Touring the HP Envy 17

My initial take on the HP Envy 17's styling was that they were cribbing liberally from Apple's MacBook Pro series, and earlier Envy notebooks definitely lived up to this. As the series has matured, though, it's acquired a lot of its own identity. So for those of you who thought otherwise stellar notebooks like Dell's refreshed XPS lineup were too pug ugly to actually use on a daily basis, HP's Envy is for you.

The happy news to report is that barring one terrible location, the Envy is gloss free. The lid has a nice, textured finish and a glowing HP logo, and it's all fairly well understated. It's not a fingerprint magnet, and is actually remarkably easy to keep clean, boding well for the notebook's longevity.

Of course, once you flip it open you see gloss where you hate to see it, but at least HP has an excuse: the glossy finish of the screen extends from edge to edge in HP's "Ultra BrightView Infinity" display. It looks nice enough but I'm still not entirely sure it's worth the trade-off, since the screen bezel (and all this does, really, is mask the bezel) is one of the major places a notebook is liable to pick up fingerprints. Still, it's attractive and hard to harp on too much.

HP claims the body of the Envy 17 is "laser-etched aluminum" and I believe it: the inside is just as attractive as the lid, and just as comfortable to use. To look at all of it, the Envy 17 is at least a beautiful piece of industrial design, but it's here where HP screws the pooch (or at least takes it to second base.) The keyboard is comfortable with a minimal amount of flex, but the layout is questionable. HP and Dell have recently elected to switch the function keys to being shortcuts and toggles instead of F1-F12. That in itself isn't a huge crime, but the difference is that I can pop into the BIOS on my Studio 17 and switch them back to what they're supposed to do. HP doesn't make it that easy on you. The arrow keys are also a poor design; the up and down arrows are half-sized while the left and right are full-sized. I can understand not wanting to leave negative space in the keyboard design, but this wasn't the right way to do it. There's also no Num Lock, with HP squeezing document navigation keys in that way. Losing the Num Lock isn't a major sacrifice for most users, but I get the feeling there are going to be at least a couple users pulling their hair out over this.

And then there's the touchpad. Once again we have PC designers following Apple's lead without bothering to really understand it (though to be fair, I'm in the minority that hates Apple's unified touchpad to begin with). On a Mac where there's really only the one big mouse button, making the whole touchpad depress makes more sense, but PC users are used to being able to right-click. We need two buttons, and the unified design here feels awkward to use. It's a better implementation than I've seen elsewhere but it still doesn't improve on just having a touchpad and two buttons.

The rest of the body has an aluminum trim around the sides and back that's attractive and houses the Beats Audio speakers. Credit where credit is due, these are among the better notebook speakers I've heard and certainly beat how hollow the otherwise quality Dell Studio 17 speakers are, but I found when cranking up the volume that the music began to distort. It's something I've heard on other notebooks, even through the speaker jack, where it seems like the notebook is trying to boost the bass in software. When you hit the threshold of how high the system's volume can go, the whole thing distorts because the system was just selectively raising the volume at the low end. At a reasonable volume the Envy 17 sounds great if a little hollow and tinny (don't know what to tell you, they're notebook speakers), but don't push it.

Finally, the bottom is decked in the typical black matte plastic, and that's fine. What's a little frustrating is the fact that in order to get to the memory bay, you have to remove the hard drive cover first: the two plastic panels are actually layered. A minor nuisance but a nuisance nonetheless.

Introducing the HP Envy 17 Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • slagar - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    So true, but I would have read the article regardless :-)
  • SilthDraeth - Monday, December 20, 2010 - link

    Also, there is no comparison to the macbook pro. Understandably, performance benchmarks can't really be compared, as it is Apples to Microsofts. BUT one can compare battery life, lcd screen quality, keyboard etc.

    Granted, I need to read the rest of the review, but looking at the LCD tests, I didn't see the Macbook's lcd ranges in the graph.
  • rwei - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    On the F1-F12 keys, there is a setting in the BIOS to correct that. I would have returned mine otherwise, it was really ticking me off.

