The ultrabook brigade are more often than not an attractive crowd, of course this incidence of beauty is helped by the fact they all follow a very similar chrome laden formula. HP however, doesn't seem to have read the rulebook and the HP Envy has flouted most of these conventions.
The Envy is a bit heavier, a little bit chubbier and also a little bit more expensive than many of the other ultrabooks. It is however a glass laden behemoth of design that will appeal to those with a little more money than they need, who want something a little unique.
The Envy 14 Spectre is surrounded by Gorilla Glass on its lids back, as well as on its screen, which to be honest we thought looked very sexy - well until it gets covered in finger prints. Unlike other ultrabooks it's a two piece chassis, and not a unibody chassis. Nonetheless, it's very attractive, if perhaps not as durable aesthetically. Though the Glass may protect the screen's innards and though you may be the most super-careful person in the world - as Elvis Costello said 'accidents will happen' and as we know from smart phones, there's nothing as awful looking as cracked Gorilla glass, not actually cracked by a gorilla - which is sort of impressive.
At over 1.8KG, it's pretty on the edge of notebook territory, mainly due to the glass's weight and considering its 20mm thick, it's not exactly Kate Moss in width stakes either. The Envy has an aluminium coloured bottom, with an black island style keyboard and large backlit keys, which we were quite satisfied with, though there is a hint of MacBook Pro about the whole thing. They managed to be pleasing, even if they weren't necessarily that deep. Like the HP Folio F5 turns on and off the backlight. The touch pad is also glass covered, though is split in the middle via a stripe. It can be a little stiff, but feels great and offers very reliable gesture control - something not all ultrabooks provide. The screen being 14inches is also larger than most ultrabooks too.
It's also a 1600x900p, something many other machines can learn from. As with the lid the Gorilla glass covers the display, which has a notably slim bezel. The display comes with a reflective covering, whcih can annoy and it all fits flush to the panel, which is a nice feature. It's not the brightest display in the world and is notably lesser than the ASUS Zenbooks. However, we did find imaging to be clear and text to be very readable. Black levels were also good and when compared to some of the other ultrabooks efforts in in the upper echelons.
The addition of Beats stereo, as is common across the Envy range does benefit the Spectre and it's a bass driven machine, as we expected. It won't replace a speaker system, but it's good for movies. The Spectre also has little additions such as an analogue wheel for turning up and down the volume - which was a surprise in 2012. All said and done - performance is good.
Our Envy 14 Spectre came with one of Intel's Sandy Bridge i5 2467m processors, 4GB of RAM and as is the way with ultrabooks, a 128GB Solid State Drive. The i5 processor on offer is a good chip and performs as you'd expect a mid range chip to do. It's perfect for all your productivity needs, while comes with Intel HD3000 graphics to aid the visual end of things.
This leaves it as the perfect machine for your HD video requirements, but not so for gaming. We found the mix of display and 1080p to be a nice prospect realised. Low settings on graphically demanding games however still mean jerky play, as is the way for all GPU devoid ultrabooks - which means nearly all of them.
Connectivity on the Envy Spectre meets the norms of this range of devices and the Spectre has two USB ports, one of which is of the 3.0 variety. a display port, HDMI, Ethernet and SD slot. The SSD also means instant on and super fast boot times are within grasp too. It also has NFC for sharing URLs and other information from a similarly enabled device and a proximity sensor, so it turns off when you're not in front of the display and gone to get something from the fridge - this of course aids battery life.
HP has claimed a 9 hour life span, however we found 7.5 hours a more realistic figure, with a Battery Eater test lifespan of 2 hours and 3 minutes - which is all middle of the road for such a machine.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre is a little bit unorthodox, a tad bigger than the usual and a little more prone to get finger prints. It does have a nice screen, attractive chassis and ultrabook performance. However, it's a little too expensive for our tastes, making it seem a like it costs a bit too much for what it is.
Intel Graphics HD 3000