Some of you may have noticed that the start of the month also coincided with IFA, Europe’s biggest tech show filled with new announcements and product launches. I was on the show floor, doing what it is I do, and making sure the world knows about what was going on over in Berlin.
Naturally I’d need a computer if I hoped to get anything done, and in my infinite wisdom I decided it would be a great idea to take a review laptop along to see what it could handle. It's a risky move, but the good news is that it didn't completely backfire on me, and meant I got to spend some serious time with HP's Envy 13 without wanting to throw it out of the window. But how nice is it really?
Design & Specs
As the name suggests the Envy 13 is a 13-inch laptop, sticking with the traditional 16:9 ratio and all the associated bezels. Port wise we have two USB ports, a single USB-C port, a microSD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, fingerprint scanner, and proprietary charging port.
The body is made from silver aluminium, which while shiny has a tendency to wind up with random marks on it. While they tend to buff out pretty easily (a jumper sleeve does the job perfectly), it’s a bit disconcerting that they pop up at random with no indication where they’ve come from.
Specs on this model (the ah0001na for those who want to get technical) are Windows 10 Home, an Intel Core i5 processor (1.6GHz quad core, with the ability to boost to 3.4GHz), 8GB of RAM, a NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card with 2GB of dedicated memory, and a 256GB solid state hard drive. There’s also a quad speaker system tuned by Bang & Olufsen, and fast charging.
A second, more expensive model is also available (the ah0003na) with an i7 processor (1.8GHz, which can boost to 4GHz), 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Everything else is the same.
The keyboard is standard for a laptop this small, and while those transitioning from larger machines might notice a few keys missing there are no omissions of hugely important keys. One of the weirder design choices are the size of the letters on the keys, which are bigger than the already-supersized letters on the Macbook Pro. There’s no real reason why this is the case, though in certain lighting the letters almost seem to disappear into the keys. If you, or anyone you know, has ever struggled to see characters on a keyboard then this might be ideal for you. The keyboard backlight also has a light purple, almost pink hue. It doesn't come out well on camera, but it seems to be the light interacting with the silver metal, which is a little bit bizarre.
The Envy 13 is one of these new laptops that opts for the annoying trend of including USB-C alongside a proprietary charging port - which is exactly the kind of thing USB-C adoption was supposed to replace. Weirdly the USB-C port does charge at roughly the same rate (as far as I could tell), but it was inconsistent with whether it would actually work or not. Initially plugging in a laptop-ready USB-C cable connected to a 20A charger didn't do anything, but then after checking it did. Scanning some forum posts tell me that HP has its own charging solutions, so some USB-C cables may not work, but there's nothing special about mine. In fact the charger itself is generic, and the cable came with a Huawei laptop. In other words, don't lose track of the regular proprietary connector, or you may be in for a tricky time.
My guess is that USB-C is designed to slowly introduce the format alongside more common port-types, so people can get used to the new connectors. Without alienating people who might have already invested in USB-C gadgets already. Or, at the very least, so people can use USB-C devices without having to sacrifice their charging capabilities. Whatever the reason, hopefully we'll see less of this in the future - from all laptop makers, not just HP.
Another point of note is that throughout my use the trackpad seemed off centre, since I consistently struggled to hit the right click area correctly. I don’t know why, because when I measured it I found the trackpad is perfectly centred. I must hold my hands strangely for some reason.
The USB ports are also folded up, no doubt to make the Envy 13 slightly thinner than full-size USB ports would allow. It takes a little bit of getting used to if you want to plug things in, and those minimalist USB sticks still struggle to fit comfortably compared to proper ports.
As mentioned before, the display is 13 inches in size, made from Gorilla Glass 5, with 16:9 aspect ratio and Full HD resolution. All pretty typical, as is the touchscreen which continues to be an annoying addition. Or at least that’s how I feel. I tried to get by with the touch display, but as I usually find with them it was more irritating than useful - leading me to deactivate it. Now I don’t accidentally click links or close windows when I’m adjusting the screen or wiping away some dust.
As you would expect, the screen is nice and clear, though the colouring is off. It's not an uncommon fault, from the sounds of things, and the consensus is that it was down to the integrated Intel graphics card inside the device. As I found out, disabling the Intel graphics and letting everything run on the NVIDIA graphics card solved the issue - with an irritating downside that I wasn't able to alter the brightness. But basic issues often have simple fixes, and it turned out the drivers were simply out of date. A quick update and the problem was solved, which is something you should bear in mind if you're going to pick up one of these for yourself.
All in all the display is nice. Once the colouring issue was dealt with I had no problems or complaints. There's nothing overtly special about what it has to offer, but 1080p is more than enough for basic laptop needs.
It's easy to be cynical about tech companies partnering with a big audio company for specialised speaker tuning on devices like this, especially where certain fashionable companies are concerned. But I have no complaints about the audio on the Envy 13, which has been tuned by Bang and Olufsen. The bass is a little bit weak, which some people might take issue with, but otherwise I was enjoying what I heard.
The audio is crisp, clear, and perfectly loud enough, provided (naturally) that you're listening to good quality sound. Good speakers can't improve the terrible music from a fan-made YouTube, after all. It actually sounded a lot clearer than the Huawei Matebook X Pro, which also has a quad speaker sound system. The Huawei is let down by the fact the extra bass muddies up the rest of the audio a bit, which the Envy 13 naturally doesn't have a problem with.
