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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  • xype - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    "See, this is what we're talking about when we say we want to see better screens in notebooks. Now we just wish we could get these kinds of panels without having to constantly buy premium-grade hardware."

    In other words, you want premium-grade hardware without having to buy premium-grade hardware. I guess this is why the PC manufacturer's market is in such a bad shape—because they all try to cater to people who are unwilling to spend money.
  • dustcrusher - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Maybe I misread the instructions on my Jump to Conclusions Mat, but I figured they meant something a little different: "why do we have to buy top-end everything just to get a quality display? Can't we just pay extra for a normal laptop with a really nice screen?"

    It's a fair question. Surely there is a way to offer a high-quality display for an additional cost that is reasonable to manufacturer and consumer.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Yes, precisely. And of course there's a way to offer better displays without the price being substantially higher; one has only to look at the numerous IPS HDTVs priced below $1000 to see that it's possible. Unfortunately, most laptop companies don't appear interested in anything but minimum cost, unless you're buying a premium product in which case you get higher costs on everything. :-\
  • Netopia - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I've done IT work for about 20 years and have owned and/or used dozens of laptops. I bought the Envy 17 when there was a $400 off coupon (if you upgraded to the Core i7). I've got a couple of regrets:

    I wish I had not used the coupon and just gotten a Core i5 for the same price. Battery life is HORRIBLE.

    I wish I had actually seen this laptop in real life and tested it first. The track pad is the absolute WORST I've ever used. Depressing one or the other of the 'buttons' (which is really just flexing the bottom left or right of the track pad) takes significant effort compared to any other track pad I've used.

    I'm left handed, so I tend to use more of the left side of the pad when scrolling, and I do tap or double tap quite a bit when surfing. The upper left corner is actually a button of sorts too. If you double click this area it turns off the track pad! I can't tell you how many times I've inadvertently turned the pad off without realizing it. In the past on other laptops I've also used this area to set up a gesture for a middle click, but it's already reserved on this laptop.

    Speaking of the track pad software, it really doesn't have good configuration for setting up different tap areas on the key pad, so custom stuff like I mentioned above isn't even available.

    It's funny... I never gave much thought to track pads. Some were better, some were worse, some had stiff buttons, and some mushy buttons... but it was never a big deal. This is the first laptop I've ever used where I have truly thought that it was an issue.

  • Friendly0Fire - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Go on Notebookcheck and look for the thread about the Envy 14 trackpad. There are multiple alternative software choices and I highly encourage everyone to switch to one of them - they greatly improve the trackpad, making it actually usable. I should know, I have an Envy 14.
  • Netopia - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    THANK YOU! Much appreciated!
  • Friendly0Fire - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    And I should've said Notebookreview... Sorry.

    Here's the link for anyone who might also be interested:

    Should work for the Envy 17 and 15 too and well just about any Clickpad-using laptop. I know this shouldn't affect a product's review, but a big sore point about the Envy is often the trackpad and thanks to those few tools we can enjoy what is an otherwise great machine a little bit more!
  • joshv - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I own an Envy 15 bought about a year ago. The thing gets hot enough to fry an egg on, even when not doing much of anything, so I am glad to hear that they adressed the thermal issues.

    The touch pad's "clickers" are worthless. Until I figured out how to "tap", the touchpad was a definite negative. It took me maybe a week to adjust and become proficient - though now I really like the touch pad - it's large and very sensitive.

    Perhaps the 17" is different, but for the 15" the nine cell battery isn't a drop in replacement, it's a massive "strap on" slab that mounts to the bottom of the laptop, basically becoming a 3/4" thick base. This thing dramatically increases the weight and size of the Envy - but is *required* for any significant usage when unplugged. Battery life is otherwise abysmal.
  • Modeverything - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I have one of these ENVY 17 notebooks. It's an ok machine, but I don't think it's worth the money, or is a Macbook killer.

    The two biggest issues I have with it, is the mouse track pad is really annoying. Being that it's a solid piece (no separate buttons), the place where you press the buttons also detects finger movement. Too many times when trying to click on something would my finger move just a tiny bit as I pressed down, and it would cause me to miss what I was trying to click, or drag an item by mistake. I had to buy a mouse with a mini USB dongle to use as a permanent replacement to this touch pad. I keep the touch pad turned off now.

    The other issue is that while playing games, the video card can get the case so hot it can actually cause mild pain. Part of the area that heats up is right where your left hand will be if you are resting it on the case to use the keyboard. Also, about half the time I start a game and within about one min, the video card will overheat causing me to have to hard reboot the machine. Usually on the second time it plays properly. I have updated to the latest drivers as well.

    It's an ok notebook, but it should have been better.
  • Modeverything - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    One thing that I forgot to add that is a good point. One of the main reasons I bought this notebook is because it can run two hard drives. I have an SSD as my boot drive, and the 500 GB mechanical drive for all of my data. This was a huge plus for this notebook.

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