One of the key benefits of Intel's new Haswell processors is the improved power-efficiency that leads to greater battery life and portability. It seems a little odd, then, that the first Haswell laptop we've seen from HP should be a 15.6-inch desktop replacement system rather than a slimline Ultrabook.
To be fair, the Envy TouchSmart 15 is an attractive multimedia system with strong audio and video features, but we were expecting something a bit more streamlined from a laptop that HP claims has been ‘completely redesigned to be lighter and thinner'. See all laptops buying advice.
At the risk of annoying HP's design team, the TouchSmart looks rather like a 15-inch version of Apple's MacBook Air, with the same tapered profile, brushed-metal finish, and large, one-piece trackpad. It's better connected than the MacBook Air, though, with no less than four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and Gigabit Ethernet available for networking and peripherals. See also: Group test: what's the best budget laptop?
The keyboard also looks and feels very similar to that of the MacBook Air, with the same 19mm key pitch – although the size of the screen means that there's room for a separate numeric keypad as well. And, just below the keypad, you'll also find a fingerprint sensor for extra security.
However, the screen is in a different league from that of the MacBook Air – touch-sensitive and with full 1920x1080 resolution for high-definition video.
Viewing angles could be a little better – around 100-degrees horizontally and vertically – but the image is bright and colourful and works well for watching video, browsing the web or admiring your photo albums. It's good for music too, with Beats Audio quad speakers and a built-in sub-woofer that produce a much warmer, fuller sound than you get from most laptop speakers. Music lovers also get a nice little bonus in the form of a year's free subscription to the Universal Music streaming service.
There's no DVD or Blu-ray drive, though, and yet the TouchSmart 15 still measures a full 30mm thick and weighs in at 2.6Kg. We've seen many 15-inch laptops that do include a DVD drive and still weigh less than that, so portability is clearly not a strong point. Neither is battery life, unfortunately. Despite the inclusion of that Haswell processor the TouchSmart 15's compact little battery pack could barely manage 3.5 hours (200 mins) when using the integrated graphics to stream video from the BBC iPlayer. See also: Group test: what's the best ultraportable laptop?
It's safe to say that you are not going to be carrying the TouchSmart 15 around in a backpack with you on a regular basis. However, it can still earn its keep at home or in the office – particularly if you're looking for an entertainment machine with powerful multimedia features.
HP Envy TouchSmart 15: two versions
There are currently just two versions of the TouchSmart 15 available, priced at £799.00 with 8GB memory and 750GB hard drive, while our review unit included 16GB memory and 1TB drive for a total price of £999.00. Both models have the same quad-core i7 processor running at 2.4GHz, and GeForce 740M in addition to the standard HD 4600 integrated graphics.
The use of a 5400rpm drive means that the TouchSmart 15 doesn't break any records when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 benchmark software, achieving an unremarkable score of 3550 points. However, the quad-core i7 processor has more than enough raw horsepower to handle demanding multimedia work such as video-editing or audio recording. The healthy amount of RAM and storage space will come in handy here as well, allowing it to easily cope with large video files and high-res photos. See also: Best gaming laptops 2013.
The GeForce graphics means that the TouchSmart 15 can handle some decent gaming action too. We were able to run Stalker: Call Of Pripyat at 1920x1080 with medium graphics settings and still get a respectable 36fps, while dropping down to 1280x720 allowed it to cruise along at a comfortable 58.5fps. That's not hardcore fragging territory, but it's more than adequate for most casual gamers, and rounds out the TouchSmart 15's comprehensive set of multimedia features.