The HP ENVY 14 Spectre and Dell XPS 13 Ultrabooks came out just a couple of weeks apart in February of 2012, both were proceeded by a lot of tease and marketing splash and so each respective company is hoping the products sell well. Although both the ENVY 14 Spectre and XPS 13 are being touted as Ultrabooks, there’s actually quite a bit of difference between the two and depending on what you’re looking for in a laptop one or the other may be a better fit for your needs. We’re not strictly here to declare a winner, each Ultrabook is good in its own right for certain things which we’ll touch upon in this comparison.
Video Comparison of ENVY 14 Spectre and XPS 13 Ultrabook
We did a quick video comparison of these two laptops, it’s not a polished and scripted piece but should help out to get an idea of the size and look differences you’re dealing with here.
ENVY 14 Spectre and XPS 13 Comparison
The XPS 13 starts at $999 and the HP ENVY 14 starts at $1,399 with the exact same internal performance specs. Obviously the XPS 13 is more wallet friendly, but as you’ll see there are features on the ENVY 14 that make it better in certain ways and simply cost more money.
The ENVY 14 comes with a standard 2-year warranty, the XPS 13 is a 1-year. That’s a $100 value or so right there you get with the ENVY 14. You can of course upgrade and pay outrageous amounts for accidental damage coverage for either laptop. Dell and HP support are pretty even, I’ve had good experiences with both so I wouldn’t say you gain anything by going with one or the other in terms of support.
The XPS 13 and ENVY 14 Spectre look totally different, you won’t mistake one for the other. The ENVY 14 uses a unique Gorilla glass finish on top of a black mag alloy lid, providing a glossy finish. Meanwhile the XPS 13 has an aluminum lid that looks a whole lot like a MacBook Air lid, except of course for the Dell logo.
If the lid is clean on the ENVY 14 Spectre it looks most impressive, however if its got fingerprints on which is inevitable after a day or so of use then the XPS 13 lid that is more resistant to fingerprints will impress more.
Opening up the lid of each Ultrabook will of course reveal the keyboard. Both use a chiclet style design and have a backlit feature. The XPS 13 has a black matte finish all over, while the HP Envy 14 again has a thin glass finish on the palm rest areas. The glass here again picks up fingerprints, but not as much as the lid. The black matte finish on the XPS 13 does a great job of preventing fingerprints altogether. Again, the Envy 14 Spectre is more impressive and unique when it’s clean, but it requires more cleaning maintenance than the XPS 13 .
Not that you’ll be looking at the bottom too much, but it’s good to know what’s there. Both laptops have a metal bottom for extra protection. The ENVY 14 Spectre has a panel that can be removed for access to the battery and SSD, the XPS 13 is completely sealed.
When it comes to Ultrabook comparisons, every ounce counts. In this case though we’re talking a whole 1lb of difference between the XPS 13 and ENVY 14. The Spectre is a larger 14" screen laptop though, so you have to understand what the compromise is here.
The XPS 13 weighs in at 3.02lbs and the Envy 14 is 3.99lbs. You can definitely notice the weight difference if you’re holding the laptop with one hand. And some would argue that once you get too far over 3lbs it’s unfair to even label something as being an Ultrabook – but we won’t get into the semantics.
Size and Footprint
The XPS 13 is a 13" screen laptop and the ENVY 14 a 14". Obviously that means the Envy 14 will be bigger, the question is how much.
The dimensions for each laptop are as follows:
HP ENVY 14 Spectre: 12.88″ (W) x 8.7″ (D) x 0.79″ (H)
Dell XPS 13: 12.4" (W) x 8.1" (D) x 0.24 – 0.71" (H)
The Envy 14 is 0.48" more wide, 0.6" deeper and about 0.10 thicker when measured at the thickest point. Again, this size difference is definitely noticeable and makes the XPS 13 just feels more “tossable" or easy to throw in a bag compared to the Envy 14. Somewhat humorous is the fact HP claims their 14" ENVY is the size of a typical 13.3" and Dell calls the XPS 13 the size of a typical 11.6" laptop. Neither is quite the truth of course, but you have to love marketing.
The Envy 14 has a 14" screen with a 1600 x 900 resolution while the XPS 13 has a 13" screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution. What this amounts to is the ENVY 14 being able to fit much more text and images on the screen at a time, if you’re using the laptop for work that can make you more efficient. If you like HD movies then the Envy 14 will also make you happier as you get more pixels per inch for a more crisp image. In terms of screen quality, the Envy 14 also wins with more accurate colors, better viewing angles and better color contrast. It’s hard to take pictures and make this comparison, but trust us that in a side by side comparison the Envy 14 screen is much more pleasant for viewing and hands down the better screen.
