Radiance HD+ Display
The HP Envy 14 Spectre has a 1600 x 900 Radiance gloss display. Yes, the reds are true and aren't warm/orange like the HP Envy 15. It's a very pleasing display with strong contrast and rich colors, but it's not terribly bright. We suspect that HP did the same thing with the Spectre that they did with the Folio: increased claimed battery runtimes by using a dim display. It's fine for subdued indoor lighting, but it isn't nearly as bright as the Envy 15, Dell XPS 13 or Asus Zenbook. Since backlighting isn't that bright, you'll notice the gloss display's glare more. Viewing angles are near 180 degrees and backlighting is even with no hotspots.
It's rare to see dual display outputs on an Ultrabook, so we're thrilled to see HP has included both a Mini DisplayPort that can drive very high resolution external monitors and a full size HDMI port. The Envy Spectre has Intel WiDi wireless display, unlike the HP Folio 13-1020US that ships without the required Intel hardware for this feature. That means you can use your TV as an external HD display wirelessly if you have an adapter connected to your TV (the Netgear Push2TV is the most popular and worked fine in our tests).
What a lovely keyboard! There's none of the Envy 15's flex, and the white backlighting is perfect. Each key has its own LED and lighting is even with no leakage around key edges. There's an ambient light sensor that notices if you've left and dims the light, and this is triggered by a red IR sensor LED above the display vs. two on the Envy 15. The backlighting gradually dims rather than the row at a time effect on the bigger Envy.
The chiclet keys have good tactile feel and travel, and it's a pleasure to type long pieces on this keyboard. The top row of keys controls display brightness, keyboard backlight, multimedia playback and other functions (no need to press the Fn key). Volume is controlled by the Beats Audio rotary control wheel on the right front corner of the notebook (a feature we love).
Smaller notebooks don't usually deliver good audio or much volume, but the Envy 14 Spectre is an exception. This is an extremely loud machine and we rarely raised volume over 50%. It is bass-heavy (more so than the Envy 15), and that can muddy voices in movies when background music overwhelms, but you can adjust the EQ to remedy this. It's not the 5.1 Dolby surround of the HP Envy 15, but the downward firing stereo speakers on the front edge deliver some serious sound. The notebook has a combo 3.5mm headphone/mic jack that likewise sounds good but emphasizes the bass by default. There's a built-in mic and webcam above the display.
Performance and Horsepower
This part isn't as exciting. As noted, this is no Envy multimedia and 3D gaming beast. It's a sheep in wolf's clothing. HP goes with pure Utrabook internals that are perfectly good for everyday work and school use for MS Office, photo editing with Photoshop CS 5 and even some light video editing (though export times aren't fast if you're working with 1080p footage). It is not the machine for the serious video editing professional, nor will it play current demanding 3D titles with high frame rates at high resolution and settings. But if you're willing to make quality and and resolution conscessions, you do get a playable game (see our 3D gaming video above). Older RTS games like Rise of Nations and easy-going first person shooters like Left 4 Dead 2 play very well.
The base machine has the dual core 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M, the ubiquitous Ultrabook CPU. You can order the 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M, though we'd spend the money on more SSD storage over the faster CPU. Both CPUs are second generation Sandy Bridge ULV (ultra low voltage) processors designed for ultraportables rather than the beefier Intel Core i5 and i7 Sandy Bridge CPUs used in larger notebooks. The Envy 14 Spectre is only available with integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics (there's no room for a dedicated GPU and heat would become an issue). The HD 3000 can handle 1080p video playback nicely and even Photoshop offers HD 3000 graphics acceleration. It's perfectly fine for 2D work, but it won't fly for 3D applications. In terms of horsepower, you're looking at the same internals as the $949 HP Folio 13 Ultrabook.
