The old HP Pavilion dv7 is dead. Long live the ENVY dv7! This update to HP's popular 17-inch multimedia laptop might pack enough value to be a true heir to the PC throne.
The HP ENVY dv7t-7200 is a new Windows 8 laptop release that sports a 17.3-inch screen and comes in a wide variety configurations to suit almost any budget or performance needs. If the ENVY dv7t looks strangely familiar, you're right, it's simply a rebranding of the 2012 Pavilion dv7t line but with the updated Windows 8 OS. HP is now placing the ENVY label on any laptop it deems as being a performance machine or having premium design. The company has also stopped producing the 15-inch ENVY 15 and 17-inch ENVY 17 models, citing the fact there was too much overlap between those machines and the equivalent dv6 and dv7.
Indeed change is afoot at HP, they recently lost their title as #1 PC manufacturer worldwide to Lenovo and so it's new innovative releases like the ENVY 4 TouchSmart and flagship models like the ENVY dv7t -- one of their best selling mainstream laptops, that will determine if they can recapture past glory. Read on to find out if the ENVY dv7t is a keeper or another reason to consider HP a zombie of its former self cranking out uninspired laptops.
Build and Design
The ENVY dv7t-7200 is a 17.3-inch screen 7lb notebook that's squarely targeted at an audience looking for a desktop replacement style machine. With all the rage about Ultrabooks, you might be surprised to know the desktop replacement segment of 15 to 17-inch laptops is still the top selling category. The reason being that laptops like the ENVY dv7t offer a lot of nice features, excellent performance options and a price that comes in well under a lighter and sleeker looking but lesser powered Ultrabook. People still want their notebook to look decent, no matter what the size and usage intention, HP therefore has paid attention to making the ENVY dv7t's looks appealing to a wide audience. The lid has a subtle brushed metal skin with a midnight black color finish that is contrasted with a silver trim around the edges. The HP logo on top is illuminated, this offers a pretty cool look, though it probably doesn't generate the same techno-lust as an Apple logo does.
Opening up the the ENVY dv7t reveals a continuation of the midnight black finish across the palm rests and around the keyboard. The black metallic finished areas do a good job of hiding fingerprints, unfortunately the same cannot be said of the glossy bezel HP decided to use around the screen and in the keyboard tray area. Wherever you grab the screen to open it or adjust the angle will likely be left with a greasy fingerprint mark, a matte finish would have been more practical. Fortunately the keyboard keys themselves are matte, not glossy like the tray area, the keyboard uses an island style key design with flat tops. As an added bonus for accountant types there's a number pad on the right side.
The side areas of the ENVY where the ports are found again use a silver trim made of a plastic material with a faux aluminum look. Moving to the underside of the dv7, you'll find a thick plastic skin is used to reinforce this vulnerable area and protect its internals. There is a panel that can be easily taken off with the removal of one screw and offers access to upgrade such things as the RAM, dual hard drives or wireless card. The battery is removable and upgradeable, bucking the trend of sealed case designs.
Overall build quality is very good. The ENVY dv7t uses an aluminum chassis internally to provide a solid frame that protects internals and provides resistance to flex from the outside. The only area of flex we could find on the body was in the center of the keyboard, though only if extra pressure was applied beyond that of normal typing. If you apply enough twisting force to the top screen area you can cause it to bend a few millimeters, but this is of little concern as the screen is adequately protected, no ripples appear on the screen if you push in from the lid.
The ENVY dv7t-7200 comes by default with a 6-cell 62WHr battery, this size battery sits flush with the bottom of the notebook and can be easily removed and replaced if necessary. There is also an option for a larger 9-cell, battery that HP advertises as offering 50% longer battery life. The 9-cell sticks out from the bottom which raises the back of the notebook up this can have the side benefit of creating airflow underneath for better cooling and slants the keyboard for better ergonomics. Aside from the upgradeable battery, you can also easily upgrade memory, the PCIe wireless card and one of the two hard drive bays. With so many sealed notebooks on the market these days that won't even allow you to upgrade the battery, this level of upgrade ease is nice to see.
Ports and Features
The 17-inch ENVY dv7t has all the major ports you need and the average consumer will want, though it does lack some of the more specialty and business oriented type ports. A majority of the ports are located on the left side of the laptop with just a few on the right. There are no ports on the rear edge of the notebook and the front side only has a SDHC card reader. The rest of the ports are located on the left and right sides of the notebook and here is what you get:
Left: VGA, HDMI, Ethernet (covered), two USB 3.0, microphone in and headphone out
Right: Indicator lights, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, optical drive (Blu-ray or DVD), AC adapter and Kensington lock slot
While there is an abundance of ports available, there are some business oriented and specialty ports missing that some users might care about. For instance, there's no DisplayPort video output, eSATA port, SmartCard reader or ExpressCard slot. The faster USB 3.0 transfer rates should suffice for most users, but it might have been nice to offer DisplayPort and an ExpressCard slot given the size and amount of room available with the dv7t.