So there's good, clear sound, which is all anyone can ask for really.
The main thing I noticed about the HP Envy’s performance is that setting Windows to prioritise battery over all else slows it down considerably. Couple that with the terrible hotel Wi-Fi I was forced to endure during my trip to Berlin (a pre-set maximum speed of 1MB/s) and I found there was a lot of lag - especially when I was trying to type in my web browser. Thankfully fiddling with the settings to a halfway compromise fixed this issue without affecting the battery life too much.
Speaking of battery, HP says that the Envy 13 has a maximum battery life of 14 hours. I never got nearly that close, but during my time with the laptop (including days at IFA with limited access to power sockets) I found that it held up quite well. I’m not sure it would last an entire day of constant use, especially if you have the brightness up and are opting for performance over efficiency, but it does a good job.
To give you an idea of how much the power can drain, I did test the power usage by streaming Doctor Strange from Netflix over Wi-Fi with brightness on max, battery saver off, and the power settings set to prioritise performance over all else. Then I did the same with brightness at minimum, battery saver on, and prioritising battery life. That’s starting from 100% in both cases, obviously. In each case the 1h55m film left the Envy 13 with 64% and 82% respectively. Obviously the brighter more power-hungry settings were always going to drain the battery faster, but an 18 per cent difference is quite important. In fact losing almost 40 per cent of its power in under two hours isn’t that great. Now you know why those battery-saving settings exist.
I also did a full battery drain, with all of the above battery-preserving features intact. I left two Chrome tabs open, one of which was playing a 24 hour video to prevent the machine automatically entering sleep mode after a few minutes. That kept the computer running for seven and a half hours, which is a far cry from the 14 hours HP advertises. But while it's not an industry-leasing battery life is enough to keep the Envy 13 for almost an entire working day if you’re conservative. Naturally the more you do the faster it will lose power.
The good news is that if you do manage to drain the battery and require a recharge, it takes 60-90 minutes to get back to near 100% if you flip back into battery-friendly modes. Those figures come from casual web browsing, and naturally the more you do the longer it’ll take to get a full battery.
Unfortunately, like a lot of Windows devices, as soon as you connect to the internet the Envy 13 starts downloading a bunch of crap apps nobody needs, Random mobile games, Microsoft Office apps, and things like that. The last two laptops I've got my hands on did this, so it's certainly not an HP-specific thing, but it is incredibly irritating. If I wanted Candy Crush Saga I would go ahead and download it myself. They're easily removed though, but it does take a few minutes to get them all purged.
The fingerprint scanner is on the right-hand side of the laptop, but it is a little bit small. It's a single strip, which means you have to be very precise in placing your finger. Or at least that's what I found at any rate. Normally that wouldn't be an issue, but the position on the side of the machine means it can be a little tricky to do that. A bit annoying, since more often than not I ended up having to use my PIN to log in instead.
Weight-wise, the Envy 13 is 1.3kg, which isn’t all that much. Unless, of course, you’re walking around a packed convention hall for three whole days, then you really start to feel the weight taking its toll on your shoulders. As it turned out, the laptop was the heaviest thing in my bag, but there’s not a whole lot that can be done about that. 1300 grams is not a lot, and you’d be hard pressed to find something significantly lighter. LG’s Gram is under a kilogram, sure, but that seems to be an exception rather than the norm.
The i5 Envy 13 comes out at £849, while the i7 is £1,049. Neither of those price tags are cheap, but given how high end laptops tend to cost a goddamn fortune anyway this isn’t quite as bad. It’s still a lot of money considering, especially since there isn’t a whole lot that helps the Envy 13 stand out from everything else out there. Still, it feels like better value than the likes of the iPhone XS, but then again you’d have to try incredibly hard to be less value for money than a £999 smartphone.
The HP Envy 13 isn’t the flashiest or most impressive laptop on the market, but that’s okay. It offers a great mix of good performance, great battery life, and a good mix of features that should accommodate most people’s needs. It’s not going to be the type of thing that a hardcore gamer who wants ultra specs will want to consider, but for everyone else there are plenty of worse options out there. The best way to describe it is that it's not special. There's nothing that really makes it stand out, but it works and it works reasonably well. That is all you really need out of a machine, regardless of whatever else it may have to offer.
The price might be a turn off for a lot of people, as will the weird colouring issues on the display if they don't know how to update the drivers, but there’s plenty to like about it. It doesn’t feel as premium as some of the more expensive flashier laptops you can buy, but it certainly doesn’t look cheap and tacky either. I just wish I understood why HP changed its logo by slashing away bits and leaving us with this:
It’s really rather weird-looking, even if it still clearly reads’ HP’.
- Two models available an i5 for £849 and an i7 £1,049
- Reviewed model has 8GB of RAM, NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card with 2GB of dedicated memory, 256GB solid state hard drive, quad speaker system, and a 13-inch Full HD display.
- Nothing too special, but it works and it works rather well. That's the most important thing of all
- Might seem a bit pricey, but it's cheaper than some of the other premium laptops out there.
- Good clear audio, but the bass is a bit weak
- The battery is a far cry from the advertised 14 hours, but it'll last you through most of the day
- The keyboard has weirdly large characters, and the backlight comes out with a florescent purplish glow
- The display weirdly affects the colouring right out of the box, but was fixed by updating the drivers on the Intel graphics card
- It has USB-C, with inconsistent charging capabilities, as well as a proprietary charger. It's not fully clear why.