    On an unrelated note, why do you hate gloss around the screen so much? Especially with a raised, rubberized edge around the screen area like on the Envy 17, I've personally never gotten a finger on the screen. Just open and close using the edge...but I guess that's a matter of personal preference. Might be worth noting though.

    Finally, the Fn+B key combination enables and disables Beats audio, which seems to be an audio "enhancement" that will result in the bass push that you were probably hearing. I usually disable it on headphones/speakers but leave it on for the laptop speakers. Subjectively, using Etymotic ER-4Ps, the sound out of the headphone jacks with Beats disabled seems flat, but is almost completely free of any kind of noise/static (not even my 5th gen iPod can claim that).

    (one more thing - I'm surprised you didn't make any mention of Eyefinity! I'm pretty sure no game will run adequately above 1280x800x3, but for some people being able to drive three monitors off of a laptop is a killer app)
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    It looks like a nice machine. I like some of the details that go into it.

    However, in regards to your comment on Apples track pad. Do people actually "click" it?! I have not "clicked" in years on any of my laptops that support multi-touch. One finger tap for left click, two finger tap for right click. I love the MacBook track pad because its HUGE. Making it for more accurate and easy to use. I also like that its centered.

    On another note, I would have liked to of seen Apples screen listed on the displays page. To get a decent comparison.

    I am going to add this machine to my list of possibilities for my next work machine though.
  • heymrdj - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I don't tap at all. I turn it off of any new laptop I get or even one I'm working on. It slows me down because I can't quickly pickup and move my hand without having to slow down and watch how firmly I push my hand back down onto the touchpad.. I don't enjoy having to think about that. If I turn the sensitivty down to the point that it won't activate when I move my hand, then it's a strange feeling on my finger to have to lift and tap it firm enough to activate that senitivity. It's aggrivating.

    Owner of and user of HP 9550t CTO, HP Mini 210 HD, and HP Envy 17 CTO.
  • Darnell021 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    are you bragging? your lack of ability to use a trackpad and vehement distaste towards tapping makes me cringe.

    it should not be an aggrivating experience.

    try multitouch on a macbook it will change your life.
  • pollyanna - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    "your lack of ability to use a trackpad and vehement distaste towards tapping makes me cringe."

    Does it matter?

    Your high opinion of yourself so you from judgmental opinions about the preferences of others makes me cringe.
  • MobiusStrip - Sunday, December 26, 2010 - link

    Multitouch: Get over it. What an overhyped bunch of crap. Five years of breathless excitement over.... zooming and rotating.

    What Apple and its apologists don't understand is that undiscoverable UI may as well not exist. This goes for asinine peek-a-boo widgets that don't appear unless you roll the cursor over them, ridiculous hidden menus and unmarked hotkeys, and yes most multitouch functions. What we don't see multitouch being used for is the one thing for which it makes intuitive sense: multiple selections, or selecting a range.

    In Apple's case, the hypocrisy is even more embarrassing when you consider that a two-button mouse has been deemed "too scary" for its user base. But unmarked hotkeys and secret gestures are just fine?
  • slacr - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    It would be really neat to see some MBP figures for the screen comparison, screen selection feels like a big breaking point for laptops at the moment.

    On another note, how multitouch capable are these trackpads really? Is it possible to do such things as three finger swipes for back and forward while browsing?

    I'm also really looking forward to the Envy14 review, i've sourced a few in stock with the display upgrade and my employer is forcing me to get "non-apple" for work.
  • KZ0 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I've got an Envy 14, and I assume the trackpad is about the same. I'm using this: for controlling two finger clicks, finding it does a better job than the standard driver.

    Two finger scrolling works nice by default, I haven't gotten three finger swipes working really well.

    Else - if you go for an Envy 14 - get a dual core and the good display. Quads kill battery life (and you don't get switchable graphics with a quad core CPU), and make a lot of noise. The screen is just wonderful. I also got an intel x25 160 GB for it, and booting / launching applications fast is really useful when using it for taking notes, etc. A minute each day in a year adds up to quite a bit of time.

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