All the HP Envy Spectre 14’s connections are found on the laptop’s left side, and overall it’s a mix of superb and slightly sub-par. On the one hand, along with Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC memory card reader and the usual combi headphone/microphone jack, we have both miniDisplayPort and HDMI, making this one of the most flexible Ultrabooks where outputting video is concerned (along with the Asus Zenbook UX31).
On the other, these are accompanied by only a single USB 3.0 port and a lone USB 2.0 port. This is far fewer than most slim 13in Ultrabooks – let alone relatively chunky 14in models – which usually have three. Mind you, at least it doesn’t omit a card reader as Dell did on its XPS 13, and the wireless side of things is well-covered with the usual Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth.
Before we get to just how nice the Envy Spectre 14 is to type and navigate on, it’s worth mentioning its volume controls. Thanks to its Beats branding, HP has made audio a priority on this laptop, and one of the ways you can tell is by these controls being on the right side, rather than function keys integrated with the keyboard. There’s one very handy button that mutes volume and, even better, an actual volume wheel. This is a far superior way of controlling levels than pressing plus and minus buttons, though on the other hand it does occasionally get moved by accident when you’re handling the laptop. Feel free to ignore the dedicated Beats activation button by the way, it’s a total gimmick.
Typing on this Spectre is a real pleasure. HP always puts nice keyboards into its laptops, and its premium Ultrabook doesn’t disappoint here. The matt black keys are well laid out, well-spaced and offer plenty of travel with a nice solid click. It’s not quite up to Lenovo ThinkPad standards, but it’s close. Also, its lovely white backlighting can be controlled by a proximity sensor, meaning it only lights up when it notices you’re around.
Likewise, the ‘buttonless’ glass touchpad is great to use. In contrast to the grippier glass on the palm-rests to either side, the pad’s surface is smooth as silk, letting your finger glide easily along. We do prefer the matt frosted glass approach found on most premium Ultrabooks, but imagine it is just a case of preference rather than one approach being better than the other. The pad’s hidden buttons are nicely responsive too, and overall the Envy Spectre 14 scores high on usability.
As its name would suggest, the HP Envy 14 Spectresports a 14in screen, but it crams it into a 13in-equivalent chassis. We’re seeing a lot of this on premium Ultrabooks, with the Samsung Series 9 900X3B and XPS 13both stuffing 13in displays into 12in-equivalent bodies.
Thankfully, HP has also gone for a higher-than-average 1,600 x 900 resolution, and though the panel type used is TN, it joins the Series 9 900X3A in offering one of the nicer examples of the panel tech we’ve come across on an ultraportable. Horizontal viewing angles are as good as it gets, while even vertically they’re above average for TN.
Combined with superb dark detailing and punchy colours – lent a little extra something by the glass covering the screen – this is a pretty good display for both work and play. However, it does still trail the superior viewing angles and colour performance of IPS/PLS displays such as on the Series 9 900X3B or MacBook Pro with Retina Display. And for the price, a premium panel is really what you would expect.
As you would hope given the hype, the audio from the Beats-enabled speakers on the HP Envy 14 Spectreis pretty impressive. The well-hidden speakers and neatly integrated subwoofer result in lots of clarity, depth and even bass by laptop standards, good enough to watch a movie or play a game. If we have one niggle, it’s the utterly redundant “switch Beats audio processing off” button located just forward of the volume wheel.