HP Envy 4 Ultrabook £649
3rd Jul 2012 | 10:40
A portable and affordable Ultrabook from HP with occasional usability issues
Like its big brother, the HP Envy 6, the 14-inch HP Envy 4 is an affordable Ultrabook with good looks and sound, priced at £650 in the UK and $800 in the US.
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However, we noticed a couple of niggles during usage that we haven't encountered on other recent Ultrabooks such as the Acer Aspire S3 or Dell XPS 13. The question with the HP Envy 4 is whether its excellent media credentials and great price are enough to ignore a couple of minor flaws.
HP's earlier Ultrabook effort, the HP Envy Spectre, was nudging at the limits of Intel's strict guidelines on Ultrabook dimensions with a 20mm chassis. But the HP Envy 4 is a much more portable option, weighing only 1.8kg (3.86lbs) and measuring a backpack-friendly 340 x 235 x 18mm (13.38 x 9.28 x 0.78 inches) - it's not a machine you'll have trouble carrying around all day.
The 214 minute battery life is a middling score and, to be honest, could have been better. To be fair to HP though, we ran the battery down with a high-performance stress test. If you keep your usage conservative you should be able to squeeze more than five hours of use from this Ultrabook.
The smaller size does mean a slight decrease in power, however, and the Intel Core i3 processor inside the HP Envy 4 won't touch the HP Envy 6's Core i5 muscle.
You can upgrade the processor inside the HP Envy 4 if you wish, but this is a matter of personal preference and bank balance - part of the appeal of the HP Envy 4 is value. And, even with the Core i3 processor, we found it coped remarkably well with all our software requirements.
Outwardly the HP Envy 4 has the all-black cool of the HP Envy series. The bright red Beats Audio logo is evident on the HP Envy 4's speaker grill and, like the HP Envy 6, it has the same brushed metallic finish and rubberised red coating on the underside and around the edge.
The Intel Core i3-2367M processor is clocked at 1.4GHz, which is hardly blinding - although we did find the 6GB DDR3 RAM added a bit of cavalry to the HP Envy 4's performance.
Even so, with the rollout of Ivy Bridge-toting devices gathering momentum, we're a little concerned how the HP Envy 4 will hold up against other laptops two years from now.
It scored a respectable 4,928 in our Cinebench 10 benchmarking tests and coped well with multitasking, but if you need serious grunt work from your Ultrabook, there are better choices out there.
Don't expect to be loading up detailed graphics editors or rocking 2012's biggest gaming titles, either. The HP Envy 4 is only equipped with the Intel HD Graphics 3000 integrated GPU. It'll keep up with movies and web streaming, but anything much more complicated is likely to strain it too far.
You won't find any kind of optical drive on the HP Envy 4, but it does include the requisite ports and connections. If you want to use a second monitor, then you'll need to use HDMI (there's no VGA), and the three USB ports can be used for adding extra peripherals.
Somewhat disappointingly, these are all USB 2.0 ports, rather than USB 3.0, which can read/write at 10 times the speed and is, like Ivy Bridge, becoming a standard feature.
This omission is again a way of keeping down the cost of the HP Envy 4 and making it affordable, a lesson no doubt learned from the £1,100/$1,400 HP Envy Spectre. Rounding out the connectivity is an Ethernet port and SD card slot for expanding on the 500GB of storage.
As we've already mentioned, media is where the HP Envy 4 really shines. The 14-inch screen, although only boasting a standard 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution, is bright and detailed.
The bezel around the screen measures 1.4cm and isn't thick enough to prove distracting when watching a movie or looking at pictures. The bezel also houses the HD webcam and provides a bit of extra space for the now-familiar Beats Audio branding.
Unsurprisingly with a Beats Audio-licensed product, the sound is above average. You can use the Beats Audio control panel to adjust bass, treble and focus and get the sound that you want from the HP Envy 4's grill speaker, located above the keyboard. What would have been nice is if the circular Beats logo on the grill acted as a launch hotkey for the control panel. Unfortunately, though, it's just there to look pretty.
Volume and depth are surprisingly good, but the HP Envy 4 lacks the added subwoofer on the underside of the chassis that HP has built into the more expensive HP Envy models. Even so, movies and albums both sounded excellent on this Ultrabook, and we'd recommend it to audiophiles with big music collections or Spotify subscriptions.
