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An Early Look at the HP Envy 14 Spectre

HP expands its Envy line into a very attractive 14-inch Ultrabook, but is it thicker and heavier than the market expects?

HP's Envy line of laptops are the best PCs they make for consumers, with their focus on powerful specs, sleek design, and premium materials. The latest models were only available in 15.6 and 17-inch sizes, so those who wanted Envy design and performance with a little more portability were out of luck. Today, HP is expanding the line with a slick new addition, the HP Envy 14 Spectre.For the record, we really loved the original Envy 14, back in 2010. Unfortunately, the system remained largely the same a year later, while the rest of the laptop market had moved on to better and better designs. Compared to the rest of the market, the 2011 version of the Envy 14 was unremarkable. Fortunately, the Envy 14 Spectre takes a very big leap forward in several areas.To begin with, it's dramatically smaller than last year's Envy 14. At 12.8 by 8.7 inches, it's not nearly as wide or deep as the 14 by 9.3-inch Envy 14 of last year. It's much thinner as well, at 0.78 inches. Best of all, the Spectre sheds close to two pounds from the 5.6-pound Envy 14 - it tips the scales at 3.79 pounds. The Spectre's screen is half an inch smaller than the 14.5-inch screen on the old Envy 14, but the resolution has actually improved to 1600 by 900.That all sounds like great news, but we're not in the age of big fat laptops anymore. We're in the age of Ultrabooks, and while the Spectre technically qualifies for the label, it's noticeably thicker and heavier than most of the laptops that carry that brand. We've seen ultraportables for years that were 0.8 inches thick and weighed just under 4 pounds. It's not a huge problem, but HP would do well to steer clear of the Ultraportable brand on this one; I think it sets up expectations for size and weight that will just disappoint users. The good news is that this slightly ticker and heavier Ultrabook design affords room for more full-sized ports and a keyboard with a little more key travel.The most striking element of the Spectre's design is the heavy use of glass. The lid is edge-to-edge glass on both the back and the display side, giving the closed laptop a very glossy appearance like a high-end tablet. The entire wrist rest beneath the keyboard is glass, forming a smooth surface that integrates the buttonless clickpad (HP is keen to point out that it's an image-based touchpad, for better multi-touch gestures, but we've seen plenty of those lately).It would be an HP Envy product with Beats integration, and of course you'll find that here. Taking a queue from the latest Envy 15 and 17, there's an analog volume dial on the right side, along with a mute button and "Beats" button. I'm not a fan of more button and knobs, but this is a case where more is better; an analog dial is a much easier way to control volume than pressing some function key multiple times, and a dedicated, easy-to-find mute button can come in quite handy.When the system becomes available on February 8, the starting price will be about $1400. For that, you get a Core i5-2467M, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Interestingly, the Spectre comes equipped with NFC, and may be first to market to do so. I'm not sure how useful that will be as a way to swap data with your phone, but it's nice to see NFC support becoming more widespread. HP promises 9 hours of battery life, which is a good hour or two longer than many laptops this size. Also included are WiDi wireless display and KleerNet-compatible wireless audio.If you want to spend more, you'll be able to add a second SSD or a more powerful CPU. Unfortunately, there's no option for a discrete GPU. This is a big disappointment, as graphics performance has been a hallmark of the Envy line, and it would prove a lot more useful than a second SSD for most users.

[For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.]

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