs. And unlike many of its competitors, the Omen is a quiet beast; it's not silent, but I never heard the fans pumping over the sound of games I was playing. Plus, it won't burn a hole through your lap when you game.
If you've got a big budget for gaming, there are more robust contenders out there. The Alienware 15 R3 can be configured with a GeForce 1070 for around $2,000 ($AU3,500, £1,750) while the $1,900 Razer Blade (AU$2,800, £1,800) has similar specs to the Omen 15 but in a thinner frame. But the Omen offers a solid sub-$2,000 deal, a deal that becomes much sweeter if you're after a 4K screen, since your alternatives, like the 17-inch, $3,700 (AU$5,900, £3,800) Razer Blade Pro, are much more expensive.
Just don't expect to be away from a power socket for too long.
|HP Omen (15-inch)
|Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with Max-Q Design; 256GB SSD + 2TB HDD
|Acer Predator Helios 300
|Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060; 512GB SSD
|Lenovo Legion Y720
|Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060; 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
|HP Omen (17-inch)
|Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
|Asus ROG Strix GL753VE-DS74
|Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD