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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The right side of the m4 has the DVDRW drive, USB port, an Ethernet port and the power connector.
The card reader is on the left front of the m4.
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.
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.
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.
- Good Build Quality
- Above Segment Screen
- Easy Upgrades for Memory and Hard Drive
- Swappable Battery
- Lots of Ports with USB 3.0
- Pleasing Design
- Long Battery life
- For Me, Windows Eight
- Shallow/Bouncy Keyboard
- Noisy Fan
- LCD Bezel Too Wide