Introducing the HP Envy 14 Spectre

It's interesting, we recently met up with HP in San Francisco to see what they have planned for the future (and they do have some very compelling stuff in the pipeline), but one of the quirkier things I noticed was a shift in branding. For a while now, HP has had three lines in the consumer range: G series, Pavilion, and Envy. Envy was their absolute top of the line, but now it's being essentially decremented for the more-premium-than-premium Spectre. Our HP Envy 14 Spectre review system is the first of this new line, but it won't be the last.

A 14" ultrabook that almost looks like it's cribbing from Apple's iPhone design, HP's Envy 14 Spectre is nothing if not eyecatching and a testament to the American PC industry's increasing understanding that performance isn't everything. Featuring a 900p screen, backlit keyboard, and a healthy amount of scratch-resistant glass, the Envy 14 Spectre is premium through and through and commands a premium price. But is it worth the expense, or has HP misfired?

Usually when I test hardware I have a pretty good idea of who it's intended for, but I'll admit the Envy 14 Spectre is one of the few times when I've been at least a little bit perplexed. HP's engineers may be liberally lifting from some of Apple's design language, but there's a lot to the Spectre that's wholly new. It's one of those products where you can trace it's lineage reasonably well but you're still perplexed as to how it was the result. That's not necessarily a bad thing—we like innovation—but it's a curiosity to be sure.

HP Envy 14 Spectre Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-3667U
(2x2GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.2GHz, 22nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel HM76
Memory 4GB Samsung DDR3-1600 (Maximum 1x8GB)
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(16 EUs, up to 1.15GHz)
Display 14" LED Glossy 16:9 900p
Storage 2x 128GB Samsung PM830 mSATA 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive -
Networking Realtek RTL8168 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino 6235 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio IDT 92HD91BXX HD audio
Stereo speakers
Combination mic/headphone jack
Battery 4-cell, 56Wh
Front Side Speaker grills
Right Side Mute button
Volume dial
Beats Audio shortcut button
Kensington lock
AC adapter
Left Side Mini-DisplayPort
USB 3.0
USB 2.0
Mic/headphone combo jack
SD/MMC card reader
Back Side Vent
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 12.8" x 8.7" x 0.79"
325mm x 221mm x 20mm
Weight 3.98 lbs
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Card reader
Beats audio
Backlit keyboard
NFC radio
Warranty 2-year limited hardware
Pricing Starting at $1,399
As configured: $1,849

The Intel Core i7-3667U processor in our review unit sits at the top of Intel's ultra-low voltage food chain. Based on Intel's 22nm Ivy Bridge architecture, it starts at a nominal 2GHz but is able to turbo up to a very respectable 3GHz on both cores and 3.2GHz on a single core. As with all of Intel's 3rd generation mobile Core processors, it includes the HD 4000 integrated graphics part, which runs at a 350MHz clock speed but can also turbo up to 1.15GHz as needed. Intel's made great strides with the HD 4000 IGP, but I feel like we're going to be waiting until Haswell before we really stop feeling the pinch that results from not having dedicated graphics.

Now here's something interesting about our review unit. HP only advertises the Envy 14 Spectre as being available with either a 128GB SSD or 256GB SSD, yet ours is equipped with two 128GB Samsung SSDs. Both AIDA64 and Intel's own Rapid Storage Technology confirm this with two different serial numbers for the drives. The PM830 is a very respectable piece of hardware, and while the storage capacity isn't going to knock your socks off it's definitely going to be at least adequate for most users. It's interesting that HP opted to use a pair of 128GB drives instead of a single 256GB drive...but then didn't configure them in RAID.

The rest of the Envy 14 Spectre is fairly respectable, though the memory is unfortunately confined to a single channel just like the Folio 13. A second DIMM slot would've occupied roughly the same amount of space as a second mSATA drive, so I have to wonder what the rationale was behind this trade-off as it definitely negatively impacts the IGP. What may raise some eyebrows is HP's inclusion of a Near-Field Communication radio, and I can tell you it looks like HP is definitely doubling down on this technology in the near future. The applications are impressive; an NFC-equipped smartphone can theoretically transfer photos and data directly to the Envy 14 Spectre with no need for cabling or Bluetooth (which is also included.)

