The HP Envy 13 is a handsome laptop with more than a hint of the Apple MacBook Pro.

It's impossible to approach HP's new Envy 13 and Envy 15 notebooks without reference to Apple's MacBook Pro range. HP has obviously looked closely at the lauded design of Apple portables with - someone has to say it - envious eyes, and decided it can profit from copying some of Apple's ideas.

Where most laptops are still built mostly in plastic, the HP Envy uses an all-metal construction to good effect. The HP Envy is based around several magnesium sub-assemblies, where the MacBook Pro has an aluminium monocoque ‘unibody' chassis. Other Apple-like touches include an expansive button-less multitouch trackpad, dual graphics cards, and an overall attention to detail rarely found on Windows-based laptops.

There are two HP Envy models to choose from, based around either a 13.1in or 15.6in screen. Regrettably, HP's emulation of Apple styling has extended to the high-gloss and frankly annoying shiny glass screen, even while Apple has relented and started offering a matt option again on its Pro 15in and 17in models. But this panel is at least very bright and shows a good colour gamut.

The larger HP Envy model includes the latest mobile quad-core processor from Intel, actually a cut-down version of the Core i7 chip seen in enthusiast-level desktop PCs. The Envy 13, meanwhile, sticks to a more tried-and-tested Intel Core 2 Duo processor, in this case a 1.86GHz SL9400 with 6MB of Level 2 cache.

Bizarrely, where the HP Envy 15 with its state-of-the-art quad-core processor is priced at £1199, the diminutive HP Envy 13 costs £300 more, at £1499. Your money buys less RAM (only 3GB included for this 64-bit OS system), a smaller hard drive, and slower graphics card. But you do get an additional strap-on battery included in the box.

This clips onto and entirely covers the HP Envy 13's base, and is very neatly styled to blend naturally into the overall design. It also adds almost two-thirds of a kilo to the weight, making an all-up total of 2.36kg; but with this extra pack it does allow the Envy to run for a long, long time. It now claim the crown for longest unplugged runtime we've ever seen in the PCA lab.

Using just the internal (but still removeable) 40Wh battery pack, we saw the HP Envy 13 survive for just over five hours in the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test. Once we'd clipped on the extra battery, we saw it run for a little over 13 hours in the same test. It's not quite the 16.25 hours claimed by HP but still good for a real day's unplugged computing.

NEXT PAGE: More tests and benchmarks >>

There's a limited line up of ports offered on the HP Envy 13; more than the Apple MacBook Air, it's true, but well below what's offered on the counterpart 13in MacBook Pro.

Like the Air, HP has left out ethernet, but includes a USB adaptor for basic network connections. Contrary to HP's specs, this is not gigabit but a 10/100 ethernet adaptor. And optical disc reading and writing has also been forsaken, although a Lightscribe-capable dual-layer DVD±RW drive is included in the box, also connecting by USB. Use both options, and you'd think you'd be out of data ports as the Envy 13's USB complement stops at two. But that DVD drive also acts as as a hub, and sports another two USB ports for convenience.

For video connection, an HDMI digital video port is included next to these USB, while audio in/out are combined into a single 3.5mm mini-jack socket. Opposing those connectors lined up on the right flank is an SD card slot on the left, along with the power inlet and cooling vents. We could usually hear when the Envy 13 was running from the mains, as the ATI graphics card would be engaged and an associated audible cooling fan.

As with the MacBook Pro, the HP Envy 13 includes two graphics processors; in this case we have a lowly integrated Intel type for good fuel economy when running from batteries, and a 3D gaming-friendly ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330, for when the incoming power is more plentiful. And unlike the Apple solution (nVidia 9400M-plus-9600M GT), HP's setup allows switching without being forced to log out first.

Unfortunately, we found the switch-over less than slick. The system is designed to recognise whether you're on mains or battery power, and adjust accordingly.

