HP Envy 15 Review

Posted on October 19, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 8 Comments

Aimed at creators—photographers, videographers, graphic designers, musicians, and the like—the HP Envy 15 delivers with a gorgeous and expansively large display, modern and powerful components, and minimalist design. I’ve used the Envy 15 extensively over the past two months and I love it for the most part. But there are a few niggling issues that mar a near-perfect computing experience.

Design

As its name suggests, the HP Envy 15 is a large, 15.6-inch laptop, and I’m a big fan of its uncluttered minimalist design, which is both premium and professional looking. I especially appreciate that HP floats its excellent island-style keyboard in the middle of the keyboard deck, with large speaker cutouts on each side, rather than saddling it with an overly busy and non-centered keyboard with a number pad.

Yes, I know some prefer a number pad on 15-inch or larger laptops, but the Envy’s layout is better for typing and for the types of tasks performed by creators. Besides, the Envy lineup isn’t a business-class device, despite the obvious appeal. If you want a number pad, you’ll need to look elsewhere in HP’s lineup.

I also like that HP integrated its excellent fingerprint reader into the keyboard rather than placing it on the wrist rest. But the clean look is somewhat undercut by the fact that the wrist rest is visually raised above the keyboard, no doubt to keep the keys from touching the display. It’s a minor but somewhat jarring interruption of the otherwise clean design. It’s even noticeable when the display is closed.

Display

The HP Envy 15 can be had with a variety of display choices, but the review unit is a stunning, expansive, and very glossy 4K/UHD VESA-certified DisplayHDR AMOLED panel with a 100,000:1 contrast ratio that pumps out 400 nits of brightness. I like it a lot, but I would imagine many creators would prefer at least a matte display option.

Unfortunately, no one would describe the HP’s bezels as small, and its lackluster 82.6 percent screen-to-body ratio bears that out. The lower bezel, in particular, is humongous, at over an inch tall. This device is crying out for a taller and bigger 16:10 display panel that could better fill its containing slab.

Internal components

Thanks to its powerful Intel 10th-generation H-series Intel Core CPUs and powerful dedicated NVIDIA graphics capabilities, the HP Envy 15 is a beast that will meet the needs of any creator. Indeed, it basically qualifies as a low-end if not mid-market gaming PC. This is no Ultrabook.

The review unit shipped with a 6-core Core i7-10750H, but you can upgrade to an even more impressive 8-core Intel Core i9 if needed. It can be had with 16 or 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, plus up to 2 TB of PCIe-based NVME SSD storage in a RAID 0 configuration. The review unit arrived with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage with 32 GB of Intel Optane, not to mention NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 graphics with Max-Q.

And here’ something you don’t see very often: The HP Envy 15 is upgradeable: Anyone can easily pop off the bottom of the PC after unscrewing a few normal screws and upgrade the RAM (HP only uses one of two slots in the 16 GB configurations) and/or storage anytime they wish. Nice!

Throwback Halo 3 action

I don’t do a lot of video editing or graphic design work, but I threw several modern video games at the Envy 15, including Tell Me Why, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and the recently remastered games in the PC version of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection series, and was impressed by the results. I’ll be writing more about PC gaming soon, but from what I can tell so far, the HP should satisfy all but the highest-end portable gaming needs.

Tell Me Why, a new release

That said, it generates a ton of heat and noise, especially during gaming. The Envy dissipates that heat via a rear-facing venting system that you might not visually notice unless you flip it over. (There’s also a large air intake vent on the right side of the device.) But when you push it in any way, you will certainly it: Thanks to its almost gaming-class innards, the Envy 15 can pump a lot of air and generate a lot of fan noise.

You can control how the Envy 15 interacts with its powerful innards using the HP Command Center software described below. But the thermal solution used here is interesting regardless, with two fans, a vapor chamber, and vacuum liquid cooling. Overall, HP says that this solution is 33 percent more efficient than a traditional heat pipe-based design.

Connectivity

Connectivity is modern and powerful, with Intel WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5. There’s no cellular data option, but I imagine that’s tied to the PC’s intended audience. Business-class customers can find several good choices in HP’s stable with cellular data connectivity.

Ports and expansion

Thanks to its large form factor, the Envy 15 is positively bristling with a full complement of modern and legacy expansion ports.

On the left, you’ll find a full-sized USB-A 3 port, a full-sized HDMI 2.0 video-out port, and two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, plus the barrel pin-style power plug—this beast requires a 200-watt power supply, so USB-C won’t cut it—and a microSD card reader.

On the right, there’s a combo headphone/microphone jack and a second full-sized USB-A port.

I tested the Envy 15 for several weeks with an external 1440p display in various configurations, but HP says that the PC supports up to three external displays, so it should meet just about any need in that regard.

Audio and video

While the Envy 15 is made for creation and not consumption, its A/V features should satisfy most users. The display is gorgeous, with deep blacks and vibrant colors, but it’s not quite as color-rich as the more expensive Dell XPS 15 I’m also reviewing.

And the sound is decent, but not exceptional, due in part to the use of Bang & Olufsen Audio, which requires you to manually configure the system for music, movies, or voice, instead of Dolby Atmos. It’s the type of thing most people would never complain about, but I happen to be reviewing both PCs side-by-side and the HP suffers a bit in this one area.

