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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  • rarson - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    I lived through computing in the '90s, and I don't think it sounds ironic at all. Apple's operating systems suck, in my opinion.
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    To heck with Apple, why would you buy this instead of a Thinkpad T430? For a pound more and hundreds of dollars less you get a 1600x900 screen that ISN'T covered with a shiny sheet of glass, Windows 7 Pro, Optimus graphics (with halfway decent performance), more USB ports...I mean, I could go on, but I guess I just don't understand this lightweight, super-thin business. It's already a 14" laptop. They just aren't THAT heavy.

    I also don't get why you'd want a sheet of glass in front of your screen, but I'll let that go.
  • ImSpartacus - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    The T series is full of beautiful and functional machines, but they aren't for everyone. It's hard to argue that ultraportables don't have a place in the market.

    Also as a note, the T430's 5400M is kinda mediocre. Perhaps better than its integrated competitors, but not THAT great compared to more modern consumer dGPUs like the Kepler 640M.
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I'm not saying ultraportables don't have a place in the market, I'm just saying I don't understand why people would pay the premium to get them. Don't get me wrong, I love small computers. I went from 1366x768 at 13.3" to 1366x768 at 11.6" to 1600x900 at 14.0" and I think I've finally arrived at the perfect compromise of size and screen real estate. I just can't imagine that I'd ever be willing to pay 50% more to get a laptop that in most metrics is inferior, just to save a pound in weight.

    Oh, and don't get me wrong; I didn't mean that I thought the T430 had a great GPU...believe me, I didn't get it for gaming (I have a desktop for that). But it's a decided improvement over the Nvidia GPU in predecessor--about twice as good--which puts it in the category of being able to play most games at lower detail settings. It's also appreciably better than Intel's offering, and is one more argument of the T430 over an ultrabook like this.
  • Dug - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Because it's lighter, has a better screen, thunderbolt, better keyboard, better trackpad, better case, SSD, better power adapter, etc.

    The screen is not a sheet of glass. You are thinking of a Macbook pro.

    We deliver both of these models at work, and no one has complained about the Macbook Air. The Lenovo on the other hand has a bad keyboard, bad camera, bad screen, bad design.
    Not saying its a bad computer, but as a business user, it doesn't compare.

    The screen on the Lenovo's is so bad people have returned them to get a Macbook Air. The color gamut and off screen viewing is horrible.
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I was comparing the ThinkPad to this HP laptop, but okay, we can play. :-P Yes, the Air is lighter. But it's screen is glossy, which (in my opinion) completely obviates any other advantages it might have with regards to contrast ratio and color gamut. Yes, it has Thunderbolt, which will matter in a couple of years, but honestly, isn't that important at the moment. I don't know what the heck you're talking about with regards to the keyboard and trackpad, because both are top-notch on the T430.

    Your "better case" comment is similarly fatuous. Are you seriously going to tell me that the Air is more durable than a ThinkPad? As for the SSD issue, you can buy a T430 and an 256GB SSD, install it yourself, and still have a system that's basically superior in every way (except arguably weight) to the 256GB 13" Air, for less money.

    "The screen is not a sheet of glass. You are thinking of a Macbook pro." No, actually, I was thinking of the HP Envy 14 Spectre, which clearly has a sheet of glass in front of the display. That's the comparison that I was (obviously) making.

    "The Lenovo on the other hand has a bad keyboard, bad camera, bad screen, bad design." You have seriously got to be kidding me. The keyboard and overall design are great. The screen may not have the highest contrast or color gamut, but it's still matte, which (again, in my opinion) makes it superior to the Air screen. The only thing I can't really speak to is the camera, because I did get one, but I don't really care THAT much about it, as long as it's there.

    "The screen on the Lenovo's is so bad people have returned them to get a Macbook Air. The color gamut and off screen viewing is horrible." Yeah, no, I'm sorry. You're not gonna convince me that one or two people trading a ThinkPad for a Mac is some kind of sweeping condemnation of the LCD panel in the former. I get that people's tastes in computers vary. I get that some people like Macs, and that's okay. But a lot of what you wrote is--let's be frank--misleading nonsense.
  • Jeff Bellin - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - link

    I'm continually confused by the automatic disqualification of a screen that is glossy when there are so many choices of very high quality "screen protectors" that very effectively turn a glossy screen into various levels and types of matter properties. I've used several and they all work very well, though it takes some doing to find the right version of protector to gain the matte finish you seek. Advice: go for a bit less matte than you might prefer: the semi-matte finishes on, say the Sony Z series have excellent contrast and color fidelity and there is less loss of brightness, and two heavy a matte "filter" may bring a "screen door" effect that is highly undesirable. The semi-matte/semi gloss filters will do the job of eliminating that mirror effect of high gloss screens and otherwise do little to impede the qualities of the base screen.

    Can we get over the disqualification of all glossy screens? (which I would be with 100% if these "workarounds" were not so easy and cheap to obtain.)
  • beisat - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Personally, i'm quite glad that these producers are understanding the elegance of thin, high quality products - but I really can't blame Apple for sueing about designs like this. Looking at the picture on the first page, this thing looking soooo much like a macbook pro it's scary.
  • kmmatney - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I thought that's what the whole "ultrabook" thing is all about - making Macbook Air machines for Windows. The trouble is is that they are also trying to sell these at Mac prices...
  • xype - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    The trouble is that Apple’s prices are competitive. If you have only 5 laptop models in total you get your margins increased by sheer volume already; no PC hardware manufacturer will sell anywhere close to Apple’s numbers of a specific model.

    And the Ultrabook was about the specs, not about the look of the devices. Have a look at the Lenovo X1 (ArsTechnica has a review)—that at least is something that I can consider an alternative when people ask me what to buy. The rest? Why not buy a Mac directly, if you want an aluminium "Ultrabook"?

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