The ENVY dv7t-7200 comes standard with a glossy finish 1600 x 900 HD+ screen but can also come equipped with a Full HD 1920 x 1080 screen with matte finish for an extra $150. While we could complain the Full HD should be standard for a premium laptop, the low price of the dv7t you can achieve by going with the standard screen ($649 starting) and the fact not all of us have young eyes and 20/20 vision makes it an acceptable starting point. Those that just have to have more pixels per inch and value the anti-glare quality of a matte display will likely pay up for the higher resolution Full HD screen.
The dv7t under review comes with the default 1600 x 900 display. Given the 1600 x 900 resolution, the ENVY dv7t has the same pixel density as a 15.6" screen laptop with 1366 x 768 HD resolution. This screen uses TN panel technology found in a majority of laptops, not the more expensive wide angle viewing IPS technology you may have heard of that's used on the MacBook Pro with Retina display or Lenovo's ThinkPad X230. This means colors will shift as you tilt the laptop screen back and forward, a straight-on view with the screen perpendicular to your eyes will offer the best experience. There's not much else to write home about for the HD+ screen -- colors, contrast and black levels are all average. Screen brightness is fine for indoor usage, but don't expect to be able to view the screen outdoors in the full sun. The glossy finish screen does help to make colors more bold and brilliant and is nice for movie watching, but if you're working in a brightly lit room with a light source from behind and above you'll get a lot of reflection off of the screen.
It's somewhat disappointing that HP didn't offer an option for a touchscreen display when refreshing the dv7t to Windows 8 . After all, the Windows 8 UI is all about offering touch interaction and a large 17-inch display would offer plenty of room for such screen interactions.
HP uses Beats branded speakers on the ENVY dv7t-7200, there are four speakers on top and then a subwoofer on the bottom to offer deeper tones and extra bass. The four speakers on top are located at the top of the keyboard and then bottom of the display on the left and right side. The forward firing nature of the speakers on the screen is a nice touch. The sound delivered is very clear and stays such even at loud volumes. Full volume can be defined as ridiculously loud, avoid that level, unless you need to fill a large room with sound. The Beats audio brand doesn't get much respect next to the likes of Shenheiser or Audio Technica, but for a laptop the ENVY dv7t stands out as being much better than average.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The ENVY dv7t has a Chiclet-style keyboard design (sometimes called "island style") and can be configured with a backlight for an extra $20 if customized via HP.com. The keyboard backlight is a recommended upgrade, it makes seeing key lettering easier even in a room that is lit, plus it adds a bit of design flare. The keys themselves have a matte finish while the keyboard back plate is glossy. The keys are flat and when pressed offer a good amount of travel and tactile feedback. The keyboard is firm and will not flex under typical typing pressure, but can be depressed if you apply an above average amount of downward pressure. The keyboard quality and feel is not as good as the often praised Lenovo ThinkPad series with its ergonomically cupped keys and precisely engineered tactile response and travel distances, but for a consumer notebook the ENVY dv7t is quite good.
There is a number pad on the right side that should please accounting types. One note about having the number pad squeezed in is that it means the alphanumeric keys are not centered to the display, but rather they are shifted to the left relative to the display center, this might bother some people who like precise symmetry.
The ENVY dv7t touchpad has quite a large surface area measuring 4.13-inch wide by 2.13-inch deep. That's nowhere near as large as the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch that offers a 5.2-inch wide by 4.3-inch deep trackpad, but HP chose to offer dedicated mouse buttons instead of the integrated clickpad buttons Apple uses. With Windows 8 the more room you get on the touchpad the better, there are a lot of touchpad gestures you can do and swiping from side to side is encouraged for navigation, therefore a clickpad and deeper touchpad surface may have made more sense with the ENVY. Worth noting is the fact the touchpad is slightly sunken, which is helpful for finding it in the dark or to avoid looking down. Unfortunately if you opt for the keyboard backlight the touchpad does not receive the same backlight treatment.
As with a majority of Windows laptops, the ENVY uses Synaptics drivers for the touchpad that allow you to customize some settings like cursor speed, enabling or disabling gesture featres and palm detection sensitivity to avoid accidental cursor movement. For the most part the touchpad worked well, though sometimes the cursor would jump even though I had palm detection sensitivity turned up. The bigger issue for most users will be figuring out the new Windows 8 screen navigation features which just seem more intuitive for use with a touchscreen rather than touchpad. Certain Windows 8 navigation such as bringing up the Charms bar on the right and other hidden shortcuts that require precise placement of the cursor in specific areas of the screen can be easier to do with a mouse that provides more accurate cursor placement.
The mouse buttons below the touchpad are a bit of a let down. While they work fine they have very little travel distance and don't give convincing feedback to know you've fully pressed them.
Just below the keyboard on the right side is a fingerprint reader, this is a standard feature and can be handy as an alternative to using typed passwords for logging into the machine or even websites when used in combination with built-in software.
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