To get started, you'll need an Android phone with NFC, along with the free Touch to Share
app, which actually has its roots in webOS. (Note: when you're searching for this in the Play Store, remember that Syncables, not HP, is listed as the developer. It's also to best to search for "HP Touch to Share," since "touch to share" yields lots of irrelevant results.)
Once you download the app and make sure NFC and Android Beam are enabled, open the Touch to Share program installed on your PC
. It's at this juncture that you'll go through with a one-time pairing process so that your PC recognizes your device. As you're doing this, make sure you place the phone length-wise across the palm rest, parallel to the keyboard. Thereafter, you can just run that mobile Touch to Share app in the background on your phone when you want to share pages. Eventually, we got this to work with our Verizon Wireless Galaxy Nexus, but the webpage transfers are still very unreliable in this early stage.
Lest you think HP is simply trying to woo you with a striking design, the company's also using the rest of the in-the-box goodies to help justify that $1,400-plus price. For starters, we appreciate that the slim power brick fully detaches from its two accompanying cables -- a setup that makes the adapter that much easier to stow away. Additionally, HP threw in a neoprene sleeve that wraps snugly around the Spectre. Nothing fancy, but it's much appreciated nonetheless.
HP's attention to aesthetic detail doesn't pay off with a smooth trackpad experience.
With the Envy 15, HP didn't skimp on the cushy keys, and we're happy to report it's more of the same in this shrunken-down model. Here, too, the keys offer plenty of travel, though they occasionally fail to register individual letters, a nuisance that'll force you to go back and re-type them. On the other hand, they're well spaced and we ultimately managed to type the brunt of this review on it without too much fuss. In fact, as we spent more time with the Spectre we noticed fewer spelling mistakes, which suggests you just might have to conquer a learning curve before you find your typing mojo. In the grand scheme of things, with so many Ultrabooks rocking shallow keyboards, the Spectre offers one of the better typing experiences we've enjoyed on a laptop this size, though you'll still find equally tactile keys on the Folio 13, Dell XPS 13
and MacBook Air
You'll notice there's a good deal of similarity between this keyboard and the Folio 13's, whose arrow keys leave more room for the left / right keys than the up / down ones. It's a bit of a letdown to see those arrows are still cramped, but then again, the Spectre's footprint isn't much wider than the 13-inch Folio's. For what it's worth, you shouldn't have too
much a problem feeling around for them when you want to highlight text using the 'ol keyboard.
With a starting price of $1,400, it shouldn't be a shocker that the Spectre sports a backlit keyboard. As with the other Envy laptops, HP stuck an LED underneath each keycap -- a design choice intended to enhance the glow and also reduce light leakage from beneath the keys. Friends, the effect is lovely: the keys do indeed shine brighter than what you'll find on competing laptops, and the lack of a halo effect makes for a cleaner-looking panel. If you want to save battery life, you can press F5 to deactivate it, in which case everything but that function key will go dark. Speaking of the sort, that top row is home to most every control you can think of, save for volume (display brightness, etc.) and you don't need to press the "fn" button with your other hand to use them.
Based on conversations with company reps, it's obvious HP took great pains to design the trackpad. Unfortunately, their attention to aesthetic detail doesn't pay off with a smooth experience. Since the outfit already committed to decking out the palm rest in glass, it had to follow up with a glass touchpad. And though it went out of its way to use a different kind of glass on the Synaptics-powered pad, that surface still presents too much friction, even when it comes to rote gestures like dragging the cursor across the screen.
With two-finger scrolling as well, you'll have to apply a little extra pressure, and move your fingers up and down very deliberately. With pinch-to-zoom, though, we actually found the pad to be a little oversensitive, making it all too easy to zoom in when we didn't mean to. Other times, when we were actively trying to adjust the size of the text, we had a heck of a time scaling to size in modest increments. Worst of all, the button mechanism inside the clickpad feels stiff -- a complaint we had about the Folio 13 too.
As with the Folio 13, there's an icon in the upper left corner of the trackpad that you can double-tap to disable the pad altogether. Once you do that, you'll know the touchpad's turned off because an icon will flash onscreen and a small LED light next to the trackpad will glow orange until you enable the pad again.
The audio is some of the best you'll enjoy on a laptop, particularly an Ultrabook, where robust sound typically fall by the wayside.
We've got a few rounds of good news to share here, so let's dive right in. First off, the Spectre is blessed with a 14-inch, edge-to-edge display whose 1600 x 900 pixel count bests the 1366 x 768 resolution you'll find on most other Ultrabooks. Though HP says this isn't an IPS display, technically speaking, it nonetheless offers wider viewing angles than a run-of-the-mill TN panel. Watch from the side or with the lid dipped forward, and those vibrant colors hold their own. Within reason, the screen won't get washed-out, and the contrast levels shouldn't get too severe. If anything, your biggest obstacle might be that super reflective finish.
