Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook weighed down by its price

By Chris Griffith  The Australian

REVIEWING Hewlett-Packard’s chic-looking Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook is like watching a 16-year-old in an under-12s sprint race. Of course they’ll win, but you ask: should they be in that race?

HP Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook

HP Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook

The same with the Envy: at one level it’s the cream of the crop of ultrabooks, and in several respects eclipses its rivals.

But it comes at a hefty price: $1899 with an Intel Core i5 processor and $2299 for an i7 version. This makes it hundreds of dollars more expensive than Apple’s already-pricey MacBook Air.

And it’s weighty. At 1.8kg minimum, it’s much heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Air (1.35kg) and the 13-inch ASUS Zenbook (1.3kg).

While the Envy conforms to Intel’s requirements for an ultrabook in terms of choice of processor, chassis size and battery life, it blurs Intel’s concept of an ultrabook being an affordable, wafer-thin unibody notebook that you throw in your backpack.

The Envy is more a device you’d use on a desk and even showcase on a coffee table. You’d want to polish it rather than cart it around to seminars and lectures. It’s even too heavy to hold with one hand, for too long.

That said, it has its pros. Its scratch-resistant aluminium base and black gorilla-glass (shatterproof) display make it one of the prettiest notebooks you’ll see.

HP has squeezed a 14-inch, 1600×900 pixel glossy display on to a 13.3-inch form factor by using a narrow bezel.

The screen is bright with great contrast and colours are vivid. There’s an HP logo on the back that lights up just as Apple’s does on notebooks.

The back-lit keyboard is a joy to use; the well-spaced keys limit errors. To save power, a proximity sensor turns off keyboard backlighting when you move away from the Envy. There’s even a pre-configured hot-key combination for Twitter (Fn-T), which brings up Twitter in Internet Explorer.

HP has strived to establish the audio bona fides of this Ultrabook with Beats Audio. There’s a volume control wheel on the right-hand side and a dedicated button that fires up the Beats Audio configuration screen.

Music through the unit’s speakers was satisfactory. Listening with a headset, however, delivered wonderful sound; the bass was full and clear.

At 1.6 Gigahertz, the Sandy Bridge i5 dual-core processor on the cheaper $1899 model clocks slightly less than the 1.7GHz on the 13-inch MacBook Air range.

This is not a machine for high-end gaming, but it does handle multitasking and 720p multimedia playback well. The 128GB and 256GB solid-state drives on the i5 and i7 versions are typical for ultrabooks. The unit has more than eight hours of battery life — well beyond Intel’s 5-hour minimum standard for ultrabooks. More info and video