The HP Envy 15 provides the performance of a desktop replacement in a stylish, reasonably portable package. It is ideally suited for users who demand more from a notebook, but prioritize portability or display clarity over maximum GPU performance. The Envy 15 starts at $1,099, with HP’s recommended configuration currently selling for $1,439. Significant rebates are sometimes available, which can reduce the price even further. I took advantage of a fortuitous 33% rebate promotional code, dropping the price of my customized unit by just over $600. With the rebate, I ordered mine for a scant $1,219 (not including extended warranty, tax, or shipping) , with the following specifications:
HP Envy 15t-3000 Specs
Processor: Intel Core i7-2760QM (2.4 GHz, 6MB L3 Cache) with Turbo Boost up to 3.5 GHz
OS: Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Screen: 15.6″ Radiance Full HD Infinity LED-backlit Display (1920×1080)
Graphics: 1GB Discrete Graphics AMD Radeon HD 7690M [HDMI, DP]
Memory: 6GB 1600MHz DDR3 System Memory (2 Dimm)
Storage: 500GB 7200 rpm Hard Drive
Battery: Internal 8-Cell Lithium Ion
Optical Drive: SuperMulti DVD+/-R/RW with Double Layer Support
Ports: 1 HDMI, 1 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, 1 Gigabit LAN RJ-45, 1 Microphone-in, 2 Headphone-out, 1 DispayPort
Slots: 2-in-1 SD-MMC
Dimensions: 14.96″ (W) x 9.61″ (D) x 1.11″ (H)
Weight: Starting at 5.8 lbs (2.63 kg)
Webcam: HP TrueVision HD Webcam
Wireless: Intel 802.11a/b/g/n WLAN and Bluetooth with Wireless Display Support
Keyboard: Backlit Keyboard with numeric keypad
Power: 120W AC Power Adapter
Envy 15t-3000 Reason for Buying
My primary motivation for buying the Envy 15 was my frustration with straining to read the dim display of my aging Lenovo T61p. I had other reasons, but if my T61p had a display like the Radiance display upgrade of the Envy 15, I would not have been looking for a new notebook. My familiarity with the pros and cons of IPS display techology led me to search for notebooks with an IPS display option. I found only a handful. I tested the waters with a Sony VAIO F-Series 3D, hoping that its heralded 3D screen would be worth the $650 charge for that option. While it was a beautiful screen in many ways, it didn’t have the clear readability I was looking for, so I quickly returned it. While I was mulling over my remaining choices, I chanced upon a forum discussion indicating that the then unreleased Envy 15 might include an IPS display option. Rather than settle for one of the few other available models with IPS displays, I decided to roll the dice on the Envy 15.
It is worth noting that I was not looking for Blu-ray support, nor did I plan to use this notebook for resource-intensive applications, such as games. If Blu-ray support is important to you, or you plan to use your notebook with the latest games, the Envy 17 may be a better choice for you. The Envy 15 has significantly reduced GPU performance compared to the Envy 17, probably since its smaller size makes it more difficult to dissipate heat quickly. In general, notebook gamers must sacrifice performance for portability and price.
Build & Design
It is difficult to find anything to complain about with regard to the Envy 15’s quality of construction and design. It feels extremely solid, all around. Opening the notebook requires exactly the right amount of force–enough to keep it closed during transport and to keep the screen in place during use. It can easily be opened with one hand, due to the weight of the base of the system chassis. When opened, tapping the screen causes it to vibrate back and forth for a few seconds, but there is no play in the hinge, and the display remains in the same position afterward. Twisting the display or system chassis requires concerted effort. In fact, the entire notebook is so rigid that one might be concerned of how well it could withstand a sudden impact (such as being dropped onto a hard surface). However, I don’t think it would be significantly more vulnerable to damage than most notebooks, and the strength of its aluminum chassis undoubtedly affords it better protection to many types of abuse.
I have seen reports of some aesthetic construction defects, such as dents near the USB ports, small scratches, or similar damage. My unit did not arrive with any cosmetic damage, though I did notice that the top right corner of the touchpad juts out slightly above the palm rest (by about the thickness of two sheets of paper), whereas the other corners are flush with or just below the surrounding palm rest. I don’t find this small misalignment noticeable during regular use, and I don’t plan to request warranty service to fix such a minor issue.
