HP Envy TouchSmart 4T-1102 £800
18th Apr 2013 | 00:34
This Envy has a thoughtfully executed design
Introduction and design
Computer companies both large and small seem to crank out a never-ending lineup of PCs available in a bizarre matrix of configurations. Which is why we end up with a slew of long and sometimes confusing names and model numbers, often with shelf lives measured in weeks, not months.
Case in point: the HP Envy TouchSmart 4T-1102 Sleekbook .You won't find this specific model on HP's website anymore, at least in the exact same configuration as we received and tested. Currently however, HP offers the Envy Touchsmart 4T-1200 Ultrabook for $749 in a similar configuration.
But aside from protracted pedigree and gone-before-you-know it status, there's a lot to be said for the design of this touchscreen laptop, and similar models in the Envy notebook family which stand out among the deluge of me-too notebooks engaged in a race to the bottom.
The Envy 4T-1102 is built for users who want a thoughtfully designed laptop with a balance of usability, simplicity, and enough power for everyday computing. This configuration came outfitted with Windows 8 Pro so it's aimed more at business professionals or serious users who want so-called "geek" features like desktop virtualization. Even so, most business and home users will find the design, execution and features such as the touchscreen combine for a refined computing experience.
At first glance, this Sleekbook strikes a pretty sexy pose. Thankfully, HP keeps branding and graphics relatively low key, letting the industrial design speak for itself. The brushed aluminum chassis coupled with gently sloped angles and rounded corners give it a subtle aesthetic. The bottom panel is plastic, but has a pleasant soft-touch coating. Indeed, the overall construction should prove more durable than all-plastic pretenders. Even with a heavier metal chassis, the 1102 just barely misses the ultralight category, tipping the scales at 4.6 lbs and just over ¾ of an inch thick. It's a trim, but solid package that will stand up to some abuse, and toting it around is easy.
The keyboard also sports a soft touch finish that gives a much better fingertip grip and feel than the too-common hard plastic keys. The layout is sensibly executed with half sized function keys on the top row and full sized number keys just below. Fairly generous sizing for the enter, shift, tab and backspace keys also make typing on a smaller keyboard less tedious. The only bummer is the undersized Up and Down arrow keys which are often easier to use for vertical scrolling without a mouse handy. Key travel and tactile feedback is a highly personal evaluation, but the soft click keys provide pleasant feedback with a fine amount of travel. Overall it was a pleasure to type on.
Keyboard backlighting is always a welcome although it's pretty common in the ultrabook category. Unfortunately, the Envy's key to toggle it on and off glows so brightly that it can be distracting in dim light. Ditto the LED that indicates that WiFi is enabled. By contrast, the power and hard drive LEDs are miniscule and tucked out of sight next to the SD card slot.
Another especially nice touch is the handy disable button on the touch pad's upper left corner. This easily eliminates and annoying typing errors whenever your mitts accidentally brush the touch surface and move the cursor; something that can happen far too often. The touchpad also supports multitouch functions like zoom, rotate, and scrolling, and it provides very smooth swiping with a finely tuned response that is neither dull nor twitchy.
This Envy 4t-1102 manages to drop some weight and bulk by eliminating an optical media drive. Some folks will appreciate the savings, especially if they're constantly on the go, and it does make sense to move away from scratch-prone fragile media when so much content is available online. But of course, there's always that nagging feeling that you may have to install, reinstall, or even boot from a DVD someday when things go sour. More practically, you may want to rip a CD or watch your Watchmen Collector's Edition Ultimate Cut disc, and lugging around an external drive, no matter how slim, isn't a welcome prospect. Still, for anyone who fully embraces the solid state and cloud-based network reality over the nostalgia of vinyl LPs, laserdiscs, and other spinning media, it's a win.
- Intel i5-3317U 1.7GHz
- 500GB drive
- 32GB HD cache
- 8GB DDR3 RAM @ 1600 MHz
- Windows 8 Pro
While we're discussing spinning media, this Envy came outfitted with a "traditional" 500GB mechanical drive. That's plenty of space, more than you'd get with a solid state drive at a comparable price, even though SSD prices continue to tumble. However, this secret sauce is a 32Gb cache that makes booting up quick and general computing pretty snappy. More storage and faster performance? You can have your cake and eat it too.
At the heart of the Envy 4t-1102 system is a dual core 64-bit Intel i5-3317U CPU running at 1.7GHz and backed by 8Gb of DDR3 RAM @ 1600 MHz. While his combo proved powerful enough for general computing, users who heavily multitask with large files would appreciate another 8Gb of RAM for extra headroom. There isn't a separate dedicated graphics processor, but the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics can handle typical work tasks and HD video just fine.
You might think at first blush that there aren't as many connections as you'd like, but this Envy doesn't unnecessarily skimp on features. There's a smartly curated, but not comprehensive, selection of ports for the most common and essential connections and accessories. On the left side you'll find Ethernet, HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports, and a memory card reader. The right side sports a power port, a USB 2.0 port, and headphone and mic jacks. In addition to wired connections, you get dual band 802.11 bgn for snappy WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 for your smartphone and other gadgets such as a cordless mouse.
