HP ENVY 14 Spectre review

The HP ENVY 14 Spectre ultrabook is packed with features including Beats Audio

What is a hands on review?
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HP ENVY 14 Spectre

For

  • Backlit keyboard
  • Gorgeous screen
  • Thumping audio performance

Against

  • Chunky chassis
  • Terrible touchpad buttons
  • Expensive

The HP Envy 14 Spectre might not be the slimmest Ultrabook out there, but its features and audio visual performance put rivals to shame

As well as being one of the slimmest laptops around, the HP ENVY 14 Spectre ultrabook is also the latest HP laptops to feature Beats Audio, joining the likes of the HP DV7-6103ea.

HP ENVY 14 Spectre: Features

Measuring in at 20mm thick, the HP ENVY 14 Spectre isn't quite as slim as some of the other ultrabooks on offer, such as the Dell XPS 13 (at 18mm), but it still offers an extremely svelte profile that sits neatly on the lap and shouldn't take up too much room in your bag.

Tipping the scales at 1.8kg, it's also a little heavier than some of the other laptops around. It's not as light as the Apple MacBook Air, but then to be fair it does offer a 14-inch screen, compared to the Air's 11 or 13-inch displays.

The top of the laptop is crafted from Gorilla Glass, which not only gives it an extremely slick finish, it also means that the Spectre is set up for use with the on-board NFC connectivity to make online payments easier.

The intelligent LED-backlit keyboard includes a nifty feature that turns off the backlights in order to save power should you move away from the computer - a proximity sensor detects when you're a certain distance away (you can set the distance).

The lights will then come back on when you're back at the screen. We found that this worked surprisingly well in our demo, while the keyboard was also nice and comfy for typing.

The Image Pad controller, located in the usual spot beneath the keyboard has been given an update so that it's now possible to pinch zoom and rotate images. Two fingers can be used for scrolling, while up to four fingers can be used to manipulat images.

Apart from the Gorilla Glass lid, the big selling point here is the Beats Audio, with the laptop taking a few aesthetic cues from the Beats by Dre headphones.

Listening to the video through the built-in speakers was impressive enough, but hooking up a pair of Beats headphones is where you can really hear the difference, and we actually had to ask for the sound to be turned down as it was so strong (thankfully, there's a handy analogue volume dial on the side of the unit).

HP ENVY 14 Spectre: Screen

The 14-inch HD screen (which fits into a 13.3-in chassis) has been designed to ofer richer colours, higher resolution, better brightness and wider viewing angles than traditional notebook displays.

While we were limited to a relatively short time with the product, we were able to test out a couple of high-def videos which looked superb.

Images were sharp and defined and packed with punchy, vibrant hues and deep black levels and the viewing angle (both vertical and horizontal) was also impressive.

The top row of the keyboard also includes stop and play buttons to make video playback control even easier.

A web cam above the screen includes a proximity sensor which tracks your face and zooms in when you move around to make sure that your mug shot is always front and centre.

It can be slighly disconcerting, but if it bothers you then you can simply turn the sensor off. There's also a one-click Facebook upload function for swiftly adding a profile pic or snapshot to your profile.

HP ENVY 14 Spectre: Battery

According to the maker, the HP Envy 14 Spectre offers a generous nine hours of battery life, which is just above average in the ultrabooks stakes and slightly longer than the likes of the Asus UX31 Zenbook (which can only muster around 6 hours in practice).

Given the short space of time we had, we can't really comment on the battery life yet, but it's somthing that we'll be looking at in our full review.

If you do need some extra power, then you'll be pleased to hear that the adaptor, in keeping with the dimensions of the laptop itself, is also slim and light.

What's more, it breaks apart into three separate pieces and comes with a travel pouch.

HP Envy 14 Spectre: Verdict

On first impressions, the HP Envy 14 Spectre certainly looks like it'll be a strong contender in the battle of the ultrabooks. Its slick exterior, excellent video quality and the inclusion of Beats Audio impressed us, while the long battery life and NFC capability are also strong selling points that we hope to try out in more detail as soon as we get our mitts on a review sample.

The price tag may be a stumbling block for some, but the larger-than-average 14-inch screen gives it a definite advantage over some of its ultrabook stable mates. Stay tuned for a full review.

HP ENVY 14 Spectre availability: March 2012

HP ENVY 14 Spectre price: From £1199 (final configurations TBC)

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What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.