In my opinion, the single most worthwhile upgrade on this notebook is the 15.6″ Radiance Full HD Infinity display (1920 x 1080), an option which currently costs an extra $150. The only reasons I can think of for choosing the default display option (BrightView, 1366×768) is if the buyer has poor eyesight, or intends to use the Envy for frequent gaming where native-resolution FPS is very important. Either of those reasons might justify going with a lower-resolution LCD display, though with DPI scaling, there is no need to cope with extremely tiny text or menus.
Skipping the Envy 15 Radiance display upgrade is like buying a $5 bowl of ice cream, but balking at the extra fifty cents required to make it a full-fledged hot fudge sundae. With caramel and sprinkles. And whipped cream. And TWO cherries.
The Radiance display option offers twice the desktop real estate provided by the stock BrightView display, and dramatically improved viewing angles over typical notebook displays. This produces a clearer picture that is easier on the eyes, excellent for surfing the web, reading email, writing papers, and other typical “productivity” tasks. It is difficult to adequately describe the benefits of the panel’s IPS design, or to show the difference with pictures. It’s one of those qualities that becomes obvious in person, particularly when compared side-by-side to a typical notebook display. Like the Matrix, you have to see it for yourself.
While I obviously have some appreciation for the Radiance screen, it is relevant to note some ways it falls short of perfection. For one, it does not have an outstanding color gamut. I have noticed my reds looking rather orange, and greens falling short of primary green, appearing more like Kermit green. The Radiance display’s brightness is perfectly satisfactory for indoor use, but it is not going to compete with outdoor-readable screens like that on the iPad. With its glossy surface, it may be tough to use outdoors in daylight.
To demonstrate how the Envy 15 display compares to a regular TN panel display I took some comparison pictures next to my ThinkPad T61p at varying horizontal and vertical viewing angles. The Envy 15 is on the right and the ThinkPad T61p on the left in the pictures below, the T61p is taller due to its 16:10 aspect ratio, prior to the days of widescreen ubiquity:
T61p on the left, Envy 15 right at full brightness
Rotating horizontally to compare viewing
Rotating horizontally to compare viewing
Comparing vertical viewing angles
Comparing vertical viewing angles
Comparing low vertical viewing angle
The HP Envy 15’s Beats Audio system isn’t just a gimmick, it is the loudest, fullest aural experience I’ve heard from a notebook. Though even an inexpensive pair of computer speakers will put the Envy 15’s audio to shame, there is something to be said for having the ability to share music or the latest YouTube cat video with friends on the go, without everyone straining to hear. I can’t comment on the quality of the headphone outputs or microphone input, since I own no high-quality headphones or microphone with which to test them.
Processor and Performance
Since I often use my laptop with it resting on my lap, I had an anatomically motivated interest in selecting a CPU with low thermal output. I was initially concerned about how to appropriately balance power consumption with performance. Since my usage habits mean that my CPU is usually idle, my choice was easier than expected. The reason is that all of the available CPU options for the Envy 15 (even the Intel Core i5) have approximately the same idle power usage, a testament to Intel’s clever processor design. I learned this from various power consumption benchmarks of the Sandy Bridge processors:
Thus, I was free to decide which CPU features and how much speed I wanted, without worrying about the thermal output. My preferred reference was Intel’s comparison page for the four available CPU options:
I opted for the second most powerful CPU option available, the Intel Core i7-2760QM, to take advantage of its increased memory bus speed over the Intel Core i7-2670QM. Call me crazy, but I didn’t feel that the extra 0.1 GHz and 2MB CPU cache offered by the Intel Core i7-2860QM was worth $200 more. I paired it with 6MB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM, for a modest $25 increase. I heard rumors that some buyers received the 1600MHz RAM upgrade for free with their i7-2760QM or i7-2860QM purchase, but a review is no place for rumors, is it?
