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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  • vant - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I guess hp forgot people use their laptops on the go. 2 hours is pathetic.
  • heymrdj - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    The "Desktop Replacement" laptop isn't as much as battery power on the go, but more the fact you have an entire desktop computer with 3/4 the power capable of being moved anywhere. I have my high end desktop with it's 4 drive raid 0 array, graphics card, X6 1055T, and I love it. I really do. But I miss my HP 9550T. When I could bring it up on my 1,000 mile trips with no lugging, grunting, or damages. I could came anywhere at decent FPS with the 8800GTM. Sure I could only get about 45min of gaming battery life, and about 2 hours of idle internet (9 cell), but it was great having that power around. People that don't need mobile power just can't understand how well these notebooks fit. That and whimpy people complain about carrying 10lbs of laptop/accessories all the time. Never understood that, the difference between my Mini 210 and my 9550t are negligible to me. The Envy 17 is lighter than my old 9550t is, and it's nice, lets me carry a spare battery with the weight I saved.
  • seapeople - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    Woot! Someone else who actually understands that laptops don't just magically become unmovable desk objects once they get over 14". We must be two of the largest and strongest people on the internet. You know, the type of person who doesn't need to carry a 5lb bag of apples in from the car in two trips, or ask for help when opening a bottle of Pepsi. We are real life strong men, able to carry multiple pounds of laptop and laptop accessories AT THE SAME TIME. Good gaming brother.
  • Spazweasel - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Yeah. Overused. Can we synergize our paradigms and action our alliances now?

    In any event, it's not a "MacBook Killer" if it doesn't run OS/X. For all the talk about being able to run Windows on a MacBook, very few people actually do. At my workplace, for instance, we have about 600 engineers (networking hardware and software); we all get laptops. We get a choice of various HP and Thinkpads, or MacBook Pros. It's about half-and-half as to what people select (I took a T400, as I use some Windows-only software). I've yet to see anyone running anything other than OS/X on their MacBooks except in an occasional VM. It's not just the hardware which people buy MacBooks for, it's the combination of hardware and software (which yields things like the near-doubling of battery life... 2 hours? Seriously, HP?).
  • wintermute000 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    With that battery life?!?! not even close.

    Also WTF is it with manufacturers giving us 1500USD+ laptops WITHOUT SSDs. You spend that much money (enough to build a fire breathing gaming/graphics workstation from hell), you're gonna want it to fly, and SSD is the single most important component for that. I'd wager that SSD + i5 gives better real world performance for most people than i7 + conventional HD.

    Not going to even touch the OSX vs Windows flamewars, I have my opinions and thats what wil guide my decisions. Suffice to say that the overall package/industrial design is not going to come close to the tight integration the macbook pro people pay for. Little things like magsafe power connectors, button to show power gauge, etc.

    I guess if you want windows this is a good buy, but if you want a 17" gaming capable hi end laptop personally I'd rather get something cheaper from MSI or ASUS and use the savings to upgrade to an SSD.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Note the question mark, and it's not us saying Envy is an MBP "killer" - it's plenty of other folks out there. I'd say the Envy 14 has a better shot, since it at least has switchable graphics, but as the conclusion states:

    "As we mentioned before, HP's Envy line of notebooks are often touted in the comments on our reviews as being alternatives to Apple's MacBook Pro series. In reviewing the Envy 17 at least, we find that's not entirely a fair comparison."

    The reason it's not fair is two-fold: first, MBP is geared far more towards battery life, and second, the Envy 17 at least (with quad-core CPU) is quite a bit more powerful in multi-threaded tasks than any MBP. So, the answer to the question mark in the title is that it's not an MBP killer--or really even an alternative--outside of having a similar aesthetic.
  • Luke2.0 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    It is a GOOD tagline IMO:
    1. Eye-catcher (Controversy). Throw in some reference to Apple products and there: more readers, more comments, more "fire". =/
    2. Well, the "?" is the safety belt.

    Btw, I can't reach the conclusion page now!?
    Gotta wait it fixed...
  • heymrdj - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    You seem to think that we're at that age where these things are affordable, we're not at that time yet. It's like people wanting to buy a full 15" good performing, long battery life basic laptop from walmart for 300$, but they also want it to last 3+ years. We're not there yet, they still cost more than that. A good gaming laptop with heavy build (like the envy's) and real ssd (like a OCZ, Crucial, or Corsair Sandforce drive) is going to cost into at least the 1900 range. The SSD alone (say 120GB main drive) is going to cost at least 170$ from their distribs I'd imagine, compared to the 30-50$ they can get the mechanical HD's. There's a reason REAL gaming/workstation laptops like the HP Elitebooks and the high Sager/Clevo models START at 2400.
  • Dan Wiggins - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    Rather than a speedy but constrained SSD, I prefer to have 500 GB of storage with me. Do programs launch as fast, does the OS boot as quickly? No - but I can get a lot more done since I have a lot more with me. I don't boot/shut down a dozen times a day, typically once or twice for extended periods.

    Of course, I do some serious CAD work for a living, where a single model can be 2 GB; having a tiny 128 GB of SSD simply doesn't cut it - between the OS and the programs I need for work, I'd be able to keep a dozen models around, tops.

    Having 8 GB of RAM helps me out a lot more than an SSD...

    Don't confuse your list of desires as the list of desires for everyone. That's the beauty of the non-Apple ecosystem - choice. You can have SSDs or HDDs or easily switch between the two. You can even get laptops with dual drives, so you can use your speedy SSD for the OS and HDD for massive storage.
  • plewis00 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I can't get to the conclusion page - it keeps returning me to page 1 whether I click the next button on the page before, use the drop-down menu or change the URL to a '7'. Any ideas or is this just me?

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