HP ENVY Touchsmart Ultrabook 4 is a solid, affordable machine — TECH TIME REVIEW
I recently tested out another offering that fits this category, the HP ENVY Touchsmart Ultrabook 4, and I’m back with a full report.
LOOKS, MATERIALS, SIZE
The ENVY 4 features a sharp design in silver and black (black frame around the display and black keyboard, and a silver base and touchpad). The palm rest keyboard area and cover have a sturdy brushed aluminum finish, and the bottom of the machine is a soft-touch rubber material.
Overall I was very impressed with the build and look of the machine.
The once area where I see the ENVY 4 trailing its competitors in the ultrabook arena is weight, as this machine comes in at roughly 4 pounds. That’s a full pound heavier than some of its competitors, so people looking for the most lightweight and portable machine might consider other ultrabook options (to be fair though, those lighter offerings are more expensive, so there is a tradeoff.)
Overall size specs on the machine are 13.38 inches wide, 9.28 inches deep and 0.78 inches thick (again, not quite as thin as some competitors in the ultrabook arena).
This is still an ultrabook by definition, without a doubt, as it is very portable, it’s just not quite as “ultra” as some of the competitors.
The ENVY 4 has a well-designed chiclet-style keyboard, with amply spaced keys.
The function keys on the top row double as various controls (volume up/down, mute, media controls like fast-forward and play, etc.). Despite limited space in an ultrabook design, HP has gotten all the necessary keys in a very user-friendly package.
A backlit keyboard is offered for an extra $20, and I would highly recommend it, especially if you do a lot of your work at night like I do.
The touchpad on the ENVY 4 is very responsive, and can be turned off by simply double tapping the top left corner of the touchpad itself. It’s large enough, but not so large that it causes accidental cursor movement, something I rarely experienced during my time with the ENVY 4.
The screen size on the ENVY 4 is 14 inches, just about the perfect size for a laptop in my opinion -- not too big, not too small. The native resolution on the ENVY 4 is 1366 x 768 pixels, meaning 720p video will play without any delays, but full HD 1080p video will require some buffering time. There is no option to upgrade to a full-HD 1080p screen, and I would have liked to see that as an option for folks who wanted it.
Still, what’s offered is a sharp, crisp screen that should make most users very happy, and will provide an enjoyable media viewing experience — whether it be movies on Netflix and other services, or light game play or online video watching.
The touchscreen on the ENVY 4 was very responsive, and helpful at times when maneuvering around the Web or using certain programs.
Touchscreens are the route many laptop makers are going with their new Windows 8 machines, and for good reason, as Windows 8 is made with touchscreens in mind. Windows 8 is still new, so if you get it for the first time there will be an adjustment period. But it doesn’t take long to learn it, and once you do you’ll be glad you have a touchscreen machine.
The HP ENVY 4 line comes with the latest Intel chips. My machine had a very speedy i5 processor that stood up well even through serious multitasking, but the base model will come with a slower i3 processor. The i3 isn’t exactly a slow processor, but if you’re used to speedy performance I would recommend the i5.
My machine also had 4 GB of RAM, which helps with the smooth operation of the machine and should be enough for most users. Power users can upgrade to as much as 8 GB of RAM for even speedier performance and multitasking.
The machine comes with 500 GB of storage, a solid number that should be enough for most people, especially with so much being stored in the cloud these days.
Battery life on the ENVY 4 was decent, but not the best I’ve seen on an ultrabook got about 5 hours of life from the battery, less than the seven-hour capability listed by HP.
The machine comes with a 4-cell battery, and there are no battery upgrades, so you get what you get. Settings can be adjusted on the machine to allow for better battery life, and the life will depend on what programs you are using most often.
In terms of ports, the essentials are there on the HP ENVY 4, with 2 SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports (for faster data transfer); 1 USB 2.0 ports; 1 HDMI port (which you can use to transfer your computer’s screen to your HDTV); and slots for headphones and microphone plug-ins. Due to the smaller size of the ultrabook, there is no disc drive -- so if you want to use discs you’ll need an external disc drive, an accessory that is offered by HP.
The base price on the HP ENVY Touchsmart Ultrabook 4 is $749, but that will feature a slower i3 processor. The unit I had featured an upgrade to Windows 8 Professional (with extra features for business customers), a backlit keyboard, and the upgrade to an i5 processor, with a pricetag of $914.99. Most people won’t need Windows 8 Professional, so if you get the standard consumer edition of Windows 8 with the other specs I had, you’d pay $844.99.
Overall, this isn’t my absolute favorite ultrabook I’ve seen due to the extra weight and so-so battery life compared to the competition. But it holds its own in other categories, as the overall design, performance and specs are very impressive.
Also, the starting price is quite a bit lower than many of the ultrabook competition (some start at more than $1,000), and that’s often one of the biggest considerations customers have. So even though it’s not perfect, this ultrabook should get its share of customers.
Matt Myftiu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”.