Laptops used to come in about three flavours: sleek and portable, big and powerful, or cheap and nasty. What a choice, eh?
The HP Envy 13 is a laptop that tries to merge the two good-sounding ones, without a price that’ll make you run screaming for the cheap and nasty shelf.
It’s a slim and light aluminium laptop with better gaming skills than many of the most expensive ultra-portables in the world, thanks to the new built-in GeForce MX150 graphics.
Sounds like the “Envy” name is entirely appropriate for any onlooking friends, then? Here’s why the Envy 13 is one of 2017’s best sub-1.5kg laptops.
HP Envy 13 review: Design
- Aluminium and glass design
- 305 x 216mm footprint; 13.9mm thick; 1.38kg weight
This Envy 13’s price is also relatively tasty, at £949. The starting price for the equivalent MacBook Pro 13 is £1,449. The Dell XPS 13 is £1,149.
Sure, only Kanye spends a grand like it’s sweet shop money, but that’s still a big difference. The Envy 13’s price expands to £1,099 for the top-end model (as reviewed). But the most similar MacBook (without Touch Bar) costs over £1,700.
All HP Envy 13 models have a nice-looking all-aluminium shell, where the metal is on show and given an anodised finish for a smart look. HP’s design inflection of choice at the moment is all about sharp angles and severe edges.
That said, the Envy design is much plainer than HP Spectre 13’s, which looks like it might have been inspired by a trip to the Ancient Egypt section of the V&A Museum.
Like all of today’s coolest laptops, the HP Envy 13 has a seriously trimmed-down screen surround. Without all that extra aluminium plumping-up the footprint, it’s much smaller than the 13-inch laptops of old.
It earns serious portability points. At under 14mm thick and 1.38kg it’s also fairly thin and light — certainly light enough to be the sort of laptop we’d happily take on a long flight to a tech conference. Or on holiday.
HP Envy 13 review: Connectivity & features
- 2x USB Type-C (3.1 spec) ports
- 2x full-size USB 3.1 ports
- 1x microSD card slot
- 3.5mm headphone jack
The Envy 13 feels more at home in this role than as the brains of a home setup, because there’s no HDMI and no full-size SD card slot. Instead there’s a microSD — more a friend to phones than DSLR cameras — alongside two USB Type-C and two full-size USB ports.
Both kinds of USB use the 3.1 Gen 1 spec. That makes them quick by the standards of full-size USBs, but not all that quick for a USB-C. A Thunderbolt 3 port has 40Gbps bandwidth. The HP Envy’s is just 5Gbps.
Still, unless you’re going to hook up some seriously fast SSD drives or other turbo-charged peripherals, it doesn’t matter that much. At 5Gbps it’s still 625MB/s, so not exactly slow.
The other bit to note is that the HP Envy 13 destroys the MacBook Pro 13 for breadth of connections, if not speed. Apple’s latest has just two Thunderbolt 3 ports, meaning you’ll need adapters to plug in just about everything. Not so with the HP.
Anything else missing? There’s no fingerprint scanner so you’ll have to use a PIN or password instead. Not necessarily a huge bother, but slightly off the pulse by today’s standards — especially when such tech is on board the Lenovo Yoga 720, for example.
HP Envy 13 review: Screen quality
- 13.3in Full HD (1920 x 1080) WLED-backlit touchscreen
The same kind of moderation bleeds into the screen spec too. It’s a 13.3-inch 1080p IPS LCD.
This is the size of screen we work from whenever we’re not in the office, but its resolution is only decent rather than outstanding. It’s not so high-res that you can’t see the pixels if you go looking for them.
Still, at the moment you’ll have to pay a chunk more to get an ultra-high resolution (4K) rival. The lower-cost, high-res options all seem to have disappeared. If you’re desperate for 4K, grab something like the Asus ZenBook UX310 before it slips off shelves for good. But more pixels typically costs battery life, so a measured approach is best.
The HP Envy 13’s contrast is good, and while colour isn’t as rich as some of the top dogs, it’s saturated enough to satisfy. This is also a touchscreen — a feature missing from a lot of comparable laptops, leaving touch to their hybrid or “convertible” brothers.
Top brightness from the Envy 13 is good rather than scorching, but you should only worry if you’re going to use this HP outside a lot of the time.
Despite having a touchscreen, the HP Envy 13’s hinge mechanism is as non-hybrid as they come. It only folds back the “normal” laptop amount, around 130 degrees, rather than letting you fold it almost flat. No biggie in real-world use, though.
HP Envy 13 review: Keyboard & touchpad
- Full-size island-style backlit keyboard
- HP Imagepad trackpad with multi-touch gesture support
In some ways the Envy 13 is a meat and potatoes laptop, but the potatoes are very posh indeed — like those herb covered ones you get in certain high-brow supermarkets.
One great knock-on of this style is the HP Envy 13’s proper keyboard. It’s not one shallower than a YouTuber influencer’s political views, like the MacBook Pro’s, making it great for all-day typing.
Thanks to HP’s fiddling around with the layout, there’s a typo-filled bedding-in period as your fingers get used to the key positioning. The main offender seems to be the column of function keys at the right size, which shifts the rest over a couple of inches.
Don’t let this put you off, though. The key action is nicely defined, and there’s a backlight for late-night typing. This can’t be dimmed, it’s either off or on, but it is still very useful.
Beneath the keys is the trackpad, which is a good deal smaller than the pad of the old Envy 13 — but that’s because there’s just not as much space to go around in the newer model. The new pad is big enough for comfy gesturing.
