While premium PCs get all the press these days, HP continues to offer incredible value to those with smaller budgets. Case in point, the new ENVY Laptop, which provides the right mix of premium features for much less.
Look, you know me, I always seem to be harping on price. But as I noted in the comments to my recent and belated Surface Laptop review, it’s not really about price. It’s about value. It’s about the worth of a thing to you versus the cost of a thing in strict dollar terms.
Premium PCs—Surface PCs, HP Spectre or Elite, ThinkPad, or which brand you choose—are, by nature, expensive. And you can afford one or you can’t. If you can afford such a device, hopefully you buy it for the right reasons. Hopefully, you derive some value from that purchase.
For those who cannot afford these devices, premium PCs are just an aspiration, a dream. And you are forced to choose from an unclear range of mostly-ignored downmarket devices. These PCs don’t get much attention from reviewers because, let’s face it, that $3000 Surface Book 2 or MacBook Pro is a lot more interesting to the typical reviewer than a basic laptop that spends its days getting slowly ruined at the local Best Buy.
I’m as susceptible to the allure of premium PCs as anyone, I guess. But then, PC makers also typically ship the higher-end versions of products to reviewers on purpose, too. They want positive reviews, and they want potential customers to be interested. And if an overly-positive review of a premium product is what gets those people into stores, or, more likely browsing online stores, then the strategy worked. Many will, of course, end up buying more affordable PCs because they simply can’t afford or justify the cost of a premium PC.
I’m not sure what those people buy, per se. But I am sure what they should buy if they’re in the market for a 13-inch Ultrabook and want but can’t afford an HP Spectre, ThinkPad X1, Surface Laptop, or similar. What they should buy is an HP ENVY Laptop. It is both low-cost and high value. In other words, it hits right at that sweet spot that I find so compelling.
The HP ENVY is a new generation version of a laptop I reviewed almost two years ago, in February 2016. That device came very close to being the ultimate Ultrabook, as I described it, falling just shy of that accolade only because it was lacking a multi-touch display. But for its reasonable starting price of $850, that first generation ENVY Laptop deliver a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of SSD storage, and a 13.3-inch Full HD display in a thin, light, and pretty package.
HP has a wonderful and predictable habit of taking something excellent, in this case the previous ENVY Laptop, hammering away at user feedback, and making it even better the next time around. I know. That sounds obvious. But all you need to do is look at some of the weird decisions that other PC makers make—Dell XPS inexplicably still ruins the webcam experience by placing it on the bottom of the screen, for example, or Microsoft’s weird insistence on ignoring modern technologies in its premium PC line—to know that obvious doesn’t always translate into the right decisions.
HP usually makes the right decisions. No, not always: There is a creeping resurgence of crapware in some of their PCs, which I find troubling. But usually. And with the ENVY Laptop, in particular, the firm has done an astonishing job of improving the device. Especially when you consider how good the previous generation version was.
For late 2017, the HP ENVY Laptop continues the tradition of filling in the gap that sits between expensive premium products like those in the Spectre lineup and lower-end mainstream HP Pavilion PCs. That is, it provides premium styling and features but at reasonable prices. It is a device you would be happy, even proud, to carry and use. But it won’t break the bank.
Compared to last year’s model, the new ENVY Laptop picks up the hard-edged styling we see in HP’s latest PCs. I wasn’t a fan of this style when I first viewed it remotely. But now that the devices are starting to show up and I can see them in person, it is growing on me. And on the ENVY Laptop, in particular, that new hard, pointy design element—which replaces a soft curved design from before—looks more professional and more modern to me.
The ENVY also picks up some—but not all—of the modern componentry that HP typically debuts in its premium PC families. There’s a hybrid battery design, which lets HP fill the smaller body with more battery than was previously possible, leading to better battery life than before. The body itself is made of a mixture of aluminum and magnesium surfaces, adding an element of premium build quality. And the device picks up the discrete amplifiers that first debuted in Spectre a year ago.
The new ENVY Laptop also improves on its predecessor in other important ways. It now utilizes 8th generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, which provide a meaningful performance boost thanks to their quad-core design. And you can now optionally configure a version with discrete graphics, which I believe is a first for an ENVY portable PC. (It’s an NVIDIA GeForce MX150 with 2 GB of RAM.)
As noted, the device is thinner, lighter, and smaller than before, with HP adopting a design with smaller screen bezels and an edge-to-edge keyboard. This is a common design change in premium PCs, and it’s nice to see it coming to ENVY. But this design also means that the previous product’s attractive side speakers had to go; now, there are four speakers internally, and the Bang & Olufsen signature speaker grill can be seen along the top of the keyboard. The result? Better, but not overly-loud, sound.
Perhaps even more impressive, the rated battery life is up this year, too, despite the smaller body: HP says that the ENVY Laptop now delivers 13.7 hours, vs. 10 hours for its predecessor. As important, it also supports HP’s Fast Charge technology, which provides a 90 percent charge in 90 minutes. That feature, too, debuted on Spectre a year ago.
There are also more of the modern ports that customers now expect. As a tweener in the premium space, the ENVY Laptop still utilizes a proprietary HP barrel-style power adapter instead of USB-C. But it also provides two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and either can be used for power if you’d like (and have an adapter). The device also provides two full-sized USB 3.0 ports and a microSD card slot. Nice.
RAM starts at 8 GB and can be configured up to 16 GB. Storage still starts at 128 GB this year, and it can be configured up to a full 1 TB. The display can be upgraded to UHD/4K; both now support multi-touch, of course.
In another nod to the premium space, the ENVY Laptop can be purchased in two colors, the old-school silver that my review unit features, and a new silk gold color that I think looks particularly nice.
Pricing is reasonable: $880 nets you a quad-core Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, and a Full HD display. All of the other models offer a Core i7 processor, though: $1050 for that processor with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. UHD versions start at $1400: For that price, you get 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of SSD storage, and discrete NVIDIA graphics.
Put simply, this device appears to hit the value sweet spot. And if I were in the market for a 13.3-inch laptop or Ultrabook, if were spending my own money, I’d start here.