HP Envy m4 Review – A Windows 8 Equipped Laptop

The Envy m4 is a new 14” notebook from HP that goes on sale this Fall, just about the time of the Windows 8 release  at the end of October. That makes sense as the m4 will come with Windows 8 as the default OS. The m4 is a middle of the road offering.  It’s not intended to be a top of the line model and have the price tag that goes with it, nor a bargain item either. What the m4 does give its buyers is a 14” notebook in an aluminum case with easily exchangeable parts like memory/hard drive, a swappable battery and an almost unknown these days, a DVD-RW drive. Read on below to see if the Envy m4 and Windows 8 makes a suitable choice for you.

HP ENVY m4

Specs

Here are the specifications of the Envy m4 model under review:

  • Operating System: Windows 8 (64-bit)
  • Processor: Intel 2.9GHz Core i7-3520M(3.6GHz Turbo) 35w
  • Memory: 8GB DDR 1333MHz(16GB Max)
  • Hard Drives: 1TB Toshiba 5400RPM
  • Screen: 14.0” 1366×768 Glossy LED LCD
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4000 Integrated
  • Optical Drive: DVD-RW
  • Network: Realtek Ethernet and Ralink RT3290 BGN WiFi Card
  • Inputs: Six Row 82 Key Island Style Keyboard with Touchpad and Buttons
  • Ports and Slots: Three USB 3.0 – Two Left Side and One Right Side, Ethernet, VGA/HDMI, Combo Headphone/Microphone Jack, SD Card Reader
  • Battery: Nine-Cell
  • Dimensions w/ Nine-Cell: Width 13.67”, Depth 8.33” and Height .95”(Front)/1.75”(Rear)
  • Weight: 4.8 Pounds
  • Warranty: One Year

Design and Build

Envy m4 screen

The Envy m4 comes mostly in a brushed aluminum case. The aluminum has a smooth cool feel to it and looks good. The bottom and LCD bezel are black plastic with the LCD bezel being glossy. The m4 has a clean understated look to it. Our review unit came in silver, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a black version of the m4 too. It has a small HP logo in the upper corner, but is otherwise unadorned. The minimal look continues when you open the m4, where you you get a keyboard, touch pad and power button, but there’s no other buttons cluttering things up. I was sure the m4 was five plus pounds when I picked it up the first time, but the m4 with the nine-cell battery tipped the scales at 4.8 pounds. While that’s not featherweight for the segment, it’s admirable considering the larger battery. The LCD on the m4 has a thick bezel that makes it a bit wider than usual. A more narrow bezel would have allowed for a smaller less weighty notebook.

HP Envy m4 lid

While the m4 is not a business class notebook, it nonetheless feels pretty well put together. I could pick it up by the side without complaint, there was no creaking or bending of the case. Time will tell if the m4 holds up to the abuse that a frequently traveled notebook typically endures. Pressing on the lid can produce ripples, but it looks well protected. You’d have to hit it pretty hard to cause damage, not that I’d advocate doing so. The screen was solid during use. It never moved. The screen also felt stiff when opening and closing the m4. Fit and finish were also good. There were no mysterious gaps or misaligned parts.

Display and Audio

The Envy m4 uses a 14” LED glossy screen with a 1366×768 resolution. I’d guess the brightness on the screen to be about 300 nits. The brightness appears to be pretty close to my ThinkPad X220i and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon I have right now, both of which are rated at 300 nits. The bottom brightness setting is quite usable. There is a small amount of backlight bleed on the bottom of the screen, but it’s mostly only noticeable when booting the machine where the screen is black. The glare on the m4 is not the worst I’ve seen by any means, but reflections can be an issue if there’s a light source nearby. The plus side of getting a glossy screen is, the screen looks pretty good as colors are vivid and lush. Photos and movies are enjoyable to view. Viewing angles aren’t IPS like, but I found a decent sweet spot where if I didn’t fidget too much, the screen was pleasant. Perhaps a bump up in resolution to fit more stuff on the screen, like we saw on the Pavilion dm4t, would have been nice. Despite the lower resolution, the screen is a plus compared to others with a similar price vying for your dollars.

Envy m4 front view Envy m4 tilted back
Envy m4 screen tilted forward Envy m4 side view

The Envy m4 is a Beats Edition notebook. That means you’ll be getting a subwoofer in addition to the two standard speakers. The subwoofer is located on the bottom of the Envy m4. The sound is decent enough, but don’t expect to anything better than a good clock radio. The subwoofer allows for a bit of bass. The sound is clean and loud, but it can’t belie its notebook origins as it’s a bit tinny, but good enough for music or videos. The m4 is on the better side of average in terms of the sound quality for a notebook.

CPU, Performance and Storage

With the Intel Core-i7 CPU and 8G of DDR3 memory, the m4 is no slouch in the performance department. The Core i7-3520 is the top mobile dual core CPU being offered right now by Intel. Sadly for me, the i7-3520 approaches the performance of my two year old six-core desktop. The m4 will be available with a Core i5 processor too, for those who want keep the cost down. Using the i7 equipped m4 was a breeze. Nothing I threw at it from applying Photoshop filters to running benchmarks to watching 1080p video caused it any trouble. We ran Futuremark’s PCMark 7 to get an idea of how the m4 stacked up. As you’ll see from the scores, the m4 did very nicely even when compared to other larger performance gaming laptops. I suspect people buying the m4 won’t be pushing it much. Typical usage won’t see a large benefit from the better CPU, but for those who want it, it’s there.

Laptop PCMark 7 Score
HP Envy m4, Intel Core i7-3520M, 8GB RAM, Intel HD4000, 5400RPM HD 2,319 PCMarks
HP dv7t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 5400RPM HD 2,660 PCMarks
HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD 2,877 PCMarks
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 2,703 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y570 – Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia 555M 1GB, 8GB RAM,5400RPM HD 2,573 PCMarks
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 1,995 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 2,002 PCMarks

The weakest link in the performance chain on the m4 is the hard drive. It’s a 1TB drive so there’s lots of space for photos and movies, but it’s also a slow spinning 5400RPM drive, which means slower latency and throughput as compared to a faster 7200RPM or SSD. Boot time was just under a minute and application launch times weren’t quite as snappy as a faster drive or SSD, which is not unexpected. Fortunately, HP makes the drive easy to upgrade. Removing one screw on the bottom of the notebook gives you access to both the hard drive and both memory slots. On the downside, there’s only one drive bay and no mSATA option for the m4. If you want to upgrade to a SSD, that will boost performance, but limit your storage capacity.

The m4 comes with the Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics card. It’s pretty good for an integrated GPU, offering almost twice the performance of the HD 3000 found on Sandy Bridge models. It is still an integrated GPU, which means you’re best off sticking to older games or low settings when gaming.

