Hands on with HP’s Envy 14 Spectre, Envy 15, and Folio

Thursday, January 12th 2012. | Hardware News

We got some quality hands-on time with HP’s new line of notebooks, headlined by the Envy 14 Spectre that we posted about yesterday. Just to refresh, the Spectre is an ultrabook with a 14″ 1600×900 screen and predominantly glass construction. The lid, display, palm rest, and trackpad are all covered in hardened, scratch-resistant glass panels. The rest of the chassis (LCD frame, keyboard surround, and bottom chassis) is anodized aluminum.

HP Envy 14 SpectreSpec-wise, the Spectre is relatively standard ultrabook fare, though some things do jump out. The 14″ 900p Radiance display is notably one of them. It offers good viewing angles and a pretty solid contrast ratio in our eyes-on test, and was shoehorned into the 13″ notebook chassis with use of LG’s Shuriken technology. Other things include an i5-2467M, 4GB memory, a 128GB SSD (manufacturer and controller as yet unconfirmed since it may change on the way to production), Beats-branded speakers, HP’s new wireless audio streaming technology, and full versions of Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements. Battery life is quoted at a relatively impressive 9 hours (capacity wasn’t disclosed, but I’d bet something similar to the Folio’s 59Wh 6-cell).

All that glass makes for a pretty fantastic feeling system, something that offers a much premium look and feel compared to the majority of the notebook market, even with respect to the already upmarket ultrabook class. The glass looks quite stunning in person, though the poor lighting conditions made it difficult to capture that effect on camera. As you’d suspect though, it’s a bit of a nightmare to keep clean – all of the HP reps had microfiber cloths in hand to wipe the Spectre units down constantly. Other details include keys that are individually backlit, keyboard lighting animations when turning the system on or off, an analog jog wheel for the volume control, built-in NFC (we didn’t get to see that functionality in action), and a super-narrow bezel.

At 3.79lbs, the Spectre ends up being relatively heavy by the standards of the ultrabook class. We saw something similar with the Dell Adamo, the last notebook that we saw to use glass so notably in its chassis design. It’s an interesting point to note – while the use of a glass casing in smartphones gives handsets a pleasantly weighty feel in hand, extensive use of glass in laptops just makes them feel weighty. Granted, 3.79lbs isn’t a whole lot for a notebook, but Samsung just released a new Series 9 ultrabook that weighs in at 2.5lbs for the 13″ and 3.3lbs for the 15″. In comparison, the Spectre just looks heavy. It’s one of the downsides to using a lot of glass, but I think that was a conscious trade off on HP’s part.

HP also showed off some customized Spectre units designed by Marchesa and Swarovski to highlight the design. Overall, I think the industrial design is substantially cleaned up compared to most of the notebooks we see come out of HP these days, and the attention to detail throughout the design is pretty impressive. The Spectre reminds me a bit of the original Dell Adamo for the cutting edge material and design characteristics, though doesn’t have the same level of performance and functionality sacrifices that Dell made with the Adamo, nor the absurdly high price. The $1399 base is a bit on the high side, but still within reason, since that’s only a few hundred more than a comparably equipped ultrabook like the 13″ Samsung Series 9 or ASUS UX31 retails for.

HP also had the Envy 15 and Folio on display, notebooks that have been out for a short while on the market and started shipping very recently. The Folio is HP’s first ultrabook, a business oriented model that hits all of Intel’s main points for ultrabooks. It has a clean (but somewhat bland) design and is built pretty solidly. It’s not a bad machine, and offers very good battery life (9.25 hours on a 59Wh 6 cell), but to my eyes the Folio didn’t particularly stand out from the rest of the ultrabook class that has been all the rage at CES this year.

More interesting is the Envy 15, which comes with a number of alluring features, starting with the 1080p Radiance display and the Radeon HD 7690M dGPU. It’s a pretty powerful computer, one that builds on the success of the older Envy 14. We’re eager to get one in our labs to put through the full test suite, and we’ve been promised an evaluation unit at some point in the near future.

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