So far, so unsurprising. We had similar things to say about the 1080p Radiance panel crowning the Envy 15. One thing soured that, though, and that was some imprecise color calibration -- a flaw that caused reds to appear orange, and purples to take on a bluish tint. Given that all these displays fall under the Radiance umbrella, we resigned ourselves to another heaping dose of red-orange. Interestingly, though, when we lined it up against the MacBook Pro (comparison shot above), the colors seemed more evenly rendered. Turns out, our eyes weren't deceiving us: HP's product managers confirmed the Spectre's display has a richer color gamut than the Envy 15's (it is, however, comparable to the Envy 17, they say). It's too bad, then, that HP couldn't have used a larger version of that screen in the Envy 15. As it is, disgruntled Envy 15 owners will have to settle for a forthcoming tuning utility
and hope for the best.
Finally, the Spectre packs Intel Wireless Display, which allows you to mirror your desktop on and stream 1080p to a television or external monitor. Though Best Buy sometimes sells laptops bundled with a compatible adapter
, you'll have to bring your own, to the tune of about $100. We've tested this
before, so here's our one-sentence summary: the setup is consistently fast and easy, and the streaming is fluid.
Say what you will about Beats being a gimmick (heck, we've written
thousands of words on the subject), but the audio here is some of the best you'll enjoy on a laptop, particularly an Ultrabook, where robust sound typically fall by the wayside. The speakers are loud, as you'd expect, but in particular, we found the audio doesn't get distorted, even when you crank the volume to the max. And though Beats has been tailored to make the best of thumping bass notes, it also handles other sounds, such as classical strings, quite nicely. All in all, a top-notch musical experience, right up there with the Bang & Olufsen speakers on the Zenbook UX31.
By default, you still need to push the dial up to lower the volume, but if this feels unintuitive just press the Beats key on the right side of the laptop, go into advanced settings in the onscreen Beats console and program the dial to work the opposite way. While you're there, you can adjust the master volume or tweak it for certain outlets, such as the speaker. You can also select from different Beats EQ profiles (music, movies or 3D content), or adjust the sound properties manually. Hey, you can even turn off Beats altogether, at which point that light-up "b" on the palm rest ceases to glow red.
Like the rest of the Envy family, the Spectre has HP Wireless Audio
built in, which means you can wirelessly stream tracks to as many as four KleerNet-powered speakers. Alas, though, we didn't test this feature, as we happen not to have any Kleer equipment lying around.
If benchmarks are any indication, the Spectre isn't the fastest Ultrabook on the planet, but it holds its own against some stiff competition. Its PCMark Vantage score of 9,335 puts it in the same neighborhood as a Core i7-powered IdeaPad U300s
, along with the similarly specced MacBook Air. (Curiously, the Spectre scored 2,600 points higher than the Folio 13, which has the same CPU, graphics card and 4GB of RAM.) In the disk benchmark ATTO, meanwhile, the Samsung-made solid-state drive delivered top read speeds of 232 MB/s, with writes maxing out at 187 MB/s -- almost exactly what we got from the Samsung SSD inside the Folio 13. That's also in the same ballpark as the U300s, which notched 250 MB/s reads and 200 MB/s writes. Of course, none of these amateurs can match the ASUS Zenbook UX31, which managed read / write speeds of 550 / 500 MB/s, respectively.
The Spectre notched a score of 3,468 in the graphics benchmark 3DMark06. That's around 700 to 800 points less than what the Dell XPS 13, MacBook Air and UX31 scored, though at the end of the day, panning an Ultrabook for a lackluster 3DMark06 score is a bit fruitless. After all, they all have the same watered-down Intel HD 3000 graphics card. So just how serviceable is it? If you haven't graduated from crudely drawn games like The Sims
, you should enjoy 65fps frame rates, though attempt Call of Duty 4
and you'll want to quit within the first minute, thanks to the sluggish 15fps gameplay (and that's at 1024 x 768 resolution, mind you!).
Booting into Windows takes 23 seconds, which is reasonable, though not quite as fast as the UX31 (16 seconds), IdeaPad U300s (18 seconds), Folio 13 (18 seconds) or the MacBook Air (15 seconds). The machine takes a sluggish nine seconds to resume, compared with two for the UX31. As you should be well convinced by now, a machine with these specs (namely, a 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD) is more than powerful enough to use as an everyday machine -- assuming your everyday tasks consist of email, web surfing, chat, word processing, video streaming, basic photo editing and some light gaming. Yours truly easily spent a leisurely evening writing this very review -- with a healthy dose of web browsing, YouTube and Grooveshark thrown in for variety's sake. If anything, that stiff, flaky clickpad is the most likely thing to slow you down.
Though the Spectre makes use of HP's CoolSense technology, we noticed the machine gets a bit warm on the bottom side, even if you're just goofing around in Chrome. Still, those slightly warmer temperatures never registered as uncomfortable.