Keyboard and Touchpad

HP Envy m4 keyboard

The keyboard on the Envy m4 is an island style keyboard. It uses black keys, which is a nice contrast to the silver case. The keys are made of a medium grade plastic and are little bit slippery to the touch. The keyboard is somewhat spongy with a bit of a bounce to it when using it. This is amplified by the fact the key depth is shallow. It seems as soon as you touch the key, you’re already at the bottom of the stroke. It seems odd that the keyboard would offer so little depth. This is not an Ultrabook, where some shallowness is expected due to the thinness. The dm4t we reviewed in February was quite a bit better in this regard. Being that this is a pre-production model, hopefully HP will iron out out some of these kinks. The keyboard is about ¾ of inch wider than I’m used to with my ThinkPad, with the bounce and the wider than I’m used to keyboard size, I found it a little more difficult to get into a rhythm when using the keyboard. Some of that is the unfamiliarity of it, which a buyer would acclimate to over time, but some of it is it could be better too.

The touch pad is on the m4 is very rectangular, measuring 3.6”x1.6”. It’s medium sized, not tiny like the ThinkPad X230 nor huge like the MacBook Air. It is not a clickpad and has its own separate mouse buttons. The surface of the touch pad is smooth and it requires little effort to drag your finger across it. There’s no lag or hesitation while using the touch pad. The touch pad has all the gestures buyers have come to expect on a new notebook these days like two finger scrolling and pinch to zoom, and they work well for the most part. I wouldn’t say there’s anything extraordinary about the m4 touch pad, but it’s serviceable enough. The touch pad buttons are a bit on the small side, but at least they’re there. They are also a bit noisy when using. Pressing down on a button that you hear as well as feel. I personally don’t like this, but I don’t think most would notice it. I guess the buyer will have to decide on that point.

Battery

9-cell battery on Envy m4

Our review unit came with a nine-cell battery, but there will be a six-cell battery option too and it should sit mostly flush with the back/bottom of the notebook. The battery is swappable on the m4, meaning it’s easy to upgrade or replace down the road. The nine-cell sticks out from the bottom of the m4 in a downward fashion, raising the rear almost inch or so. It does make for a more comfortable typing position when using the m4 at a desk or table, but if you’re lazing on the couch, the battery does become noticeable when the m4 is resting in your lap. One nice feature is the battery has charge indicator lights that are on the battery itself. They’ll give a rough estimate of the battery life remaining on the laptop and the battery doesn’t need to be in the machine to check it. Being that the nine-cell battery has a higher wattage than the smaller six-cell option, it should offer long battery life. To test the battery on the m4 I fully charged the battery, put the notebook in power saver mode, set the screen brightness to half and turned WiFi on. I just did normal stuff like listen to music, type up some documents, watch some movies and did my best to figure out Windows 8. Using those settings I was able to get six hours and 50 minutes of battery life before the system went to sleep. While that’s a couple hours short of the T430 I reviewed last month, it’s still a respectable number. If you’re willing to use the screen at a lower brightness level, the bottom brightness setting on the m4 is still very usable unlike the T430, you should be able eke out some more time from the Envy m4.

Battery

Heat & Noise

The Envy m4 does a pretty good job a pretty good job of keeping itself cool, whether it’s just getting a light workout or running more CPU intensive tasks. The keyboard and deck remain cool to the touch. The bottom does get a little warmer, but it’s not uncomfortable. Our review unit, which has the nine-cell battery that raises the rear some, probably helped keep it cool as the raised rear allows air to flow through the underside. The one spot that got warmer is the very front where the notebook rests on a surface. It seems unusual that would be the place it gets the hottest as there’s not much there to heat up, but there it did. The fan on the m4 is a constant. It’s noticeable whether you’re just surfing the web or running the CPU near full capacity. It’s low to medium decibel level that can be drowned out with music or conversation, but if you’re alone in the room and need quiet, it’s there.

Ports and Networking

The m4 is not a bottom of the barrel notebook, but then again, it’s not a high-end notebook either. Given those constraints, HP does a pretty good job of giving its buyers most of the post they’ll need. The left side of the notebook has VGA connector, HDMI, two USB ports and a combo headphone microphone jack.

Left side ports

The right side of the m4 has the DVDRW drive, USB port, an Ethernet port and the power connector.

Envy m4 right side

The card reader is on the left front of the m4.

Envy m4 front side

The connection options for the m4 are WiFi and Ethernet. I would expect Bluetooth to be an option as well, but the review unit did not have it. The WiFi card in the m4 is a Ralink card. I used it at home and work with no trouble. I even managed to pick up a few unknown networks at home I hadn’t seen before. All Envy m4 models will come with Ethernet for those who need a faster connection.

Software

Microsoft’s Windows OS has been a hugely successful product, but the times they are a changin’, at least that’s what Dylan said. More and more people are using smaller devices like tablets and smartphones to complete tasks that have traditionally been done on a PC – like web surfing, playing games and consuming media to name a few. Microsoft must grapple with this reality or face irrelevancy. Windows 8 is Microsoft’s answer to this problem. Normally, we don’t spend much time on the software in our reviews since most notebooks come with Windows and don’t vary much on the software side except for which bloatware is installed, but since the Envy m4 offered us our first taste of Windows 8 at LaptopReviews, we thought a paragraph or a few was in order.

I hadn’t been paying much attention to Windows 8. I had recently upgraded all my PCs to Windows 7 and didn’t want to take the time to install the Windows 8 beta. I went in with an open mind. If anything, I probably had a more positive outlook as I had just acquired a Windows 7 phone. I liked the big blocks and lettering on Windows 7 phone compared to the smaller icons and text you see in iOS or Android. When I first started to use Windows 8, my inner curmudgeon came out in force. It was new and different, and I didn’t like it. It took me some time to figure things like how to get to the desktop, open explorer or even how to power the machine off, but I think that’s a natural reaction to dislike something that’s significantly new that’s changed a much used and liked product. Ask longtime ThinkPad owners how much they like the new island style keyboards that now come on all ThinkPads.

The more I used Windows 8, the more I came to the conclusion that it’s mostly like Windows 7, but with one big change, the start screen, and some other smaller modifications that don’t change the essence of Windows, but will take some time to get used to. What’s the start screen you ask? The best way I can describe it is it’s the start button grafted onto the desktop. You still get a desktop, which you can easily get to using the Windows key, but when you log into Windows, you go directly to the start screen. This is where the made for tablets part comes in. The start screen has most of the things you’d find on the start button, but they’re now right on the desktop(start screen) in large blocks with big easy to read text that will be easy to flick through on a tablet. The start screen is highly customizable. If you install a program and want it on the start screen, it’s easy to do as is removing ones you don’t want. There are also some other changes, too numerous to mention, that will take some adjustment, but are not as impactful as the start screen. One example would be Microsoft has adopted the ribbon style menus found in recent versions of Office in explorer. The ribbon menu offers more information and choices, but again, it’s new and will take some time getting accustomed to using.

Overall, I liked Windows 8. Having all my stuff right there after I’ve logged in is very appealing. That works well whether you’re using a tablet or a more traditional PC. I must say it’s very odd having no start button on the desktop after it’s been there for so long. There are still some procedural aspects to Windows 8 that need to be worked out. Powering down is one of the most common tasks people perform with their notebooks. It used to be a simple matter hitting the start button and shutdown, but it has now devolved into a multi-click journey that’s far longer than needed. Maybe Microsoft thinks PCs should be put to sleep instead of shutdown. I also found getting to the file explorer confusing, there’s no box by default on the start screen for explorer. There other lots of other idiosyncrasies I could point out, we could really spend the whole review on Windows 8, but we’re here to talk about the m4. I don’t think we’ll get a real sense of how Windows 8 will pan out until it’s released to the public this October, but I’ll look forward to getting a PC with Windows 8.

