HP's Envy range - as the name suggests - has traditionally been HP's premium line of products with its Pavilion range being the mid-tier one. However, at its Global Influencer Summit earlier this year, HP unveiled two new Envy Ultrabooks, the 14-inch Envy 4 and the 15.6-inch Envy 6, which seems to be causing those lines to blur or even confuse consumers.
For example, HP's new Pavilion DV6 notebook is equipped with a 15.6-inch 1920x1080 full HD matte display, whereas the HP Envy 4 is only available with a much more standard resolution display of 1366 x 768 pixels. The difference isn't just a matter of screen size either, the Envy 6 (essentially identical to the Envy 4, but with a 15.6-inch screen) comes with the same unflattering resolution too.
Apart from the screen resolution rant, the Envy 4 is one of the most affordably priced Envy notebooks we've seen so far. Our review unit has an SRP of S$1299, but a lower-end SKU for s$1099 is also available. To put things in perspective, the Pavilion DV6 has an SRP of S$1699. So what are you getting for that low price point?
The Envy 4 certainly carries a premium look and feel. Its design is quite different from the usual silver MacBook clone aesthetic, with a black, brushed aluminum lid, a matching interior, and a plastic base coated in a nice soft-touch red finish. You also get a 14-inch screen, instead of the typical 13.3-inch size.
Inside, it's armed with an ultra low-voltage Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5-3317U (1.7GHz) dual-core processor, 8GB RAM, a hybrid 500GB HDD with 32GB SSD cache and discrete AMD Radeon HD 7670M GPU with 2GB DDR3. As with all recent Envy series of notebooks, it comes with Beats Audio, and, for the first time on any Ultrabook, a built-in subwoofer.
Other than the disappointing screen resolution and lack of a true SSD strorage drive option, the Envy 4 looks like quite an enticing offer, especially at its price point, but is it as good as it seems?
N.B. The entry-level Envy 4 SKU, priced at S$1099 does not boast the discrete GPU or 32GB SSD cache, but is otherwise identical. Due to it not having the solid state cache, which is required under Intel's Ultrabook branding criteria, HP is calling this particular edition a Sleekbook.
As mentioned before, the Envy 4 is one of the more interesting looking Ultrabooks out there, and we like that HP has chosen to go a different route from the all-silver MacBook template chosen by so many other wannabes. On top, it is serious and business-like, with a sleek black, brushed aluminum lid, where this design continues inside with a matching interior. Build quality is solid, and the finish looks top notch. One minor gripe is that the brushed aluminum finish is quite the fingerprint magnet.
Underneath, it's all party, with the entire baseplate covered in a vivid red, soft-touch finish. As well as feeling quite nice, the soft-touch finish also gives the notebook a bit of extra grip, which stops it from sliding around when handling it.
The chiclet-style keyboard is similar to ones we've seen on other HP notebooks, and the Envy 4 is no different as it continues to impress us with its firm response and decent key travel distance. As with other HP models, the Function keys are reversed, with their multimedia operations functioning as the default. One thing that slightly spoils the aesthetic is the use of a "keyboard well" rather than a one-piece interior, although that would have undoubtedly inched its price upwards.
The large trackpad is of the clickpad variety with the right-hand area under the line functioning the right-click duties. It shares a similarly dark finish and sports a reflective concentric design very similar to the lid of ASUS's Zenbook. The trackpad itself is fast and smooth, without any obvious deadspots. Multi-touch gestures are supported, which seemed to work a bit better than on other Ultrabooks, partially due to the larger size of the pad. Both two-finger scroll and HP's four-finger swipe (to tab between programs) were easy to execute and worked the majority of the time.
The screen on the Envy 4 is satisfactory, but not outstanding. While it's relatively bright, and viewing angles are fairly good, the 1366 x 768 pixels resolution is disappointing. The display is also very glossy.
Audio on the other hand, was better than expected. The main speakers, which are located above the keyboard are fairly standard for an Ultrabook, but it's the addition of a subwoofer on the underside that makes the Envy 4 really stand out. While it's not a replacement for a true subwoofer (the ones found on some of the high-end 17-inch gaming notebooks are better), there is a marked improvement compared to other Ultrabooks, which often sound too 'thin and tinny'. Overall sound volume is also respectably loud - enough for you to annoy the neighbors when you 'drop the bass'.
As with other Envy notebooks, the Beats Audio only really works when you connect a pair of high-end headphones to the electrically shielded audio jack.
Connectivity on the Envy 4 is fairly good, with all of the required essentials covered from a modern sleek notebook:-