In an era where truly upscale laptops seem like an endangered species, it’s always nice to run across a well-built system with few compromises, such as the HP Envy 17. We’ve always liked the Envy line in general, and the two most-recent models, the 14-inch Envy 14 and this 17-inch Envy 17, manage to surpass last year’s original 13- and 15-inch versions by coming in at much more reasonable prices.
The feature-packed Envy 17 includes a Blu-ray drive, both HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, and a USB 3.0 port (although very little current hardware can take advantage of it). As the slim (for its size) Envy 17 is one of the only laptops that looks and feels like a real alternative to Apple’s 17-inch MacBook Pro, its $1,399 starting price is even more attractive, as the 17-inch MacBook goes for $2,299 and up.
With a not-too-thick (but slightly too heavy) aluminum and magnesium chassis, the Envy 17 is less of a desk-hogging system than many of its 17- or 18-inch counterparts, hence our comparison to the (still slimmer) 17-inch MacBook Pro. The similarities extend to the backlit keyboard and oversize clickpad (the preferred term used for touch pads that integrate the mouse buttons into the pad itself), which both feel very Mac-like.
The same subtle pattern of imprinted squares covers the wrist rest and back of the lid as we’ve seen on other Envy laptops, and the construction feels rock solid and durable. Even better, this is one of the few truly fingerprint-proof laptops we’ve ever run across.
The flat-topped, widely spaced island-style keys are standard across most of the laptop industry at this point, and this example is generally comfortable and easy to use. But even with a full number pad included on the right side, there’s still plenty of room in the keyboard tray, and the keyboard feels undersized relative to the system’s overall dimensions. We also ran into a mysterious, but faint, noise while typing, which we eventually traced to a slightly squeaky space bar. In the four Envy 17 laptops we’ve tested, this is the first such problem we found, but it’s distracting nonetheless.
The large clickpad evokes Apple’s version, with the left and right mouse buttons built right into the clickable surface. The size is decent, but could easily be even larger, and the multitouch functionality can’t hold a candle to Apple’s (which is something that can currently be said of any non-Mac laptop). We especially missed handy Mac gestures such as two-finger right-click tapping and the four-finger swipe for hiding all open windows.
On of the system’s highlights is its big 1,920×1,080-pixel display. Under edge-to-edge glass, the full-HD screen looks great, and is exactly the right resolution for Blu-ray and other HD video content. As in the other Envy laptops, HP has teamed with Beats Audio to include special bass-boosting software and hardware that purportedly works especially well with Beats-branded headphones, but certainly also sounds clear and hefty with other headphones or through the system speakers. It won’t fill the room for your next house party, but it certainly sounds very good for laptop speakers.
The biggest selling point for the Envy’s ports and connections collection may be the inclusion of a still-rare USB 3.0 jack. Though there are a handful of USB 3.0 portable hard drives out there, most of your hardware won’t be able to take advantage of the faster data transfer speeds right now. In fact, one of our most-often-used USB devices, Avid’s ProTools Mbox, just got a hardware refresh that moved it from USB 1.1 to USB 2.0 support.
The Envy 17′s performance was on-par with other high-end Intel Core 17 laptops, even though this configuration had the lowest-end processor option available, a 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM. Upgrades to the Core i7-740QM and Core i7-840QM are available for $100 and $400, respectively. It is possible to find a faster laptop, such as the most recent Alienware M15x we reviewed, which had a more powerful 2GHz Intel Core i7-920XM, but for practical purposes, it’s hard to imagine any multitasking situation where the Envy 17 would run into much slowdown or stuttering.
There’s only one GPU option available, and that’s the ATI Radeon HD5850. It’s more than fine for mid-to-high-end gaming, even with resolutions cranked up to 1,920×1,080 pixels. Our only real knock is that without Nvidia’s Optimus system, the GPU can’t turn itself off automatically to save battery life. Playing Unreal Tournament 3 at the full 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution, we got 86.2 frames per second.