This 15-inch laptop is at the very top of HP's price range. To dig its own niche on a highly competitive market, HP gave the Envy TouchSmart 15 a brushed aluminium body, four built-in speakers and a subwoofer, an Intel Core i7 processor and a dedicated graphics card. Has HP found the secret to success?
The Envy TouchSmart 15 cuts a fine profile, with no glaring problems in the design. The aluminium surface doesn't smudge easily, but we wish we could say the same for the glossy plastic borders surrounding the screen. The underside of the chassis is made of matte black plastic. The computer weighs 2.58 kg, which is about average for a 15-inch laptop—meaning a little too heavy to carry around all day.
The chiclet keyboard is backlit (with non-adjustable brightness) and includes a numeric keypad. But the number keys come at a price, because the up and down arrow keys had to be made smaller in order to fit the numpad in. But that doesn't make the keyboard any harder to use, and the key stroke is nice and quiet. One thing that's different with HP keyboards is that you don't need to hit the Fn key in order use the shortcuts (volume, screen brightness, keyboard backlighting, etc.); instead, Fn is used for F1, F2, F3, etc.
The touchpad is a spacious 11 x 6.8 cm and has a smooth surface ideal for tapping and gliding. It recognises two-finger scrolling, zooming and the Windows 8 shortcuts. Two-finger horizontal and vertical scrolling goes in the opposite direction as the image onscreen, like on an Apple notebook. When you sweep from right to left on the touchpad, for example, the screen scrolls to the right. This is a little off-setting at first, but it doesn't take long to get a hang of.
The connectivity consists of four USB ports, an Ethernet (RJ45) port, an SD card reader, an HDMI out and a headphone/microphone combo jack. Only two things are missing: an optical drive (DVD or Blu-ray) and a VGA out (VGA is still very much in use among professionals).
Heat readings with the components under stress (in °C)
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
Any time you have an Intel Core i7 and a video card packed into a 2.5 cm tall chassis, heat can be an issue. The temperatures here may not be astronomical, but the spots that do overheat aren't necessarily in the best location. The 45.3°C peak toward the front of the keyboard, for example, is right where your left palm rests when you type. But while the heat may be high, the fan noise is not (37 dB(A)).
The Envy TouchSmart 15 could have had great sound, but instead HP decided to use Beats Audio.
Frequency response curve: built-in speakers
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = heavily altered
The built-in speakers are just satisfactory, with no real bass, although the volume does go high and there isn't too much saturation or other defects. The sound through the headphone/microphone jack, however, is far less than satisfactory. First of all, there's plenty of space for HP to have given this computer a separate audio in and out instead of a combo jack. But more importantly—and this is always the case with computers with Beats Audio—there's too much power coming through the output. The volume goes extremely high, but it creates such absurd amounts of harmonic distortion (saturation) that in reality you can never actually put the volume up that far.
Configuration: HP Envy TouchSmart 15-j091efThe model we were sent to review contains an Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 8 GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GT 740M graphics card, a 1 TB hard drive and an "HD Ready" screen. The comments above apply to all versions of the HP Envy TouchSmart 15, whereas the Display Quality, Processor Power, Gaming and Battery sections below apply only to the model we tested (see inset below).
This is one hideous screen. The brightness maxes out at 210 cd/m², so when you use the computer outside you'll have trouble seeing what's written onscreen.
Grey colour temperature
The 400:1 contrast ratio isn't much better, further degrading the already narrow viewing angles provided by the TN panel. It's hard to find anything positive to say about this display.
HP put a mighty Intel Core i7-4700MQ at the controls, the same processor found in the MSI GE60 and one of the fastest i7s out there, along with the i7-4700HQ Asus put in the Republic of Gamers G750.
For storage there's a 1 TB hard drive (5400 rpm). If you count the space taken up by Windows 8 and the backup files, that leaves you with 900 GB for your files and content. But even a small 24 GB Express Cache SSD would have boosted this machine's responsiveness. As is, it takes 20 seconds to start up and 10 seconds to shut down.
The Nvidia GeForce GT 740M (3DMark06 score: 10102) will play small games like FIFA 13 and big games like BioShock Infinite in the screen's native resolution, but for really big games like Crysis 3 or Metro: Last Light, this mid-range video card is too low-performance to get fluid gameplay out of, even if you turn the quality settings all the way down.
Playing HD video is such a walk in the park that the Envy TouchSmart 15 doesn't even need the Nvidia card for it; instead the power-saving Intel chipset does all the work, and the outcome is perfect without any lags or hiccups.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
The HP Envy TouchSmart 15 lasts for five hours of video playback in airplane mode with the screen brightness at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in and the keyboard backlighting turned off.