HP Envy 15 reviewSee all photos
The Envy 15 packs plenty of muscle with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i7-720QM processor, 8GB of RAM, an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4830 and speedy 7,200rpm hard drive. It's a powerful system, but that Core i7 generates a lot of heat -- more on that later. Ports-wise it's pretty much all laid out on the right side of the laptop with a hybrid audio plug for headphones and/or a mic, a eSATA / USB combo jack, two USB ports, HDMI and Ethernet, while an SD card slot is nestled on the front bottom lip. (The Envy 15 actually comes with its user manual on a 2GB SD card, which we... read thoroughly. Right after we popped it into our camera.)
The 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution screen under the lid is incredibly nice on the eyes, and although it's not as intensely bright as the Envy 13, we found it to still be super crisp. Watching a downloaded 1080p clip of a Killers' concert made us feel like we were front row at the show; we could see the beads of sweat beaming off of Brandon Flowers' forehead. We would have preferred if the screen had a flush glass bezel, rather than the thick raised plastic border that surrounds it, however. Above the screen is a a "nightvision" VGA camera that uses infrared LEDs to provide illumination in dark environments. We'll let you, kind reader, imagine what this could be used for, but we will report that the cam lives up to its promise; a Skype call made in the dark was actually visible and our face was illuminated and discernible.
We'll admit that we're happy to see the keyboard deck is void of any finicky brightness or volume touch controls, though you can change those settings with function keys. There's also a column of dedicated shortcut keys for opening the browser or e-mail client. Overall we enjoyed the typing experience; the keys themselves feel sturdy and had a nice bounce as we wrote this review on them. But HP, why no backlight?
The award for most improved touchpad goes to HP's ergonomics team. The trackpad itself is the same glass multitouch unit with integrated mouse buttons found on the Envy 13, but the software's thankfully been updated since our last experience with it -- it takes a bit of getting used to, but most of the issues have been sorted out. Pinching to zoom gestures were responsive, but two-finger scrolling was still a bit choppy in Firefox and Internet Explorer.
Still, we generally plugged in a mouse when we used the Envy 15 -- the trackpad might perform adequately now, but the palm rest got hot. Uncomfortably hot. And this wasn't just when the system was under a lot of stress: the wrist rests and bottom would heat up with just a browser open, and temperatures got hot enough after an hour that we took it off our lap and set it on a table. We surmise this is a result of the Envy's very thin design and hardcore performance parts -- there could just be too much going on underneath its short-on-space-hood. We aren't the first to complain of the heat either, users who have purchased the system also find it quite toasty.
Software, performance and battery life
Software complaints aside, multitasking was incredibly snappy; running iTunes, TweetDeck, Skype, a number of tabs in Firefox all while a DVD played in the background was no challenge for the Core i7. Though not a likely scenario, playing a 1080p video in QuickTime with a DVD playing in HP's MediaSmart software didn't cause either of the videos to lag. As for gaming, our WoW gnome his new 1080p life, running around quite happily at 35fps. Of course, playing games meant the system once again got insanely hot -- we simply couldn't use the Envy on our lap while slaying orcs.
Performance comes with battery sacrifices, however. While writing this review in Google Docs with a few additional Firefox tabs open, the system lasted just under two hours on a charge. That's pretty abysmal for a larger laptop: the Core i7-equipped Dell Studio 17 gets close to three and a half, while the 15-Inch MacBook Pro gets just about 4 hours. And without the ability to switch off the discrete graphics, there are no battery saving measures. We'd be more forgiving if the power brick weren't so damn large and heavy. It's the kind of charger that belongs underneath a desk, rather than stretched across a bed. Sure, you can always get HP's neatly designed nine-cell slice which fits right on the bottom of the laptop, but that will cost you an extra $125 bucks, and add additional weight and size.