Conclusion

The Envy m4 seems to be a well put together package. For your money you get an attractive, decently built notebook that with a 9-cell battery that should offer long battery life. You also get a notebook with a good screen for the segment, has easily swappable parts such as the the battery and hard drive/memory, and DVDRW drive. At 4.8 pounds, the m4 isn’t the lightest in the segment, but still should offer good portability for its buyers. To me the biggest complaints about the Envy m4 is the noisy fan and the bouncy and rather shallow keyboard. If those are deal breakers for you, you should try to get a look at it before buying. The price isn’t set in stone right now, but it should start at just under $999. If HP can keep the price on the lower side, the Envy m4 will offer a ton of value.

Pros

  • Good Build Quality
  • Above Segment Screen
  • Easy Upgrades for Memory and Hard Drive
  • Swappable Battery
  • Lots of Ports with USB 3.0
  • Pleasing Design
  • Portable
  • Long Battery life
  • For Me, Windows Eight

Cons

  • Shallow/Bouncy Keyboard
  • Noisy Fan
  • LCD Bezel Too Wide
6 comments

How to Shut Down a Windows 8 Laptop

imageWhile the title of this article might seem ridiculous, it’s really not a joke, the Windows 8 interface is going to be a big change and it’s already been demonstrated that “average users” (such as Chris Pirillo’s Dad) might be left with their heads spinning just trying to figure out how to open a program.  Another one of those tasks that has changed is the simple act of turning off or putting to sleep your laptop.  The Windows Start button that’s been there since Windows XP is now gone and there’s no way to get it back, so the simple act of clicking “Start > Shut Down” doesn’t work.  While you can huff and puff all you want as to how ridiculous this is, Microsoft isn’t backing down and insist once users get used to the changes it will be more intuitive and natural to use than any previous Windows release, and it will of course work well for tablets and touchscreens on which the Start button is kind of awkward to use.  So, adapt or die as they say, Windows 8 will soon be the only OS available on PC laptops come 2013 and you’ll need to know how to turn it off.

First we offer a video that shows a few ways of how to perform the shut down of a Windows 8 laptop:

How to Shut Down or Sleep a Windows 8 Laptop

Watching the video is the surest way to learn how to do this, but here’s a written explanation for the four most straight forward methods:

  1. Drag your cursor over to the right side of the screen, a bar will pop out called the “Charms Bar”, click on the settings icon shaped like a gear and a few more icons will pop out one of which is a power icon, left click on that power icon and it’ll ask if you want to shut down, restart or sleep.
  2. Hold down the Windows Key + “I” at the same time to open up a panel that again has a power icon on it that you can use to shut down the laptop.
  3. Hold down Alt + “F4” key and a dialog box will pop up that gives you the option to shut down, restart or put to sleep the laptop.
  4. Log out of your profile by going to the home screen (screen with tiles), to get to the tiles screen from your desktop you need to drag the cursor to the lower left corner of the screen.  Once on the tiles screen click on the user profile icon in the top right corner and choose to sign out.  After you have signed out there’s an option to power off the laptop on the lower right side of the profile screen.

There’s also a way to configure your Windows 8 laptop so that it shuts down or goes to sleep when you simply close the lid.  To do this you need to go to your Control Panel, which is a chore to find in and of itself.  You need to right click in the lower left corner of the screen to bring up a menu with a shortcut to the Control Panel.  From within the Control Panel go to Power Options and then System Settings, once there you can configure what your laptop does when you close the lid or push the power button.  You can configure it so that that doing either will properly shut down the laptop or put it into hibernate. 

Windows 8 Control Panel

For those who are trying to decide whether they want to wait for Windows 8 to buy a laptop or get one now with Windows 7, my recommendation is to simply buy something you can find that fits your needs now and then if you want to upgrade to Windows 8 later you can do so for only $14.99 by purchasing the upgrade from the Windows Upgrade Offer website Microsoft is operating.  You can get the $14.99 Windows 8 upgrade for any laptop purchased between June 2, 2012 and January 31, 203.  The offer lasts until February 28, 2013 so you have a while to decide whether you’d want to upgrade and see how initial reactions are to the Windows 8 OS.  Obviously there are a lot of changes and some might simply be more comfortable using Windows 7 for the next few years, even if it isn’t the latest OS.

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New HP Coupons for 33% Off Pavilion and ENVY Performance Laptops!

It’s here!  The much awaited 33% off coupon that works for the HP Pavilion dv6t and dv7t Quad Edition laptops along with the ENVY 15 and 17 configure to order models.  Here are the details on this new 33% off coupon that can save you 1/3 of your money:

The dv6t-7000 Quad Edition can be configured with high end specs of an Nvidia 650m 1GB card, Intel Core i7-3610QM processor,  1920 x 1080 Full HD display and 750GB 7200RPM storage for $914.54 after using the NBY9121 33% off coupon, here’s a screenshot of my cart after using that coupon:

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The dv7t-7000 Quad Edition with this same configuration as the dv6t is $1,028.44 after the 33% off coupon:

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If you had your heart set on the Envy 15t-3200, you can get a nice configuration with a Core i7-3610QM, AMD 7750M graphics and 1920 x 1080 radiance display for $1,075 after the 33% off coupon

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Excellent deals all around here for this week!  Obviously the 33% off coupon is best for those that want a high end configuration because the more you spend, the more you save.  For instance, a laptop that’s $1500 before coupon gets $495 off after coupon bringing the total to an actual $1,005.

The other notable coupon currently available via HP is the Free XBox 360 with the purchase of any HP PC that’s priced $699 or more, here are the details on that coupons:

  • Get a Free XBox 360 when you select any HP laptop or desktop priced $699 or more. Use this link and then at check apply coupon code XBOX360 at http://shopping.hp.com/FreeXbox360 to get the deal. Expires on 9/8/2012. If you don’t need the free XBox you can always sell it on Amazon or eBay for around $160 and treat it like a discount!
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Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 Vs. Apple MacBook Air 13” Comparison (Video)

Two of the hottest Ultrabooks on the market right now, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Apple MacBook Air 2012, happened to be in my hands at the same time, so a comparison was irresistible.  What better medium than to use video to do that:

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs Apple MacBook Air 13” (2012)

For those who have YouTube blocked at work or prefer the written word we also offer good old plain text summary discussion below.

