HP Envy 6 £680
13th Aug 2012 | 10:39
The HP Envy 6 is bigger and heavier than most Ultrabooks
When we think of Ultrabooks, we tend to think of something like the Asus Zenbook UX32A, the Acer Aspire S5 or, of course, the Apple MacBook Air - all with small screen sizes, super-thin chassis and speedy SSD performance.
The thing is, that's not what they have to be, and so we get the HP Envy 6, a 15.6-inch, 2kg big slab of Ultrabook. Of course, 2kg is actually pretty light for a 15-inch laptop, and the HP Envy 6 is pretty thin, too.
Physically, you'd probably say it has more in common with the MacBook Pro with Retina display than the MacBook Air, but coming in at a price of £680 in the UK or $899.99 in the US, it's obvious that we're talking about Ultrabook innards.
Looks-wise, the HP Envy 6 has a distinctly Envy appearance, with a serious black finish on top and a kind of wine red underneath. It's a handsome machine, though it would look even nicer without the Beats logo (sported because it packs in Beats-branded speakers, complete with subwoofer), light-up power button and various Intel/Windows/HP stickers (though these are at least monochrome, so don't stand out too badly).
The only problem is that the brushed aluminium-look surfaces pick up fingerprints and dust to a ridiculous degree. It'll drive the more obsessive compulsive owners mad, and it's a shame because, as we said, it's a looker of a laptop otherwise.
The 15.6-inch screen might be a good chunk larger than your average Ultrabook display, but that hasn't extended to the resolution, which is 1366 x 768. You won't be watching any videos at native 1080p, then.
Compounding that is the total lack of an optical drive – Blu-ray or otherwise. This isn't exactly unusual for an Ultrabook, but it might surprise those looking for a 15-inch computer to be a media centre.
With a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor and 4GB RAM, it's fairly standard as far as specifications go, with one notable exception: a 500GB, 5400RPM hard drive. Not one of those fancy SSDs, but a good old-fashioned HDD.
No doubt this will raise eyebrows (and the weight of the machine) when compared to other Ultrabooks, but you'll have to pay a lot more if you want this volume of storage in SSD form, in something like the Dell XPS 14.
There is a version of the HP Envy 6 available with an AMD A6-4455M processor, making it a Sleekbook rather than an Ultrabook, and bringing the price down to around £550/$699.99.
The HP Envy 6-1010sa Ultrabook that we had for review is powered by an Intel Core i5-3317U chip, which is pretty much exactly what you expect to find in Ultrabooks these days. It offers quad-core performance at 1.7GHz normally, talhough Intel's Turbo Boost technology can push it up to 2.6GHz.
Being quad-core, it's fine at multitasking its way through several low-power tasks, such as word processing, web browsing and playing music, but it's not really suitable for anything too taxing.
Still, that's fine with us – Ultrabooks were never designed to be brutish workstations. They're supposed to be nippy when doing the standard computing tasks, and Intel's Ivy Bridge processor is definitely up to the task.
Similarly, 4GB of RAM is not exactly going to offer barnstorming speed while multitasking, but it should be sufficient for average home or office use, and we found it fine in the HP Envy 6.
Because the Intel i5 processor in the HP Envy 6 is an Ivy Bridge chip, it offers Intel HD Graphics 4000 – an improvement over what's come before, but not exactly the road to gaming nirvana. While serious gamers would be advised to look for something with a dedicated graphics card for their fix, it perfectly capable of running Portal 2 and many MMOs.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the HP Envy 6 in terms of specs is the screen resolution of 1366 x 768. On the 13.3-inch Asus US32A we described this resolution as merely "modest", but on the 15.6-inch display here, it's downright low.
We understand that HP will have had to cut a few corners to keep the price of the HP Envy 6 under £700/$900, but we definitely wish the screen resolution hadn't been one of them.
The 500GB hard drive is another area that's likely to be a bone of contention when viewed against other Ultrabooks. While some offer this amount of storage in a hybrid drive, with both flash storage and an HDD on offer, HP hasn't gone down this route. All you're getting is a straight-up 5400RPM hard drive – but it's not a disaster, as you'll see on the next page.
There are three USB ports, two of which are USB 3.0, and even an Ethernet port, which has a clever little hinge to keep within the thin chassis' framework. There's an HDMI port and an SD card reader, as well as microphone and headphone ports.
As a class of computer, Ultrabooks aren't about power; they're about convenience. That comes from small size, light weight and fast performance. The HP Envy 6 makes a concession to the first of those by being thin (though you can't exactly say it's small overall), and is fairly light for its size (but again, it still carries some weight).
Our biggest concern was for the third part: fast performance. The lack of flash storage looked ominous, because the handy quickness of Ultrabooks is down to the speed of SSDs in no small part – but that turned out to be not so much of an issue in the end.
The HP Envy 6 is capable of waking from sleep in less than four seconds, and usually more like three – almost as fast as the Asus Zenbook UX32A.
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In general, it's perfectly fast to respond, and multitasking is fine in standard use. It's not blisteringly quick, but it's fast enough to feel you aren't being held back. Browsing files and folders is slightly slower than it would be with a full SSD, but it's no slower than any other laptop.
