HP Envy 15 Windows laptop and tablet review

HP Envy 15 x360 15-u000na

HP is hedging its bets with this laptop, literally making it flexible enough to broaden its appeal. It's added folding tricks that let it fold back on itself, so where a normal laptop has a display that will hinge backward just beyond the vertical, the lid on the Envy 15 x360 goes all the way around, turning the notebook into a huge and heavyweight Windows tablet. (See also: Best laptops you can buy in 2014.)

Essentially it's a 15.6-inch widescreen laptop, running a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor. There's no additional graphics processor, instead relying on the quite versatile HD Graphics 4400 integrated graphics within the Intel chip. The version of the HP Envy 15 x360 we tested – which HP also labels a Compaq Notebook PC 15-u000na – includes 8 GB of memory and a 1 TB 2.5in hard disk for storage.

To use it more like a tablet, from the closed position you simply pry open the lid, lift it and keep rotating until the screen has folded right around to lie against the main deck again. Around half-way there, the keys and trackpad become disabled in order that any random presses on the keys are not registered. And the screen image also inverts, taking cues from an accelerometer that's now standard-issue in tablets since the iPad.

There's also an in-between stage, known as tent mode, where the laptop can be stood on a desk like an A-frame tent, and again operated like a touchscreen tablet. (See also: Which laptop to buy: 2014 laptop buying advice, and the best laptops of 2014.)

HP Envy 15 x360 15-u000na: build quality

Envy was once the name HP awarded to its premium consumer laptops, but for this model at least quality has slipped noticeably. While attempting to look more upmarket with metal construction, the case is actually constructed entirely from plastic, apart from a thin 0.5 mm aluminium veneer that forms the keyboard top plate.

But the main symptom of lowest-budget construction is saved for the touchscreen display, which is of particularly poor quality. A low-resolution 1366 x 768-pixel panel is not unusual for budget 15-inch Windows laptops, which renders on-screen type and graphics rather fuzzy. Nor is the high-gloss reflective finish unusual, where a shiny surface is a near necessity for a panel that encourages you to apply your greasy fingertips. But in contrast to high-quality tablets, there does not seem to be any attempt to use an oleophobic coating to resist marks, nor does it have any form of anti-reflective coating. This mirror effect serious hampers viewability in anything but a darkened room.

Image quality of the twisted-nematic (TN) screen suffered badly. In our tests it covered only 60 percent of the basic sRGB colour gamut, and so robs images of any colour realism. Contrast ratio was just 80:1 at most brightness settings, which helps explain the display's washed-out pallid complexion. And viewing angles were severely limited, such that anything more than a few degrees from face-on viewing resulted in the already weak picture becoming chroma inverted, with dark colours turning light and vice-versa.

For a laptop with tablet pretensions which demands viewing from various positions, this is a sorry state, making the screen particularly hard to read in many of its vaunted 360-degree combinations. When used as just a touchscreen laptop, the screen also suffered from wobbles when we tried to use the display as a touchscreen.

HP Envy 15 x360 15-u000na

The keyboard fills the width of the top plate with its additional number keypad, and takes the usual centre-offset trackpad to compensate for having all the keys shifted to the left.

This HP TouchPad is less typical though, very large at 140 x 64 mm, extended on both its sides with extra estate that is designed just to respond to custom finger gestures. Tap and drag down on the right side to 'display and select a charm', says the instructions, or the same gesture on the left to 'select an open app'. We couldn't get either of these functions to work at all however.

Like many other Microsoft hardware partners, HP includes limited trial for anti-virus software from Intel-owned McAfee. The virus company's terms and conditions are rolled into the Microsoft Windows terms and conditions that you must agree to before you can start using the computer. These include McAfee's standard terms that state that its software may collect personal and sensitive data about you; including biometric data such as images of your face and recordings of your voice, for storage in the United States and for sharing with third parties.

HP Envy 15 x360 15-u000na: performance

With its recent Haswell-generation dual-core processor and decent 8 GB of memory, the Envy 15 x360's computing performance was more than satisfactory. Geekbench 3 scored it with 2552 and 4931 points for single- and multi-core modes. PCMark 7 reported an overall score of 2836, its result dragged back a little here by the use of a slower hard disk.

This slows down the computer in both subjective and benchmark terms when compared to today's SSD technology. We also noticed that to help reduce disk crashes caused when moving the laptop while it's spinning, the drive would lock up when it detected movement.

PCMark 8 meanwhile reported results of 2236 and 2707 points for its Home and Work units, again about typical for a laptop using a dual-core Intel chip and hard disk.

Some limited action with the latest Windows games may be possible providing you keep detail settings very low. Tomb Raider 2013 played with an average framerate of 30 fps when set to the screen's native 1366 x 768 resolution and Low detail settings. This rose marginally to 34 fps at 1280 x 720 resolution. But raising detail to the Normal level saw framerates drop to 20 and 22 fps respectively for the same resolutions.

In our Metro: Last Light benchmark test, the Envy 15 x360 did not get passed the lowest hurdle of 1024 x 768 and Low detail, returning an average framerate of 17 fps.

Battery life was not too bad, playing our standard looped video over Wi-Fi test for 5 hours 20 mins before the laptop shut down. (See also: Best laptops you can buy in 2014.)

HP Envy 15 x360 15-u000na

HP Envy 15 x360 15-u000na: Specs

  • 15.6-inch (1366 x 768) TN glossy touchscreen
  • 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5-4210U dual-core processor
  • Windows 8.1
  • 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3L RAM
  • 1 TB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
  • Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/n 1x1 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • HDMI
  • SD card reader
  • Kensington lock slot
  • 43 Wh lithium-ion battery, non-removable
  • 383 x 252 x 23.8 mm
  • 2375 g
  • 15.6-inch (1366 x 768) TN glossy touchscreen
  • 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5-4210U dual-core processor
  • Windows 8.1
  • 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3L RAM
  • 1 TB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
  • Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/n 1x1 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • HDMI
  • SD card reader
  • Kensington lock slot
  • 43 Wh lithium-ion battery, non-removable
  • 383 x 252 x 23.8 mm
  • 2375 g

OUR VERDICT

HP's application of the swivelling screen idea on a laptop works well enough, even if overall build quality doesn't give anything like a premium feel while you're handling its big and bendy frame. The primary letdown for this model though is its low-grade touchscreen display, and its lousy image quality undermines final practicality to the point where we would suggest looking for more usable alternatives.

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