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PC Mag’s* HP ENVY 14 Spectre* Review

HP Envy 14 Spectre*

Review Date:  March 13, 2012

PCMag.com* Editor Rating: 4 stars, “Very Good”

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Aluminum? Been there. Carbon fiber? Seen that. Plastic? Please. The hippest, slickest material for encasing an Ultrabook™ is glass—scratch-resistant glass covering not only the screen, as on the Dell XPS 13* ($999.99 direct, 4 stars), but also the lid and palm rest of the glossiest, flossiest Ultrabook yet, the glamorous HP Envy 14 Spectre ($1,399.99 direct).

Now, HP already makes a perfectly good Ultrabook—so good, in fact, that it's our Editors' Choice, the HP Folio 13* ($1,048.99 direct, 4 stars). What the Envy 14 Spectre (Best Deal: $1,599.99 at HP Direct) has to offer is a premium experience, with not only a glass-shielded screen but a 14- instead of 13.3-inch, higher-resolution screen; not only a backlit keyboard but one with a proximity sensor that dims the keys when you depart and relights them when you return; and features ranging from Bluetooth® and Intel® WiDi to Intel® Smart Connect Technology for getting e-mail, calendar, and social networking updates while the PC's asleep.

It's not cheap—for a C-note more than the Envy, you can get a Lenovo IdeaPad U300s* ($1,495 direct, 4 stars) with an Intel® Core i7 processor and 256GB solid-state drive, compared to the Spectre's standard-Ultrabook-fare Intel® Core i5 processor and 128GB SSD. (A Spectre with Intel Core i7 processor power and a 256GB SSD is $1,899.99.) But if you're looking for an Ultrabook status symbol, the answer is clear as glass.


HP boasts that the Envy 14 Spectre fits a 14-inch display into a 13.3-inch frame. At 0.8 by 12.9 by 8.7 inches (HWD), the system is indeed about the same size as the Asus Zenbook UX31-RSL8* ($1,049 list, 4 stars), the only 13.3-inch Ultrabook to match its 1,600 by 900 screen resolution, though it's about half an inch wider than the Folio 13 or Toshiba Portege Z830-S8302* ($1,429 list, 3.5 stars). Between its larger screen and its glass armor, the Spectre is also about a pound heavier than most 13.3-inch Ultrabooks—3.95 pounds on PC Labs' scale, still light enough to be no bother in a briefcase.

With black glass covering its aluminum lid and clear glass overlaid on its aluminum palm rest, the Spectre offers a striking, mirror-finish appearance that will keep you buffing away fingerprints like a classic car owner at a concours. Rounded corners and a black screen bezel add to the system's allure. A little glowing logo at the right of the palm rest indicates the HP's built-in Beats Audio*, complete with physical volume dial, mute button, and a button that launches the Beats graphic-equalizer software; it's not going to drown out the HP Envy 17* (2012) ($1,484.99 direct, 4 stars) with its multiple speakers and subwoofer, but the Spectre's audio is noticeably both louder and sharper than other Ultrabooks'.

The brightly backlit keyboard (toggled by F5, which stays lit even when the rest of the keyboard is dim so you can find it again) offers a quiet, first-rate typing feel, without the too-shallow travel that plagues some ultrathin models. Our only gripe is that not only are Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn doubled up on the cursor arrows instead of getting their own keys, but that HP's repeated its pet oddity of full-sized horizontal arrows bracketing half-sized vertical ones. The glass-topped touchpad works smoothly, though its button area (a strip at the bottom) takes a firm push to click.

The Spectre's 14-inch screen isn't the world's brightest, but if you stick to its top couple of backlight levels you'll enjoy vivid color and contrast as well as the 1,600 by 900 resolution—the latter a real pleasure compared to the generic 1,366 by 768 pixels of most Ultrabook panels. It may not be enough for 1080p videos (the Envy has no optical drive anyway), but it's adequate for placing two application windows side by side or making a real difference in image editing.