Design Build

The Apple MacBook Air is constructed of aluminum while the ThinkPad Carbon X1 uses – surprise, carbon fiber.  Apple has a unibody design so the exoskeleton is really what provides the overall rigidity, think of it as a crab – the hard protective layer on the outside and then all the important juicy (components) inside.  The ThinkPad X1 Carbon meanwhile uses an internal carbon fiber built roll cage to help protect internals.  Carbon fiber is known for its light weight yet rigid qualities, it’s not the first time it’s been used in a laptop, Sony in the past has used it in several premium VAIO laptop models.  Thanks to the rigid materials used in both the MacBook Air and ThinkPad X1 the feel is rock solid for both.  There’s really no give to the case in any area for either laptop.  The one downside to the aluminum on the MacBook Air is that it’s prone to scratching.  If you have a metal wristband watch for instance you might want to be careful, I’ve put a few nicks in the casing when I’ve forgotten to remove my metal banded watch while typing.  For this reason I prefer the Carbon Fiber used in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon – it’s not only very durable feeling, but also more resistant to scratches.

ThinkPad Carbon X1 alongside Apple MacBook Air

With regards to overall design, it’s tough to call one more attractive than the other as the ThinkPad appeals more to business types while Apple is more prosumer targeted (though Apple is making inroads into enterprise computing settings).  The MacBook Air definitely set the precedent for minimalist design and an industrial look.  While no one would accuse the ThinkPad X1 of copying the MacBook Air design, Lenovo has definitely been affected by Apple with the design.  The “cleaner” six-row chiclet style keyboard on the X1 Carbon is certainly Apple-esque.  The oversized glass touchpad on the X1 is a page out of the Apple playbook too.  Finally, the fact that Apple started standardizing the backlit keyboard across its notebooks has forced PC manufacturers like Lenovo to follow suit.  That aside, I think you’ll turn more heads when using the MacBook Air as the design is more recognized along with the brand.  The ThinkPad Carbon X1 from a distance looks like any other ThinkPad, it’s black and boxy, I doubt it would impress a walker by in an airport unless they looked hard to see how thin it is.  Sure carbon fiber is impressive, but you can’t ogle it exactly.

Screen

MacBook Air Vs ThinkPad X1 Carbon Screen

The ThinkPad Carbon X1 has a 1600 x 900 resolution 14” screen while the Apple MacBook Air 13” has a 1440 x 900 resolution screen.  Both have nice and bright screens with vivid colors.  However, neither use the IPS technology you get in the Apple iPad that offers very wide viewing angles.  For that reason, if you tilt the screens back you get distorted coloration such as you see in the below picture (ThinkPad Carbon X1 on the left and Apple MacBook Air on the right in all pictures):

MacBook Air Vs ThinkPad X1 Carbon Screen

The best viewing angle is of course straight on for a laptop, but you can measure the quality of a screen by seeing how colors appear from wide angles.  Here’s how the screens look on both when tilted forward and then from off to the side:

MacBook Air Vs ThinkPad X1 Carbon Screen tilted forward

MacBook Air Vs ThinkPad X1 Carbon Screen side view

Overall the screen quality and viewing angles are pretty much even on these laptops, neither offers a clear advantage in quality.  However, the Lenovo X1 Carbon does have a higher resolution enabling you to fit more on the screen so it could get a slight advantage nod here.  Other reviews have mentioned some graininess to the ThinkPad X1 screen, but we didn’t notice such a thing on ours.

Weight and Thickness

The Apple MacBook Air is slightly thinner than the X1 Carbon:

Thickness comparison of Apple MacBook Air and X1 Carbon

The MacBook Air is 0.68” at its thickest point while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 0.74” thick.  Side by side you can notice this slight difference, in practical terms though both are so thin that you won’t notice much of a difference in day-to-day usage.

The weight of these machines is about the same.  The MacBook Air 13” weighs in at 2.96lbs while the ThinkPad X1C is 2.99lbs, you’ll hardly be able to notice that difference.  So for all intents and purposes what you have is a tie here, but if you sweat the minute details then the Apple MacBook Air would win the contest of thinnest and lightest between the two.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on both models are chiclet style, I’m not sure there’s any new laptop that isn’t these days.  Both keyboards are nice, but the legendary ThinkPad keyboard feels better to type on.  The MacBook Air doesn’t offer quite the same amount of key travel.   Furthermore, the X1 Carbon offers a pointing stick, the MacBook Air does not.  Both offer an oversized glass surface touchpad with multi-gesture abilities that are great to use, I’d still say the MacBook Air touchpad is a bit more responsive and nicer to use.  My preference is with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon for the keyboard, but the touchpad on the MacBook Air is still tops – though just barely.

Ports

Here’s a comparison of the ports you get on each laptop:

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Apple MacBook Air
Ports
  • One USB 3.0 SuperSpeed
  • One USB 2.0 charged port
  • Mini DisplayPort with audio
  • SD Card reader
  • headphone
  • Two USB 3 ports
  • Thunderbolt port
  • SD card reader
  • headphone

The MacBook Air gets a slight edge here for the fact it has a faster ThunderBolt port and two USB 3.0 ports compared to just one on the X1 Carbon.  Here’s a look at where each port is located:

Left side MacBook Air is a USB 3.0 and headphone port, the X1 has a USB 3.0 port

Left side ports

Right side the MacBook Air has an SD card slot, USB 3.0 and ThunderBolt port.  The X1 has an SD card reader, headphone jack, Mini DisplayPort and USB 3.0 port.

Right side ports

And here’s a look at the front sides and back sides where there are no ports on either.  Notice how thin the MacBook Air gets at the front, it’s got a very sloped profile compared to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Front side

Back side

Performance

The configuration abilities for components is almost exactly the same for both the X1 Carbon and MacBook Air.  You can get up to a Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor (undervolted), 256GB SSD and up to 8GB of RAM.  For this reason there’s no real huge performance advantage for either related to components, the OS will be a bigger factor in how fast you get things done.  Mac OS X generally gets the nod for being faster than Windows and more secure.  If you’re just using a laptop for things like web surfing or spreadsheet work it’s not going to really matter what processor you have or which machine you’re using, both will be more than powerful enough for all business and school productivity tasks.

Battery Life

The ThinkPad Carbon X1 gave me 5 hours and 43 minutes of battery life with screen brightness set to 5/15 and just surfing the web.  The MacBook Air can get up to 6 hours 30 minutes under similar usage so the Apple machine wins in this category.

Conclusion

If you watched the video, my conclusion here is the same as there.  There is no winner, both are great laptops and it really boils down to whether you’re a Mac OS X or Windows user.  Of course the Windows Vs. Mac OS debate is not even touched upon, that’s a whole different debate and too vast to get into for this comparison of machines.  In regards to design, build and overall features, there are areas where the MacBook Air wins and some where the ThinkPad X1 Carbon wins.  You just have to look at what the pros and cons are and how they fit into your usage needs and go with one or the other based on that – you can’t go too far wrong as there’s a lot to like about both.

Pricing and Availability

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HP Envy 4 and Envy 6 $100 Off Coupon, Pricing Starts at $485 for Students!