Keyboard and touchpad

Overall, the keyboard is very good, though perhaps a bit more loosey-goosey than the crisp, low-throw keyboards found on recent EliteBooks and Spectres. I love the layout though, with its right column of Home, Pg Up, Pg, Dn, and End keys. And I like the look, with the large capital letters on the keycaps, though the letters on the silver keys can sometimes be hard to see.

Beyond the obvious typing functionality, HP integrates a lot of useful technology into the Envy 15’s backlit keyboard. In addition to the aforementioned fingerprint reader, which sits between the right Alt key and the arrow keys, HP puts the power button and a webcam shutter button into keys on the top row alongside a dedicated key for HP Command Center, which is described below. Fortunately, it also leaves the Delete key in the top right corner of the keyboard where God intended.

The glass touchpad is much less successful. It’s technically a precision touchpad, meaning that it is fully configurable using the built-in Windows 10 Settings app. But it’s still just a Synaptics part, and it shows, with annoying mis-taps marring the experience. I always disable three- and four-finger gestures, regardless of the quality of a touchpad, but with this unit, I routinely find myself mistakenly grabbing and dragging browser tabs and pulling them outside of the window or making other inadvertent touchpad-related mishaps. This was a problem with HP’s premium PCs in the past, and it’s returned in the HP Envy, to its detriment.

Portability

At 4.74 pounds and about .73 inches thick at its tallest point, the Envy 15 is a far cry from the thin and light Ultrabooks I usually review. But with its 15.6-inch display and powerful innards, the HP is going for a different audience, and when you consider that it can take on some gaming laptops, it’s actually quite thin and light. Sure, the 16-inch MacBook Pro that HP is targeting weighs 4.3 pounds and is .64 inches thick. But it also starts at $2400. That’s over twice—twice!—the price of the Envy 15.

HP promises somewhere between 8 and 11 hours of battery life while playing videos with the 4K/UHD display, and over 18 hours with a Full HD panel. But my experience was less impressive, if not totally unexpected: I saw a bit over 5 hours on average in real-world usage and with no optimizations. (You can use HP Command Center to run cooler and with less performance; that should improve the battery life too.)

The good news? The HP Envy 15 supports fast charging via the included 200-watt power adapter, which can charge the PC to 50 percent in 45 minutes. And don’t forget that you could also opt for a low-power Full HD display panel if battery life is a big concern.

Software

The HP Envy 15 ships with Windows 10 Home and the metric ton of crapware that Microsoft now includes in that system. But HP has been adding more and more of its own custom software to its PCs in recent years as well, leading to worries about the proliferation of even more unnecessary crapware. I certainly have my concerns. That said, some of the software that HP provides with the Envy 15 is truly unique and useful.

Most obviously, since I’ve mentioned it several times already, is the HP Command Center, which lets you optimize system performance to meet your needs on the fly. You can choose between default, performance, cool, and quiet modes, and each comes with its own performance, temperature, and fan noise profiles. In performance mode, for example, you need to be connected to power, and CPU and GPU performance is pumped up along with corresponding increases in fan noise and temperature. But if you’re working on less demanding tasks, perhaps in a public space, you might opt for quiet mode, which minimizes the fan noise and temperature by reducing CPU and GPU performance.

HP’s Display Control is also interesting and can have similar benefits when the Envy 15 is used on the go. This software optimizes the display for various tasks—web browsing, photo editing and viewing, moving editing and viewing, or native (no optimization)—and it lets you separately enable a power-saving mode that could also help with battery life.

HP also provides an alternative to Apple’s useful but Apple-centric AirDrop solution called QuickDrop. Basically, it’s a software application you install on the PC and on your smartphone, and it lets you move files between the two devices over-the-air, bypassing the usual workflow of backing up to the cloud on one and then manually downloading on the other.

Pricing and configurations

The HP Envy 15 starts at $1150 for a configuration that includes an Intel Core i7 H-series processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics, a 300-nit Full HD display panel, 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of PCIe NVME SSD storage. I assume it’s obvious, but that’s a tremendous value for that amount of power.

There are several other configurations as well. For $1400, you can upgrade to NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics with Max-Q and 512 GB of storage. The review configuration, with its 4K/UHD display and 32 GB of Intel Optane, comes in at $1500. And a high-end $1900 configuration lands with 32 GB of RAM and 1 TB of storage. In most cases, you can personalize your purchase with additional components, including the Core i9 processor choice.

Recommendations and conclusions

The HP Envy 15 hits a fascinating sweet spot for creators and I’m not aware of any laptops that are exactly in this class, with most viable alternatives costing hundreds more. More to the point, most laptops that are this powerful are either gaming laptops with boy-racer looks and plastic bodies or elite business class offerings with very high price tags.

Sure, there are some minor nits. I’m not a fan of the error-prone touchpad, and I wish HP would rein in its custom software, much of which is redundant and unwanted. But it’s hard to argue with the value here, and when I think about moving forward with just a single PC—instead of using a desktop PC in my office and a laptop on the go—I can’t think of a better choice. The HP Envy 15 is amazing.

Indeed, this is a PC I’d buy with my own money and would use happily for years to come. If you’re a creator, a developer, or even a standard productivity worker who needs a bigger display and wouldn’t mind a little video gaming on the side, this is a terrific choice.

As such, the HP Envy 15 is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Minimalist design
  • Powerful and modern components
  • RAM and storage are upgradeable
  • Gorgeous 4K/UHD display
  • Great value for the performance

Cons

  • Iffy touchpad
  • Too much crapware
  • Middling battery life in the 4K configuration

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