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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  • sirizak - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Seriously pretty machine...

    Why plaster bloody stickers on it? Why have we not moved on from this yet?

    Honestly even Joe Bloggs (I'm Aussie, ie. John Smith) reads specs, we know its Intel based( 2 intel stickers...), we know it runs Windows. Yes they are an unobtrusive grey, but I think that's worse. If you don't want me to notice them, don't stick them on the bloody thing in the first place...
  • ImSpartacus - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    "Joe Bloggs" is the Australian. "John Smith"?! That's sweet.
  • Dug - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    No kidding. But that just shows the typical marketing idiots at work compared to Apple's marketing.

    The same guys that want stickers on everything, want glossy black bezels and palm rests.
  • ggathagan - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    As I recall, those stickers are part of the pricing deal from the respective manufacturers. If they weren't put on the computer, the price would be higher.
    If that is true, I'm OK with having to peel off stickers.
  • Beenthere - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    If they can sell this crap they can sell sand to the Arabs. You'd have to be braindead to buy an Ultrabook, but if that's what makes you happy, jump in.
  • kyuu - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    I'm not a fan of this particular model, but the notion that have a preference for well-designed, thinner & lighter mobile devices and being willing to pay a small premium for it somehow reflects on a person's intellect is ridiculous.

    'Course, there are plenty of well-designed, thin & light models that don't quite qualify as an Ultrabook to look at as well (I'm looking at the Gigabyte U2442N myself).
  • Beenthere - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    The premise for the "Ultrabook" is a low performance, shiny object that has an inflated price. These toys are for folks lacking in intellect. That is precisely why Intel has not been able to con most folks into buying them even with huge financial incentives to the toy makers.

    There are tons of better laptop choices at much lower prices that meet the needs on 99.9999999999975316% of consumers. This is why "ultra-Jokes" ain't selling.

    For those who chose bling over value and/or performance, then yes their intellect most certainly would be in question.
  • bji - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    The only intellect I question is the one who can't fathom why someone else would want a product that they themselves don't. It's called personal preference. Everyone has one and it's fairly moronic to claim that your judgement about what people need or wants trumps their own.
  • netmann - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Dustin, can the mSATA SSDs be configured in RAID?
  • Penti - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    It looks fairly decent when it comes to specs and features, it does have some I think are quite essential once you pass 900-1000 dollars which is DisplayPort, high-res screen and ethernet, but things like having two mSATA SSDs (as it doesn't really give them any space) and fairly small battery gives a lot of minus points. For about the same money you get a Dell XPS 14 with Ivy, 8GB ram, 512GB SSD, 1600x900 14" screen and GT 630M discrete graphics. Only 155 dollar difference to how yours is configured. As this Spectre is 1949 with 8GB ram, i7 processor and 256GB SSD I'm not too tempted.

    Sure I might would have wanted to see the Dell XPS 14 ultrabook with SSDs in the lower ends and more configurable, but that only adds to the criticism that the HP looks worse despite that. Of course if you just want a high-res screen then you got Asus, Samsung Series 7 14 , Series 9 13.3 with HD+ etc as cheaper options. NP700Z3C-S02US is spec'd at Core i5, 14" 1600x900 display, 6GB ram, HD4000/GT 630M, USB3 and Ethernet plus 750GB hdd for 999 at the "Microsoft store". No DisplayPort but possibly a Ultrabook that should have come with a SSD. Most options aren't really sensible though.

    Still finding lots of problems, good I'm not looking for one right now :) Spending 2000 dollars just to get high-res display and SSD seems excessive.

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