So, with the specification already covered, how does the HP Envy 4 perform in everyday use? Not too badly is the answer, although this is where the aforementioned niggles do crop up.
Because of the slim dimension required for Ultrabook status, there's very little travel on the keys. This comes down to personal preference and, to be truthful, we didn't notice it after 15 minutes or so of typing.
And the overall build quality does feel firm - we couldn't find much flex on the HP Envy 4's chassis, despite repeated jabbing. There is, however, a noticeable rattle when you hit the keys with any force, leading us to think there's excess space between the keys and the chassis.
We were generally pretty happy with the keyboard on the HP Envy 4, but the touchpad is a totally different beast. The smooth glass pad has multi-gesture support, so you can pinch to zoom, or use two fingers to scroll without any problems. It's responsive and very comfortable to use.
Cinebench 10: 4,928
3D Mark '06: 3585
Battery Eater '05: 214 minutes
However, the integrated click buttons are, frankly, awful. They're stiff and extremely difficult to press, and to effectively right-click you need to press slightly right of centre, since hitting the right corner of the pad does nothing.
What is good to see is that even during heavy sessions the HP Envy 4 remains relatively quiet, and the chassis doesn't get too hot. HP has included CoolSense technology that regulates the air conditioning inside the machine depending on usage and conditions.
The red rubberised coating that covers the underside of the laptop as well as the edges also makes it comfortable to hold and easy to grip. Certainly, in terms of design, this is one of the more attractive Ultrabooks out there.
Because this is an Ultrabook, boot-up time is quick and efficient, even without the benefit of an SSD drive. The HP Envy 4 has Intel's Rapid Start Technology built in, and we clocked the start-up time from sleep mode to the Windows desktop at eight seconds.
Day-to-day performance is also improved by the fact that there isn't much pre-installed bloatware to contend with. HP has included a few programs, but it's mostly security and maintenance software that is useful to have on any new laptop. Snapfish, Skype and Evernote are also already pre-installed.
We didn't run into any major problems with the HP Envy 4 (save the touchpad) and, providing it isn't pushed beyond its capacity, this is a very portable, affordable Ultrabook.
We've been quick to point out shortcomings with the HP Envy 4, but the truth is it's a very cool Ultrabook. It's got enough of a design edge to single it out and its performance, while not breathtaking, is certainly credible. If you want an Ultrabook for media use and aren't prepared to pay for the HP Envy Spectre then this is an affordable alternative.
The design and the portability are standout highlights of the HP Envy 4. It looks like a cool machine, and its affordability means we feel that younger consumers will appreciate it as a way to carry around both media and work documents without having to dig deep for a new MacBook Air.
Intel originally conceived the Ultrabook platform as costing under $1,000, roughly equivalent to £640. But many of the slick new machines arrive on our shelves costing £1,000/$1,400 or more - like the cousin of the HP Envy 4, the HP Envy 14 Spectre. The HP Envy 4 with this spec comes in bang on price, at £650/$800.
Its performance is certainly capable for basic tasks too, and there's all the requisite connections here to add extra peripherals.
It might have been the case that so much time was spent on the HP Envy 4's design and features that usability fell by the wayside. Although the keyboard isn't bad, the touchpad and, in particular, the integrated buttons, are terrible. This would have been an easy fix and would improve the experience drastically.
We could also quibble about the performance but, truth be told, this is a value-for-money machine and, as such, we don't expect it to blow the roof off with power. That said, a couple of extra features - such as USB 3.0 compatibility and a slightly better battery life - would have been nice.
The HP Envy 4 is certainly one of the most affordable Ultrabooks we've seen. It's got a sleek design and the power is more than enough for basic office tasks and enjoying media on the move.
The Beats Audio and black metallic finish give this Ultrabook some street cred, and it's light and slim enough not to give you any trouble if you want to carry it around for a day.
It's not perfect - the keyboard and touchpad, aren't up to scratch and the battery life only just clears the 200-minute mark - but overall it would make an excellent choice for a student, media lover or regular traveller, while anyone looking for more power should probably look elsewhere.