Our first graphics test successfuly used the ATI card, where we recorded average framerates of 26fps in FEAR at Maximum quality. After disconnecting the charger, the Envy switched to Intel graphics; but to get back to ATI power we eventually had to manually reset options in the Intel control panel. And even then, it could only muster half the graphics speed we first saw, until we'd completely rebooted the system. We can now guess why Apple erred on the side of caution with its switchable graphics solution.

To overcome the long-standing issue of slow booting and erratic sleep behaviour in Windows, HP includes a Linux Splashtop startup OS, giving users a taste of quick-start productivity. This gives not just basic web browsing and email functions, but Skype, IM chat, calendar, picture editing and a music player.

The whole interface is styled in a glossy black with white text throughout, looking sophisticated and polished compared to other express-boot Linux OSes. Some keyboard functions, such as screen brightness, will work here too, although there's no visual feedback for, for example, volume changes. The whole Linux system starts up in eight seconds, and shuts down in under four.

In WorldBench 6, the Envy 13 scored 79 points. Overall system performance was if anything a little above expectation for a notebook clocked below 2GHz, no doubt helped along by plenty of cache memory and fast DDR3 RAM.

Aside from the poor choice of screen finish, HP has really got the overall look and feel of the Envy right. It's a dense weight with both batteries loaded for sure, yet the Envy 13 feels solid and superbly engineered. The keyboard lacks the useful backlighting of Apple but shares a Scrabble-tile layout, with precise and positive acting keys. And the trackpad works quite well, even if multitouch actions like pinch-to-zoom feel jerky compared to the original.

NEXT PAGE: The original PC World US first-look >>

Under the HP Envy 13's hood you get a decent amount of juice, comparable to that of a 13-inch MacBook Pro: a 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9600 processor, 3GB of RAM, and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 discrete GPU.

The HP Envy 13 is an eye-catcher. Every place we popped open the laptop to try to get some work done people couldn't help but crane necks to check it out. The thin, metallic frame is a little on the heavy side, but we're not offended (it measures 320x215x20.5mm and weighs 1.7kg). A little meaty? Maybe, but we want a machine that feels like it can take a punch.

Anyhow, flipping the lid and firing up the HP Envy 13, we get the option to start with HP's Instant On Linux shell. You've seen it before in other machines, and the slick little interface works here just as well. One-second access to pictures, MP3s, the web, Skype, and the like - whether it is something sitting on the hard drive or popped into the SD card slot. Of course, you could opt to skip that insta-boot and go straight into Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit edition). It takes about 80 seconds to go to a fully loaded OS. From a sleep state, this sucker is back in action in under 2 seconds.

The HP Envy 13's screen is a crisp, glossy 13.1-inch backlit LED with a native resolution of 1600 by 900. That resolution, however, is an upgrade option - the default panel resolution is 1366 by 768. Either way, HD video, here we come! The colour is appropriately warm enough for video that shows fiery explosions against a black backdrop, and yet it won't wash out the darker colours.

Still photos similarly popped. If only that glossy screen wasn't fighting us. While images are certainly viewable, you'll notice reflections that'll distract you from what you're trying to type if you're parked anywhere near a window. (On the bright side, the HP Envy 13 makes a great rear-view mirror.)

Now on to something else that's been celebrated in press materials about this machine: it has Beats audio. Yep, the high-def audio processing that's found it's way into high-tech hipster headphones is built into a custom DSP chip. The results: well, you'll need headphones to even remotely appreciate what's going on. The two tiny on-board speakers are there for show. they sound decent enough, but even with the volume cranked, we needed to lean close in a noisy room just to hear a peep out of the HP Envy 13.

While we don't have Beats headphones for the "optimal" experience, we plugged in what most people would probably use - a pair of earbuds. Nothing fancy, and yet the sound is indeed noticeably crisper. Dre's "Nuthin' But a G Thang" (hey, it seemed an appropriate choice at the time) is more than just bumping bass - the headphone audio adds a meaty middle. The same song out of another notebook we had sitting around sounded a little sharper. Not nails on a chalkboard, but noticeable.

