HP’s Envy 14: An LCD That Was Too Good to Last?

I’d like to put a huge, huge shout out to Khoa Tran (theguynextdoor on the AT forums), who sent us his personal Envy 14 system for a couple of weeks just so that we could review it. HP never managed to get one to us for review, so Khoa coming through for us was an awesome move. It just goes to show how great our readership is—seriously, we love you guys.

So, on to the Envy. The Envy 14 is part of the second generation of Envy notebooks. It slots in nicely between the first gen 13” and 15” Envys, replacing both in one go and creating space for the range-topping Envy 17 we reviewed recently. And as we’ve mentioned previously, it’s a decently powerful notebook. Inside, we find Intel’s first generation Core i5 and i7 processors, ATI’s HD 5650 graphics card, a minimum of 4GB RAM, and the best screen of any notebook on the market. Unfortunately, that screen isn’t available anymore, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

So here's the part we all know—the styling is pretty derivative of Apple’s MacBook Pro line. But while the lines are similar from afar, up close the Envy isn’t actually as close to the ever-popular Apple portable as it first seems. The textured aluminum on the lid has an interesting, swirled pattern, and the slightly convex palm rest is rendered in the same material. Overall, the industrial design is quite good, and the build quality is just as good as one could expect from an aluminum-bodied notebook. It’s not quite on the level that Apple has reached with the MacBook Pro line, but it’s getting there.

That’s a pretty common theme with the Envy 14—it’s like HP’s take on the Apple formula. The backlit chiclet-style keyboard looks and feels nearly identical to the MacBook Pro’s keyboard. If you’ve used a unibody MacBook Pro, you know that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, HP still hasn’t figured out how to make a buttonless trackpad work. Far too often, you move the cursor to where you want it, and when you go to click in the designated part of the touchpad, the cursor ends up on the other side of the screen. You get used to the touchpad in the Envy, but it can be aggravating. But the best part of the entire package is the screen.

Gallery: HP Envy 14

HP’s 1600x900 Radiance display is a revelation, no way around it. The max brightness is 331 nits, with a black level of 0.325 nits. That works out to a contrast ratio of 1018:1. The first time I saw that, I ran the numbers through the calculator a second time to make sure that was actually right. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the highest contrast ratio we’ve seen on any notebook screen to date. [Ed: ASUS' G73J series managed about the same, but with a max brightness of 184 nits the Radiance display definitely gets the win.] Take that, Apple. Unfortunately, that screen is no longer available.

Back in September, we heard whispers that the screen was sold out, and HP removed the option from the Envy 14 ordering system. The option came back briefly in January, and we were then told that the Radiance display was sold out for good. So, if you want an Envy 14, you’re going to be stuck with the standard, mediocre 1366x768 panel.

Performance-wise, it’s around the same as other notebooks that have the Clarksfield/HD 5650 combo underhood. It’s not an uncommon combination, but for a 14” system it’s definitely on the higher side of the performance scale. It’s about on par with the XPS 14, as you can see in Mobile Bench. Battery life is basically identical across the board, but the comparison really shows what you give up with the standard LCD over the upgraded panel.

I’d assume that HP is updating the Envy 14 to Sandy Bridge in the near future (the 17 has already been upgraded), around the same 2-3 month time frame as the Dell XPS line. Unlike the XPS 14, the Envy 14 is a lock to be around for a long time to come—it’s been a huge seller for HP and it’s easy to see why. I enjoyed my time with it as much as I enjoyed the MacBook Pro last year, though a large part of that was due to the amazing display. But as much as I loved the Radiance display, I must acknowledge that the rest of the notebook is quite good. The industrial design and build quality are among the best for mainstream PC portables, and the price-to-performance ratio is quite good as well. For a starting price of just under a grand, you get a solid amount of stuff—2.66GHz Core i5, the HD 5650, 4GB memory, and a 750GB hard drive. If only the Radiance display was still an option.

A Farewell to the Dell XPS 14 And in the AMD Corner…
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  • andy o - Monday, February 7, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the updates, first of all.

    Black level, instead of brightness, is more indicative of contrast ratio in real world uses. Because to achieve the max, you have to bring brightness to the max, and on an LCD it can be blinding. I have a pro NEC monitor for photos, and it reaches like 390:1 at 110 cd/m2, which is about what a calibrated monitor should be. It can go up to about 800 at max brightness, but it's useless at that setting.

    That said, black level quality also varies with different types of LCD. IPS-based usually gets higher black level, but dark color tracking is much better. PVA screens suck when you look at them straight on. See <a href="http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1... to see what I mean. Most laptops' have cheap TN panels though. I think these qualities should be considered in monitor reviews as well, just a thought.
  • andy o - Monday, February 7, 2011 - link

    So no html...

    Anyway, my point was that the Asus laptop, will likely reach a higher contrast ratio at regular, usable brightnesses. If the Envy's panel is IPS though, I'd choose much lower contrast ratios in order to have better dark colors and consistent colors.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 7, 2011 - link

    Most of the laptops and displays I've tested have been generally consistent in contrast ratio, so if you get 1000:1 at maximum brightness, dropping to 100 nits will still give close to 1000:1 -- it might be 900:1 or it might even increase to 1100:1, but that's not enough to really make a difference. I usually feel like you need at least a 25% change in contrast before you really notice it with the naked eye.

    As far as IPS panels and laptops are concerned, the only IPS option I'm aware of right now is the upgraded HP EliteBook 8740w LCD, which costs I think $550 or so. Ouch!
  • softdrinkviking - Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - link

    the 15" HP Elitebook also lets you choose a dreamcolor HD display as well (which I think is what indicates IPS) $425 upgrade. still high, but where else can you get a good, non-apple laptop display?
  • Luke2.0 - Monday, February 7, 2011 - link

    1. Nice opening image of broken chip...

    2. I was looking forward to a review of Asus N53SV (or SN). Is it among those delayed / canceled ones?

    3. (personal rant) I might start tinkering on Ivy Bridge now...
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 7, 2011 - link

    Everything with Sandy Bridge is at least delayed right now, including the N53, G53, and G73 updates. I hadn't received any of the ASUS models yet, but I was expecting them to arrive last week. Then Intel drops that bomb and everything SNB related disappears. :-(
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - link

    For regular notebooks they should just use the 2 SATA3 ports and be done with it.

  • DanNeely - Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - link

    Many laptops have eSATA ports so they need fixed. Beyond that, even if the boards aren't using the faulty ports you can be certain that some bottom feeding class action lawyer would end up suing over every dead port if they use the faulty chipset.
  • vikingrinn - Monday, February 7, 2011 - link

    @Jarred Walton or Vivek Gowri

    Since you compared it with the G73Jw, did the "One such notebook came with a “low-end” i7-2630QM processor and a GTX 460M GPU, packed into a 15.6” chassis" just so happen to have a 17.3" display with backlit keyboard? ;)
  • BWMerlin - Monday, February 7, 2011 - link

    @vikingrinn How can it have a 17.3" display when the chassis is only 15.6"?

    My bet is either the ASUS G53 or the MSI equivalent.

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