Looking across the rest of the spec sheet, HP hasn’t skimped on the sundries. Bluetooth, Wireless-N Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet are all present and correct, while HP makes a small song and dance about its ‘Night Vision’ webcam that features an infra-red LED for illumination. We gave it a try and it does work, but we can’t see it being that useful.
Of greater concern is the 15.6in display. Unlike US versions, where you get a bright, Full HD resolution effort, UK models are stuck with a distinctly mundane 1,366 x 768 resolution affair. This resolution is helpful in games, since it doesn’t tax the hardware as heavily, but we found the quality of the panel is little better than many cheap, £500 to £700 laptops. Viewing angles are shallow, colour production uninspiring and black levels merely okay – all of which is distinctly disappointing for a supposedly premium laptop.
Some compromise has been made with the connectivity as well, though it’s not as drastic as the display. As such you still get three USB ports (one of which offers up eSATA), HDMI for video, an Ethernet port and (on the front) a memory card reader. In true Apple style, though, a single audio jack combines both headphone and microphone duties. There’s no FireWire port either, which will disappoint anyone of thinking of using this system as a mobile video editing machine – a task to which it’s surely well suited.
One thoughtful touch, however, is that all three USB ports are sleep-and-charge enabled, so you can charge mobile phones (iPhone excluded), MP3 players and extricate discs from the external DVD drive even when the laptop is turned off. This is sensible thinking on HP’s part, though we reckon the lack of FireWire is a real mistake given its potential competition.
What really hampers the Envy 15, however, are its keyboard and touchpad. For starters the keyboard isn’t backlit, which is a necessary prerequisite for any premium laptop these days. More irritating, however, is the addition of a column of shortcut keys on the left-side of the keyboard. Since these look just like any other key, they create the illusion of being part of the normal keyboard. This is very disorientating and led us to hit the key to left of the one we intended – i.e. hitting Caps Lock instead of ‘A’.
Actually, if you can get your head around this, the keyboard is pretty good. Its keys have a nice crisp action and extra shortcut keys aside, the layout is very good. Unfortunately such leeway can’t be given to the touchpad, which is a bit of a disaster.
Like Apple, HP has chosen to integrate the touchpad buttons into the touchpad itself – though you still get two of them! Unlike Apple, however, HP’s execution is atrocious. Using either buttons constantly results in inadvertently jogging the cursor, often leading to clicking on something entirely different. This is a fundamental failing that overshadows the otherwise neat implementation of multi-touch which, among other things, allows for two finger scrolling.