Speaking of inappropriate uses of hardware, we've never had such a love-hate relationship with a touchpad since... the newer MacBook Pros. First the love: the multitouch functionality. It works, we like it, done. Now the hate: with the mouse buttons tucked away underneath the touchpad's comfortable strike zone, we had a tough time pegging where the buttons ended and the touch controls began. At first we had to pound like a maniac on the corners just to highlight bits of text when writing this review. But over time, the HP Envy 13 became a little more manageable.

The keyboard, on the other hand, garners little to no complaints from me. In fact, the cut-out keys on this machine are a breeze to use. Well-spaced, springy, and solidly secured - this is a no-nonsense design. And, following the lead of machines such as Dell's Studio 14z, the keys lining the top are multimedia and hardware toggles first (no button combos required), then F1 through F12 keys when combined with the "fn" button. The Up and Down arrow keys are a little too tiny, but if that's the only complaint about the keyboard on a 13-inch laptop, HP's doing okay.

Looking around the rest of the notebook, you'll see a couple of USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI-out, an SD flash-card reader, and a combo headphone/mic jack. That's it. No wired ethernet port or legacy VGA (those require dongles) - but you do get Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi under the hood. And an optical drive? That falls under the "extras" category.

A quick aside about this slice: it's just smart. The extra battery snaps on, and you'd have to look closely to know that it's even there, though it adds a little extra thickness to the profile - and, of course, an extra lump of weight. (We can't say anything about the length of battery life just yet. Stay tuned and we'll update that ASAP.)

We've given HP the nod for smart design all around - might as well mention the premium packaging (and the promise of premium support). It makes you feel like you're getting a first-class seat to Windowsville. You even get a 2GB SDHC card that contains the manual. But that makes me think, "Hey, why not just put all the lovely 'bonus' software on the SD card, not the hard drive?"

But let us assure you that we don't care if Norton trialware is loaded on our machine. We don't own a Slingbox, and don't like the Flash ad for it on the machine.

The HP Envy 13 has a lot of eye-catching touches. This is a good machine for people that have money to burn.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

PCWorld.com

HP Envy 13: Specs

  • Supports up to 5GB DDR3 RAM
  • SATA Hard Disk Drive
  • 2-in-1 integrated Digital Media Reader for Secure Digital cards & MultiMedia cards
  • External 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN
  • 2x USB 2.0, 1 HDMI, Headphone/Mic combo jack
  • 13.1in Diagonal LED High-Definition BrightView Widescreen Radiance Display, 1366x768
  • HP Webcam with Integrated digital Microphone
  • Beats
  • Full size chicklet keyboard and Action keys
  • Touch Pad supporting Multi-Touch gestures, with On/Off button and dedicated vertical Scroll Up/Down pad
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer
  • Windows Live Messenger, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash Player
  • 1.7kg
  • 320x215x20.5mm
  • Supports up to 5GB DDR3 RAM
  • SATA Hard Disk Drive
  • 2-in-1 integrated Digital Media Reader for Secure Digital cards & MultiMedia cards
  • External 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN
  • 2x USB 2.0, 1 HDMI, Headphone/Mic combo jack
  • 13.1in Diagonal LED High-Definition BrightView Widescreen Radiance Display, 1366x768
  • HP Webcam with Integrated digital Microphone
  • Beats
  • Full size chicklet keyboard and Action keys
  • Touch Pad supporting Multi-Touch gestures, with On/Off button and dedicated vertical Scroll Up/Down pad
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer
  • Windows Live Messenger, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash Player
  • 1.7kg
  • 320x215x20.5mm

OUR VERDICT

There’s a lot to like in the HP Envy 13, an executive-level notebook with good performance and real longevity. Its premium price reflects what HP thinks it can charge for a notebook embued with more quality than its Pavilion and Compaq lines, although a better balance of performance, build quality and functionality is still to be found in the MacBook Pro line. Look to HP if the darker aesthetics are a better fit or if battery life is paramount.

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