The surface is top-tier stuff too: it’s textured glass just like a Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro. However, the click action could be improved. Most of the best laptops have a pad that’s motionless apart from the click depression. The HP Envy 13’s is slightly bouncy, with a bit of give before you reach the click.
This may well be deliberate. HP knows how to make a laptop. However, it does make fast-clicking slower and stodgier than it should be. While the surface is great, we prefer the MacBook, Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo Yoga 720 touchpads.
It’s one of the HP Envy 13’s few weaknesses, as almost everything else is good or great.
HP Envy 13 review: Performance
- Nvidia GeForce MX150 (2GB GDDR5 dedicated discrete graphics)
- 7th gen Intel Core i7 processor (dual-core i7-7500U, 2.7GHz to 3.5GHz Turbo Boost), 8GB RAM
Performance is the Envy 13’s highlight, one again showing off just how much you save compared to some other slim laptops. Our HP Envy 13 came with a Core i7-7500U CPU, ensuring the laptop could breeze through day-to-day tasks without breaking a sweat.
Any laptop with a Core i-series processor, 8GB of RAM and SSD storage makes Windows 10 feel great. If you’re looking to save a few quid, then the step-down Core i5 still isn’t a bad choice. However, our higher-end version also comes with a 360GB SSD rather than a 256GB one. An extra 100-plus gigs is loads more capacity — enough for a decent games or media collection.
Gaming is an area the HP Envy 13 handles much better than almost all of the competition, too. It has an Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics chipset, which is pretty impressive at this scale. While not quite as good as, say, a GTX 1050, the Envy 13’s discrete graphics choice is far more powerful than the integrated Intel HD 620 of most slim laptops. And it’s a lot better than the older 940MX used by some alternatives.
It’ll handle some recent games at “high” settings, in 1080p, like Alien: Isolation. And, so long as you’re willing to make some sacrifices on resolution and graphical fidelity, the HP Envy 13 will play just about anything. To get this sort of gaming power in a laptop under 1.4kg and 14mm thick is pretty compelling, don’t you think?
Few laptops have used the GeForce MX150 to date. One of the alternatives is the latest Xiaomi Air 13, which is a couple of hundred pounds cheaper than the HP Envy 13, but may not end up that way if you get stung by customs when importing one from China — as that’s the only way to get one at present.
HP Envy 13 review: Battery life and sound quality
- Quad Bang & Olufsen speakers with HP Audio Boost
The Air 13 also has much worse battery life than the Envy 13. The HP lasts for just over 12 hours when given a light task, like playing a movie, which is impressive innings.
Even when you start opening up too many browser windows and going down a few YouTube wormholes, you should easily get the HP Envy 13 to last for a full day’s computing.
Speaker quality is fair, too, which is yet another win for the travellers who’ll want to watch a movie in a hotel room every now and then. These are Bang & Olufsen speakers, and sit on each side of the laptop’s bottom in a quad arrangement.
Max volume won’t blow out your eardrums, and MacBooks have higher-fidelity sound, but there is enough meatiness to the tone to make listening to podcasts or a movie soundtrack enjoyable on this HP.
The HP Envy 13 is all the laptop most people need for a very compelling price. It can do things several pricier options simply can’t, largely thanks to its built-in discrete graphics card.
You’ll still have to fiddle with resolutions and graphics settings in recent games, but this HP will wipe the floor with a MacBook Pro 13. Plus, unlike a dedicated gaming laptop, the Envy 13 lasts for an age from a single charge. And it has quick charge technology to refill 90 per cent of the battery from dead in just 90 minutes.
Sure, the trackpad could be better, the screen resolution isn’t mind-blowing, and the binary on/off keyboard backlight should be stepped, but otherwise the sheer versatility of this little laptop is hard to beat.
For the circa-£1,000/$1,500 price point you’ll struggle to find a 13-inch laptop more compelling and versatile than the new HP Envy 13.
The alternatives to consider
Apple MacBook Pro 13
Have hundreds more to spend? You might want to consider a MacBook Pro. It has a much better screen than the Envy 13, a superior trackpad, and lots may prefer OS X to Windows 10.
However, the HP Envy 13 is much better for gaming, has a touchscreen and is much more aggressive about providing value. Even before you add in the OLED Touch Bar of the most expensive models, it’s difficult to argue the MacBook Pro 13 is a bargain.
Dell XPS 13
The Dell XPS 13 is hard to beat. It has a better screen than the HP Envy 13, an even smarter look and, to our fingers at least, a better keyboard and touchpad. It’s a chunk lighter too.
This isn’t for those on a tight budget, though. To get the ultra-high-res version with a Core i7 CPU, you’ll pay £1299. And that’s with a Core i5 rather than an i7 CPU. There’s no spec of the Dell XPS 13 with a discrete graphics card either. You’re stuck with the basic Intel HD 620 GPU. For all the XPS 13’s strengths, this is an easy choice for gamers.
Acer Swift 3
Want to save a few more quid? The Acer Swift 3 is another great choice, starting at £680 for the Core i3 version. You can even get one with the same MX150 GPU as the HP Envy 13 for a very reasonable £799.
Any issues? The Swift 3 isn’t quite as smart-looking as the Envy, and has a larger footprint thanks to its more conventional screen surround width and bigger 14in display. The screen also isn’t as bright. It’ll struggle slightly outdoors on a bright day. However, it’s still a class act.