Though the Spectre's five-and-a-half-hour battery life is a big improvement over its predecessor's four-hour runtime, it's about 40 minutes short of what you'd get with the $800 Folio 13. Still, the Spectre's performance is average compared with other Ultrabooks. (Really, take a look at that table up there: the Spectre bests four laptops, and loses to just as many.) If you do as we did, and loop a movie off the local disk with WiFi on and the screen brightness fixed at 65 percent, the four-cell battery should last about at long as both the MacBook Air and UX31. We found, though, that if you select the default "HP Recommended" power settings and stick to web surfing, the runtime stretches to about six hours. That's just half an hour more, but if you're scrambling to wrap up that last paragraph at a trade show where there are no outlets in sight (what? who's projecting?), every minute counts.
Like the Folio 13, the Spectre comes with full complimentary versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 and Premiere Elements 10 -- two apps we actually don't mind PC makers tossing in without our permission. Other staples include Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition and a two-year subscription (not trial, but subscription) to Norton Internet Security. Now it's true, Norton's pop-ups sometimes got the better of us when we first booted into Windows, but we appreciate getting something for nothing, and we can also respect HP for refusing to saddle its high-end Envy laptops with trialware. Now, if only it would be so generous with its Pavilion customers...
Actually, before we get knee-deep in congratulations, we'll say this: HP clearly
isn't counting its own pre-installed utilities as bloatware. As with other machines in HP's stable, you'll find apps like Power Manager. Some of these apps, like MovieStore, stay invisible as long as you want them to, though Support Assistant in particular has a nasty habit of interrupting you while you're trying to get work done.
Configuration options and warranty
The configuration we took for a spin is the entry-level $1,400 model, which comes with a 1.6GHz Core i5-2467M processor, 4GB of RAM, Intel HD 3000 graphics and a 128GB SSD. As with most other Ultrabooks, there's an optional i7 CPU (the 2677M, for $200) as well as a 256GB SSD ($300). You can't order more RAM through HP, however, and though some other
14-inch Ultrabooks will include discrete graphics, the Spectre is only available with that integrated Intel card. In case you're wondering, the battery, memory and SSD are not designed to be user-replaceable (you could replace the 1,000-cycle battery yourself using a screwdriver, but HP doesn't condone it).
It's worth noting, too, that this $1,400 starting price includes a standard two-year warranty -- a given across the Envy lineup, but a welcome surprise compared to most other PCs, which generally come with one year of protection. Particularly when you consider Dell charges $187 to extend a one-year warranty to two, the Spectre's price tag stings a little less. But only a little: even if this were a $1,200 machine with a one-year warranty, it would still
be more expensive than similarly specced Ultrabooks (that IPS-quality display not withstanding).
Unless you're a diehard display aficionado, the Envy 14 is a bit overpriced for what it is.
Given that, this might be a good time to ask, if this is a premium laptop, what's justifying that premium price? It's certainly not the performance or battery life, which aren't any more impressive than what the competition's capable of. It's not any special attention to ergonomics, with the trackpad being as stiff and jumpy as it is. The $1,100 ASUS Zenbook UX31 performs better for $300 less and has a rigid, spun-metal design that gives the Spectre's glass-and-metal casing a run for its money. The same can be said of the $1,300 MacBook Air, which also adds a comfortable keyboard-and-mouse combo -- something the UX31 and other Windows-based Ultrabooks haven't gotten right yet.
The most likely reason you'd choose the Spectre is that display, which matches the 1600 x 900 resolution found in the UX31, but does it one better with richer colors, wider viewing angles and some seriously narrow bezels. Truly, there's nothing else like it -- at least not in the Ultrabook category. You'll be lucky if you get resolution higher than 1366 x 768, much less a panel that isn't
a garden-variety TN screen.
The Spectre also wins points for its bold design, but is that reflecting pond of a lid worth $1,400? Do those glass bits and enhance the experience, or are they just gimmicks? Suffice to say, we remain skeptical on both counts.
On its own, the Envy 14 Spectre is a nice laptop. And we mean that in the most superficial way: this is one of the loveliest, most memorable machines we've tested recently, and its 1600 x 900 display is unparalleled -- at least in the Ultrabook category, where it's slim pickings for high-quality screens.
The problem is the price. We're not saying that $1,400 cost of entry makes the laptop any less of a solid product, but we're coming up short on reasons why you would choose this over a $1,100 ASUS Zenbook UX31, or even a $1,300 MacBook Air. Those are two beautiful, finely crafted options right there, and let's not discount the $1,000 Dell XPS 13 and $1,200 Lenovo IdeaPad U300s. We love these for their looks too, even if they are safer than the Spectre's glass-and-metal show. And while the Spectre's 1600 x 900 screen is a delight, the UX31 offers the same resolution for hundreds of dollars less. Most importantly, perhaps, the Spectre doesn't perform any better than less expensive Ultrabooks packing similar (or identical) components. Worse, it's saddled with a stiff clickpad -- something that can't be remedied with a quick driver update.
Given those demerits, the Spectre's biggest distinguishing features are its stunning display, two-year warranty, complimentary software, Beats Audio, limited NFC capability (a gimmick) and its glass design (another gimmick, but a damn gorgeous one). Unless you're a diehard display aficionado, the Envy 14 is a bit overpriced for what it is, even if it is a pleasure to use.