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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  • Beenthere - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    HP is going to be out of Biz before long the way they are going. They are so confused they don't even know if they are in or our of the PC Biz.
  • ggathagan - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    The idea of HP getting out of the PC business was pushed by a CEO (Leo Apotheker) that was fired the month after he spewed that nonsense.
    Given that this all occurred a year ago, you might want to get a fresher news source.
  • MrTeal - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    I can't help but notice that the UX31A is in your charts for this review. I sure hope this means that a review of the new 13" Zenbook Prime review?
  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    Coming very soon. :-)
  • seapeople - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    Sooo... the spectre gets beat at Futuremark by two other laptops with the same thermal envelope, graphics, and slower processors (Asus and Intel UB), yet supposedly runs extremely cool at max load so therefore has no thermal issues?

    Is the cooling really that great, or are they throttling to reduce temperature?

    Also, did I miss the gaming review section?
  • CaioRearte - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    Please review the HP Envy 14z (the one with Trinity). I think it's a nice comparison, then we can finally see the graphics power difference clearly.
  • joshv - Sunday, August 26, 2012 - link

    I was one of the unfortunates who bought an original HP Envy 15, right after it was first released.

    The '2' key was stillborn, requiring a trip into the shop. Then the video intermittently began to fail. This resulted in about 4 to 5 round trips to the repair service. Every time but the last failing to fix it. Once it finally returned with a brand new motherboard, 2GB of RAM had gone missing (still recognized by the BIOS, but not by windows) and the BIOS they shipped me was so old it had this nasty little bug: . I had to fix it myself. Still can't figure out what's wrong with the RAM.

    So after that six months of fun I sat down to finally start using my ENVY, just in time for numerous other keys on the keyboard to fail.

    $2,000 - down the toilet - the thing is a useless brick.

    HP can't make quality, durable hardware. I should have known better.
  • Sunburn74 - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    Funny how the bench's for the asus ux31a are available for viewing in this review.
  • CharonPDX - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    ...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.

    Absolutely, I'd love to have a replaceable battery!

    The other disappointment with the HP Envy 14 Spectre was its battery running time.

    Or not....

    Non-replaceable means the space used to make it replaceable can be filled with more battery.
  • th3architectto - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    it's a classy amazing design, the best out there, good for "music and watch pictures". no this could be better if it has a 15 inch 1080p resolution display at minimum, upgradable aftermarket ssd, more memory capable, discrete graphics 1 gb ddr5 at least and handles ivy bridge 35/45watts processor, well making the classy design funtional real functional and they can do all that without over raising the price they're gonna be making them best business ever.

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