HP Envy 13 review: Svelte but uninspiring

£649
Price when reviewed

Update: The HP Envy 13 is still available, but has been usurped by HP’s more recent, ultra-thin offering – the HP Spectre 13. If you’re in the market for a slimline HP portable, you may want to consider the Spectre 13. Our review for that laptop can be found over here. Richard Easton’s original review for the HP Envy 13 continues below. 

HP Envy 13 full review

HP has billed the Envy 13 as its “thinnest laptop yet”, which is apt given it has the “Envy” name to live up to. Measuring 12.9mm at its thinnest point, it’s almost as svelte as the superb Dell XPS 13, which tapers from 15mm down to just 9mm.

That’s still an impressive feat for any laptop, though, and it’s immensely comfortable to carry around. At 1.27kg, it’s marginally heavier than the lightest Dell XPS 13, but you won’t notice the difference during day-to-day use, and it’s certainly a laptop you carry around all day without feeling the strain.

Its design is classy and understated, combining a silver aluminium chassis with a matte-black bezel around the screen. On the lid is an attractive, mirrored HP logo and a debossed strip for a little visual flourish. Along the left edge, you’ll find an SD card reader, a USB 3 port that supports sleep and charge, and a 3.5mm headset jack, while the right side has two further USB 3 ports and a full-sized HDMI port for connecting a display.

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HP Envy 13 review: Keyboard and touchpad

The premium design takes a slight hit when you notice how much flex there is in the aluminium chassis. Strike away at the keyboard and it warps under the pressure of your fingers. The travel of the keyboard is disappointingly limited as well, which, when combined with the flex in the chassis, means it’s not the most comfortable or accurate keyboard to use. I also found the half-height Enter key irritating, as I continually hit the hash key directly above it.

The Envy 13’s hinge design does at least make typing a bit more comfortable when you’re at a desk. As you open it up, the back edge of the lid tucks around and under, elevating the keyboard tray slightly when you open it. However, it also makes using the Envy 13 on your lap a little awkward, as the raised angle makes it less stable.

The keys are backlit, which is handy for typing in low-light conditions, but there’s no brightness adjustment, so you can only have it turned on or off. It’s a welcome inclusion considering the price of the laptop, but I wish the backlight was better integrated; you can see the small LEDs at the base of each key when they’re switched on.

The touchpad is short but wide. It’s not overly small, but a little extra vertical space wouldn’t have gone amiss, especially when there’s such an abundance of space above the keyboard. The touchpad isn’t Precision-certified, either, and I found it rather erratic to use.

Using broad strokes to move the cursor from one side of the screen to the other were generally fine, but smaller movements don’t provide that 1:1 movement you get with a quality touchpad, where it feels like your swipes are being directly translated to the screen. Multi-touch gestures, at least, were dealt with more reliably, and two-finger scrolling and three-finger swipes all worked perfectly. There’s also a fingerprint reader to the right of the touchpad that can be used with Windows Hello for fingerprint sign-in.

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HP Envy 13 review: Speakers

As for audio, the HP Envy 13 has a pair of Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers placed to the left and right of the keyboard. These fire upwards, which is far better for dispersing and projecting sound than the downwards-firing speakers often found on laptops. In terms of sound quality, though, they’re disappointing. At higher volumes, the mid tones tend to distort and become uncomfortable, and there’s very little low-end or bass.

They’re by no means the worst laptop speakers I’ve heard, but you’d be better off plugging in a pair of headphones when listening to music or watching films.

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HP Envy 13 review: Configurations and performance

The HP Envy 13 is available in a variety of different configurations, so you’ll need to make sure which one you’re buying. At present your options are an Intel Core i5-6200U model with a 1,920 x 1,080 screen or a higher-end Intel Core i7-6500U model with a 3,200 x 1,800 display.

Bizarrely, the model I was sent for review (the Envy 13-d002a) was a mixture of the two, with a 1,920 x 1,080 display and a Core i7 processor. This particular model doesn’t seem to be on sale anywhere at the time of writing, so consider this review a basic guide to give you some idea of how the different models perform.

The Intel Core i7-6500U has a base clock speed of 2.5GHz and can Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz under the right thermal conditions. It’s paired with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, and in our demanding benchmarks, the Envy 13 achieved an overall score of 37. This is a little disappointing considering it’s using the same processor as the Dell XPS 13, which scored a much more impressive 46.

The drop-off in performance is likely due to a combination of less-efficient cooling and slower storage. The Envy 13 performs perfectly adequately with everyday tasks, but it’s not quite as quick as more expensive rivals when push comes to shove.

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As for gaming, the integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 means only a light dose is possible. In DiRT Showdown at 1,280 x 720 resolution, with the 4x anti-aliasing and High graphics options enabled, it produced a disappointing average of 22.3fps, a result that indicates you’ll need to reduce image quality to get playable frame rates.

Battery life was mediocre, too, with the Envy 13 achieving only 6hrs 23mins in the benchmarks. We test battery life by playing a video with the display set to 170cd/m2 brightness and flight mode enabled, so with the screen set to a lower level you should be able to get through a working day without running to the charger.

HP Envy 13 review: Display

Finally, to the Envy’s 13in display. As I mentioned earlier, my review sample has the 1,920 x 1,080 IPS screen (it should have the higher-resolution panel), and this was a respectable performer. A matte coating and wide viewing angles ensure comfortable viewing, while a peak brightness of 306cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 1,077:1 ensure onscreen images appear solid and realistic.

Coverage of the sRGB colour gamut was the only area where the display came up a little short, hitting just 83.7%, while an average Delta E of 3.22 (a lower score is better) shows that the Envy 13’s screen isn’t the most accurate for colour-sensitive work. For more general use and web browsing, however, it’s more than adequate, and the backlighting is evenly distributed across the screen.

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HP Envy 13 review: Conclusion

Overall, the HP Envy 13 is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s great to look at, but it doesn’t necessarily hold up under closer scrutiny. I found the keyboard, in particular, disappointing to use for prolonged periods, and its performance isn’t what it could be given the specification.

Still, it is at least keenly priced. The Envy 13-d003na model, with the 3,200 x 1,200 display and Intel Core i7-6500U, is great value at around £730. Just keep in mind that the benchmark figures above don’t apply, and that its high resolution will also likely have a negative impact on the laptop’s battery life.

The Envy 13-d008na is even easier on your wallet, with the same 1,920 x 1,080 screen I tested but a slower i5-6200U CPU, for around £649. The main difference is predominantly in base and Turbo clock speed on the i5-6200U (2.4GHz and 3GHz), so you can expect around 8% slower performance.

Personally, I’d spend the extra and get a Dell XPS 13, but if that’s not possible, the HP Envy 13 represents a good balance of price, portability and all-round performance – and it’s a better buy than the ageing MacBook Air 13.

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