Optical drives are disappearing from laptops. Even the larger 15-inch models often drop this option as they compete to be the slimmest model on the shelves.
Hence, it is good to see the optical drive back on the new HP Envy 15, after it had gone missing in some of its predecessors.
The new version looks much like last year's, but with minor tweaks. For instance, the fingerprint reader has shifted from the right side of the palm rest to the left side.
Overall, it is a polished design that can be described, depending on your preferences, as either bland or minimalist. I was not too impressed with the Envy 15's plastic lid, which flexed easily when pressed.
The laptop's island-style keyboard comes with a backlight and a number pad. But you will probably have eyes only for its unusual touchpad. Dubbed the Control Zone, it has two vertical strips which function like Windows 8 edge-swipe gestures.
First seen last year on the HP Spectre ultrabook, these strips are useful for Windows 8 novices who find it difficult to execute such gestures. But otherwise, they serve little purpose.
The Envy 15 lacks a touchscreen, but its display's most glaring flaw is its lacklustre viewing angles. Unless you are facing the screen dead centre, colours look washed out.
To be fair, the matte display is not reflective and the screen resolution is a respectable 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.
While it is intended to replace your desktop PC, the Envy 15 is an entry-level model that is more suited for mainstream users. It may have a dedicated Nvidia graphics chip, but it ran Bioshock Infinite, an older title, at a less-than-ideal 21 frames per second at high setting.
The laptop's 1TB hard drive is also disappointing. It is a slow 5,400rpm drive which lacks a solid-state cache that would have made it more responsive.
Its Beats Audio technology's audio enhancement feature is not obvious when the speakers are used. Use it with headphones for a more significant effect.
If you have the budget, you can upgrade the laptop to a more capable Envy model with a touchscreen and better hardware. For instance, a Core i7 version with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB hybrid hard drive costs $1,899, but this model has no optical drive.
The Envy 15's battery is easy to swop when it is running low. In Digital Life's battery test, the laptop lasted 5hr 19min while playing a video. This is decent for a 15-inch model.
Although it is an affordable entry-level desktop replacement with plenty of features, the Envy 15 could do with a better screen and a faster hard drive.
Processor: Intel Core i7-4510U (2GHz)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 840M 2GB DDR3
Display: 15.6 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Connectivity: 4 x USB 3.0, HDMI, SD card reader, Ethernet, combo audio jack
Value for money: 4/5
Battery life: 4/5
This article was published on Aug 13 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.
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