My thoughts on the performance of the Intel Core i7-2760QM are best summarized in the form of an interpretive dance. However, since people usually end up injured or nauseous when I dance, I’ll instead refer you to the benchmark results below. In a nutshell, installing a solid-state drive (SSD) is probably the single biggest performance boosts you can give to this notebook. With the stock 500GB 7200 RPM HDD, Windows 7 took 47+ seconds to load. With an 80GB Intel X25-M SSD, boot time dropped to 17 seconds. I must note that this wasn’t completely an apples to apples comparison. The stock drive was running HP’s Windows 7 image while the SSD was running a clean Windows 7 installation. Both disks had the latest Windows updates and used MS Security Essentials (I had uninstalled Symantec AV from the HDD).
It is also worth mentioning the switchable GPU, a neat feature offered by all current Envy models. It allows the Envy to sip power through the integrated Intel GPU during light usage, but still tackle demanding graphics processing with the discrete Radeon GPU. In its default configuration, the system will dynamically select which GPU is most appropriate, based on system load and availability of AC power. I heard somewhere that the dynamic setting might come with a cost to performance. Thus, I set the switchable GPU feature to “Fixed” in the system BIOS, and manually selected either the Intel or Radeon GPU for each benchmark.
To demonstrate how effective the SSD is in improving overall system performance I did benchmarks of the Envy 15t-3000 with varying configurations of dedicated/integrated graphics and HDD/SSD storage, here are the results for that:
PCMark Vantage Score
HP Envy 15-3000 – AMD Radeon 7690M,Intel X25-M SSD
HP Envy 15-3000 – Intel HD3000, Intel X25-M SSD
HP Envy 15-3000 – AMD Radeon 7690M,Toshiba 7200RPM HDD
HP Envy 15-3000 – Intel HD3000, Toshiba 7200RPM HDD
HP Envy 17 3D – Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 6850M 1GB, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD
SONY VAIO SA – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD 6750M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD
At idle, the Envy 15 remains only modestly above room temperature, if the integrated Intel GPU is active. It becomes a mildly warm to the touch at the bottom of the chassis, the keyboard and palm rest remain nearly at room temperature. It is certainly cool enough for reasonably comfortable use on top of one’s lap. That said, if you’re male and striving for maximum fertility, you still might consider using a lap desk. If the discrete Radeon GPU is active, the system idle temperature is a bit higher. Not so much as to make it uncomfortable on one’s lap, but enough to be noticeable.
Under any load, the system’s internal cooling fan automatically kicks in. It is audible (though quiet) at its lowest setting, and becomes significantly louder as the system speeds it up to compensate for higher loads. At its highest speed, it is loud enough to become intrusive to anyone nearby, in a quiet room. I don’t have a decibel meter to measure the actual noise level, but I would characterize it somewhere between a whisper and a loud whisper. I hope that helps.
From my experience with my old Lenovo T61p, I was expecting the Envy 15 to really heat up as it was pushed. I was quite surprised that it didn’t. It did get warmer, but not by much. Even while running HyperPI and FurMark simultaneously (to stress the CPU and GPU to their limits) the system remained comfortably warm at the bottom, with the keyboard and palm rest remaining slightly above ambient temperature. The Radeon GPU idles at about 52 degrees C and got up to about 77 degrees C before the fan brought it down to a steady 67 degrees C.
It is noteworthy that using an SSD instead of an HDD has the added benefit of keeping the system cooler, since 7200 RPM hard drives can get a bit warm during sustained disk I/O. Thus, you might expect slightly higher temperatures when using a standard HDD.
Keyboard and Touchpad
As a formerly loyal Thinkpad user, I was fairly hesitant to migrate to a chiclet style keyboard, let alone to anything but a Thinkpad keyboard. They are just a pleasure to use. I’m glad to say that the Envy 15 keyboard is pleasant enough for me, despite its different feel and key layout. Though this new layout has given me some challenges, adapting to it hasn’t been too difficult. The delete, insert, home, end, page up, and page down keys follow the top and right edges, whereas Thinkpad keyboards position them in a small rectangle at the top right. Additionally, the left Ctrl key is at the bottom left corner, with the function key to its right. This is flipped from the Thinkpad’s keyboard layout, with the function key on the left of the Ctrl key.
Pressing down firmly anywhere on the keyboard causes it to flex, particularly near the “S” key. Keystrokes made near the “S” key have a different sound than ones on the right side of the keyboard. The right side of the keyboard sounds more “solid”, probably because it is better supported. That said, the sound difference is not distracting, typing feels consistent across the entire keyboard, and it does not flex significantly under regular use.
