HP's Voodoo Envy 133, first announced in June, has struggled a bit off the blocks, with manufacturing problems keeping it out of buyers hands until last month. Of course, HP has a good excuse: carbon fiber. The notoriously difficult material wasn't used sparingly on the Envy 133, and if you've been looking for a laptop dripping with the synthetic material, HP's got your number. We mention this to remind ourselves that, like the MacBook Air before it, this laptop is about looks first, function second, and the Envy 133 succeeds in that regard wildly. There's always room for taste in these things, but HP makes quite a statement here no matter what your persuasion. We're not going to run through a full review here, but we'll let you know our first impressions after the break.
We've already seen Envy 133 unboxed elsewhere, but let us assure you that it's a delight to open up that box, and certainly feels like the premium product that shows up on the price tag. The laptop itself resides in a leather slip, that we're sure fingerprintaphobes will be keeping the laptop in to ward off dust and smudges. It's also a pleasant sight to see all the necessaries -- Ethernet, disc drive, video adapter -- included with the laptop. If you're going to take them out of the laptop, the least thing you can do is put 'em in the box.
Before you even look at the laptop, it's easy to tell there's something amiss: there's an Ethernet port on the AC adaptor, and the whole thing in fact doubles as a WiFi access point. The adaptor itself is even oddly shaped, a flat square that almost resembles the Envy 133 in miniature. Another similar black block marks the disc drive, a minimalistic slot-loading affair, with a hide-away eSATA plug. Even the video adapter -- HDMI to VGA -- manages to be black and boxy.
And now we get to the laptop itself. Interrupted only by a handful of ports on each side, two fan grills (input and exhaust), and the hinge in the back, the laptop is monolithic in nature, and about as sexy as those press shots have led you to believe. A thin sliver of a battery snaps on underneath, scoring a major point for road warriors for whom a second or third battery is a way of life. There's no discernible indentation to open up the screen, the only way we've found so far is to grab at the right and left corners and lift.
The entire thing is razor thin, lightweight and carbon-fiber strong -- no worries about build quality here, or feeling inadequate when your friends pull out their own subnotebooks.
Inside there's a darkened mirror and a keyboard. The mirror turns out to be an LCD upon further examination, but we still have our doubts. The keyboard looks simple and cheap, but reveals its quality with use -- as is our practice, we're writing up these impressions on the laptop itself, and really enjoying the keys, though the tiny right shift key is a tad hard to find. The power button, forward delete and wireless on / off are all in the function key row. The trackpad is the hardest thing to track down, denoted only by a square of golfball-style indentations and a long, low button below them, which hardly raises above the surface of the palm rest.
Specs-wise there's a 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SP7700 processor, X3100 integrated graphics and a 64GB SSD, with Bluetooth and 802.11n WiFi. For plugs there's HDMI, which can output at 1920 x 1080, headphones, USB and an eSATA / USB plug which can power the DVD burner without any outside help. There's also an ExpressCard34 slot.
Tap the power button and instead of getting Windows startup screen, up pops the Voodoo IOS. It only takes 5 seconds to boot and you're in a Linux environment with Firefox, Pidgin, Skype and some crappy photo and music apps. It took no time at all to get onto our local WiFi (in fact, it took a bit longer for the WiFi control panel to pop up in Windows on first boot) and we were browsing right away.
Unfortunately, we have large unwieldy hands, and the trackpad is a menace when in Linux. It's large, very sensitive, responds to taps as clicks, and presents a learning curve of avoidance, since the "pad" is totally flush with the palm rest. Luckily there's a proximity sensor that deactivates the pad while typing, but as soon as you take one hand off the keyboard you're again at the mercy of the thing. In Windows there's a detailed control panel to fix most of these problems, but no such luck in Linux -- though we spoke to Rahul from Voodoo and he says they're looking into getting some of those options over to Linux.
Booting to Windows is a fairly speedy process, and HP has certainly done a great job of keeping the hardware image clear of crapware -- anti-virus is pre-installed, but it's AVG, far from the scourge of computing that is Norton. After spending five minutes configuring the mouse we were much happier, but we'd still prefer a real trackpad with a matte surface and edges. When in Windows there's multitouch pinch-to-zoom, but no multitouch scrolling -- though it's apparently in the works. You can scroll by dragging along the edge of the pad, but since you can't find the edge of the pad... OK, we'll stop griping about the touchpad.
Performance is quite good for a laptop of this size, and does the Voodoo name proud. As regular, self-loathing users of a MacBook Air, we're pretty incredulous that Voodoo keeps this laptop as cool as it does -- there's a quiet fan on at most times, expelling warm air out the left side -- and doesn't have to step down the processor to do it. We watched a good deal of HD Hulu with nary a hitch or stutter, and it took some 1080p QuickTime trailers to find a hitch in framerate, though the machine itself never lost responsiveness. We didn't test any games, but we've heard good things considering the specs at play.
Once you turn the computer on and turn up the brightness, the mirror-like LCD becomes quite viewable, though still a bit more glossy than the MacBook Air, and a bit dimmer when viewed off-axis. The flush edge-to-edge glass front to the LCD means the display is afforded a bit of extra protection, and certainly looks good in action.
Look, nobody's naive here, we all know the crazy tradeoffs made when selecting a laptop like the Envy. If you can't live without a disc drive and a LAN plug, or have a fear of finger smudges on glossy surfaces, this certainly isn't the laptop for you. You'll also pay a premium, at $2,099 for the base model without SSD and a slower processor, but if you can live with some trackpad awkwardness and the aforementioned tradeoffs, Voodoo proved that design above all isn't always a horrible mantra.