The Samsung Series 7 Chronos and HP Envy 15 hit the market in late December 2011 as high performance 15.6" slim and light notebooks with enough in common that you're bound to be a bit confused as to which you should buy. Pricing is similar and both are lower cost alternatives to the 15" MacBook Pro (for those of you who buy a Mac and intend to run it as a Windows machine). These laptops and the Dell XPS 15z compete is that small category of stylish 15" machines that have the processing power and dedicated graphics of a multimedia and gaming 17" laptop. But they're much more portable and have better battery life. If you need some serious computing or gaming power and want to avoid a hernia, these two are worth checking out.
Build and Design
The HP Envy 15 (late 2011 model) we look at here looks distinctly Envy when closed. It has the curved edges on the lid, the straight metal sides and a Mac-like interior. The casing is made entirely of aluminum with some magnesium alloy. It has clean lines that are muscular--think of it as the Chevy Corvette of laptops. It's rigid and sturdy as all heck, and were you to accidentally swing and bump it into a wall or door jamb, the Envy would most certainly win.
The Samsung goes for a Euro-chic look that's super clean and minimalist. It looks classy and understated, and it's the lightest in the 15" powerhouse thin and light category. Samsung says it weighs 5.05 lbs. and our digital scale says it's a few ounces more, but it's still lighter than the competition. The lid and keyboard deck are aluminum and the rest is plastic (how do you think they got it so light?). It's quite thin at 0.94" vs. 1.1" for the Envy 15. It feels well made but lacks that deadly weapon durability of the Envy.
Tie: Envy 15 wins for build materials; Samsung wins for thinness and lightness.
Both of these laptops beat the pants off most 15.6" and smaller notebooks. In fact, they whip many 17" models too. With 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 quad core CPUs (Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz), DDR3 RAM and higher end dedicated AMD Radeon graphics with 1 gig of DDR5 VRAM, they can run Adobe CS apps, current 3D games at medium to high specs and anything else you can think of.
Samsung gets points for their 8 gig SSD drive that's used as an ExpressCache to speed up Windows boot and resume times. It does shave off considerable time when booting, and the Chronos boots in 20 seconds. The catch? You're at the desktop in 20 seconds, but some widgets and apps still take longer to be ready.
HP really takes the tournament here. The machine has AMD Radeon HD 7690M dedicated graphics, one of the first mobile 7000 GPUs to hit the market. Now, there's actually not much difference between AMD's mobile 6000 and 7000 series GPUs right now, but the Envy does benchmark faster and squeeze more FPS out of games (5 to 15 depending on the title and resolution). It's faster in PCMark and 3DMark too (both machines set to run on dedicated graphics for the tests).
HP Envy 15: 9247 Samsung Series 7 Chronos: 7469
3DMark 06 (1280 x 800 resolution):
HP Envy 15: 10,355 Samsung Series 7 Chronos: 9847
Winner: HP Envy 15
For those of you who want to make the most of the dedicated graphics, the HP Envy 15 wins. Why? AMD switchable graphics software isn't the bee's knees. In fact it kinda stinks and AMD is a year behind Nvidia when it comes to switching software (but AMD's hardware is excellent). Samsung, like many notebook manufacturers leaves you to suffer with AMD's software. For those of you who wouldn't know OpenGL if it slapped you in the face, this doesn't matter much. But if you do plan to use those dedicated graphics to speed up Adobe apps or play OpenGL games like Rage, the Chronos isn't your machine (most Windows games use DirectX rather than OpenGL). You can assign apps to run on the Intel HD 3000 or Radeon GPU, but it doesn't always listen. Assign Photoshop to dedicated graphics and it still runs on Intel graphics. This isn't a Samsung issue; it's a common problem with current machines running AMD switchable graphics.
Ah, but HP is one of the few manufacturers that knows this just might drive you graphics performance mavens nuts, so they've added a BIOS setting that allows you to manually select which graphics card is running. Thank you, HP! Will Samsung update the Series 7 Chronos BIOS to add this feature? No idea.
Winner: HP Envy 15
Keyboard, Trackpad and Business Use
The Samsung Series 7 Chronos makes a comeback here thanks to its excellent keyboard, solid trackpad and portability. Both keyboards are backlit evenly and but the Samsung has a cool white ring of light around each key that makes them even easier to see. The HP Envy 15 has keyboard flex, particularly on the left side. It's annoying if you like firm, short travel keyboards. You've got to press a little harder or miss letters when typing. The Samsung has virtually no flex. It also has a number pad, which is a rarity on 15" notebooks and will send you number crunchers into paroxysms of joy.
The Samsung's trackpad is smoother and more naturally responsive. With the Envy it sometimes misses a tap. Two finger scrolling works well on the Chronos while you have to line up your fingers very close to the 90 or 180 degree mark with the Envy.
8 ounces separate these two machines weight according to our digital scale, so we won't say the Samsung takes a serious load off, but it is thinner and easier to squeeze into a bag or carry-on.
Winner: Samsung Series 7 Chronos
This is an easy one unless you despite glossy displays. The quick ship/in-store model that sells for $1,299 comes with a 1920 x 1080 IPS display. It has much better contrast, truer blacks and much, much, much wider viewing angles than the TN panel on the Samsung. We really wish Samsung offered a model with a more expensive and better display for those of us who work with graphics and watch movies.
The Samsung wins points for its higher than average 1600 x 900 resolution matte display with 300 nits of brightness. It's great for bright environments and is viewable outdoors. But the viewing angles are typical low end TN sadness: top-bottom viewing angles are very limited and you've got to angle the panel just right to get good colors and blacks that don't look sooty or blotchy.
Winner: HP Envy 15
There are several more comparison points that we cover in our HP Envy 15 vs. Samsung Series 7 Chronos comparison Smackdown video below: