Not long after the Folio 13, HP is launching another ultrabook, the Envy 4, this time for the "big screen" laptop market with a sale price starting at £650.
The Envy 4 is a fairly nice object that combines matte and glossy plastics in an agreeable overall design. The look and feel are enhanced by a red soft-touch chassis. One small problem is that the contours of the keyboard, the wrist support and the lid, which are matte, and the contours of the glossy screen, all collect smudges. That means you'll have to do at least some upkeep in order for it to retain its full charm.
The chiclet keyboard is well-integrated into the chassis. The keys are the right size, for the most part; both soft and quiet. One of the nice things about HP keyboards is the addition of shortcuts (for volume, screen brightness, keyboard...), which means you don't have to press Fn to use these functions.
HP figured that since people use shortcuts more often than they use the Function keys, they would make the Fn key apply instead to F1, F2, etc. Once you get used to it, it's much more practical that way. We still would have preferred the keys to be backlit, as on the Folio 13, which makes it easier to use the computer even in poorly lit settings.
The touchpad recognises all the most common multitouch commands (two-finger zooming, two/three/four-finger scrolling, etc.) and the surface provides fairly precise movement. Unfortunately, the surface of the touchpad didn't win us over; it collects prints and sticks to your finger when you press down too hard.
The connectivity has everything, at least compared to the competition. The Envy 4 has two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, an RJ45 port, a headphone jack, a microphone jack and an HDMI port. What's also good is that all the ports are standard. You don't need any adapters to use the Envy 4, as opposed to so many other ultrabooks.
Heat levels with the components under stress.
Images taken with a Fluke Ti25 Thermal Imager.
The Envy 4 goes over 50° C (122° F) in places, even though it has a low-consumption processor and no dedicated graphics card. That may not be hot enough to put the components at risk, but it's definitely uncomfortable to have sitting on your lap with the heat blowing out the back. The noise level, on the other hand, always stays quiet. Even when the fan's blowing strong all it takes is a little music in the background to cover up the sound.
The colour rendering on the screen is... well, disastrous, with a Delta E of 14.6. We highly recommend using a colour calibration profile. And the contrast is even worse (282:1). That isn't much, even for a notebook.
Also, the display doesn't go any brighter than 189 cd/m². With figures like that and a glossy surface, the Envy 4 has no chance whatsoever of not reflecting direct light sources (the sun, that lamp sitting behind you...). The 1366 x 768 resolution, however, is standard fare and provides good legibility—although some of HP's competitors, like Asus, have already moved on to 1600 x 900 or started making non-TN displays (Zenbook Prime UX31A).
Like most of HP's products these days, Beats is in charge of the audio. And on the Envy 4 it isn't a pretty sight. The headphone output signal was designed with a baffling lack of tact! The volume can go high, but only at the cost of massive harmonic distortion (over 3%) and a hiss that's noticeable even with music playing.
Frequency response curve from the speakers.
Green = good, orange = tolerable, white = intolerable.
Green = good, orange = tolerable, white = intolerable.
Add to that some seriously mediocre speakers that saturate and distort like nothing else, and you have a product you wouldn't even recommend to your worst enemy.
The only positive thing about the audio is that there's a headphone jack and a microphone jack, which is rare in ultrabooks these days (most offer only a headphone/mic combo jack).
Our Review Model: Envy 4-1062The model we were sent for review (Envy 4-1062) features an Intel Core i3-2367M processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset, and a 500 GB hard drive supported by a 32 GB solid-state drive. Our comments so far have applied to all versions of the HP Envy 4, but what follows applies only to the model we tested, as each variation has different specs (see inset). The exact components you find may vary depending on the country/region in which you live.
The CPU is a low-consumption version of the Intel Core i3. It's an i3-2367M, which is the same found in the Sony Vaio T13. According to our measurements, it isn't the fastest processor out there, but it does provide a certain amount of freedom in your choice of applications. Productivity and everyday tasks like web browsing are a walk in the park for it.
The 32 GB Express Cache SSD shouldering the 500 GB HDD makes the machine more responsive, giving it a 25-second startup time, including time to connect to Wi-Fi, and a 5-second shutdown time.
In case you were wondering, the SSD isn't available for the user to store files on directly. It's only there to make the computer's job easier and faster by storing internal data and often-used programmes.
The Intel HD 3000 chipset decodes 1080p videos perfectly, but its capability is much more limited when it comes to video games. Unless you're playing older, smaller games, you'll have to turn the quality settings way down in order to get an acceptable frame rate.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
Like any ultrabook worthy of the name, the Envy 4's weight (1.8 kg) and size (340 x 235.8 x 19.8 mm) allow it to fit easily into any ordinary backpack. The 4 hour and 50 minute battery life (with Wi-Fi turned off, the screen at 100 cd/m² and headphones in) is far from the longest on the market, but it does mean you can carry it around and use it for a good part of the day without plugging it back in.