The Envy 15’s Radiance keyboard backlighting is well implemented. When I recently tried a Sony VAIO F-series notebook, I found myself distracted by its keyboard backlighting. From even a mildly slouched position, the VAIO’s backlight LED lights were clearly visible. In the dark, this significantly interfered with the overall effectiveness of the VAIO’s backlighting. On the Envy 15, this is not the case at all. One would have to crouch almost down to the plane of the keyboard in order to see any of the backlight LEDs directly, and even then, only three of them become visible at any angle: the down arrow, backslash, and tab keys. Little light spills out from the keyboard backlighting, other than through the key symbols they are intended to illuminate.
I have seen many user complaints about the Envy 15’s multitouch capable touchpad, and some praise from users with special settings or drivers. Initially, I found the touchpad to be unreliable and frustrating to use. It seemed to get things wrong pretty often. It would miss some taps and register some when none were intended. Multitouch gestures were frequently misinterpreted or would take a noticeable amount of time to register and initiate, and often had to be repeated. I found that the touchpad’s reliability seemed to improve significantly when I installed the latest drivers for it from HP’s web site, rather than the older version from HP’s Windows image. I am currently using Synaptics driver version 18.104.22.168, dated 10/3/2011. It’s possible the improvement I noticed was imagined, and I simply got better at using the touchpad.
I’m still getting used to the touchpad, and it’s still not perfect. If I allow a finger to linger on the pad, occasionally Windows seems to flip out by rapidly cycling through open windows (browser history?) until I move away from the touchpad. This quirk has been difficult for me to reproduce, but I’ve found that it occurs multiple times each day. Two-finger scrolling works well, but not flawlessly. Occasionally, the touchpad seems to stop responding altogether for a short time (no, I’m not turning it off accidentally), and sometimes it stops registering taps and clicks while motion still works. These issues occur rarely, and the touchpad is nearly always functional and responsive, so I’m satisfied with it. Hopefully these minor creases will be ironed out in the near future. I can always investigate third-party drivers or alternatives if the glitches ever become a hassle.
Having had years of positive experience with Synaptics touchpads on Thinkpad notebooks, a poor touchpad on the Envy could have been a deal breaker for me. I’m very glad it isn’t.
Input and Output Ports
The Envy 15 comes with a refreshingly modern and complete set of ports. It lacks a VGA monitor out port, but makes up for it with an HDMI port and a DisplayPort on the right side. Also on the right are an SD-MMC card reader, an RJ-45 Gigabit LAN port, a USB 2.0 port, and a Kensington lock slot.
On the left side is the slot-loading DVD+/-R/RW drive, two USB 3.0 ports (one chargable), two stereo headphone outputs, and one microphone input.
The Envy 15 comes with Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN Wifi and Broadcom 20702 Bluetooth 4.0. I haven’t tried the Bluetooth functionality, but I’ve been very pleased with the Intel Ultimate-N Wifi. I have frequently (accidentally) disabled the wifi adapter due to the position wireless on/off switch, since it is located exactly where the “Delete” key exists on Thinkpad keyboards. When this happens, or when I boot the system or wake it from sleep, it connects or reconnects to my wireless network very quickly, often before I’m even ready to use it. I am accustomed to waiting for my wireless adapter to connect, so the fast connection time is a nice perk. It’s also worth noting that I can see several wireless networks that were previously too far away for my T61p to detect, and I’m getting better signal strength to my own. I haven’t noticed any wireless networking problems.
The HP Envy 15 comes with an internal 8-cell Li-Ion battery, which is located behind the removable back panel, along with the hard drive. However, HP’s warranty specifies that the battery is not user replaceable, even though it is obviously easy to remove. To add insult to injury, the battery (and/or HP’s power management software) doesn’t seem to allow one to set charge thresholds for it. Thus, for anyone who uses AC power most of the time (like myself), it is not feasible to prolong the lifespan of the battery by keeping it only partly charged. According to this source, Li-Ion batteries lose about 20% of their capacity every year, when kept fully charged at room temperature. They only lose about 4% per year when kept 40% charged at the same temperature. My own experience supports this, as my T61p’s 4-year old Li-Ion battery has been used daily for four years, and is still going strong with 80% of its original capacity.
