This super-thin laptop was originally $800 -- with less storage! Plus: Two ebook deals not to be missed.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
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It's weird: All of a sudden my kids aren't happy with their Chromebooks. One wants access to Steam so he can play games; the other finds her old HP Chromebook 14 too heavy and clunky. (Admittedly, for a laptop it's kind of a beast.)
So now I find myself eyeballing portable PCs. And I remain convinced that a 13.3-inch screen represents the sweet spot, along with a speedy solid-state drive for storage and thin-and-light design for easy portability.
Fortunately, last year's high-end laptop is this year's bargain. For a limited time, and while supplies last, Amazon has the HP Envy 13-ab016nr for $599.99 shipped. Last year at this time, when the Envy 13 made its debut, you'd have paid $799.99 for a configuration with half the storage.
The Envy 13 is seriously skinny customer, measuring just half an inch high -- thinner, even, than the 13-inch MacBook Air. It weighs 2.8 pounds, barely an ounce heavier than my Asus Zenbook UX305. Unlike that model, however, the Envy has a backlit keyboard (a feature I frequently find myself missing).
HP promises a whopping 14 hours of battery life -- which would also represent a considerable improvement over my Asus -- but CNET's testing didn't bear that out. Indeed, battery life was one of the chief complaints in Sean Hollister's otherwise favorable review. I looked at a few other reviews, and the consensus is that you should expect closer to seven hours of runtime -- a far cry from 14, but enough to last you most of a day.
In other respects, the Envy 13 delivers just about everything you could need: an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel screen, three USB 3.0 ports and decent speakers. It's a not a touchcreen, though, if that matters to you, and the plastic bezel surrounding the display sort of cheapens the otherwise luxe look of the system.
HP has some newer, slightly sexier models, but you'll pay hundreds more for them. I like the idea of getting last year's premium SKU at a mid-range price. Your thoughts?
Bonus deal: Sigh. I miss you so much, Douglas Adams. If you've never read his beloved "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" books, you're missing out. Adams penned a second series before his shocking and untimely passing at age 49, the whimsical and charming "Dirk Gently."
Just a quick aside: If you're feeling blue these days, as I know many people are, get off social media and dive into a book. These two are perfect slices of escapism: funny, clever and wholly original -- just like Adams himself.
Bonus deal No. 2: And now a completely different kind of book. For a limited time, TradePub is offering Wiley's "Hacking for Dummies" free in exchange for some business info. Normally $16.99 (on Amazon, where it has a 4.8-star average rating), the 377-page guide isn't about hacking in the traditional sense, but rather security: defending your PCs and network from outside attacks. To get it, you'll have to give TradePub some info about you and your company. It's a little quid-pro-quo action.