HP Envy 16 Review

Posted on October 23, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 11 with 27 Comments

This has been a busy year for laptop reviews, and after promising myself—and you—that I’d turn these things around more quickly, I have found myself bogged down once again and taking longer than the 4-to-6 (ideally 4) weeks I prefer to spend on such things. But laptop reviews are complex, assuming you’re not just mailing them in: you have to actually use the PCs, over time and on and off battery power, ideally with at least one set of airplane flights.

I also don’t work on them sequentially. That is, I use multiple laptops at the same time, moving back and forth between them, while keeping track of the dates they arrived and when I published my first impressions articles. That said, I do want to at least publish the reviews in the right order, when possible.

But I have a confession to make. I pushed the HP Envy 16 forward in the queue, partly because I found myself using it so much, gravitating to it because I preferred its power and size, and partly because when the time came for our current two-week trip to Mexico City, I knew I’d want to use it each day for work. Which is a roundabout way of explaining that I really like this laptop. It’s daily driver material, especially if you’re a content creator who, like me, moves between relatively unchallenging productivity apps and more demanding video editing and developer apps.

Put more simply, I literally have over a dozen loaner laptops in my home for review as I write this and I could use whichever devices I prefer. And I’ve kept choosing this one. Take that as you will.

Design

The HP Envy 16 is a giant silver slab of aluminum: it weighs 5.12 pounds and measures 14.1 x 9.9 x 0.78 inches. I mean, just look at it compared to the 13.3-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X13s I also reviewed on this trip.

Given the choice, I’d almost certainly go for a darker color, but HP only offers the Envy 16 in an understated Natural Silver. But that’s OK: it’s a sharp and professional-looking PC that exudes a premium vibe with somewhat curved edges and corners.

And I like the subtle branding touches, similar to what HP offers on its more premium models: there are ENVY branding touches on the back of the display hinge and on the left wrist rest, and a smaller Bang & Olufsen text on the right wrist rest.

But at the end of the day, the Envy 16 is a minimalist, utilitarian device, by design: it provides everything a creator could possibly need—a huge display, incredible performance, ample expansion, and a solid keyboard—and gets out of the way. The construction is top-rate, and there is almost no flex at all, even in the middle of the keyboard.

Display

In keeping with the entire industry, HP has moved the Envy 16 to a taller 16:10 display, and I couldn’t be happier with this choice. It provides a critical 11 percent of additional space in the vertical when compared to the 16:9 displays of the past. It’s also available with a 120 Hz refresh rate option on most configurations, which could be crucial for video content creators and videogame fans.

As is usually the case with HP, the Envy can be had with a variety of display panels, each with its own unique characteristics. Most Envy 16 models feature 120 Hz WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS panels, with both touch and non-touch variants, but there is also a UHD+ (3840 x 2400) touch panel, which is only 60 Hz but offers stunning colors and brightness.

The review unit includes that UHD+ panel, and it is a bright, vivid wonder with full HDR capabilities (but not Dolby Vision). There are small bezels all around, especially on the sides, and the HP delivers a solid 88.7 percent screen-to-body ratio overall. Nice.

Internal components

The Envy 16 can be configured with 12th-Gen Intel Core i5, i7, or i9 H-series processors, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 graphics (with 6 GB of GDDR6 RAM) or Intel Arc A370M graphics (with 4 GB of GDDR6 RAM), 16 or 32 GB of DDR5 RAM, and up to 2 TB of PCIe Gen 4 SSD storage, which can be configured as 1 TB in RAID 0 if desired. It is, in another words, a beast, and any creator should be able to find a configuration that meets (and exceeds) their needs.

Indeed, when HP offered me an Envy 16 for review, I was given two configuration choices. I’d normally go with the lower-end, less expensive version, but I don’t believe I’ve ever reviewed a PC based on a Core i9 processor and I wanted to see whether it—and the dedicated graphics that came with it—made a big difference with video editing. And so the review configuration includes a 12th-Gen Intel Core i9-1290H processor (a 56-watt part), NVIDIA RTX 3060 graphics (with 6 GB of RAM), 32 GB of RAM, and a 2 TB SSD.