HP sells the base model with a 128 gig SSD (SATA 2 rather than the speedy SATA 3 used on the Dell XPS 13 and Asus Zenbook UX31), and it's the same drive you get in the Folio 13. You can order a 256 SSD model, and HP states that you'll get dual 128 gig SSDs, which is rather unusual. Our 128 gig machine had 65 gigs free after setting up/updating Windows and MS Office 2010 Starter Edition. The machine has 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and as mentioned earlier, it's a standard notebook DIMM that is replaceable and upgradable like regular notebooks and unlike Ultrabooks where memory is permanently soldered to the motherboard to save space.
The Envy Spectre runs quiet and cool. The fan doesn't come on at idle or when doing web surfing and it kicks up just a bit when streaming YouTube and Hulu video. CPU temperatures are quite cool at 37-45 degrees Centigrade when doing MS Office work and email. When working the laptop harder (playing games and video), the CPU rarely passes 50-60 degrees Centigrade. The keyboard and deck don't get hot, and the bottom panel stays below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ultrabooks do very well on benchmarks thanks to their speedy SSD drives rather than their power-saving CPUs and integrated graphics, so don't be fooled by the high numbers relative to the HP Envy 15 with a 7200 RPM conventional spinning hard drive.
Windows Experience Index:
Graphics (Aero): 4.7
Gaming Graphics: 6.2
HP Envy 14 Spectre: 9448
Dell XPS 13: 9850
HP Folio 13 (1.6GHz Core i5): 8936
Asus Zenbook UX31 (1.7GHz Core i5): 10,021
Toshiba Portege Z830 (1.8GHz Core i7):
The HP Envy 14 Spectre comes with Intel Advanced-N 6230 WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0 High Speed. That's a good wireless card with dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n, 300Mbps throughput, 2 antennas and support for Intel WiDi wireless display. That's the same card used on the Dell XPS 13 and it's a step up from the Broadcom single band WiFi card with no WiDi used on the HP Folio 13 quick ship model that's also sold in many stores.
NFC is on board, and while we're just starting to see this appear in smartphones, we've never seen it on a notebook computer. NFC isn't widely used yet, but it's intended for contactless payments (you can pay for your latte at Starbucks using NFC). There is no NFC-specific software on the Spectre.
The HP has a 4 cell battery that's not user replaceable, though you can see it clearly if you remove the battery panel underneath. It's held in place with several screws, so HP considers it a non-user serviceable part. HP claims up to 9.5 hours of battery life, and they clearly didn't push CPU performance or give us a very bright display so they could meet that claim. We're still doing tests, but so far we've managed 7 to 7.5 hours on a charge, which is excellent and at the higher end of Ultrabook endurance.
The machine ships with an interesting charger that looks much like the Zenbook's, and it has a USB port for charging your smartphone too.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre is an unusual notebook in a class by itself, and it's hard to assign a star rating. It reminds us of Sony's heyday when they made incredibly sexy luxury products that took chances with design and pricing. If you want a notebook that's unique and truly stunning, the Spectre might be for you. We're a little scared of that unprotected glass lid, and only time will tell if it stands up to normal portable use. Utrabooks are about durability and portability, while the Envy 14 Spectre is more of a coffee table book. In a way, I think HP would've done better to market this as a luxury portable rather than an Ultrabook.
We appreciate the non-cosmetic upgrades like the high resolution display, dual monitor outputs, dual mSATA slots and the (sort of) upgradable RAM. But for a 50% price premium over other Ultrabooks, some of which sport very nice metal casings and luxury designs; the Spectre fails to wow us in the performance category. It's perfectly adequate for everyday use but doesn't live up to the high performance Envy name and it's no faster than $999 Ultrabooks. Luxury products are very personal, and only you can decide if there's an Envy 14 Spectre with your name on it.
Price: $1,399 to $1,899
Warranty: 2 years, upgraded Concierge phone support included for Envy line.
Web Site: www.hp.com
HP Envy 14 Spectre vs. MacBook Air Comparison
Ultrabook Information and Guide