Here’s an incredible deal via the HP Academy program, you can get either the HP ENVY 6z or 4t Sleekbook for $100 off with coupon code NBE1983.  This means the ENVY 6z-1000 costs just $485 after the coupon code and the Envy 4t-1000 costs $485 after the NBE1983 coupon.  Here’s how to get the deal:

  1. Fist sign in or sign up for the HP Academy program here, it’s open to students, parents or alums.
  2. Click the “Shop Now” button to find the Envy 4t, Envy 6z and Envy 6t Sleekbooks
  3. Configure the model you choose, then at checkout enter coupon “NBE1983” to get a $100 discount on the already reduced student pricing

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Let’s take a look at a couple of example configurations you can get.  The Envy 6z-1000 is $485.99 with the following specs:

  • Processor: AMD Dual-Core A6-4455M Processor (2.6GHz/2.1GHz, 1MB L2 Cache) + HD 7500G Discrete-Class Graphics
  • Memory: 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 System Memory (1 Dimm)
  • Storage: 320GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • 15.6″ diagonal High Definition HP BrightView LED Display (1366 x 768)

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The Intel powered Envy 4t meanwhile starts at $583.99 with the following specs

  • Intel Core i3-2377M Processorm(1.5 GHz) + Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Memory: 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 System Memory (1 Dimm)
  • Storage: 500GB 5400 rpm Hard Drive
  • 14.0″ diagonal HD BrightView LED-backlit Display (1366 x 768)

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Both of these laptops are great choices for portable student work machines.  You can check out our review of the HP ENVY 4 here and a review of the HP Envy 6t here to find out more details about each!

Links

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Now up for Sale, Starts at $1,249

The eagerly awaited ThinkPad X1 Carbon is now available for order on Lenovo.com for the starting price of $1,249.  The base configuration of the X1 Carbon comes with an Intel Core i5 2.60GHz processor, 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM.   You can spend up to $1,879 in order to get a more powerful version with a Core i7 3.20GHz processor, 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM.  All versions of the X1 come with a standard 14.0” 1600 x 900 resolution matte screen, there are no necessary upgrades for that higher resolution screen that costs extra on other 14” ThinkPads such as the T430.

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For those unfamiliar with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, you might be wondering why the pricing seems so high.  The X1 is a premium business Ultrabook style laptop that Lenovo is touting as the ultimate ThinkPad.  There’s definitely a lot to like about it, the 14” 1600 x 900 screen is gorgeously bright with a measured brightness of 300 nits.  The weight comes in at exactly 3lbs and it’s a mere 0.74-inches thin, making it one of the thinnest and lightest 14” laptops on the market and highly portable.   Ports include a mini DisplayPort, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, 4-in-1 media card reader and a dual headphone/microphone jack.  Battery life comes it at around 6 hours, unfortunately there’s no ability to add an extra battery or boost battery life in any way.  The X1 is also missing a docking connector, but you can instead use the ThinkPad USB 3.0 port replicator that Lenovo recently released to plug into the USB 3.0 port on the X1 and extend the number of ports available.  If you’re interested in seeing a comparison of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon to the Apple MacBook Air (and who isn’t) check out the video we put together:

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs. Apple MacBook Air Comparison

 

Where to Buy:

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HP ENVY 17-3200 3D Review

Being one of the first to enter the 3D gaming market, HP is no stranger to the new technology, having released several versions of the Envy 17 3D. Though they started with the first generation of Intel Core processors, HP now sells an Envy 17-3200 version with the latest Ivy Bridge CPUs and AMD Radeon graphics to power the big, bright 3D display. Starting at $1,599.99 on HP’s website, the Envy 17 3D can be configured with up to an Intel Core i7-3280QM processor, Radeon HD 7850M graphics, 16GB 1600MHz RAM, and 2TB of drive space.  With those kind of specs, the HP Envy 17 3D vies to become your one-stop shop for a home entertainment machine.

HP Envy 17-3200 3D

Before we go any further, we’d like to thank the HP Academy program for sending us the Envy 17t-3200 to evaluate.  Those students looking for a dorm room entertainment machine to replace a bulky TV, Blu-Ray and video game console setup will probably find this notebook of interest.  Engineering students might also find the dedicated graphics a real boon for 3D design work along with a productivity boost due to the generous Full HD screen that allows you to fit multiple windows at once.  You can get a discount on the ENVY 17 via the HP APP (Academic Purchase Program).

The Envy 17-3200 3D under review comes with the following specs:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3612QM
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 7850M with 1GB GDDR5 memory
  • Display: 17.3” 1920 x 1080 resolution, glossy finish, 3D
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Storage: 80GB Intel 310 SSD + Seagate Momentus Spinpoint M8 1TB HDD
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion, 87.9 Whr
  • Wireless: Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 b/g/n
  • Ports: Ethernet, HDMI, DisplayPort (x2), USB 3.0 (x4), headphone jack (x2), microphone jack, SHDC media card reader
  • Optical Drive: Blu-Ray/DVD/CD reader
  • Dimensions: 16.37 x 10.66 x 1.28 in (W x D x H)
  • Weight: 7.37lbs (3.34kg)
  • Warranty: Standard 2 year depot

Build and Design

At just over seven pounds, the Envy 17 3D is nearly half a pound heavier than the dv7t-7000 that we’ve previously reviewed. This is for the most part due to the extra metal used in the laptop, with the whole body being covered in a smooth, black metal finish on the lid and bottom, and light grey on the inside. There is no design pattern on the back like other HP laptops, just the glowing HP logo. Once a user starts using it though, the lid picks up fingerprints and smudges easily, so regular cleaning will be required to keep it looking new. Quality-wise, the Envy 17 3D is built like a tank when comparing it to other consumer-class laptops. There’s absolutely no flex on the palm rest and keyboard, the display will only flex by a millimeter or two when pressing between the hinges, and twisting the corners of the display only result in a few millimeters of distortion.

HP Envy 17t-3200 lid

Just like other Envy laptops, HP has a clear and simple design for the current Envy 17t-3200 3D. There are only two stickers on the palm rest, those being Windows and Intel.  There are no separate media buttons to crowd the area between the keyboard and the display, and the touchpad is only slightly recessed — there’s a very slight rise between the touch surface and the rest of the palm rest. HP has turned back to older laptop designs with the use of a volume dial located on the right edge of the laptop, this allows for finer control of the audio volume compared to rocker bar or up/down buttons for volume other laptops use.

Fingerprints tend to build up

Keyboard and Touchpad

HP Envy 17t-3200 keyboard, plain and simple

Sporting a light blue backlight, the Envy 17 3D is ready for use night and day. It’s bright enough to easily find your way around the keys, but not so bright as to blind the user. The keyboard is not too bad for one that has flat keys, and the number pad is sure to please users that work with numbers often (such as in Excel). One interesting feature of the backlit keyboard is that when not in use, it will turn off the lights in cascading order; the top two rows turn off, and then middle two, and finally the bottom two. The same happens in reverse when the backlight is turned back on. The Envy 17 3D uses the same keyboard as the Pavilion dv7t-7000, so many of the points made in that review will apply here as well.