Battery life of course depends on your usage patterns and system settings. To give an idea of what battery life might be under different conditions I did a couple of different battery rundown tests:
Battery Life Achieved
Screen brightness set to 50%, wireless on, Intel integrated GPU set as active, Intel Graphics Settings configured to “Maximize Battery Life”, FireFox browser open on a web page that refreshed every two minutes
5 hours 15 minutes
Screen brightness set to 50%, wireless on, Intel integrated GPU set as active, Intel Graphics Settings configured to “Maximize Battery Life”, DVD movie playing the entire time
3 hours 54 minutes
Screen brightness set to 50%, wireless on, AMD Radeon GPU set as active, “ATI Powerplay Settings” to “Maximize Battery Life”, FireFox browser open on a web page that refreshed every two minutes
2 hours 53 minutes
Obviously there’s a huge battery life advantage to using the Intel GPU, even when the AMD graphics are set to maximize battery life there’s a much larger power draw and battery life drops a whopping 45%!
I just finished the second battery life test for the Envy 15, using the Radeon GPU. I used the same settings and conditions as the previous test, except I changed the “ATI Powerplay Settings” to “Maximize Battery Life”, instead of Performance. I also set BatteryMon to sample at 30 second intervals, and it stopped logging again at 90 minutes into the test, so I’m guessing it’s an unmentioned limitation of the trial version. I’ve attached the results.
They were interesting, since this time the battery only lasted 2 hours 53 minutes until Windows hibernated at 7%. This represents a 45% decrease in battery life (or a 45% increase in power consumption?), with the Radeon GPU active and in its battery-optimized state.
The Envy 15’s 120W AC adapter has over 11 feet of cord length, with the power brick measuring 5.75″ x 2.875″ x 1″. It’s large, but reasonably thin and portable. It’s nowhere near as large as the 200W brick that came with the Sony VAIO F-series 3D I tried.
OS and Software
I ordered my Envy 15 with the cheapest OS and disk option available, since I planned to use my own copy of Windows 7 Ultimate with an Intel X25-M SSD I’d previously purchased. Right away, I burned the recovery discs (five single-layer DVD’s), then copied the 6GB C:\SWSetup folder to another two DVD’s. That folder contains all of the drivers and software installed on the system by HP’s stock image. Having these driver installers available for a fresh Windows installation will save a lot of time, especially since some important drivers (such as the graphics drivers) are not yet not even officially available online, yet.
Warranty and Customer Support
I paid for the 3-year House Call w/ Accidental Damage Protection warranty, for $157. Some spilled water accidentally killed the IPS display in my old Lenovo R51, and I couldn’t stand the same to happen to the only affordable desktop replacement notebook I found with an IPS display! Who knows how long HP will continue to offer the Radiance display on the Envy 15. Supply problems seem to be a recurring issue with IPS display panels.
I haven’t yet had any experience with HP’s customer support, so I can’t comment on it. I hear they offer relatively good support. Lenovo never failed to impress me with their warranty support, I’m hoping HP will do the same.
Above all other things, I was looking for a laptop with a very readable high-resolution display, a good keyboard, and a good touchpad. The Envy 15 successfully delivers these (with its Radiance display upgrade), along with excellent performance all around. Photography buffs and artists might want to steer clear of the Envy 15, due to the Radiance display’s low color gamut. Gamers might want to consider the Envy 17 for its mobile gaming performance. Movie buffs might want to seek a system with an internal Blu-ray drive option. Anyone else who is seeking a stylish, powerful, and portable desktop replacement, you will likely be very pleased with the Envy 15. Treat your Envy 15 to an SSD for significant performance gains. And one last time, do not to skip the Radiance display upgrade unless you know exactly why you don’t want it.
Excellent performance for the price (after rebates)
15.6″ Radiance Full HD Infinity display option
Switchable integrated/discrete GPU provides power savings
Loud sound system, for a notebook
Well built, attractive design
No Blu-ray drive option
Minor cosmetic build defects reported
Loud cooling fan when using demanding applications
Warranty specifies that the (easily-removed) internal battery is not end-user replaceable
Power manager does not offer customizable charging thresholds