Like many other HP products, this Envy model features Beats audio. But there's only so much magic in Dr. Dre's touch. Two separate sliders let you adjust bass and treble separately, but that's about it. That said, cranking the volume to the maximum produced relatively little speaker distortion, and although the aural presence was fairly thin, the Envy 4t-1102's audio proved better than laptops that cut corners on built-in speakers. As is the case with most laptops, you'll want good headphones for serious listening , and after I plugged my favorite cans in, the bass, mids and highs all had better clarity. Not surprising, but welcome in any case.
If you're shopping for a touchscreen laptop, this Envy will let your fingers do the walking with an excellent touchscreen. The 14 inch LED lit display has very good response for general navigation and web browsing, Just be diligent about the inevitable smudges you'll leave behind. You'll want to keep a soft lint-free cloth handy, and most importantly, don't forget to wipe the Cheetos dust off your fingers before you tap or swipe.
Although 14 inches may feel slightly cramped compared to the large selection of notebooks in the popular 15 inch class, the compact size actually makes the touchscreen functions slightly easier with less distance for your fingers to travel. If you're tempted by a tablet, but don't want to give up a keyboard or the power and options of "real" applications, an Envy 4 with a TouchSmart screen might be what you're looking for.
On the downside, the screen's gloss finish is very prone to glare was particularly prone to glare and reflection in bright environments. A bit more brightness adjustment would be welcome to balance this out. As for color accuracy, there was a distinct blue shift in the default color setup, but this was easily fixed with a few tweaks in Windows Display Calibration. Aside from this, the graphics are very sharp and the viewing angle is wide and forgiving.
With a maximum resolution of 1366x768, the Envy 4t-1102's screen isn't true HD. However, the onboard CPU graphics managed to pump out 1080P full HD video via the HDMI port to my TV while also keeping the main screen up and running, so there's enough power to use it for streaming HD video and even as a desktop workstation as long as you don't push it too far.
Benchmarks results show that this Envy 4 Sleekbook can't keep up with laptops more focused on performance. The 1.7GHz Intel i5-3317U CPU utilizes an onboard Intel HD 4000 graphics processor, so expectations for game performance should be limited. However, the system has the potential to hold its own when set against notebooks in the same class... at least it did before HP delivered a BIOS update.
In the initial test with 3D Mark 11 using the default Performance preset, the result was a combined score of 654, easily putting it into the upper third of tested systems with similar specs... a pleasant surprise. However, after an automated BIOS update from HP, 3D Mark was re-run and returned a "Graphics driver not approved" message with new lower results and a combined score of 251. Similarly, Cinebench scores dropped as well from 16.2 fps to 6.4fps in the OpenGL test, but held steady in the CPU test at 2.38. However, benchmarks are one thing, real-world performance is the key, and we didn't notice any odd drop in speed during regular use.
Even with the oddity in the benchmark tests, the Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics acceleration has plenty of power for HD video. The Envy easily handled every high definition video file I tossed at at. It will also let you get into some lighter-weight games. It was necessary to turn detail levels and resolution way down to get a playable framerate in the online shooter Planetside 2. On the other hand, less intensive strategy games should run better. Company of Heroes ran smoothly with the details automatically set to medium by the game, but it was slow and eventually crashed when pumped up to high and ultra details. Manage your expectations and you'll find plenty of games that can keep you occupied.
For wireless connections, an Intel Centrino 2230 chipset delivers both Bluetooth 4.0 and dual band 802.11 bgn connections. Performance was impressive when connected to a Linksys E4200 router, and the Envy actually edged out my hardwired desktop during upload tests 5.58 to 5.53Mbps, while showing a very respectable second in downloads 23.18 to 27.32Mbps. It also crushed another notebook with a budget-oriented Qualcomm Atheros AR9485 chip that could only manage 16.08Mbps in downloads. If you demand a fast network connection, this Envy can deliver.
Battery life tests with Battery Eater managed to clock over 2 hours and 11 minutes burning through intensive CPU and disk tasks with the Envy in the recommended Energy Star setting. The much stingier Power Saver setting, which put the screen to sleep, extended life to 6 hours and 10 minutes.
Solid construction and a sweet touch screen stand out as the best parts of the Envy Touchsmart 4t-1102 Sleekbook. Appearances do matter. The brushed aluminum and matte black chassis gives this machine a premium look and feel that sets it apart from the ocean of dull and frankly cheap looking laptops. You'll appreciate the sidelong glances it gets in a meeting, on a plane, and at the cafe.
The screen is very responsive to touch commands, and makes it a breeze to navigate Windows 8. While some users may want a bigger screen for easier multitasking, but the 14 inch size is an ideal compromise for touchscreen usability and portability. Thankfully, the backlit keyboard and touchpad are very well executed too.
The mirror-like finish on the gloss screen makes swiping and tapping very smooth but it's also the cause of a bit more glare than you may like, especially if you're working in a bright, mixed light, or sunny environment. Even so, this is a relatively minor complaint. Although this model also lacks a DVD drive and dedicated graphics chip, these aren't true shortcomings either, and many folks won't even notice or care they're missing. The only other knock is the lower benchmark scores after the BIOS update. Hopefully HP will come through with a re-tweaked BIOS update sooner rather than later.
On the whole, this Envy has a thoughtfully executed design. The visual and tactile experience isn't perfect, but your eyes and hands will appreciate the attention to detail. As a machine that's perfectly fit for office and home tasks the Envy TouchSmart 4t-1102 Sleekbook is a very sweet machine. It's reassuring to know that a well balanced laptop that's practical, fun to use, and handsome, can shine in a market that's crammed with boring clones born from half baked execution.