And shocker, but the performance has been excellent across all use cases. That is, in addition to my normal productivity usage—Brave with multiple windows and tabs, Word, Notion, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Teams, and Skype—I also used the HP to edit and post videos for Eternal Spring using Adobe Premiere Elements and experimented with .NET MAUI using Visual Studio 2022. The most notable difference has been video rendering: where my Eternal Spring projects often take a long time to render so they can be uploaded to YouTube, the Envy 16 raced through them.

That said, I suspect the Core i9 in the review unit is almost certainly overkill. Like the Core i7 variants, this processor has 6 performance cores and 8 efficient cores, for a total of 14 cores, but it can boost speeds a bit higher, to a full 5 GHz. Yikes. Most people won’t need—or even be able to utilize—that power. Including me.

Regarding the graphics, even the NVIDIA option is basically a mid-range solution, and it probably won’t meet the needs of many PC gamers. Or so I’m told. But I found the Envy 16 to be a decent mid-range gaming box, which I proved to myself by testing a few Xbox Game Pass PC titles, starting with Microsoft Flight Simulator and Asphalt 9: Legends. The latter probably wouldn’t stress any decent PC as it’s a mobile game, but you could make a career of configuring Flight Simulator’s graphics options, and so I bumped up every setting to high to see how well the Envy 16 fared.

It was impressive. My first flight was over Cairo late in the in-game day, and after strafing the Great Pyramid of Giza, I flew over the city, following the Nile River, and then passed by the Cairo tower. The graphics were resplendent in HDR finery, and the performance was perfect. Just a stunning game, wonderfully rendered.

Emboldened by this success, I decided to install Halo Infinite next and pick up the campaign I had started but not finished on Xbox. This is, of course, a faster-paced game, and I was curious if the Envy could keep up. It could: once again with all the settings on high, the game performed flawlessly and looked terrific. In fact, it looks better on the PC than it does on the Xbox.

HP keeps things cool—and reasonably quiet, depending on the load—with a new thermal solution that includes two large fans with 33 percent more blades that are each 9 percent thinner than before and a gaming-class Vapor Chamber that pulls in cool air from the top and front of the PC and blasts hot air out the back and via the left side of the PC.

But software plays a key role here too: HP uses its SmartSense functionality to override the built-in power management settings in Windows, automatically adapting power consumption, not just to the current workload and battery, but also to the physical placement of the laptop. You can disable this in HP’s Command Center app if you’d like, but this is a good example of a PC maker’s familiarity with its own hardware providing a material improvement over what’s offered by Windows.

That said, you’ll still hear the fan roar under certain conditions, like video encoding or game playing. You can’t overcome physics.

Connectivity

Connectivity is modern, with Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2. There is no cellular data connectivity, however, even as an option. I had no issues with Wi-Fi in multiple locations.

Ports and expansion

As you should expect of such a large machine, the HP Envy 16 offers ample expansion, with a nice collection of modern and legacy ports. The only thing missing is a Kensington lock port.

On the left, you’ll find just two alongside a large heat vent: a full-sized USB-A (10 Gbps) port with a drop-jaw and a microSD card reader.

On the right is a bigger collection of ports: a second full-sized USB-A (10 Gbps) port, a full-sized HDMI 2.1 port, and two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 (40 Gbps) ports with Power Delivery, DisplayPort 1.4, and sleep and charge capabilities.

One interesting note here: thanks to its dual USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports and HDMI port, you can connect up to three external 4K displays to the Envy 16 without using a dock of any kind. I didn’t test this configuration—I don’t even have three 4K displays—but this capability will be appealing to creators.

That said, I should note one odd issue I had related to expansion: at home, I use a USB dock built into an HP Conferencing Display to connect to multiple peripherals, including a webcam, my keyboard and mouse, and a USB interface for a microphone, and my web browser (normally Brave, but eventually Edge because I’ve started working on the related chapters for the Windows 11 Field Guide) would hang regularly. This never happened when using the laptop by itself. But now that I’m in Mexico City, I’m using an Anker USB-C hub with a similar set of peripherals, and I’m experiencing the same hangs (in Edge). I can’t explain this, but I’ve never experienced anything like that before.

