HP Envy 14: Solid, but Now Unspectacular

The HP Envy 14 offers performance and style, though it's no Macbook or in the latter department. The glowing HP logo on the top of the unit as well as the textured surfaces on the top and keyboard deck tend to spoil the minimalist effect. But the slot-loading optical drive, clean lines, and relatively svelte profile (for an all-purpose model) will grab attention on display shelves. Updated from a year ago, it's now suffering in comparison with the competition, which has caught up and then some.

Starting at $999 for a system equipped with a -2410M, 6GB of RAM, graphics, and a 7200-rpm, 500GB hard drive, the Envy 14, with its 14.5-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display is hardly bargain-basement material. The components are top-notch, which is part of the reason for the somewhat elevated cost. The laptop has Bluetooth, gigabit ethernet, and dual-band Wi-Fi (5GHz and 2.4GHz). Ports include three for USB (one of which supports ), and one each for HDMI and a mini-display, plus an SD Card slot, audio-in and -out, and a Kensington lock port.

Ergonomics on the Envy 14 are workable, but the lack of sculpted keys makes for insecure finger placement when you're typing. The layout is nice, with no undersized keys, but the equidistant spacing between the alphabetical and the special keys means the latter aren't as easy to pick out visually as they should be. The touchpad is located dead center, which is better for righties, but the response seemed to lag slightly when swiping. Taps registered easily, and the pad wasn't overly sensitive to them. The Envy 14 is slightly heavy for an all-purpose of its size at nearly 6 pounds--the heft is noticeable when you pick it up.

Our test configuration of the Envy 14 ( costing the $999 minimum) turned in middle-of-the-road numbers: a score of 109 on WorldBench 6 with gaming frame rates in the sixties (low detail) and thirties (high detail). The WorldBench score is 8 points shy of the similarly configured, albeit uglier , but the frame rates are playable if not ultrasmooth. Battery life was 4 hours and 40 minutes--a decent run time for this configuration.

The Envy 14 had no problems playing HD video, even with a high-bit-rate file. The Beats Audio sound is excellent through headphones, and the sound through the speakers, while lacking bass, can be very loud and has a punchy midrange that cuts through when ambient noise levels are high.

Give HP props: In a world of laptop and desktop screens littered with "value-added" software icons, demos, and links to places where you can buy stuff, it takes some brass to opt for a perfectly clean screen. The only thing you'll see when you boot the Envy 14 is the Start menu, the taskbar, and the recycle bin. The software's there, it just hasn't been thrown in your face. Included with the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system are Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9 for photos and video, Cyberlink PowerDVD 10 for playing movies, Microsoft Office Starter 10, utilities for the Webcam, and more.