Being the larger laptop the ENVY Spectre gets the advantage in the number of ports, in fact it has as many ports as most regular laptops. Let’s compare the ports you get on the side of each laptop.
On the left side of the ENVY 14 you get a Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Ethernet port, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, headphone/microphone combo port and media card reader. The XPS 13 offers only a USB 2.0 port and headphone/microphone combo.
On the right side of the ENVY 14 you get a volume dial, mute button, Beats audio software launcher – no actual ports. The XPS 13 has a USB 3.0 port and mini DisplayPort.
The lack of an SD card reader and HDMI port on the XPS 13 is a bit of a downer, using an SD card to expand storage is popular tactic with the storage capacity limited Ultrabooks.
While the ENVY 14 Spectre touts Beats audio, it’s hard to tell there’s any kind of enhanced speaker system on board because the sound quality from the built-in speakers is poor. The same goes for the XPS 13, you just don’t get a decent sound experience with these Ultrabooks. Using a set of good headphones solves this problem, but my not so picky ears couldn’t tell a difference between the ENVY Beats and non-Beats XPS 13 in terms of audio quality via headphones.
Heat and Noise
Heat and Noise management is a prime concern with Ultrabooks, it’s tough to design a cooling system that prevents the insides from baking and yet keeps the fan from running non-stop at full boar with laptops so thin. The XPS 13 definitely favors the frequent usage of fans to stay cool, it can get rather loud at times. Meanwhile the ENVY 14 fans only kick in when the laptop is under stress, during normal work load the fans are quiet or idling. The ENVY is definitely the quieter of the two and still manages to stay cooler.
Keyboard and TouchPad
We touched upon the look of the keyboard before, but didn’t cover the usability factors. Both Ultrabooks have a fairly short keystroke travel distance, that’s pretty much how all Ultrabooks are due to the slim body and lack of room for a deep keyboard. That said, we do prefer the ENVY 14 keyboard over the XPS 13 for a few reasons. First of all the font on the XPS 13 keyboard is just too funky, nice try at being different and stylish but frankly it’s a little jarring. The ENVY 14 top row of keys act as dedicated media buttons, making it easy to adjust volume, screen brightness or what have you. The XPS 13 meanwhile requires holding down the Fn + Function key to perform volume or screen brightness adjustments. In general typing on the ENVY 14 just feels a little better, many keys are larger and the feel is slightly better. That said, the XPS 13 keyboard is certainly passable and better than some other Ultrabook keyboards we’ve seen.
Both Ultrabooks use a touchpad with integrated buttons. The ENVY 14 has a slightly wider touchpad, but overall the performance and ability to move the cursor and perform multi-finger swipes is equal. I slightly prefer the XPS 13 touchpad due to its more textured feel, the Envy 14 touchpad is too slippery.
We’ve been getting around six hours of battery life on both systems. The Dell touts the XPS 13 as having 8 hours and 53 minutes of battery and HP says the ENVY 14 Spectre has 9.25 hours. Both quotes are kind of a stretch. If you set the screen at around 30% brightness and leave wi-fi on while doing some work you should get in the 6 – 7 hour range on each.
As we stated earlier, we’re not here to declare a winner, just help you decide which Ultrabook might be a better fit for your needs. Here’s who we think the XPS 13 is a good fit for:
Somebody that wants a secondary laptop for on the go needs, it doesn’t have all the ports you need for a main computer but enough for on the go needs
Anyone that likes the MacBook Air, but needs Windows and doesn’t want to pay the “Apple Tax"
Early adopters that love to try out new technology
Those that don’t like to have to clean or maintain a laptop too much, the matte surfaces of the XPS 13 are great for resisting fingerprints and dirt
The ENVY 14 Spectre meanwhile is a good fit for
Anyone that doesn’t mind carrying a cloth to clean surfaces and keeping a laptop looking shiny and new
Those that put a premium on having an HD+ screen that is high quality
Someone that wants this as a main laptop, it has a high enough resolution screen and enough ports to allow it to be your only work computer
Those that don’t have to have the absolute lightest laptop, at 4lbs the ENVY 14 Spectre is not really that much lighter than any other 14".
Both Ultrabooks have their positives and negatives, depending on your needs and opinions one of these could certainly be a fit. And if not, there are plenty of other options either on the market or coming soon!