Audio and video

For the Envy 16, HP bumped up the speaker count from 2 to 4, so there are now two tweeters on either side of the keyboard and two woofers on the bottom front. Optimized by Bang & Olufsen, the speakers deliver rich sound quality with deep bass, and the system sounds great overall.

But there is no Dolby Atmos spatial sound, and the bundled Bang & Olufsen Audio Control app is pretty basic and doesn’t even offer an automatic mode. So you have to manually choose between music, movie, and voice presets or fiddle with a manual EQ. There’s no choice optimized for gaming.

The hybrid work experience is exceptional, with a 5 MP webcam that offers AI-based bright and low-light adjustments and auto-framing, noise reduction, and dual-array microphones with noise reduction. (You can enable noise reduction on the speakers, too.)

Both are found in the top middle of the display bezel—the microphones straddle the webcam—and both can be toggled via discrete function keys on the keyboard, the ideal configuration. And HP bundles a semi-goofy Enhanced Lighting app that adds a software-based light ring effect.

Keyboard and touchpad

HP makes the best laptop keyboards in the industry, and it’s no surprise that the Envy 16’s keyboard is excellent, with snappy, short throws and a good key feel. However, I did switch between this PC and the HP Elite Dragonfly I just reviewed a lot during the testing process, and like all other PCs, the Envy can’t quite match that stellar typing experience. That’s a somewhat unfair comparison, and I won’t ding it for that: the Dragonfly is in a league of its own.

I also appreciate that HP included the column of Home, Pg Up, Pg Dn, and End keys that I find so useful, and I love that it didn’t burden this PC with an unnecessary and space-hogging numeric keypad. And I like that the power key is integrated into the keyboard now, though that’s common these days.

Beyond that, I do have a few complaints. I’m curious why HP couldn’t have found more space for the arrow keys, which are arranged in an awkward single row with half-height Up and Down arrow keys that are hard to hit accurately. (Gamers who prefer the keyboard will hate this too.) And there’s no fingerprint reader key as with the Envy 15. I miss it, as that’s my preferred way to sign into Windows.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Envy 16 keyboard supports two levels of backlighting but because the light is white on light gray key caps, the key legends can be hard to read in some lighting conditions. There is a dedicated keyboard key for emojis, which is a nod to the younger set. And instead of a real user-configurable key, HP provides a System Event Utility key that lets you select from one of four HP utilities only. Boo.

Looking back at my review of the HP Envy 15, I see that my primary gripe was the unreliable touchpad, and while the larger touchpad on the Envy 16 isn’t quite that bad, it still has reliability issues, even after I disabled three- and four-finger gestures. Just in the writing of this review, I experienced multiple instances in which I was suddenly typing in a different part of the document. It’s not a deal-breaker, but if your primary work is producing words, it can get frustrating. You could solve the problem by using a mouse, I guess.

Security

The HP Envy 16’s webcam includes IR capabilities, so it can be used to sign into Windows using facial recognition. But in a bizarre turn, there’s no fingerprint reader: instead, we get an old-fashioned vestigial right Ctrl key. That one is unexplainable. And indefensible.

(As noted above, the Envy 15 included a fingerprint reader but not Windows Hello facial recognition. Maybe next year we can get both.)

Sustainability

The Envy 16 is more sustainable than its predecessors, with ocean-bound plastic in the bezel and speaker enclosures, post-industry recycled aluminum in the lid, keyboard frame, and base, and post-consumer recycled plastic in the keyboard covers and scissors. It even arrives in sustainable packaging: the plain-looking outer box and inner cushions are made from 100 percent sustainably sourced and recyclable materials.

The Envy 16 is also user-serviceable via 5 Torx screws on the bottom: the two RAM modules, two storage modules, and Wi-Fi module can all be replaced and upgraded if desired. That’s about as good as it gets these days in a mainstream portable PC.

The Envy 16 comes with a 1-year limited warranty that covers parts and labor.

Portability

Given its size and 5.11 pounds of heft, the Envy 16 is no ultra-portable, and I can’t imagine that anyone would travel with such a laptop regularly. But the audience that needs this size and power and has to travel regularly is likely pretty small. And for whatever it’s worth, I had no issues with flying with the Envy and a second review laptop to Mexico: my HP Renew background swallowed up both easily and that bag was resting on top of my carry-on for the most part anyway.

