HP Envy 17 reviewSee all photos
Look and feel
Sure, the Envy 17 has the same look and feel as its smaller 14-inch brother, but it could also eat the 14 for breakfast in terms of size. The laptop's 17.3-inch display is stunning and provides a ton of screen real estate (we'll get back to that soon), but it also makes it a mother of a system in terms of pure measurements. Like most desktop replacements, we suggest keeping the 10.8 x 16.4x 1.5-inch / 7.5-pound machine under one roof -- we dragged it and its 1.5-pound power brick home from the office and our shoulder sure wasn't happy about it. If you're looking for a thinner and lighter 17-incher, the 6.6-pound MacBook Pro 17 is definitely trimmer, but most others hover around the same size as the Envy.
The extra edge space makes for a whopping array of ports -- the left side is home to VGA, Ethernet, Mini DisplayPort and HDMI ports along with a combo eSATA / USB 2.0 socket, an even faster USB 3.0 port and two headphone ports. Two additional USB 2.0 ports live on the right edge along with the system's 5-in-1 card reader and slot-loading Blu-ray drive. That should be enough to keep all your peripherals powered at the same time, or you know, power three monitors simultaneously (thanks Eyefinity!).
Keyboard, touchpad, screen
Here's a shocker: we're not fans of the 17's touchpad. Come on, you're not surprised are you? HP's still using the enlarged ClickPad on the Envy 17, and we actually found it to be more frustrating to use on this version than on the Envy 14 -- even after we updated to latest drivers. If our finger slipped over the left mouse button line, it would cause the cursor to jump to another part of the screen, and at times we'd notice the mouse just not moving when we told it to. Ultimately, the pad is large and smooth, but we wish at this point HP would just go back to using a regular touchpad with dedicated right and left buttons. Was there really anything wrong with those? As for the multitouch gestures, pinch-to-zoom was responsive in most applications, but scrolling is still a crapshoot.
That brings us to our favorite part of the Envy 17: its edge-to-edge glass, 1920 x 1080-resolution, 17.3-inch BrightView display. Maybe it's that we've gotten so used to 13- and 15-inch laptops, but the extra screen space is much appreciated for keeping multiple windows scattered around while working and then closing them down to watch a movie in true HD on Blu-ray. Speaking of which, that high definition experience on this rig is nothing short of magnificent -- we queued up Sweeny Todd on the big screen and we were immersed in the crisp quality of the Tim Burton's world. The visual experience is met with an equally impressive audio one; the two speakers on the front lip of the machine blasted out one of the movie's musical numbers -- "By The Sea" to be precise -- quite loudly. HP's makes the system's Beats Audio no secret -- there are logos on the front lip and the top bezel -- however, you'll really only reap the benefits of the enhanced audio when you plug in an external set of speakers or headphones. We should also note here that this is one of the first laptops in a long time that we didn't totally beat up on for having terrible viewing angles; the panel is incredibly glossy, but the quality is really a notch above most out there.
Performance, graphics, and battery life
Graphics-wise, it was equally nimble. We do wish there was an integrated GPU for saving battery life (you'll be hearing about that soon), but the performance numbers of the Radeon HD 5850 just speak for themselves. Besides pushing along HD content flawlessly, it rocked Batman at 37fps and the demo version of Mafia II at 34fps. We wish we could put the gaming experience into words, but it's almost too captivating to describe. You really just have to fire up Mafia II and drive over the Brooklyn Bridge in a Smith Thunderbolt to meet other high-res Italian mobsters yourself to understand it. Our only complaint about the experience was that the palmrest / center of the keyboard heated up quite a bit after about five minutes of playing, but a warm wrist wasn't enough to stop us from reuniting Vito with his mobster buddies.
|HP Envy 17 (Core i7-740QM, ATI HD 5850)||6153||10787||2:10|
|HP Envy 14 (Core i5-450M, ATI HD 5650)||6038||6899/1928||3:51|
|Sony VAIO Z (Core i5-450M, NVIDIA 330M)||9949||6193||4:25|
|Sony VAIO EC (Core i3, ATI HD 5470)||5308||4094||2:33|
|ASUS U33Jc (Core i3-370M, NVIDIA 310M)||5574||1860/3403||5:10|
|Toshiba Portege R705 (Intel Core i3-350M)||5024||1759||4:25|
Those heavy performance parts and the large screen take a serious, and we mean serious, toll on battery life. The six-cell battery lasted only two hours and 10 minutes on our battery rundown test, which loops the same standard definition video. Now, we do assume you won't be moving around with the rig all that often and you can always pick up the nine-cell battery for an extra $75, but we're still disappointed that you won't be able to finish a full movie before having to string the rather massive AC adapter across the room.
As for preloaded software, HP's done a stand up job keeping the desktop clean, but the Envy 17 still comes loaded with HP's Dock and an assortment of other software, including Hulu Desktop, Adobe Premiere Elements, Barnes & Noble's Desktop eReader, and Roxio's CinemaNow. Like most HP machines, Internet Explorer 8 is wallpapered with toolbars, though we installed IE9 Beta early on in our testing. You can also boot the system directly into HP's QuickWeb OS, but why you'd ever want to do that on a desktop replacement that takes another 25 seconds to boot into a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium is seriously beyond us.