Its performance in Cinebench and 3D Mark give a similar result for CPU and GPU power – Ivy Bridge gives it a big jump over the last generation of Ultrabooks, but it won't blow anyone away. It's fast enough, though, and that's what's important.
HP has included its CoolSense technology to keep the HP Envy 6 running at a temperature that won't make it too uncomfortable on your lap, but it's still capable of getting rather toasty. We've encountered plenty of laptops that are far worse for it, though.
Although its gaming chops are minimal, games and video look fairly good on the screen, save for that low resolution. The screen is bright and clear, though its viewing angles are a bit weak. And, in truth, the low resolution isn't as much of a problem as it could be.
Windows is perfectly usable, and web browsing and documents are fine. But when you see someone using a similarly sized laptop with a Full HD screen, you may suddenly find the HP Envy 6's display a little inadequate.
The HP Envy 6's real Achilles' heel actually comes from its usability, rather than its specs. Put simply: the trackpad is abhorrent. It's a charge we also targeted at the HP Envy 4, its little brother. It's stiff, we don't like the way it feels, and its response is poor.
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For example, you often have to press the button with such force that it actually moves the mouse cursor, so you miss the button anyway. It's got multi-touch gestures, but even these are too far on the fiddly side. If you want to scroll with two fingers, you can't have a third touching the mouse button at the bottom, or it won't work. And, you can't use the trackpad and press a keyboard button at the same time – the trackpad just stops responding.
The keyboard, on the other hand, feels perfectly reasonable. It's a little soft, but it's comfortable, and the keys are a good size (as you'd hope, seeing as it's a 15-inch laptop). Sadly, they're not backlit, making working in the dark a little harder.
HP hasn't packed in much in the way of bloatware, mercifully, although you will get a few anti-virus pop-ups here and there.
Unfortunately, HP also hasn't packed in too much in the way of batteries, with the HP Envy 6 hitting a disappointing 158 minutes in our Battery Eater '05 test. We like to see Ultrabooks hit the 200 minute mark, so this is some way short of our expectations.
It's still capable of lasting a while in light use, but it's not the portable wonder we've come to expect from this class of Ultrabooks. The choice to use a hard drive may well be a factor here, and the larger screen size definitely will be.
The Beats Audio speakers on the HP Envy 6 are loud and crisp, although they still pale in comparison to the depth you can get from a set of external speakers. They're plenty good enough for watching videos on, though.
Cinebench 10: 8992
3D Mark '06: 4552
Battery Eater '05: 158 minutes
When we first saw the HP Envy 6, our first thought was that it's pushing the rules of Ultrabooks to their limits. This laptop might be smaller and lighter than the average 15-inch laptop, but ultra-portable it ain't.
After a bit of time with it, we can't say that our opinion has changed, but we understand its intentions far more. A lot of people want 15-inch laptops instead of desktops, but don't want the weight. Though something like the HP Envy 6 might not be as ideal for road warriors as other Ultrabooks, it's a good concept for the home.
But the problems with it aren't in concept – they're in execution.
Thin and light for its size, it works well for sofa surfers. It's not much of a hassle to carry around the house, and its rubberised rear makes it easy to hold. The keyboard's pleasant to use, and the range of ports is useful.
Its spec list may not be phenomenal, but it does a good job of offering the advantages of Ultrabooks despite lacking an SSD for storage – it's quick to wake up though, because there is a very small SSD on board to make Windows boot and resume faster. The laptop also multitasks low-level activities well. And, many people might actually prefer having the big 500GB hard drive in place of a 128GB SSD if they want to watch a lot of videos.
The biggest thing in the HP Envy 6's favour, though, is its price. At £680/$900, it's cheaper than most smaller Ultrabooks of a comparable spec, but the lack of a storage SSD may help there.
Though there are a few problems with the HP Envy 6, the trackpad is easily the worst. It makes the whole Ultrabook more of a pain to use – an operating system is only as good as the input methods you control it with, and you'll be cursing the invention of the double-click within minutes of turning on the HP Envy 6.
The battery life is also disappointing. For a 15-inch laptop, it's not too bad. For an Ultrabook, it's notably low. We know a large screen uses more battery, but it also means there's more space to fill with batteries, so it left us cold.
As we said before, some might prefer the large hard drive to the small SSD, but we missed the extra little boosts of speed you get from flash storage.
And though the screen is bright and vibrant, its resolution is still disappointing, especially for a machine that seems as though multimedia use should be its raison d'être.
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Seeing a laptop like this for £680/$900 got a few raised eyebrows from us, and it becomes clear that HP has trimmed a few corners to get it to that price.
But that's not our problem with the HP Envy 6. There's nothing wrong with a really usable laptop having a few lower-end components, but this isn't even really pleasant to use, and doesn't offer the kind of huge battery life we were expecting.
The HP Envy 6 might just about squeeze into the definition, but we don't recommend it for those looking for an Ultrabook. If you're on a budget and want something this thin, it will do the job, but do yourself a favour and use a mouse.