HP claims that battery life is up to 7 hours and 45 minutes, and so I was expecting to get a bit less than half that since my results indicate real-world usage and not a video playback test. And I wasn’t surprised to see it land at an average of 3 hours and 19 minutes before my trip to Mexico. That’s not enough juice to get me from Newark to Mexico City—that flight is about 4.5 hours—but let’s be fair here. Most Envy 16 customers aren’t even leaving the house with this PC let alone flying long distances.

But here’s something interesting: I wrote two articles and a big chunk of this review on the plane ride here over about 3 and a half hours thanks to an exit row seat that provided enough space, and there was still over 30 percent battery when I was forced to put it away: Airplane mode, no Photoshop, and a lower screen brightness setting than usual clearly helped overcome some of the power draw of the OLED display. With the right conditions, you could get 4 to 5 hours of juice, I bet.

Given the requirements of the Envy’s Core-i9 H-series processor and dedicated graphics, it’s perhaps not surprising that power to its large 83-watt-hour battery arrives via an enormous 200-watt power adapter with a proprietary barrel connector. This isn’t all bad, of course: the power port on the laptop is as far back as it can be on the right side, the power plug’s elbow-shaped connector further helps to keep the power cord out of the way, and this configuration frees up both USB-C ports for other uses. But one-cable docking is impossible, at least with the Thunderbolt and USB-C docks I own. I can live with that, and you can at least charge the Envy by up to 50 percent in just 30 minutes. A full charge takes almost 90 minutes.

Software

The HP Envy 16 arrived with Windows 11 Pro version 21H2 in late summer. I upgraded it manually to 22H2 early so I could use it while writing the Windows 11 Field Guide, so I’m not sure if it would have received this update organically already. But I suspect it would have given what I’ve seen with the other review laptops I have in-house now.

The software load-outs on HP’s non-commercial PCs continue to be a major issue, and the Envy 16 is bogged down with an unacceptable amount of crapware and an insane number of HP-branded utilities. In the former category, I saw Adobe Offers, Amazon.com, Booking.com, Dropbox promotion, McAfee Live Safe, McAfee Personal Security, and Simple Solitaire in the Start menu, plus a pointless Energy Star “app,” ExpressVPN, and LastPass, the latter two of which some will find useful.

There were also several non-offensive hardware-related utilities—Bang & Olufsen Audio Control, GeForce Experience, Intel Graphics Command Center, NVIDIA Control Panel—and 13 HP-branded utilities, plus Duet Display and OMEN Gaming Hub. Geeze Louise, HP. Rein it in.

Pricing and configurations

The HP Envy 16 is reasonably priced given its specifications and capabilities. A “base” version with a Core i5 H-series processor, Intel Arc graphics (with 4 GB of RAM), a 120 Hz WQXGA (2560 x 1600) display with 400 nits of brightness, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of SSD storage is $1400. There are various Core i7 configurations with 16 or 32 GB of RAM and Intel Arc graphics in the $1500 range, and a Core i7 configuration with NVIDIA RTX 3060 graphics, on OLED UHD+ display, 32 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of storage for about $1700. And then there’s the review unit, which comes in at about $2400 for its Core i9 processor, RTX 3060 graphics, WQXGA display, 32 GB of RAM, and 2 TB of storage.

Recommendations and conclusions

While a PC this large and powerful isn’t for everyone, the Envy 16 is an appealing option for the content creator audience that HP is targeting. It has powerful processor and graphics options, a big, bright, and colorful display, and excellent expansion capabilities, and it can support three external 4K displays. It is also surprisingly user upgradable, providing an additional bit of futureproofing. The crapware bundle is unfortunate but all of it is at least removable, leaving the lack of a fingerprint reader as my sole major complaint.

The HP Envy 16 is highly recommended. This is a PC I’d buy with my own money and use every day.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Powerful performance
  • Reasonably priced, with several configuration choices
  • Terrific 16:10 OLED display (on review unit)
  • Ample expansion
  • User-upgradable RAM, storage, and Wi-Fi

Cons

  • No fingerprint reader, even as an option
  • Too much crapware

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