In and Around the HP Envy 14 Spectre
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  • JarredWalton - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    There are only three non-Ultrabooks in the charts: the VAIO Z2 (which is practically an Ultrabook other than the CPU), and the M11x and W110ER; those two represent gaming in a smallish chassis and are worth showing just for those looking for more performance. If we didn't compare with anything other than Ultrabooks, it would be difficult for some people to put the performance into perspective.
  • MrSpadge - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Agreed - better to have a few more comparison points than having less.
  • EnzoFX - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    The way I look at it, if you're going with portable, and it's going to have intel IGP, and it's going to be around 1k or more, then what's the point in not going with a Macbook Air? It'll prob be thinner and lighter, have a better battery life... etc. just overall better build quality. You can install Win if you so choose to.
  • von Krupp - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Principle is one reason. Some just really have a strong dislike for Apple, me included., and would rather not throw money their way if they can avoid doing so

    The other is that when running Windows on an Apple system, you lose the benefit of marathon battery life, take a small performance hit because of Bootcamp, and have to suffer some driver quirkiness that you have no control over (track-pad usage comes to mind).

    That's why.
  • xype - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Bootcamp performance hit? How so?
  • Penti - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Bootcamp itself doesn't introduce a performance hit, it's largely driver and some BIOS-emulation layer oddities that does that. Including loosing Nvidia optimus, ACPI-support, AHCI and lots of little flaws. It means shorter battery life, worse performance. Still isn't useless though. But buy a Mac for OS X primarily as you don't get away from it even if you do run Bootcamp. If your never running it, it is largely a waste. Don't mean it's worse then another choice though even if running Win.
  • vision33r - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    Bootcamp is nothing more than a software script to make a NTFS partition bootable and passthru Apple's EFI Bios. That's it, there's no BIOS emulation.

    Any Macs running Bootcamp is the same as any PC running Windows.

    If you put a sticker over the Apple badge, you'll be amazed that no other PC maker can beat Apple hardware at the same price.
  • Penti - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    There is a BIOS emulation layer in the EFI firmware just like on your HP or whatever. Most UEFI computers still boot into BIOS compatibility mode. Which means it's a compatibility layer on top of UEFI that does re-implement and emulate the BIOS. It doesn't exist there by default. It doesn't have the same compatibility as a normal PC though. Bootcamp is obviously a component of it when your on a Mac to help you set it all up. Bootcamp also delivers the Windows drivers. So it's certainly something that plays a huge role. Compatibility, features and drivers do differ here, not to say it makes them bad but you certainly loose out on ACPI, Switchable graphics (Optimus) and AHCI as well as other firmware/driver stuff. The BIOS emulation it self is obviously in the EFI firmware.
  • Jeff Bellin - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - link

    The biggest "performance" hit to the MBA running Bootcamp/Windows is in battery life. It is nearly half (4:12 according to The Verge, Endgadget) running Windows in Bootcamp vs. over 7 running OSX. This to me takes it out of the running as an Ultrabook substitute for those looking to run Windows. The general lack of driver support - especially for the trackpad, which is now worse running Windows than the best of the Windows UBs - finally - can do on their own. Still a lovely and well built machine, but not advisable if the sole/main purpose is to run Windows. The Samsung S9 and Asus UX/Zenbook series, among others, are better options as, IMO, is the Envy Spectre 14 reviewed here - even if battery life is not much better, HP is a Windows notebook supplier and drivers will be maintained - plus I'm a total sucker for the design!
  • bji - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    You have no idea how ironic your post sounds to someone who lived through computing in the 90's. The idea that buying a Microsoft operating system instead of an Apple one is an act of principle is just hard to swallow.

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