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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  • MobiusStrip - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    People need to reject these asinine glossy screens. This is cheap crap inspired by the low-grade, fake-chromed, Celeron-packing lineup at Best Buy, Manufacturers embarrass themselves by pushing this out as anywhere near a high-end offering, and they offend consumers by lying about its merits.

    "Richer" colors? "Deeper" blacks? NO, because your entire display is covered with a sheen of reflection 100 percent of the time. Even in a pitch-black room, the computer lights YOU up and thus you're staring at yourself instead of what you're working on.

    Demand better, people. Glossy screens are the biggest regression in computing... possibly ever.
  • freespace303 - Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - link

    I've been using a 13" MacBook Pro since June, and I have to disagree with you sir. The glossy screen doesn't bother me at all. I would have to have a plain black background to catch a glimpse of me in the reflection, or be in a very bright room. As I'm typing this reply on this very laptop, in a dark room, I don't see myself, or any other reflections. It's quite nice.

    Now, on the other hand, if your using a laptop outside ALL THE TIME, during the day, then yes, I would probably go for a matte screen, but for my needs, and considering I use it most of the time, that isn't the case.

    Also, the 13" MBP does have one of the brightest and nicest screens for a laptop this size. That's probably why I don't see glossy screens as much of a problem.

    Oh, and I'm not Apple biased at all, considering I just ordered myself the HP Envy 17 3D!
  • freespace303 - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    OMG thankyou, I've been waiting for this review for SO LONG!!! I ordered the 3D version a few weeks ago and will have 21 days to play with it before deciding on whether to return it or not. *starts reading review, keeps fingers crossed*
  • brysoncg - Wednesday, December 22, 2010 - link

    Even on the 1st gen Envy 15 (which I own) they had the BIOS option to set it back to a F1-F12 default.

    Also, the audio output on my laptop were crippled by the default Beats audio settings. In the Beats audio control panel, there are 3 settings, Beats Tour, Beats Studio, and Default. Whenever I have either Beats option selected, the volume output is limited at 75%, but with integrated speakers only. Disabling these and the "Beats Audio" setting (fn+b, which seems to mainly be a bass boost on this older Envy) increase audio output greatly.

    As for the touchpad, it only has one physical button (at the center of the bottom edge), and uses a "touch zone" to distinguish a right-click vs. a left-click. I doubt that this has changed from the 1st gen to the current gen.

    On these older 15 models, HP had an external 9-cell battery option, which I am able to get about 5 hours of total laptop usage with, but it close to doubles the weight of the laptop. Another downside is that its contacts are poorly designed, since on mine they ended up breaking (and HP wanted $300 to fix it). HP obviously knows they were bad design, since on the current Envy 14 the contacts for the external battery have been completely redesigned (back to an older-style connection - I guess sometimes newer isn't better :) ).

    The newer Envys have lost some of the options of the older Envys, but have also gained a few options. Primary lost option: 4 sticks of RAM (now only two slots on all models). Gained options: internal CD drive on all models, more connectivity (more external video connections, more audio connections, nicer screen panel (no 3/4 inch plastic bezel around the entire screen).

    The first upgrades I did with my Envy 15 were to populate the 4th RAM slot, for 8GB total RAM, and to put an SSD into it (the original 500GB HDD now lives in an external case with a powered eSATA connection). Everything about it is a lot faster now than what it was when I bought it.

    Overall, I enjoy the available power in my Envy 15, and have never had any problems with glare on the glossy screen. I do wish some accessories were cheaper, though.
  • flashbacck - Thursday, December 23, 2010 - link

    Can you guys figure out whatever happened to the Radiance Display that was available when the 14/17's were originally released?

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