Connectivity on the Envy 14 Beats Edition is good, if slightly out-dated – which is forgivable considering this laptop has been out a while. Along the left you get two USB 2.0 ports and headphone plus microphone sockets, the front houses an IR sensor and SDHC/MMC memory card reader, while on the right side you'll find white power and HDD activity LEDs, a USB 2.0/eSATA combo port and Gigabit Ethernet jack, HDMI [i]and[/i] mini DisplayPort (a great addition for outputting to high-resolution monitors like the Apple Cinema Display).
There's no USB 3.0, but even now eSATA devices are still more common, so fast external storage is adequately catered for. Naturally both Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth are on hand to deal with the wireless side of things. Our one major disappointment is the Envy 14-1195ea's lack of a Blu-ray drive. Instead, you only get a DVD-Rewriter, which is rather stingy considering this machine will set you back £1,100.
Further specifications are adequately impressive. The Core i7 might not be Sandy Bridge (as found in the Samsung Series 9 900X3A and MSI GT680), but we're still talking about a previous generation top-end, quad-core Intel CPU. Though its standard clock speed is 'only' 1.6GHz, it can Turbo-clock up to 2.8GHz on a single core with lightly threaded workloads. It's backed by 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a fairly generous 500GB hard drive that runs at a speedy 7,200rpm.
Graphics are competently handled by a discrete Mobility Radeon 5650 sporting 1GB of dedicated memory. While we certainly wouldn't go so far as to call this solution in any way gaming-worthy, it's up to handling casual and older titles at the screen's relatively low 1,366 x 768 resolution. In Stalker: Call of Pripyat, the Envy managed a perfectly playable 33.8 frames per second average, though this was in DirectX10 mode and with details set to medium.
The major disadvantage to this kind of hardware in a relatively slim chassis is that - though virtually silent when during light use - the laptop gets quite loud under load, with its fan whirr being distinctly audible.
On the ergonomics front, the Envy 14 Beats Edition holds up reasonably well and the keyboard is mostly a pleasure to use. The soft-touch palm-rests ensure your hands rest very comfortably. Feedback is just a hair away from being too shallow, yet the large matte keys nevertheless offer a positive click and are well-spaced. Layout is spot-on too, though experienced users may dislike the F-Function keys being secondary to their multimedia functions. Still, this is fast becoming the norm and can be changed in the BIOS.
One of the keyboard's nicest features is that it's backlit in red. Not only does this allow you to type in the dark, it adds a serious wow-factor to the laptop's aesthetics in an adequately dark environment. Unfortunately, there's no automatic brightness sensor and the LED intensity isn't adjustable as on the Samsung Series 9, but it is perfectly even.
The touchpad is positioned centrally, so the palm of your right hand may inadvertently move the cursor on occasion when typing. Thankfully, HP has the best touchpad-deactivation system on the market: simply double-tap twice on the top left hand corner of the pad to enable or disable it.
HP has opted for the same ClickPad as on the Envy 17 3D, meaning it integrates its buttons into the pad's touch surface. This leaves a responsive, large surface to work with while the 'buttons' offer a positive click and don't suffer from a large dead zone. However, there are still rare instances where the pad mistakes a button-press for a cursor movement, and overall HP's all-in-one touchpad solution isn't a patch on that found in the Samsung Series 9.