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HP Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook Review

By on September 9, 2012
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A premium Ultrabook that needs a few more tweaks.

Good: Stellar looks and finishing, NFC, strong audio
Bad: Can be hard to open, glossy surface needs frequent cleaning, slightly heavy for an Ultrabook, acceptable battery life, high price point
Price: AED 5,599
* The price is the Suggested Retail Price at the time of review. Please call a retailer to confirm the latest price for this product.

Benchmarks & Features

The Envy 14 Spectre performed well in our benchmarks, faltering only in our 3D tests due to its average built-in graphics managing only about 16fps in most scenes. But then again, no Ultrabook is designed to be a complete powerhouse, so in hindsight it’s a small thing to worry about. I did notice a difference with performance numbers when running the laptop on battery, so you may sacrifice a bit of performance when you’re on the go.

Booting up into Windows took the Envy 14 Spectre about 22 seconds, and shutdown took about 11. Our review unit packed a 128GB SSD, but it was further partitioned into two additional drives that were reserved for HP’s recovery utilities and software. So in effect you’ll have about 100GB of free space to use as you please.

HP have been kind enough to keep the bundled software to a minimum, including only a copy of Norton Internet Security and a trial of Microsoft Office 2010. You also get HP’s Help and Support and Recovery software, as well as HP CoolSense to keep your Ultrabook running cool. There’s even a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 and Premiere Elements 10, which is a nice addition to have.

One of the more unusual features of the Envy 14 Spectre is that it features NFC, something which isn’t heavily advertised in the laptop’s documentation. After downloading an app to your smartphone, you simple tap the section left of the trackpad to share information with the laptop. At the moment the app can only share the last visited website from your smartphone, which is a bit useless really, so hopefully HP will be able to flesh this out in the coming months. It’s still a nice feature to have nevertheless, so I remain optimistic.

Screen, Keyboard & Trackpad

The glossy 14-inch 1,600×900 screen is a nice treat to have, trumping most other Ultrabook screens in both quality and resolution. There’s a wider viewing angle here, which is a welcome relief given that most other Ultrabook screens don’t fare very well. Colors appear vibrant and hold their own even when the screen is tilted at different angles, which overall makes for a very good viewing experience.

The keyboard on the Envy 14 Spectre features well spaced keys and individual backlighting. You can easily turn off the lighting by tapping the F5 key which is good if you want save on battery life. The Envy 14 also features a Proximity Sensor, which automatically switches the keyboard backlight off and on again whenever your hands approach the keyboard. It’s a quirky (and slightly creepy) feature that for the most part works, but if you tilt the display all the way back then the senor has trouble correctly identifying when you’re resuming typing – thankfully simply tapping any key on the keyboard will also turn the backlight back on. Typing overall was comfortable on the Envy 14, though as mentioned before the palmrest doest get a tad bit uncomfortable if you’re typing for a long period of time.

The trackpad on the Envy 14 Spectre carries the glass finish from the rest of the laptop, which gives it a very smooth look and feel. It’s great to dance your fingers over when navigating around windows, and its multi-touch lets you scroll with two fingers or configure other actions through the Mouse applet. The bottom button is at times a bit stiff to click, so I prefer tapping where possible. You can also quickly disable the trackpad by double tapping on the top left corner, which is handy to stop accidental clicks.

Audio & Battery life

The audio on the Envy 14 Spectre is surprisingly good for an Ultrabook, where audio is usually one of the overlooked features. The Beats audio helps bring most songs to life, and the speakers deliver a decent amount of punch. The volume rocker on the side is a nice addition, though you will need to tweak it a bit – by default scrolling up will decrease rather than increase the volume.

HP boasts that the Envy 14 Spectre can go about 9 hours on battery, but when out and about I was only able to squeeze about 7 and a half hours before Windows decided to die on me. That’s still a fair amount of time to get work done, but not close to HP’s claims.

Heat and Noise levels

The Envy 14 Spectre is one ‘cool cat’, registering between 47-51C during most of my tests. I did observe however that the internal fans were almost always working away, even when there was nothing extraordinary being done on the unit. True, the fans were keeping the unit cool but it just seemed like it would be a good idea for the fans to turn it down a notch when not required. Resting the Spectre on my lap was not uncomfortable in any way, and only the rear part of the laptop where the air vents were was a little bit warm to touch.

Conclusion

So how does the Envy 14 Spectre stack up? It’s certainly a premium Ultrabook that’s reflected in the price tag. But past the looks, it has to be said that it’s one of the more heavier Ultrabooks I’ve tested, which doesn’t make it the most portable in my opinion – you’ll be able to carry it around for a few hours, but swing it into a bag and carry it for the rest of the day and you’ll certainly feel the burden. Having said that, the Envy 14 Spectre is still an Ultrabook to consider if you want something that will stand out from the lineup of rather boring designs that we’ve seen in recent months.

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About

A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys hurling fireballs and tinkering with the latest gadgets. Follow him on Twitter as @theregos

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