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The Envy 14 Spectre has a full repertoire of wireless tricks—Bluetooth, Intel® Wireless Display (WiDi) for zapping audio and video to an HDTV set equipped with a Belkin ScreenCast* (Best Deal: $59.99 at Amazon Marketplace) or Netgear Push2TV* (Best Deal: $92.36 at ANTOnline) adapter, and 802.11n Wi-Fi with Intel Smart Connect Technology, which uses trusted (previously accessed) networks to refresh Microsoft Outlook* and other Internet apps periodically while the computer's in sleep or standby mode. It's also the first Ultrabook with NFC (near field communication) wireless, which we didn't test—HP says so far it's just for copying a Web address from an NFC-equipped smartphone to the Spectre or vice versa. Finally, HP Wireless Audio* promises to stream sound from the laptop to KleerNet*-compatible wireless speakers or headphones.


Speaking of headphones, there's the usual combined headphone/microphone jack on the Spectre's left edge, along with an SD/MMC memory-card slot; one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port; Ethernet; and HDMI and Mini DisplayPort video outputs—a pretty good selection compared to port minimalists like the Dell XPS 13* (Best Deal: $999.99 at Dell), though if you need VGA for older monitors or projectors you'll have to pick up a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter.


The 128GB SSD has only about 70GB free once you subtract a recovery partition and the software preload, but the latter is more than the usual bloatware: it includes a full two-year instead of the common one- or two-month subscription to Norton Internet Security* plus full versions of Adobe's Photoshop Elements* (Best Deal: $74.00 at Trinity Software Distribution) and Premiere Elements* (Best Deal: $78.99 at RoyalDiscount) for editing and managing images and videos respectively. HP stands behind the Spectre with a one-year limited warranty. 




The Envy 14 Spectre uses the same 1.6GHz dual-core processor—Intel's Core i5-2467M—and 4GB of RAM as the HP Folio 13* (Best Deal: $949.99 at Walmart.com) and Dell XPS 13, and its performance is right smack in the middle of the road for Ultrabooks. Indeed, it finished most of our benchmark tests in the narrow gap between the Folio 13 and XPS 13, splitting the difference exactly in Photoshop CS5*: 5 minutes 23 seconds for the Dell XPS 13, 5:27 for the HP Folio 13, and 5:25 for the Envy 14 Spectre.

The Spectre was also fractionally faster than the Folio 13 in PCMark 7, posting a score of 3,221 versus 3,146 (and trailing the Dell XPS 13's 3,535). Like all other Ultrabooks with Intel® HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics, it fell well short of playable frame rates in our gaming tests (14.4 fps in Lost Planet 2*, for instance).


Graphics Chipset
PC Mark 7
MobileMark 2007
HP Envy 14 Spectre*
Intel® Core™ i5-2467M processor
Intel® HD Graphics
Dell XPS 13*
Intel Core i5-2467M processor
Intel HD Graphics
HP Folio 13*
Intel Core i5-2467M processor
Intel HD Graphics
Asus Zenbook UX31-RSL8*
Intel® Core™ i5-2557M processor
Intel HD Graphics
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch
Intel Core i5-2557M processor
Intel HD Graphics

In one area, however, the Spectre excelled: Its 58Wh battery lasted just over eight hours in our MobileMark 2007* rundown test, beating the PC Labs Ultrabook record of 7:35 held by the Intel® Core™ i3 processor-powered Toshiba Portege Z835-P330* ($799.99 list, 3.5 stars). This laptop will keep on working—and attracting envious glances—after others have been put away.


Battery life aside, if the HP Envy 14 Spectre isn't a performance standout compared to other Ultrabooks, well, there's nothing wrong with focusing on a sleek appearance and elegant user experience rather than raw power. The HP Folio 13 retains our Editors' Choice because it's a better value, but if you can afford its price premium, the Envy 14 Spectre will give you a larger, higher-resolution display, an excellent keyboard, and a handful of genuine niceties or little touches, all in a gorgeous glass wrapper. It's a welcome addition to the Ultrabook ranks.


Comparison Table

Compare the HP Envy 14 Spectre with several other laptops side by side.


Benchmark Test Results

Check out the test scores for the HP Envy 14 Spectre 


Reprinted from www.pcmag.com with permission.  © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
A trademark of Ziff Davis, Inc. Used under license