HP spent the last several years developing its ENVY line of notebook PCs into a lust-worthy series of premium laptops with sleek lines and cutting-edge performance. The 17-inch ENVY 17 is the largest in the ENVY line and as such has room for some of the best processors and graphics available at a starting price of around $1,200. We took a closer look at this notebook to see if it's worth its weight in aluminum.
Build and Design
Like most of the "premium" notebooks available today the ENVY 17 features brushed aluminum construction combined with black-painted metal trim to give the laptop a clean yet durable appearance. Although this isn't a "thin and light" laptop, the ENVY 17 is as thin as 1.28 inches and tips the scales at just over 7.3 pounds. What makes this all the more impressive is that HP still includes a considerable number of ports (more on that later) as well as a slot-loading optical drive.
The metal lid protecting the 17-inch screen is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that the matte-black finish looks nice and the metal provides reasonable durability while keeping the lid thin. Unfortunately, the metal is so thin that you can easily apply pressure to the back the screen (creating visible screen distortions or "ripples") and risk damaging the actual display panel. This probably isn't an issue for people using the ENVY 17 as a desktop replacement, but you should be aware of the potential for screen damage if you plan to travel with this notebook.
One minor complaint about the design of the ENVY 17 is that it looks a little too much like all of the other MacBook-inspired premium notebooks on the market. In fact, when I took the ENVY 17 into a Starbucks a stranger approached me and asked, "Is that one of the new MacBooks?" Sure, you can tell this is an HP if you look at the screen lid or get close enough to see the HP logo above the keyboard, but I don't think the design of the ENVY 17 is doing anything to help the unique brand identity of HP.
Unlike the majority of premium notebooks with aluminum construction, the ENVY 17 is actually very easy to upgrade. Simply slide the battery release switch to one side and the bottom front half of the notebook slides away revealing the two SATA storage bays, wireless card and 6-cell battery. Remove a few more screws and you can remove the entire bottom of the ENVY 17 and access the RAM slots and optional mSATA storage.
Ports and Features
As mentioned previously, HP didn't sacrifice ports in order to make this 17-inch notebook relatively thin and light. You get three USB 3.0 ports (thank you!) as well as a standard USB 2.0 port, but you also get dual DisplayPort jacks, HDMI, a media card reader, slot-loading optical drive, Gigabit Ethernet, microphone jack and dual headphone jacks and a physical volume dial! You typically won't find all those ports on such a thin 17-inch notebook.
Front: Speaker grills
Back: Fan exhaust
Left: Optical drive, two USB 3.0 ports, microphone, two headphone jacks, Kensington lock slot
Right: Media card reader, HDMI, DisplayPort x 2, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, volume dial, Ethernet, AC power jack
Screen and Speakers
The 17.3-inch display is one HP's "Radiance" screens with LED backlighting. There is just one screen resolution; a full 1920x1080 but you can configure the ENVY 17 with either the standard Radiance display or a "3D Radiance" version that delivers 3D video and still image playback along with an included set of HP-branded 3D active shutter glasses. As with most of HP's consumer laptops, the ENVY 17 uses a display with an "edge-to-edge" glass protective layer. This helps improve contrast and color saturation but also makes the screen extremely prone to reflections. Translation, the screen isn't great outdoors or in a room with bright lights.
As with all TN panels, the viewing angles on the ENVY's screen are pretty average: The screen looks great when viewed from straight on or from a modest horizontal angle, but the colors appear washed out when viewed from above and colors look inverted when viewed from below. Considering that this is HP's top-of-the-line consumer notebook we would have been happier if HP offered an optional IPS display with near perfect colors at all viewing angles.
In terms of audio, let's just come right out and say the ENVY 17 probably has the best built-in speaker setup of any current 17-inch notebook. You get four speakers (two above the keyboard and two on the front edge of the notebook) and a built-in subwoofer located on the bottom of the ENVY 17. These speakers and subwoofer work together with the Beats audio software to deliver fantastic sound with distortion-free highs, midtones and base. To make the listening experience that much more enjoyable, the ENVY 17 also features a physical volume dial on the right side which allows you to instantly adjust your speaker volume. HP calls this an "analog volume dial" but it's actually a digital "fly by wire" dial. By that, we mean there is no "hard stop" at the lowest or highest volume setting; you can spin the volume dial in either direction forever ... it's the software that knows when you've reached the lowest or highest volume setting.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size chiclet-style keyboard with LED backlighting and features a simple layout. The individual keys are matte black with a single bright LED under each key (rather than a grid of LEDs under the keyboard with multiple keys relying on a single LED). The matte black keys are surrounded by the aluminum frame of the notebook. The keyboard support structure is fine, but there is a hint of flex or "bounce" on the left side of the keyboard above the optical drive if you type with significant pressure. Individual key travel and feedback (the difference you feel between when a button is pressed or not) is quite good and makes typing quiet and enjoyable.
The Synaptics touchpad is actually a Synaptics "clickpad" (a touchpad surface which lets you press down anywhere to produce a click). There are no dedicated left and right mouse buttons but HP marked the button area with a single gray line so you know where to press for a traditional left and right click.
The default touchpad settings are fine for "tap to click" use or traditional touchpad users who use one finger to move the cursor and rest a thumb or another finger on the "left button" for clicking. You can also adjust the touchpad driver settings for multi-finger gesture controls.
Our HP ENVY 17 review unit has the following specifications:
These specifications are very good for a 17-inch multimedia and gaming notebook; the quad-core i7 processor is more than fast enough for virtually any activity and the AMD Radeon graphics are powerful enough to play most modern games at good frame rates with mid-to-high detail settings. Our test configuration comes with a single 750GB hard drive but you can configure the ENVY 17 with up to two 1TB hard drives and the notebook also has a mSATA slot so you can add a small form factor SSD as a cache drive for extremely fast Windows boot and system resume.
Performance and Benchmarks
The ENVY 17 delivers some of the best performance you'll find in a 17-inch laptop priced between $1,200 and $1,500. The Intel Core i7-2670QM processor in our review unit provides exceptional performance for everyday use and basic office productivity but also has plenty of muscle for transcoding massive files if you're into making videos and music.
The AMD Radeon HD 7690M XT dedicated graphics aren't the most powerful option in this price range but this graphics card can still handle 3D video playback and most of the latest games. Not only that, but the thermal performance of the 7690M helps keep temperatures low while still providing a great visual experience.
The previously mentioned the 750GB hard drive in our test system is reasonably fast but you can improve the overall system performance by either replacing the hard drive with a standard SATA solid state drive (SSD) or you can add a small mSATA SSD as a cache drive and essentially turn a standard hard drive into a high-performance hybrid drive.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark which measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 is a newer measure of overall graphics performance in DirectX 11 games (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
The cooling fan inside the ENVY 17 stays running most of the time and remains relatively quiet during all but the most demanding activities. The fan gets pretty loud (loud enough to disturb other people in a small office or classroom) when you're playing a graphically intense game such as Batman: Arkham City or The Witcher 2. If you aren't running benchmark tests or playing the latest games on high detail settings then you'll probably never notice the fan.
External temperatures are all pretty modest with the exception of a hot spot near the fan intake (the heat sink for the CPU is located in this area).
The ENVY 17 lasted for five hours and 12 minutes of continuous web surfing during our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This isn't as good as some of the less powerful 15-inch premium multimedia notebooks such as the Dell XPS 15z, but it is among the best battery life for 17-inch entertainment PCs. You'll probably have trouble getting the "7 hours" of battery life that HP claims unless you let the notebook occasionally go into sleep mode, but you should be able to get around six hours of continuous battery life if you turn the screen brightness down and aren't using the Blu-ray/DVD drive.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
The folks at HP like to call the ENVY 17 a "premium entertainment PC" and that's not a bad description of this sleek 17-inch notebook. The combination of a powerful Intel Core i7 processor, AMD Radeon graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 1080p display form the basis of a solid high-performance PC. But add the aluminum construction, backlit keyboard and amazing speakers with Beats audio and you've got breathtaking precision combined with performance.
As if that wasn't not enough, the ENVY 17 also comes loaded with "real" software and virtually no bloatware. You get the full versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9 along with CyberLink PowerDVD, Microsoft Office Starter 2010 and Norton Internet Security with a 2-year subscription to Norton AntiVirus 2012.
If there are any flaws in the design of the HP ENVY 17 they are relatively minor. The glossy "Radiance" display is prone to nasty reflections under bright room lights or sunlight making it hard to read text or watch an HD movie without being distracted by your own reflection or glare from lights. The screen lid is pretty sturdy but you can bend it inward with some pressure and risk damaging the screen. Similarly, the aluminum chassis is nice and durable, but the sides are pretty thin and might not hold up well if you drop the notebook. Fan noise wasn't a problem while watching movies but the fan gets unacceptably loud while playing graphically intense games like Batman: Arkham City.
In short, the ENVY 17 is a classy 17-inch multimedia notebook with great speakers, good performance and plenty of extras. The few potential issues we found aren't likely to be a problem for most people who will use this notebook to replace a family desktop PC. If you're in the market for a 17-inch family laptop with great performance and fantastic entertainment features then the ENVY 17 is the perfect choice.