The HP Envy 14 is Hewlett Packard's rendering of a MacBook Pro, now available in 14.5in widescreen size, and with useful improvements beyond the HP Envy 13

Last time we looked at HP’s Envy laptops, we couldn’t not mention how much they were modelled on Apple’s MacBook Pro.

From the backlit Scrabble-tile keyboard to the edge-to-edge glass screen, the buttonless trackpad, the all-metal body and understated styling – the Envy was an undisguised attempt by HP to make a Mac portable computer. Only this time playing host to the Windows rather than OS X operating system.

Now we have two more Envys, in two new sizes, following the same blueprint; meanwhile, elsewhere in the design HP seems to have responded to feedback by making some useful changes.

And we’ll try not to keep resurrecting ad nauseum how it pinched various ideas from Apple. Promise.

Up one, up two

When HP first alighted on the idea of copying Another Brand’s notebook, it went so far as to emulate two out of three of its available screen sizes. Hence we saw an HP Envy 13 and an Envy 15, pointing to 13in and 15in displays.

One refresh later, and we have the Envy 14 and 17. That new 17-incher stands at the top, with the 14in Envy here neatly sliding between old 13in and 15in notebooks’ dimensions.

So the HP Envy 14-1050ea we reviewed keeps a glossy screen, now measuring 14.5in along the diagonal of its 16:9 widescreen panel. We feel this mirror-like glass is still one of the poorest design decisions that HP and its mentor could have made.

Unlike the inspiration of the Envy, there’s no anti-glare matt screen option from HP.

But like its forebears, the Envy 14 has a certain elegant simplicity to its design. The display lid is genuinely metallic, in a tasteful bronzey gunmetal finish with rough textile-like patterning. With the notebook open, the company's logo shines through the back of the lid, in a way that looks uncannily familiar.

Lift the catchless lid and you have a no-nonsense black keyboard, with backlighting adjusted from the function keys.

In its hasty bid to photocopy someone else's buttonless trackpad, HP has also inherited its principle flaw: with the pad sited flush with the notebook’s body, you can’t really click the button with your thumb terribly easily.

Otherwise, the 'Clickpad', as HP has trademarked its rendition, works quite well now, with useful multi-touch control.

Genuine improvement

In marked contrast to practically every Windows laptop, this HP at least omits the cheap stickers all over the wrist-rest area, that usually scream Intel Inside! or Genuine Windows 7! or try to bullet point every last internal component.

When it comes to showing off the product rather than festoon with stickers, we won’t mention where we believe HP got the idea from.

Last year’s HP Envy omitted an integrated optical drive, instead packing it in the box as an outboard USB-attached unit. While that makes more sense for a 13in-sized notebook, it seemed a bit churlish for a 15in, a form factor that most people might expect to have all its functionality under one pack-and-go lid.

NEXT PAGE: in and around the HP Envy 14 >>

Now both new Envy models include internal optical drives. In the 17in, that could be a Blu-ray drive, but for this 14in at least, you get a Lightscribe-capable dual-layer DVD±RW rewriter. Like another prestiguous notebook we won’t mention, it has a swish slot-loading mechanism.

So along the left side is the DVD slot, two USB 2.0 ports, and separate mini-jack sockets for microphone and headphones. In a bizarre digression from the fruit-company script, these are not capable of accepting digital audio over an optical cable.  

Along the right of the HP Envy 14 is a power inlet, a cooling vent, ethernet and Kensington security hole. Two digital-only video outputs are offered: the Mini Display Port so favoured by a brand that specialises in high-end laptops, plus an HDMI port. Also here you’ll find a combo eSATA/USB 2.0 port. Sadly missing is the USB 3.0 that’s available to big brother Envy 17.

Along the front you’ll find a card slot for SD cards, and a grille on each end for internal speakers. These are branded as Beats Audio, as some kind of totem of quality. We question how many well-heeled customers would pay to have their laptop’s sound system tuned by an American rap artist. But maybe that’s just us.

As it happens, if we were Dr Dre, we’d probably ask for our company’s Beats logo to be removed on the grounds of poor acoustic advertising from these speakers.

They’re not awful, but they are rather so-so: somewhat thin and tetchy sounding, and audibly below the audio quality that you might find on other premium all-metal notebook computers.

Update: we've been informed that to hear optimised sound quality from Beats Audio it's advised to use headphones or external speakers, not the internal speakers on the notebook.

Flip the Envy over and you can remove a hatch that exposes the removable battery. This is up to a decent 59Wh size, almost 50% larger than the 40Wh fitted to relegated Envy 13. Also under the hatch is the hard drive, as easy to exchange as in another range of distinguished laptops.

Engine room

The engine room of the Envy 14 is now powered by a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor. For graphics, HP has installed one of our favourite mobile processors, the ATI Mobility Radeon 5650, with a generous 1GB of memory. And to help balance performance with fuel economy, the HP Envy 14 can be set to switch to the integrated Intel GMA HD graphics processor on battery power.

This is not a fully automatic workload-sensitive system as found elsewhere – it’s simply set for Intel on battery, ATI on mains; or you can manually override to the GPU of your choice.

With graphics set to Intel, we tested the battery with MobileMark 2007 Productivity. The HP Envy 14 lasted over five hours (307 mins) and this time without requiring a strap-on battery, as included with the original Envy 13.

Our first attempt at benchmarking for overall speed with WorldBench 6 was inadvertently made using Intel graphics – but for anyone interested, the HP Envy 14 scored 99 points when setup thus. This rose a little to a worthy three-digit result of 102 points with ATI graphics.

But more people will be interested in how well the HP Envy 14 plays games rather than accelerate an Autodesk app in WorldBench 6.

In the FEAR game test, the Envy 14 averaged a very swift 67 frames per second. And with the large 1GB of video memory, it should make the most of the MDP and HDMI outputs, to take second monitors and high-definition TVs in its stride.

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict >>

HP Envy 14: Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-450M
  • 3MB level 3 cache
  • 14.1in (1366 x 768) glossy LED-backlit LCD display
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • 500GB SATA 3Gb/s HDD
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 RAM
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 with 1GB DDR3 RAM
  • Mini DisplayPort, HDMI
  • slot-load Lightscribe DVD±RW drive
  • 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • SD card slot
  • stereo speakers
  • webcam
  • mic
  • removable 59Wh lithium-ion battery
  • 355 x 236 x 29mm
  • 2581g
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-450M
  • 3MB level 3 cache
  • 14.1in (1366 x 768) glossy LED-backlit LCD display
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • 500GB SATA 3Gb/s HDD
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 RAM
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 with 1GB DDR3 RAM
  • Mini DisplayPort, HDMI
  • slot-load Lightscribe DVD±RW drive
  • 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • SD card slot
  • stereo speakers
  • webcam
  • mic
  • removable 59Wh lithium-ion battery
  • 355 x 236 x 29mm
  • 2581g

OUR VERDICT

Available for a penny under a grand, the 14in Envy is priced more competitively than the £1500 of its 13in predecessor. That model has now been discounted to an appealing £849 or less. But in the HP Envy 14 you now get an integrated optical drive and internal battery that gives very handy battery life. Performance, whether gaming or general duties, is sped along by the Intel and ATI processors. It’s well made, if a little heavy for a 14in notebook, at nearly 2.6kg. If pitched against this year’s 13in MacBook Pro, it’d be a close call. Apple has the upper hand in longevity, build quality and software; the HP scores two points more in WorldBench, and has better gaming graphics.

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