The last generation of the ENVY laptop line was a mash-up of metal-tooled design. Dotted aluminum lids and meaty machines, they packed punches and earned the awards to back it up (including WIRED’s Computer of the Year in 2010). So how do you follow up on that? Change up the design and try to come up with some even cooler tweaks, of course.
I caught up with Cameron Duncan, Product Manager for HP ENVY laptops, and we chatted for a bit about what’s new.
Alright, Cameron spoke his piece. Now’s it’s MY turn. That was my queue to raid the labs, test out the newest 15 and 17-inch models and share some of my thoughts with you. And since a big part of this story is about how the new ENVYs look, let’s stare at these guys a little closer, shall we?
This is gonna sound a little odd, but these ENVYs get me thinking of how people in the 60s thought the future would look: Squared-up-but-subtle designs, knobs, buttons, running lights and a two-toned color scheme. Eying the machines while closed, I’m reminded of the sleek, black lid you’d spot on the Envy 14 Beats Edition laptop. The only thing missing: That black-and-red “B” on the inside. (Don’t worry, it’s still in there, I’ll get to that in a minute.)
But it’s when you lift the lid you really notice the design differences. Take this for what it’s worth considering who this is coming from – a guy that works at HP – but I dig it. In fact, I tagged along for a recent press tour and the feedback I got from some folks is that the inside layout is what caught their eyes as well. (I won’t bother name-dropping here, but I will scope out the major blogs / outlets and update this story later with some links.)
The keyboard is slightly recessed with a red running light around its edges. The backlit keyboard uses a proximity sensor to know when to turn on or off. And when you do drop your digits down on the keys, the cut-out keys have a good tactile response. The keys are also for the most part pretty well-spaced.
Looking straight ahead, there’s a flush-glass panel capable with a native resolution of 1920 by 1080. To support that screen, the Envy 15 has one full DisplayPort and HDMI output (The 17 jams in two full DisplayPorts and an HDMI). So you get some fairly neat multi-screen support here. During demos we rigged up an ENVY 17 across three displays to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It can be done!
Beyond the rest of the eye-candy, the one thing my eyes kept darting back to had to be that big, brushed metal analog dial parked along the right side of the machine to precisely control the volume. It’s funny, really. I never really thought about it, but I REALLY miss analog dials. They are big metal testaments to the early days of electronics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for a steampunk PC (yet), but it makes this case stand out. And, when you press that signature “B” in the center of the shuttle jog wheel, it calls up the Beats audio control panel that gives you various presets and more fine-tuning over your music than you get with your standard-issue sound management panel in Windows. These laptops also have integrated HP Wireless Audio support. Meaning: if you have the receiver, you can directly pipe music from the laptop to external speakers wirelessly (its handy if you want to pipe your music through a home theater, for example).
(In case I didn't yammer enough about the newest ENVY line's features, go to hp.com/go/envy for even more info.)
To give you a little performance perspective, I ran the prototype 15 and 17 machines I was able to get my hands on through a couple quick tests. Here’s what happened:
ENVY 15 TEST MACHINE
CPU: Intel Core i7–2860QM at 2.5GHz RAM: 8GB HDD: 750GB 7200rpm HDD Display: 15.6-inch screen w/ 1920 by 1080 native resolution Video: [A new AMD graphics processor I can’t tell you yet], 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort Audio: 1 headphone-out, 1 mic-in jack; Beats audio shuttle jog dial Interesting I/O: USB 3.0 ports!
NOTE: I believe the reason for the "5.9" graphics score listed above is one of three things: It was reading the Integrated chip on the mobo; I was using not-final laptops for my initial tests; Or both. I WILL be getting more hands-on time with final consumer units soon and when I do, I'll be posting a separate story. Several. Count on it!
Boot to Windows 7: 50 seconds System Shutdown: 9 Seconds System sleep: 4 seconds System wake-up: 2 seconds
Quick Gaming Tests: Just Cause 2: “Dark Sunrise” Test 1920 x 1080, settings at high – to – ultra:14.72 fps 1600 x 900, settings at medium to high:28.79 fps
Resident Evil 5 “Fixed” Test 1920 x 1080, settings at high – to – ultra: 25.2 fps 1600 x 900, settings at medium to high:58.5 fps
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II – Retribution 1920 x 1080, settings at high – to – ultra: 31.65 fps 1600 x 900, settings at medium to high:41.9 fps
While these laptops have Integrated Intel graphics for when you want to save power, AMD graphics processors pick up the pace when you start playing games. (Basically, you tell the switchable graphics which apps you should throttle up the graphics for and when.) Jacking up the graphics a little further on the ENVY 17 with an even more powerful mystery Radeon processor, it started to cruise in some tests….
ENVY 17 TEST MACHINE
CPU: Intel Core i7–2670QM at 2.2GHz RAM: 8GB HDD: 320GB 7200rpm HDD Display: 17-inch screen w/ 1920 by 1080 native resolution Video: [A new AMD graphics processor I can’t tell you yet], 1 HDMI, 2 DisplayPorts Audio: 1 headphone-out, 1 mic-in jack; Beats audio shuttle jog dial Interesting I/O: I like the two side-mounted USB 3.0 ports!
Boot to Windows 7: 42 seconds System Shutdown: 10 Seconds System sleep: 2 seconds System wake-up:1 second
Quick Gaming Tests: Just Cause 2: “Dark Sunrise” Test 1920 x 1080, settings at high – to – ultra: 27.1 fps 1600 x 900, settings at medium to high:42.2 fps
Resident Evil 5 “Fixed” Test 1920 x 1080, settings at high – to – ultra 36.3 fps 1600 x 900, settings at medium to high:78.1 fps
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II – Retribution 1920 x 1080, settings at high – to – ultra 35.06 fps 1600 x 900, settings at medium to high:53.87 fps
Hang on, I’m not done quite yet. A couple other quick thoughts about the machine that I just had to throw out there:
There’s the multi-touch clickpad for mousing around. Touch pads are always a matter of personal preference. Me? I always prefer separate physical buttons, but I’m a crank. Also, this is a minor point for most but if you find yourself using the arrow keys often, the up and down arrows are smooshed together. Oh, yeah, and my last thought: I want more knobs on laptops now! I want to feel like a mad scientist making adjustments on the fly!
Overall, you’re getting some solid performance from a pair of laptops that start at $1099 (for the ENVY 15) and $1249 (for the 17-inchers), launching December 7. Got some questions for me about these guys? I’m here for you!
Also, for your viewing pleasure, more videos about these lovely new lappys: