Introducing the HP Envy 14 Spectre

It's interesting, we recently met up with HP in San Francisco to see what they have planned for the future (and they do have some very compelling stuff in the pipeline), but one of the quirkier things I noticed was a shift in branding. For a while now, HP has had three lines in the consumer range: G series, Pavilion, and Envy. Envy was their absolute top of the line, but now it's being essentially decremented for the more-premium-than-premium Spectre. Our HP Envy 14 Spectre review system is the first of this new line, but it won't be the last.

A 14" ultrabook that almost looks like it's cribbing from Apple's iPhone design, HP's Envy 14 Spectre is nothing if not eyecatching and a testament to the American PC industry's increasing understanding that performance isn't everything. Featuring a 900p screen, backlit keyboard, and a healthy amount of scratch-resistant glass, the Envy 14 Spectre is premium through and through and commands a premium price. But is it worth the expense, or has HP misfired?

Usually when I test hardware I have a pretty good idea of who it's intended for, but I'll admit the Envy 14 Spectre is one of the few times when I've been at least a little bit perplexed. HP's engineers may be liberally lifting from some of Apple's design language, but there's a lot to the Spectre that's wholly new. It's one of those products where you can trace it's lineage reasonably well but you're still perplexed as to how it was the result. That's not necessarily a bad thing—we like innovation—but it's a curiosity to be sure.

HP Envy 14 Spectre Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-3667U
(2x2GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.2GHz, 22nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM76
Memory 4GB Samsung DDR3-1600 (Maximum 1x8GB)
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(16 EUs, up to 1.15GHz)
Display 14" LED Glossy 16:9 900p
LGD0306
Storage 2x 128GB Samsung PM830 mSATA 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive -
Networking Realtek RTL8168 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino 6235 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio IDT 92HD91BXX HD audio
Stereo speakers
Combination mic/headphone jack
Battery 4-cell, 56Wh
Front Side Speaker grills
Right Side Mute button
Volume dial
Beats Audio shortcut button
Kensington lock
AC adapter
Left Side Mini-DisplayPort
HDMI
Ethernet
USB 3.0
USB 2.0
Mic/headphone combo jack
SD/MMC card reader
Back Side Vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 12.8" x 8.7" x 0.79"
325mm x 221mm x 20mm
Weight 3.98 lbs
1.8kg
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Card reader
Beats audio
Backlit keyboard
SSD
NFC radio
Warranty 2-year limited hardware
Pricing Starting at $1,399
As configured: $1,849

The Intel Core i7-3667U processor in our review unit sits at the top of Intel's ultra-low voltage food chain. Based on Intel's 22nm Ivy Bridge architecture, it starts at a nominal 2GHz but is able to turbo up to a very respectable 3GHz on both cores and 3.2GHz on a single core. As with all of Intel's 3rd generation mobile Core processors, it includes the HD 4000 integrated graphics part, which runs at a 350MHz clock speed but can also turbo up to 1.15GHz as needed. Intel's made great strides with the HD 4000 IGP, but I feel like we're going to be waiting until Haswell before we really stop feeling the pinch that results from not having dedicated graphics.

Now here's something interesting about our review unit. HP only advertises the Envy 14 Spectre as being available with either a 128GB SSD or 256GB SSD, yet ours is equipped with two 128GB Samsung SSDs. Both AIDA64 and Intel's own Rapid Storage Technology confirm this with two different serial numbers for the drives. The PM830 is a very respectable piece of hardware, and while the storage capacity isn't going to knock your socks off it's definitely going to be at least adequate for most users. It's interesting that HP opted to use a pair of 128GB drives instead of a single 256GB drive...but then didn't configure them in RAID.

The rest of the Envy 14 Spectre is fairly respectable, though the memory is unfortunately confined to a single channel just like the Folio 13. A second DIMM slot would've occupied roughly the same amount of space as a second mSATA drive, so I have to wonder what the rationale was behind this trade-off as it definitely negatively impacts the IGP. What may raise some eyebrows is HP's inclusion of a Near-Field Communication radio, and I can tell you it looks like HP is definitely doubling down on this technology in the near future. The applications are impressive; an NFC-equipped smartphone can theoretically transfer photos and data directly to the Envy 14 Spectre with no need for cabling or Bluetooth (which is also included.)

In and Around the HP Envy 14 Spectre
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  • rarson - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    I lived through computing in the '90s, and I don't think it sounds ironic at all. Apple's operating systems suck, in my opinion. Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    To heck with Apple, why would you buy this instead of a Thinkpad T430? For a pound more and hundreds of dollars less you get a 1600x900 screen that ISN'T covered with a shiny sheet of glass, Windows 7 Pro, Optimus graphics (with halfway decent performance), more USB ports...I mean, I could go on, but I guess I just don't understand this lightweight, super-thin business. It's already a 14" laptop. They just aren't THAT heavy.

    I also don't get why you'd want a sheet of glass in front of your screen, but I'll let that go.
    Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    The T series is full of beautiful and functional machines, but they aren't for everyone. It's hard to argue that ultraportables don't have a place in the market.

    Also as a note, the T430's 5400M is kinda mediocre. Perhaps better than its integrated competitors, but not THAT great compared to more modern consumer dGPUs like the Kepler 640M.
    Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I'm not saying ultraportables don't have a place in the market, I'm just saying I don't understand why people would pay the premium to get them. Don't get me wrong, I love small computers. I went from 1366x768 at 13.3" to 1366x768 at 11.6" to 1600x900 at 14.0" and I think I've finally arrived at the perfect compromise of size and screen real estate. I just can't imagine that I'd ever be willing to pay 50% more to get a laptop that in most metrics is inferior, just to save a pound in weight.

    Oh, and don't get me wrong; I didn't mean that I thought the T430 had a great GPU...believe me, I didn't get it for gaming (I have a desktop for that). But it's a decided improvement over the Nvidia GPU in predecessor--about twice as good--which puts it in the category of being able to play most games at lower detail settings. It's also appreciably better than Intel's offering, and is one more argument of the T430 over an ultrabook like this.
    Reply
  • Dug - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Because it's lighter, has a better screen, thunderbolt, better keyboard, better trackpad, better case, SSD, better power adapter, etc.

    The screen is not a sheet of glass. You are thinking of a Macbook pro.

    We deliver both of these models at work, and no one has complained about the Macbook Air. The Lenovo on the other hand has a bad keyboard, bad camera, bad screen, bad design.
    Not saying its a bad computer, but as a business user, it doesn't compare.

    The screen on the Lenovo's is so bad people have returned them to get a Macbook Air. The color gamut and off screen viewing is horrible.
    Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I was comparing the ThinkPad to this HP laptop, but okay, we can play. :-P Yes, the Air is lighter. But it's screen is glossy, which (in my opinion) completely obviates any other advantages it might have with regards to contrast ratio and color gamut. Yes, it has Thunderbolt, which will matter in a couple of years, but honestly, isn't that important at the moment. I don't know what the heck you're talking about with regards to the keyboard and trackpad, because both are top-notch on the T430.

    Your "better case" comment is similarly fatuous. Are you seriously going to tell me that the Air is more durable than a ThinkPad? As for the SSD issue, you can buy a T430 and an 256GB SSD, install it yourself, and still have a system that's basically superior in every way (except arguably weight) to the 256GB 13" Air, for less money.

    "The screen is not a sheet of glass. You are thinking of a Macbook pro." No, actually, I was thinking of the HP Envy 14 Spectre, which clearly has a sheet of glass in front of the display. That's the comparison that I was (obviously) making.

    "The Lenovo on the other hand has a bad keyboard, bad camera, bad screen, bad design." You have seriously got to be kidding me. The keyboard and overall design are great. The screen may not have the highest contrast or color gamut, but it's still matte, which (again, in my opinion) makes it superior to the Air screen. The only thing I can't really speak to is the camera, because I did get one, but I don't really care THAT much about it, as long as it's there.

    "The screen on the Lenovo's is so bad people have returned them to get a Macbook Air. The color gamut and off screen viewing is horrible." Yeah, no, I'm sorry. You're not gonna convince me that one or two people trading a ThinkPad for a Mac is some kind of sweeping condemnation of the LCD panel in the former. I get that people's tastes in computers vary. I get that some people like Macs, and that's okay. But a lot of what you wrote is--let's be frank--misleading nonsense.
    Reply
  • Jeff Bellin - Tuesday, September 04, 2012 - link

    I'm continually confused by the automatic disqualification of a screen that is glossy when there are so many choices of very high quality "screen protectors" that very effectively turn a glossy screen into various levels and types of matter properties. I've used several and they all work very well, though it takes some doing to find the right version of protector to gain the matte finish you seek. Advice: go for a bit less matte than you might prefer: the semi-matte finishes on, say the Sony Z series have excellent contrast and color fidelity and there is less loss of brightness, and two heavy a matte "filter" may bring a "screen door" effect that is highly undesirable. The semi-matte/semi gloss filters will do the job of eliminating that mirror effect of high gloss screens and otherwise do little to impede the qualities of the base screen.

    Can we get over the disqualification of all glossy screens? (which I would be with 100% if these "workarounds" were not so easy and cheap to obtain.)
    Reply
  • beisat - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Personally, i'm quite glad that these producers are understanding the elegance of thin, high quality products - but I really can't blame Apple for sueing about designs like this. Looking at the picture on the first page, this thing looking soooo much like a macbook pro it's scary. Reply
  • kmmatney - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I thought that's what the whole "ultrabook" thing is all about - making Macbook Air machines for Windows. The trouble is is that they are also trying to sell these at Mac prices... Reply
  • xype - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    The trouble is that Apple’s prices are competitive. If you have only 5 laptop models in total you get your margins increased by sheer volume already; no PC hardware manufacturer will sell anywhere close to Apple’s numbers of a specific model.

    And the Ultrabook was about the specs, not about the look of the devices. Have a look at the Lenovo X1 (ArsTechnica has a review)—that at least is something that I can consider an alternative when people ask me what to buy. The rest? Why not buy a Mac directly, if you want an aluminium "Ultrabook"?
    Reply

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