The newly refreshed HP Envy 15 is a big, chunky clamshell laptop that was utterly overshadowed by the flashy Spectre X2 hybrid when they were announced earlier this month.
But the two devices have more in common than one might think, as both are Windows 10-powered productivity machines with a CPU taken from Intel's latest 6th-generation Skylake range. Business tablets are on the rise, so can the revamped Envy 15 prove an exemplar of what traditional laptops can do? We got our hands on one to find out.
The problem with laptops as vast, thick and heavy as the 2.36kg Envy 15 is that they're usually better parked on a desk than carried around for lap use. Indeed, having picked up this demo unit, we certainly wouldn't want to lug it over our shoulders for more than a few minutes at a time.
That heft does come with benefits, though. There's enough room for an optical drive (a DVD/RW in this case), that oft-forgotten but frequently useful casualty of the shift towards tablets and ultrabooks, as well as four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, an SD card reader and an Ethernet port for plugging into a wired LAN connection.
There's even enough room for a full-size keyboard, with numeric keypad. It makes for very comfortable typing, but we almost immediately managed to jam the ‘O' key, leaving it permanently pressed in. It's not a good sign of a product's build quality, and disappointing from a veteran manufacturer like HP.
To be fair, the rest of machine seems fairly sturdy, with a solid case and a firm screen hinge. We also appreciate the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor for an extra layer of security. It looks very much like the same design as that of the HP Elite x2 1011 G1 hybrid so, although we didn't get to try it out ourselves, it should be suitably fast and accurate.
As the name suggests, the Envy 15 features a 15.6in display at 1920x1080 resolution and 141ppi. This is far from the crispest display on the market, but it looks fine in practice and we had no problems reading small text or admiring the details in images and videos. An anti-glare coating dealt capably with overhead lighting, reducing reflections without suffering a grainy or oily effect overlaid on the screen - a sadly common problem with such coatings.
That said, colours generally looked a bit flat and washed out, even on a high brightness setting. This is an interesting, if somewhat annoying, contrat with the many convertible and 2-in-1 devices which have brilliantly vibrant colours but are problematically reflective.
Operating system and software
Fans of the Start menu will be pleased to know that the new Envy 15 runs Windows 10 Home, which brings back the famed UI element after Microsoft ditched it in Windows 8.
It would also have been nice to have, say, the BitLocker encryption features of Windows 10 Pro, but the Home version is still a very good all-round OS. Plus, Microsoft has committed to releasing more frequent content updates for Windows 10 than with previous versions, so it could get even better over time.
HP isn't as bad as others in loading its products with bloatware, but there were still a few pieces of trivial or useless software on the Envy 15 when we checked. These are mostly redundant utilities, but since the Envy 15 includes a fingerprint scanner it's a shame that it doesn't also ship with HP Client Security.
This has shown itself to be a very powerful and versatile tool on other scanner-equipped HP machines, like the Elite x2 1011 G1, and we'd definitely liked to have seen it here as well. True, it's designed for enterprise use, but it's also user friendly enough for most consumers to get to grips with it.
The combination of an Intel Skylake Core i5-6500U processor, dedicated Nvidia GeForce graphics and a huge 12GB of RAM sounds like HP has equipped the Envy 15 for intensive design and creative work. We were able to test video editing on it, and the good news is that the Envy 15 copes with this task cleanly and smoothly.
It's hard to beat the colossal 2TB hard drive in the Envy 15. This doesn't offer the speed of an SSD, but should provide plenty of space for working with big image and video files even if only 1.75TB is available to use after accounting for the OS and pre-installed software.
We suspect that some large applications and files were loaded onto the HDD for the benefit of a demonstration, rather than because they're included at launch, so it's likely that 250GB won't have entirely gone missing on the final product.
Our mishap with the ‘O' key has us eyeing the Envy 15 with a certain suspicion and, although it isn't quite as bulky as a lot of budget notebooks, our ultrabook-softened shoulders would still prefer it on a desk rather than in our bag.
Nonetheless, this big beast has the power to serve as a respectable pseudo-mobile workstation. Until we see tablets of which we can say the same, laptops will continue to find a home - and deservedly so.
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