Touring the HP Envy 17

My initial take on the HP Envy 17's styling was that they were cribbing liberally from Apple's MacBook Pro series, and earlier Envy notebooks definitely lived up to this. As the series has matured, though, it's acquired a lot of its own identity. So for those of you who thought otherwise stellar notebooks like Dell's refreshed XPS lineup were too pug ugly to actually use on a daily basis, HP's Envy is for you.

The happy news to report is that barring one terrible location, the Envy is gloss free. The lid has a nice, textured finish and a glowing HP logo, and it's all fairly well understated. It's not a fingerprint magnet, and is actually remarkably easy to keep clean, boding well for the notebook's longevity.

Of course, once you flip it open you see gloss where you hate to see it, but at least HP has an excuse: the glossy finish of the screen extends from edge to edge in HP's "Ultra BrightView Infinity" display. It looks nice enough but I'm still not entirely sure it's worth the trade-off, since the screen bezel (and all this does, really, is mask the bezel) is one of the major places a notebook is liable to pick up fingerprints. Still, it's attractive and hard to harp on too much.

HP claims the body of the Envy 17 is "laser-etched aluminum" and I believe it: the inside is just as attractive as the lid, and just as comfortable to use. To look at all of it, the Envy 17 is at least a beautiful piece of industrial design, but it's here where HP screws the pooch (or at least takes it to second base.) The keyboard is comfortable with a minimal amount of flex, but the layout is questionable. HP and Dell have recently elected to switch the function keys to being shortcuts and toggles instead of F1-F12. That in itself isn't a huge crime, but the difference is that I can pop into the BIOS on my Studio 17 and switch them back to what they're supposed to do. HP doesn't make it that easy on you. The arrow keys are also a poor design; the up and down arrows are half-sized while the left and right are full-sized. I can understand not wanting to leave negative space in the keyboard design, but this wasn't the right way to do it. There's also no Num Lock, with HP squeezing document navigation keys in that way. Losing the Num Lock isn't a major sacrifice for most users, but I get the feeling there are going to be at least a couple users pulling their hair out over this.

And then there's the touchpad. Once again we have PC designers following Apple's lead without bothering to really understand it (though to be fair, I'm in the minority that hates Apple's unified touchpad to begin with). On a Mac where there's really only the one big mouse button, making the whole touchpad depress makes more sense, but PC users are used to being able to right-click. We need two buttons, and the unified design here feels awkward to use. It's a better implementation than I've seen elsewhere but it still doesn't improve on just having a touchpad and two buttons.

The rest of the body has an aluminum trim around the sides and back that's attractive and houses the Beats Audio speakers. Credit where credit is due, these are among the better notebook speakers I've heard and certainly beat how hollow the otherwise quality Dell Studio 17 speakers are, but I found when cranking up the volume that the music began to distort. It's something I've heard on other notebooks, even through the speaker jack, where it seems like the notebook is trying to boost the bass in software. When you hit the threshold of how high the system's volume can go, the whole thing distorts because the system was just selectively raising the volume at the low end. At a reasonable volume the Envy 17 sounds great if a little hollow and tinny (don't know what to tell you, they're notebook speakers), but don't push it.

Finally, the bottom is decked in the typical black matte plastic, and that's fine. What's a little frustrating is the fact that in order to get to the memory bay, you have to remove the hard drive cover first: the two plastic panels are actually layered. A minor nuisance but a nuisance nonetheless.

Introducing the HP Envy 17 Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • strikeback03 - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    Well, given the chipset, they should be SATA 2, as it does not support SATA 3 and I would imagine there would have been more notice taken if it were running at SATA 1 speeds.
  • Sebec - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Dustin used "at the end of the day" twice in the conclusion for two different points. Seems repetitive. I think both statements could stand on their own without the need to use such a phrase.
  • TheAdAgency - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Indeed, he should have opted for a quick "All things considered, it is what it is..." the second time he was seeking for a hackneyed summary phrase. However at the end of the day, you are the most likely the only one who noticed.
  • rwei - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    If you still have this thing on hand, I'd be curious to see what Dustin has to say about it, and especially in a comparison to the Dell Studio 17 (maybe that's what you meant by XPS 17 in your conclusion?). The Envy 17 is very comparable to that laptop (waaaay more so than the Macbook Pro) and I think it suits the use case which he described well:

