In and Around the HP Envy 14 Spectre

As I mentioned before, HP's Envy 14 Spectre may have clear inspirations for its design, but is a unique product in and of itself. For the Spectre HP went whole hog with aluminum and glass, and I'll admit that it's very interesting to see a notebook use glass on surfaces other than the trackpad (which many high end and enterprise notebooks do). The result of the aluminum and glass design is a notebook that at least feels sturdy in the hand, if a bit heavy.

It starts with the lid, which has a black aluminum trim and essentially sandwiches the display between two pieces of solid glass. The lid itself is very rigid, with only the most minimal amount of flex, and it's capable of photographing attractively, but it does suffer from two flaws. First, because it's glass it has a very glossy finish that can be hard to keep clean; that's not a major problem since we've been coping with gloss on notebooks for some time now. The second is that jostling even the hinge or the glass, front or back, can cause ripples in the display. On our review unit, the bottom corners of the screen shimmer a little bit when you open or close the lid or adjust the hinge.

And what a hinge. The Envy 14 Spectre is attractive and the hinges are sturdy, but they're almost too tight; I actually had a little bit of trouble opening and closing the notebook. There's a very small plastic lip on the lid for opening it up, but it's a two hand job, and that lip is almost too small.

When you do open the Spectre, you're greeted with HP's signature backlit keyboard along with a glass palmrest, glass clickpad, and glowing Beats audio logo in the bottom right corner. HP is employing the same keyboard pretty much across their entire line, but I don't have any complaints; as far as chiclet keyboards go it's among my favorites. I must be getting used to clickpads, too, because the one used here is fairly easy to use. HP also includes a volume dial on the right side of the notebook, but I'm sorry to say this is not an analog volume dial. Oddly enough it seems to have its poles crossed, too; scrolling towards you turns volume up, while scrolling away turns it down.

Finally, the bottom of the Spectre is a soft-touch plastic, and consumers of the world rejoice: the battery is removable and upgradeable. You'll have to actually unscrew it with a torx screwdriver, but you can get to it, proving you can still get a fairly slim form factor and be able to replace parts. Apple should consider taking notes.

The HP Envy 14 Spectre is certainly a sight to behold and attractive on its own, but I can't help but nitpick. It's true that glass is an attractive material, but there's a reason it's seldom employed to this extent on notebooks: it's heavy. There's something about the feel of the Spectre; it's heavy in the hand and feels very dense. Some users will undoubtedly appreciate that solid feeling. I also feel like practical sacrifices have been made in the name of aesthetics: the hinge is almost too stiff, the rippling at the bottom corners of the display whenever the lid is jostled is worrisome, and the glass surfaces will be difficult to keep clean.

Ultimately, the aesthetics and practicality of the Spectre are going to be a matter of individual taste, which I think is part of what HP is going for.

Introducing the HP Envy 14 Spectre Application and Futuremark Performance
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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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