HP Envy 17t-3200 backlit keyboard

What differentiates the Envy keyboard from the Pavilion the most is the touchpad. Unlike the mentioned Pavilion, the Envy 17 3D comes with no physical buttons to speak of. Instead, the whole touchpad is clickable, with the top portion being one giant left-click, the bottom-left corner also being left-click, and the bottom right being right-click. At the top left of the trackpad is a neat feature to turn off the touchpad. Double tap on this corner and an orange light turns on next to the touchpad to indicate that the touchpad is turned off; double tap again and it turns back on. Along with that, the touchpad supports several finger gestures, including two-finger scrolling (both vertical and horizontal), pinch zoom in/out, and three-finger, picture rotation, and more. They can be adjusted by going to Start, enter “mouse” in the search field, selecting the Mouse control panel > Device Settings > Synaptic ClickPad and then clicking on Settings.

Display

All Envy 17 3D laptops come with a Full HD 1080p display that gives the user plenty of desktop real estate to work with. Images are crisp and colors pop out. Tilting the display as far back as it goes (120 degrees) means the display darkens slightly but colors do not invert. Tilt it forward and glare from the backlit keyboard and any surrounding light sources will make the display hard to see. Aside from glare from lights in a room, viewing from either side doesn’t suffer from any issues common on most laptops, which is good since HP intends this to be an entertainment laptop for not only the user, but as well as any friends around (as indicated by the dual headphone jacks). While the screen is not IPS quality, it’s better than the TN panels found in less expensive laptops.

Envy 17t-3200 display Envy 17t-3200 display tilted back
Envy 17t-3200 display tilted forward Envy 17t-3200 display side view

The major reason for buying this laptop is the 3D qualities of the display, so how does that perform? HP ships the Envy 17 3D with two 3D demos in CyberLink PowerDVD, one being the trailer for Madagascar 3 and the other being a video of wildlife in 3D, and also includes a pair of 3D shutter glasses with the laptop (separately, they cost $100). Watching the trailer with the laptop on my lap for the first time, the effects had hurt my eyes slightly due to vergence-accomodation (your eyes have to constantly adjust to both the distance of the screen itself as well as to 3D content that “flies” at you), though I haven’t used any 3D laptops or TVs personally, so I had to get use to the shutter. The second time around, there was no discomfort experienced. Ignoring that issue, the picture itself was great; multiple layers of 3D were in the trailer (especially evident in the pillow fight scene), words popped from the display, and the “circus afro” scene gave a good demonstration of the differences between character bodies in 2D and in 3D. To sum it up, the Envy 17 3D is a sort of personal IMAX Theater for the home.

The only negative I can think of about the laptop is that HP shipped the Envy 17 3D with no way to use Intel’s WiDi features, despite HP advertising that feature. However, that’s not the only outstanding flaw in this laptop.

Audio

Envy 17t-3200 Beats AudioThe Envy 17 3D uses the same Beats Audio system as most other HP laptops today, including the Pavilion dv7t-7000. Built with six regular laptop speakers and HP’s “Triple Bass Reflex” subwoofer, the Envy 17 3D pumps out sound like no regular laptop sound system, only facing competition with other branded speaker systems such as JBL. There’s a sound bar bordering the entire top side of the keyboard as well as two grills at the front edge of the laptop, which give off an experience that will impress all but the most demanding audiophiles. One odd feature of the Envy 17 3D is how many audio drivers are present in Computer Management: AMD High Definition Audio Device, Bluetooth Hands-free Audio, CyberLink WebCam Virtual Driver, HP Wireless Audio Adpater, and IDT High Definition Audio CODEC (which controls the speakers and bass). Why not have just one or two drivers to control audio? Even the Pavilion dv7t-7000 had two, despite also being a Beats-branded laptop.

Anyway, the audio experience on the HP Envy 17 3D is above standard for a laptop. Typical laptop speakers can sound shallow, weak, and don’t have much range, whereas the sound system on this laptop is the opposite. On top of that, if a user pushes down on the volume dial, a control center for sound appears on screen, where there are options to control master volume, set sound profiles (or use three pre-made ones), and microphone settings. For the most part, the default sound profile is sufficient for most uses, but for those that are bass lovers will want to adjust the sound profile to make the subwoofer really stand out. No matter what profile is used though, the Envy 17 3D can get loud when pumped up to full volume.

Ports

There are a myriad of ports located on this generation’s Envy 17-3200 3D. All USB ports found here are of the newer USB 3.0 SuperSpeed spec, a good move from HP as more and more USB 3.0 devices hit the mainstream market. What surprised me, however, is the lack of a VGA port; yes, it’s dated but it’s also extremely common and would have been useful for people who still own VGA monitors. HP did make up for it by giving the Envy 17 3D the ability to run up to four displays at once, thanks to the 7850M, HDMI port, and two DisplayPort connectors.

On the left, we have the slot-loading Blu-Ray player, two USB 3.0 ports, a microphone jack, two headphone jacks, and a Kensington lock.

HP Envy 17t-3200 left side

The right side houses the power connector, Ethernet port, the other two USB 3.0 ports, two DisplayPort connectors, HDMI port, and the card reader. Also on this side are the hard drive activity, power on, and battery level lights. The last one will glow orange when plugged in and the battery has a low charge and white when it’s nearly full.

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The front contains nothing but two speaker grills and a Beats logo. The back of the laptop is the same, due to the lid covering it up when the laptop is in use.

HP Envy 17-3200 front side

Heat and Noise

After several hours of use which involved mostly Internet surfing, as well as YouTube and 3D video viewing, the Envy idles at around 46 degrees C, with the processor sitting at an average of 50 degrees C. The Samsung hard drive is at a cool 35 degrees C, and measurements for the Intel mSATA drive are absent since almost all SSDs come with no temperature sensor. During benchmarking, the highest temperature reached was 77 degrees C for the motherboard and 82 degrees C for the processor. Ambient temperature was 72 degrees F during testing.

For the most part, noise isn’t an issue with the Envy 17 3D. However, when booting up or when resuming from sleep, the optical drive (HP BDDVDRW CA30P, as named in Computer Management) becomes loud for a few moments as it powers up, becoming very annoying after a few boots and resumes as it’s not an isolated incident.

Software

Besides the 3D Demo and the usual Norton Internet Security trial, HP bundles several free and trial pieces of software with the computer. CyberLink software includes with the Envy 17 3D include PowerDVD, YouCam, and Power2Go. HP ships their laptop with the HP Proximity Sensor (adjust when the backlit keyboard should activate based on your distance to the computer), HP Wireless Audio Manager, a link to HP Communities – The Next Bench (a discussion forum slash HP advertisement), and a trial of HP MyRoom (video conference software), as well as HP’s Help and Support folder in the Start menu (includes HP Documentation, HP Support Assistant, and HP Recovery Manager). Under the Intel folder, we have Smart Connect Technology (similar in function to Windows Update), Control Center, and Rapid Storage Technology, which allows a user to manage their Intel mSATA and the Samsung HDD). The last piece of trial software included with the Envy 17 3D is TriDef 3D Ignition, which “enables popular PC games to be played in stereoscopic 3D”, according to their website. From their website, they state that it works with a wide range of DirectX 9 through 11 games, using information that DirectX stores about the game to product 3D images, while Auto Focus manages the locations of objects in 3D space. One common issue of this software is that the gun sights in first-person shooters can be inaccurate in 3D space, so the TriDef software includes an optional laser sight to improve accuracy.

Two very useful pieces of software included with the HP Envy 17 3D are Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 10 and Premiere Elements 10. Both are somewhat stripped down versions of Photoshop and Premiere, and their goals are much the same (advance photo editing and advance video editing/DVD burning, respectively). Considering that full retail versions for both sell for $149 together, this is a great value to Envy purchasers that plan on using the laptop for A/V hobby or freelancing.

Battery Life

This is the Envy 17 3D’s Achilles’ heel. While there is supposed to be an ability to switch to the Intel HD 4000 graphics to extend battery life, there is no option to do so in either the BIOS or within the operating system as of the writing of this review (August 12th, 2012). Using Window’s Power Saver settings, dimming the display to half brightness, and using the laptop for lightweight tasks (Office, visiting websites, and one or two YouTube videos), the Envy 17 3D will only last 2 hours and 31 minutes before you need to find an outlet. Even giving the laptop a best-case battery scenario (just letting it sit at the desktop), it will only last for an extra 22 minutes at 50% screen brightness (and lower and the display is barely visible). Since the Envy 17 3D doesn’t currently ship with any way to switch the graphics, the 7850M is allowed to drain power from the battery, thus making this laptop a terrible choice if you need to use it anywhere outside the home.

The lack of Wi-Di in a high-end consumer laptop is due to the Intel GPU being locked out of the BIOS (WiDi depends on the Intel HD series of integrated GPUs to function). Maybe, just maybe this would have been excusable if this was the first generation of Envy 17 3D, but it’s not. Furthermore, the previous generation of the 3D version (HD 3000 + Radeon HD 7650M XT) has functioning graphics switching and WiDi, and both the Sandy Bridge and the current Ivy Bridge Envy 17 (non-3D) have said features as well. So why doesn’t the current Envy 17 3D have switching graphics and WiDi, HP?

Performance

Thanks to the powerful Radeon HD 7850M GPU and quad-core Ivy Bridge processor, the HP Envy 17 3D scored an impressive 3868 in PCMark 7.

Envy PCMark7

In 3DMark 11, it scores P2495 3DMarks, along with a high physics score (no surprise, considering it’s a laptop meant for 3D).

Envy 3DMark11

Windows Index Experience scores, while not as rigorous as stand-alone benchmarking software, gives a decent, generalized ballpark of how well a computer performs. The overall score for the HP Envy 17 3D is 7.3 (graphics), with the highest individual score coming from the laptop’s memory.

Envy WEI

Since there are two different drives in the review laptop (Intel mSATA SSD and a Seagate HDD), HD Tune was run twice, once for each drive. The solid-state drive performed fairly well, reaching a peak transfer rate of 184.1MB/s, though what users will notice the most is the extremely short access time that SSDs provide. In contrast, the mechanical drive is not as fast at transferring files and has an access time 181 times slower than the SSD. However, the HDD is meant to be a mass storage device in this sort of setup, with Windows and program installations going on the faster SSD.

Envy HDTune IntelIntel SSD HD Tune Results Envy HDTune SeagateSeagate HD HD Tune Results

Conclusion

3D is looking as if it will have a bright future ahead, with not only TV manufacturers but also computer OEMs releasing 3D-capable products to the masses. The HP Envy 17 3D certainly delivers in this regard, providing a stunning 3D experience right in the comfort of your own home. With included software, it’s even possible to create your own 3D experience by converting your games to use the extra dimension. Even in 2D gaming, the Envy 17 3D promises to be powerful enough to handle all the latest games with the Radeon HD 7850M. Combined with a quad-core Intel Core processor and 8GB of RAM, a user can throw just about anything at this laptop and it wouldn’t break a sweat – except when traveling. While it is a 17” laptop and not exactly meant for traveling in the first place, users today expect at least several hours of battery life from their laptops. While the “lesser” Pavilion dv7t-7000 we reviewed manages to last six and a half hours on a single charge, the premium Envy 17 3D can’t even touch half that under the very best conditions. For whatever reason, HP doesn’t allow users to use graphics switching to turn off the AMD GPU and use the Intel integrated graphics for when long battery life is required. Not only does this leave Envy 17 3D customers glued to an outlet most of the time, but it also kills any chance of wirelessly displaying content to a WiDi-enabled TV or monitor, since the Intel HD 4000 seems to be disabled completely. So not only would watching 2D or 3D content be difficult when the user is comfortably in bed or anywhere else not close to a power source, but anyone thinking about using this laptop to host movie night on a larger television will be disappointed by this shortfall. So in conclusion, the HP Envy 17 3D makes for a great home entertainment laptop, just so long as you don’t use it as a laptop.

Pros

  • Bright, 3D-enabled display
  • Powerful AMD graphics
  • Photoshop Elements 10 and Premier Elements 10 bundle
  • Sturdy, all-metal body
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Can simultaneously power four displays
  • Better-than-average sound quality

Cons

  • Plenty of bloatware for a premium-branded laptop
  • Lack of Intel WiDi
  • Very short battery life
  • Lid is a fingerprint magnet
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Apple MacBook Air 13” $999 at Best Buy this Week (Student Deal)

Best Buy is offering $100 off the 2012 edition of the 13” Apple MacBook Air this week on top of the already $100 off sale price of $1,099 so after the discount the total comes to $999 for a MacBook Air with Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB SSD.  Here’s a link to the model that’s on sale at Best Buy:

Apple MacBook Air 13” MD231LL/A (2012)

MacBook Air on Sale for $999 at Best Buy

To get the $100 off student deal go to the following web page on BestBuy.com and enter in your .edu email address.  They will then email you a $100 off coupon that you can then take into a Best Buy store.  It says you’ll need to present a Student ID along with the coupon so might want to make sure to bring that along as well.

While Apple is offering a free $100 off iTunes gift card to students and $50 off, that is not as good as this deal from Best Buy.  The total discount Best Buy offers is $200 while Apple is only $150.  Bottom line, you’re not going to get a MacBook Air 13” model for $999 anywhere else unless it’s used so if you’ve had your eye on this model this is definitely the deal to jump on.  The latest 2012 MacBook Air features a dual Core i5 processor from the Ivy Bridge 3rd generation lineup, Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, backlit keyboard, Mac OS X Lion with free upgrade to Mountain Lion and of course the under 3lbs and extremely thin design you expect.

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HP ENVY m4 First Look

The HP Envy m4 is an upcoming laptop release that will likely go on sale to coincide with the Microsoft Windows 8 release in late October.  The Envy m4 will be a blend between the Envy 4t Sleekbook and Pavilion dv4t-5100 that are currently available from HP.  It’s a 14-inch premium style laptop that comes with a 3rd generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, built-in optical drive and all aluminum shell body.  In terms of design, the look is much like the Envy 4t, however unlike the Envy 4t it has a removable and upgradeable battery, standard voltage processor and the ability to easily upgrade memory or the hard drive via a removable panel on the bottom.