    "Oftentimes when you get to the 17" form factor you're dealing with bulky desktop replacement machines that offer questionable value over just buying a desktop, or at least that was the belief I held before I started shopping for one. Now that I'm no longer in school I don't need a 14" "does-it-all" notebook; instead, I can use a 17" when travelling for extended periods of time as a comfortable workstation, or as a monitor when I'm out on a shoot. And when I want to be a complete dweeb writing in public in a coffee shop so someone can see me and be so curious, I can use a netbook or ultraportable notebook. And after a lot of research, I finally decided the Studio 17 was the one for me."

    It's funny because I was exactly in Dustin's boat and went from a 14" Asus A8Jm to the Envy 17, for pretty much the exact same reasons. In case you were wondering what kind of user DOES love this laptop, consider my case as a recent college grad and Windows power user not intending to take a class again in the near future, facing the prospect of a tiny NYC apartment where a desktop probably won't fit very well, and who travels often enough to want a computer he can take with him. To me, the Envy offers:
    - an amazing screen (as you pointed out)
    - great build quality (as you also pointed out)
    - solid, if not class-leading performance (again, you pointed this out). I play SC2 at 1080P High all the time and enjoy it tremendously
    - messenger-bag-able weight and size (not "carry to 6h of class with several textbooks" weight, but "carry onto plane every few months" or "bring 10ft to couch" weight)
    - great price: I DID consider the Macbook Pro 17 when I was making my purchase, and the deal breaker was easily that configured this way, the Envy 17 costs several hundred dollars less than the most basic Macbook Pro 17.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I wrote this review. ;)

    I like the Studio 17 more than the Envy 17 truthfully. I think the Envy 17 is slightly better looking and has a better screen, but the Studio 17 sounds slightly better, has a better keyboard, and has better connectivity. The Studio 17 also lasts way longer on the battery.
  • name99 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    "HP Envy 17: HP's MacBook Pro Killer?"

    I'm sorry but ars is better than inane headlines like this.
    One simple question: does it run OSX?
    No? OMG, what a surprise.
    It's no fscking MacBook killer then, is it?

    I mean, christ, this is not an issue of Windows is better than Mac or vice versa --- it's the simple fact that people buy Macs to run OSX --- that's not opinion, that is fact. If you're not selling something that runs OSX, you might be in the "Vio killer" game, you might be in the "Lenovo killer" game, heck, you might even be in the Cr-48 or Samsung Galaxy killer game, but you are no freaking way in the MacBook Pro killer game.

    The headline is as inane as "Focus 2011: Ford's Boeing 777 Killer?"

    [Not to mention that the very fact of including an optical drive puts this in a different league from MacBooks. I fully expect the next round of Ivy League MacBooks, pro or otherwise, in Q1 next year to have no optical storage --- and to be that much more desirable because of it.]
  • Theguynextdoor - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    I don't own the Envy 17, but I do own the Envy 14 and on that one you can revers the default F keys back in the BIOS AND in the HP manager menu (although I deleted it).
  • Solidstate89 - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link regards to hating the unified touchpad. I absolutely despise that design idea and I can't help but harp on HP for implementing it in nearly their entire range of notebooks.
  • derPat - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

    Is the Envy running OSX?
    It is a nonsense to compare an Envy with a MacBook. It is like comparing a Ferrari Enzo with a Chevy Corvette just looking at the engine specs ...
    I'm also sick of the "killer" bs, I expect an article like this on Gizmodo, not on Anandtech ...
  • strikeback03 - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    lol, 2 people with essentially the same comment, and both not exactly the truth. As I work at a university, I see plenty of students who have Macbooks but don't really care one way or another for Windows or OSX, they just like the size/design/battery life and they are actually a decent price with the student discounts.

    This is an interesting comparison though, as both a ZR1 and an Enzo will get you around a track similarly quick, though one has more perceived value, costs a lot more now, and will likely hold its value far better in the future. Sounds familiar.

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