The Envy 14 Spectre is quite a gorgeous bit of engineering. Leave aside, if you can, that it's the most brazen attempt yet to steal Apple's MacBook Pro design. Sit it side by side with a MacBook Pro 13, and the only immediate difference you'll notice is the glass wrist rest and glowing Beats logo.
That's not the only Apple-inspired aspect. The Gorilla Glass lid, for a start, immediately makes you think of the iPhone 4. Its shiny black surface is quite pretty, although of course it's victim to fingerprints, and opening the laptop can be a little difficult due to HP including a tiny lip.
You eventually learn to open the thing quickly, but cautiously — with the glass making us nervous, considering how many cracks we've seen on dropped iPhones.
Opening up the laptop, we were immediately hit with a disappointment: the screen doesn't tilt back very far. Thankfully, despite being TN based, the image quality and viewing angles are quite impressive, mitigating this. The positive impression is helped along by the edge-to-edge glass and very thin bezel. The icing on the cake is the resolution; at 1600x900, it's fantastic to finally be seeing 1366x768 get the heave-ho.
The wrist rest is glass, too, as is the surface of the touch pad, something that feels nicer as time goes on. HP uses a click pad, meaning that buttons and track pad are integrated into the one unit. Outside of OS X, we've found this to be problematic, and here more so, as there's absolutely no physical separation between the pad and the buttons; you'll need to look before you click. As a result, this is a pad built for tapping, made all the more frustrating by the lack of a tap-to-right-click option.
The keyboard is responsive, excellent and backlit — easily one of the better keyboards that we've used in the past year.
It's positioned as an ultrabook, although the 1.8kg weight makes it one of the heftier solutions — likely down to the amount of glass involved. HP has done an excellent job of hiding the weight, tapering and designing the body so that it's easy to carry.
The feature set is good, too; one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI, gigabit Ethernet, a mini DisplayPort, an SD card reader, a headset jack, Bluetooth and 802.11n 2.4Ghz and 5GHz.
Beats Audio is of course along for the ride, and while the speakers attenuate at "high" volume and lack real impact, the tone is significantly better than with it off. You'd still be better off with headphones (preferably not of the Beats variety) or standalone speakers, but for day-to-day tasks, they'll do.
A physical volume wheel is situated at the right, as is a button to load the Beats Audio control panel, and a mute button.
Our review sample came with a Core i5 2467M at 1.6GHz, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB Samsung SSD. It is an ultrabook in specs, at least, and yet this configuration will set you back AU$1899. Spend AU$2299, and you'll get a Core i7 2677M at 1.8GHz, and a 256GB SSD. For the price and weight involved, we'd have expected at least a dedicated graphics card, and Intel's rules for ultrabooks do not forbid this.
Handbrake encoding (in seconds)
HP Envy 14 Spectre (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 128GB SSD)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Despite having similar hardware, the Spectre doesn't follow the Folio's performance closely. The Folio comes at a disadvantage where the multi-core Handbrake-rendering test is involved; its performance deficit is seemingly produced by a throttling CPU not dealing well with heat management. While performing fine in most tests, curiously the Spectre falls behind in our Photoshop test.
Battery life (time)
- Heavy battery test
- Light battery test
- 6h 27m
- HP Folio 13 (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 128GB SSD)
- 6h 7m
- HP Envy 14 Spectre (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 128GB SSD)
- 5h 23m
- Asus ZenBook UX31 (Core i7 @ 1.8GHZ, 256GB SSD)
- 5h 8m
- Toshiba Satellite Z830 (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 128GB SSD)
- 3h 21m
- Asus ZenBook UX21 (Core i7 @ 1.8GHz, 128GB SSD)
- 2h 54m
- Acer Aspire S3 (Core i5 @ 1.6GHz, 320GB HDD)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Battery life is unsurprisingly great. The Folio manages to last longer during video playback, but the Envy Spectre catches up in light web-browsing usage.
HP's Envy Spectre 14 is gorgeous. It's also quite pricey, but in that you get one of the best keyboards, a good touch pad, great battery life and, well, a Windows machine that looks like a MacBook Pro. If you've got the cash, then this one comes recommended.