HP ENVY m4

Before we go any further, we’d like to thank the HP Academy program for sending us the Envy m4 to evaluate.  This Envy m4 model will undoubtedly be appealing to the student crowd given the portable size and weight, you’ll be able to get a discount on the Envy m4 via the HP APP (Academic Purchase Program) when it goes on sale this Fall.

The specs for the Envy m4 we have on hand are as follows:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4000
  • Screen: 14.0” 1366 x 768 resolution, BrightView (glossy)
  • OS: Windows 8 64-bit
  • Storage: 1TB 5400RPM HD
  • Ports: Media card reader, three USB 3.0 ports, RJ-45 Ethernet LAN, headphone/microphone jack, HDMI, VGA monitor out
  • Battery: 9-cell (6-cell standard), removable and upgradeable
  • Optical Drive: DVD Burner
  • Weight:

IMG_0007

The body of the Envy m4 features an all silver look with brush metal aluminum finish.  The screen has a black glossy bezel around it, the bottom area of the bezel is particularly thick.  Given the thickness of the bezel, you might wonder that HP couldn’t have reduced the overall size and footprint of this model.  The ENVY m4 model number is printed on the top right side of the screen:

IMG_0011

The keyboard uses a chiclet style design and comes equipped with a fingerprint reader on the right side.  The touchpad has a metallic shiny finish, it’s slippery making it easy to guide your finger across and do gestures.  Given the number of multi-touch gestures that Windows 8 supports, that characteristic might be helpful in navigating the OS.  Speaking of Windows 8, that will be the default OS loaded on the Envy m4 when it launches in October.

As mentioned earlier, the Envy m4 isn’t going to get the Ultrabook or Sleekbook branding that the recently released Envy 4t and 5t have received, but it is still quite thin and light for a 14” screen laptop.  Without a battery in the Envy m4 weighs in at around 4.4lbs with a 6-cell battery and 4.8lbs with the 9-cell.  The thickness ranges from 1” at the front to 1.25” at the back, again that’s with the 6-cell battery.  When the 9-cell battery is installed it elevates the Envy m4 at the back to make it thicker.

The selection of ports is fairly standard, on the left side you get a VGA monitor out, HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports and a dual headphone microphone jack.

Envy m4 left side

The right side has a USB 2.0 port, RJ-45 Ethernet jack and power jack.  You also get an optical drive on the right side, a DVD Multi-burner in our case.

Envy m4 right side

You’ll see that the Envy m4 has a proper fan and vent on the left side, this allows it to house a standard voltage processor with better performance than the undervolted processors found in Ultrabooks.  In fact, the Envy m4 can be configured with up to an Intel Core i7 processor such as the Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz variety in our model.  Graphics are provided by the Intel HD 4000 integrated GPU.  For the student set just looking to get some work done and not interested in gaming, this is more than enough power.

The screen on the Envy m4 is a pretty standard 1366 x 768 resolution glossy display variety.  There’s nothing to write home about here, the viewing angles are so-so but at least the colors and brightness are good.  It’s uncertain whether HP will provide any resolution upgrades but that’d sure be nice!

IMG_0017 IMG_0018
IMG_0019 IMG_0020

Stay tuned as we’ll have a more complete review of the Envy m4 coming up in the next week or two.  Until then, you can see more of this laptop by watching the following video:

HP Envy m4 Video Review
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ThinkPad X1 Carbon Screen Comparison to Other ThinkPads

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon was just officially given a price and availability date yesterday and we’re lucky enough to have our hands on a review unit already.  While we’ve only had a few hours to use the X1 Carbon it’s pretty easy to see that the display on this model is a more premium one than that seen on other ThinkPad 14” notebooks.  We happen to have a ThinkPad T430s in our possession with the 1600 x 900 resolution screen and a ThinkPad X220 with IPS display so a comparison to both of those laptops is possible.  I think those that worried the screen might be another letdown given that it’s non-IPS will be pleasantly surprised.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs. ThinkPad T430s

First up we’ll compare the Thinkpad T430s to the X1 Carbon screen as the size and resolution are exactly the same for these notebooks.  A video is the best way to do this so first check out the YouTube video embedded below in which the T430s is on the left and X1 Carbon on the right:

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs. T430s Screen Comparison

Now moving on to the still image photos, the ThinkPad T430s is on the left and X1 Carbon on the right with both displays open to the homepage of the NY Times, the X1 Carbon screen is much brighter at 300 nits and the whites much more pure than on the T430s.  Reading is truly a treat on the X1 screen, the white background with black text has great contrast making it a much more readable display.  The fact it is matte helps to reduce eye strain even if you’re spending several hours browsing and reading on the web.

ThinkPad T430s on left X1 Carbon on right

With the lights turned off and a colorful picture on the screen you can once again see the X1 Carbon display is brighter and has more vivid colors.

ThinkPad T430s vs. X1 Carbon screen colors

Now comes the test of viewing angles.  Neither display has IPS technology that offers wide viewing angles, but higher quality TN display panels can offer better angles than others.  When pushed back the X1 Carbon screen clearly holds up better with colors than the T430s does.

IMG_0089

Tilting the screens forward again shows that the X1 Carbon has a better viewing angle from this perspective as well, its screen holds pretty true with colors while the T430s starts to get washed out.

screens tilted forward

Finally, when viewing from a wide angle off to the side both screens hold up pretty well but once again the X1 Carbon (to the right and in the distance) has colors that pop more:

side view

Bottom line, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a much higher quality display than that seen in either the T430 or T430s ThinkPads.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs. X220 with IPS Display

Now comes the real test, the 12.5” ThinkPad X220 and X230 are well known for their high quality IPS display options that’s a $50 upgrade on Lenovo.com.  There is no such IPS display option on the X1 Carbon, but let’s see how the viewing angles hold up compared to the X220 with IPS screen.  In the images below the X1 Carbon is on the left while the X220 is on the right.  First note is that the X1 Carbon screen appears brighter than the X220, so in straight on viewing it is superior.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon and X220

ThinkPad X1 Carbon on left X220 on right

However, once you tilt the screens back the IPS panel on the X220 starts to show its colors (so to speak), even when tilted back to an awkward angle the X220 IPS display still looks the same while the X1 Carbon colors distort.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon on left X220 on right tilted back

When tilted forward you again get the same affect of the X220 colors being better, but the X1 Carbon is still not bad from this angle and you can really get a feel for its brightness when its adjusted closer to the eyes (or camera as it may be).

Screens tilted forward

When viewed from off to the side the X1 Carbon colors are just as good as the X220 colors, in fact I would say the viewing is actually better on the X1.

Side angle view

And again we’ll offer up some video so you can see a comparison of the screens:

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs. X220 Screen Comparison

Conclusion

The screen on the ThinkPad X1 is definitely a higher quality panel than that seen on the T430 or T430s.  While it is perhaps not quite up to par with the IPS display seen on the X230/X220, it still can hold its own.  At any typical viewing angle it looks great, and even at wide viewing angles the colors hold up pretty well.  The brightness of the screen is excellent at 300 nits and the colors appear very true.  Whites are white and blacks are black.  The 1600 x 900 resolution is just right in my book, if it were higher at 1920 x 1080 that might be a little too much for those of us losing our vision a bit.

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