The HP Envy 14 Spectre is the latest and best-named Ultrabook to hit the shelves, and with the combined draw of HP’s premium Envy range, and Dr Dre’s urban cool Beats brand, it’s going to be very hard to ignore.
We’re well into the Ultrabook race by now and we’ve already been impressed by the Asus Zenbook UX31, Acer Aspire S3 and most recently by the Dell XPS 13, perhaps the toughest rival that the HP Envy 14 Spectre faces in the battle for our hard-earned pennies.
And HP’s newest baby is taking an interesting approach to the competition by being less concerned with a size zero frame. The HP Envy 14 Spectre is 20mm thin, and weighs 1.8kg – hefty for an Ultrabook.
But the slight bulk enables it to throw around some extra connectivity and features that other Ultrabooks, perhaps save the Toshiba Satellite Z830, can’t match.
Of course, before we start dreamily idolising this shiny new offering, there are a couple of points that need to be looked at. Firstly, the fact that the HP is built around an Intel Core i5-2467M processor, rather than the Core i7 CPUs on offer inside the likes of the Dell and Acer mean that for all its bulk, the Spectre lacks power.
You might also be forgiven for thinking that this lower-spec processor will have a pleasing effect on the price of the computer. Not so.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre costs a sphincter-tightening £1,100 in the UK, and $1,400 in the US. That’s a clear £200 more expensive than the Dell, and in these hardened times; a penny saved is a penny earned… or something.
But before you click away in disgust, there are a number of excellent features that the HP Envy 14 Spectre has to offer, and we have to say that it’s one of the best-looking Ultrabooks we’ve yet seen. Clearly a lot of time and effort has gone into its design and development.
Shunning the aluminium silver outer design favoured by other Ultrabooks such as the Dell XPS 13 or the Acer Aspire S3, the HP Envy 14 Spectre boasts a black Gorilla Glass lid with a slick, glossy finish. Adding the final touch is the bright HP logo nestled in the corner.
Although it looks great, the inevitable downside is that the surface of the lid will quickly attract dust and smudgy fingerprints – more so than any other Ultrabook we’ve seen.
A backlit, isolation-style keyboard lurks underneath, and is one of the most comfortable we’ve used on an Ultrabook. The greater depth of the chassis gives a better travel to the keys, and the result is comfy typing all day long.
A neat trick is the ability of the keyboard to sense your proximity, and dim itself when you move away from the laptop, saving power.
Of course, any discussion of the Spectre’s features starts and ends with the Beats audio. The speakers do a decent job of producing a rich, full sound – but slap a pair of Beats headphones on and you’re ready to experience the best sound we’ve heard from an Ultrabook since the Bang & Olufsen-packing Asus Zenbook UX31.
Anyone who has used any of HP’s other laptops, including the Envy and Pavilion ranges, will be at home with the extra choice Beats gives you.
You can open up a control panel to tweak all aspects of the Envy 14 Spectre’s audio performance. There are also several bonus modes to take advantage of, such as noise and echo cancellation.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre also features a small Beats-branded clickwheel on the chassis that enables you to quickly alter the volume of the speakers.
Arguably, the HP Envy 14 Spectre’s 14-inch screen should get as much praise as the Beats audio. The 1600 x 900 pixel resolution is a step up from other Ultrabooks such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, and we marvelled at the crystal clear high-definition visuals.
Not only that, but the HP Envy 14 Spectre has a tiny bezel, allowing the 14-inch screen to sit nicely inside a 13.3-inch chassis.
Cinebench 10: 7, 336
3D Mark ’06: 3, 377
Battery Eater ’05: 206 minutes
Ultrabooks are all members of the Sandy Bridge family, and the HP Envy 14 Spectre is built around an Intel Core i5-2467M CPU operating at 1.60GHz and 4GB RAM.
It’s not the fastest or highest-spec chip we’ve seen in an Ultrabook, and rivals will triumph on raw power. This is reflected in the Cinebench scores we recorded, in which the Spectre posted less than rivals including the Acer Aspire S3.
But general day-to-day use is unaffected, and the HP Envy 14 Spectre kept up with our multitasking needs. In part a justification for the higher price tag is that both Adobe’s Premier Elements and Photoshop Elements editing suites come preinstalled, and ran perfectly when we tried a spot of on-the-fly photo editing.
Unfortunately, though, we had a lot of problems with the trackpad. It was responsive enough when moving the cursor, but the integrated mouse buttons were a pain to use. We appreciate the nicer look of integrated buttons, but the irritation of repeated clicks to select and execute slightly tarnishes the overall experience.
Although the HP Envy 14 Spectre can cope with the demanding graphical performance of video editing, or running several intensive websites at once, don’t buy this expecting a gaming platform.
The integrated GPU is powerful enough, thanks to the Sandy Bridge heritage, but it won’t be boasting the latest Assassin’s Creed title.
We don’t know what the thought process was behind naming this laptop the Spectre, but it could be to do with the almost silent way in which it goes about its business, thanks to the SSD drive and its lack of moving parts.
The Spectre remained cool to the touch during operation and, like other Ultrabooks, is available with either a 256GB or 128GB SSD internal hard drive.
According to HP, the Envy 14 Spectre will offer you a reasonable nine hours of battery life. We ran our high-stress benchmarking tests and recorded an impressive score of 206 minutes.
Avoid our brute force attack on the battery and you should have no trouble getting through a day without the company of the AC adaptor. Just keep the volume down.
We see the HP Envy 14 Spectre as being the ‘cool kid’ of the Ultrabook class, with its Beats audio branding, high resolution 14-inch screen and Gorilla Glass casing. It’s a highly usable laptop, with only the integrated click buttons on the touchpad giving us grief.
At first, we had worries about the slightly chunkier casing, but this was tempered by the joy we felt when we spotted the HDMI port and Ethernet port that HP has included on the chassis. We’ve lamented the lack of connectivity on other Ultrabooks, and having the option for a wired internet connection and the use of an external monitor is music to our ears.
On the subject of music, this is undoubtedly the Ultrabook for media enthusiasts. The screen is gloriously crisp and the extra audio technology on board gives you options to tweak and alter the sound to get your albums sounding the way you want. Invest in a decent pair of headphones or an amplifier and you can make this your sole media machine.
Ultrabooks are meant to be light, airy and portable computers. By any other laptop standards, the HP Envy 14 Spectre is a classy ultra-portable. But, when you put it up against the other Ultrabooks, it’s inescapably bulky.
It just comes in under the weight limit set out in Intel’s specifications for Ultrabooks, and business users might be more swayed by the svelt curves of the Dell XPS 13 or the functionality of the Toshiba Satellite Z830.
We also got increasingly frustrated with the integrated click buttons on the touchpad. We know the overall effect is a nicer aesthetic, but unfortunately the usability suffers as a result. Often we would just rely on the double-tap to select files and launch programs instead.
We’re deep into the second round of Ultrabook releases by now, and we feel the HP Envy 14 Spectre sits alongside the Dell XPS 13 at the top of the heap. But these are two different machines with different focuses.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre is the most media-centred Ultrabook, with a larger 14-inch screen, 1600 x 900 pixel resolution and Beats audio technology. But it won’t win over fans looking for performance and portability, due to the lower spec processor and bulky Gorilla Glass chassis.
If you can overcome the steep asking price then the HP Envy 14 Spectre is a well-built and stylish way to transport and enjoy your music, movies and do a spot of image editing.