Hands on: HP Envy 15 review

Thinning down, looking pretty

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The HP Envy's higher price tag won't jive with everyone, but its thinner, sharper design and improved display elevates this classic notebook into the realm of premium 15-inch laptops.

For

  • Thinner design
  • Lighter weight
  • Much improved display

Against

  • No discrete graphics
  • Higher starting price

The HP Envy line is a series of laptops with a long history. It's a line of notebook well known to students for its sharp design and respectable components. Now into its 15th year anniversary since its introduction in 2009, HP is taking the Envy 15 to a new thinner and more premium direction.

Last year's model already helped to slim down the all-too-puffy 15-inch laptop, and now HP has gone even further by completely removing the optical drive and dedicated graphics from all configurations. While some users might find these reductions to be regressive, the new Envy also gains a much more vibrant screen, sharper design and a higher $779 (about £545, AU$1,024) starting price.

HP Envy 15 review

Design

The first thing you really notice about the new HP Envy 15 is how much lighter and thinner its new all-aluminum shell is now. Measuring in at 4.4 pounds (2kg) while measuring in at only 0.75-inches (1.9cm), last year's model seems almost fat by comparison, sitting at 5 pounds while measuring 2.37cm thick.

HP Envy 15 review

Of course, to get here HP had to strip out the optical drive entirely. Last year, users had the option of including one or not, the latter of which left Envy 15 owners with additional thickness to accommodate the drive bay whether it was filled or not.

HP Envy 15 review

As a result, the new Envy 15 is much sleeker, and on top of that it's also sharper. Whereas the 2015 version of the laptop was rounded on almost every side, the new variant has a few more that taper off into finely honed right angles.

This difference is most prominent on the rear edge, which is no longer rounded but instead features a flat, polished edge. That said, the back end of the screen lip still extends and loops around the rear edge. When the lid is open, this extension also helps prop up the keyboard a very slight incline for stability and a comfortable typing angle.

HP Envy 15 review

The angular motif extends to the laptop's side, which fall off into straight edges. Even the sides of the keyboard deck rise back up to a pair of sharp lines. That said, I wished HP took the design and applied it to every side of the laptop as the front edges are still curved and clash with the notebook's other sharp features.

Open up the machine and it looks just as sleek on the inside. A massive speaker bar with a very HP Spectre x2-esque grill gives way to a slightly recessed keyboard before gently rising again to HP's usually wide trackpads.

Speaking of which, the trackpad has a smooth, glass-like finish that seems to track well enough for the short amount of time I used the machine. However, I'll have to put it through its full paces in the future to truly assess its quality.

HP Envy 15 review

The good with the bad

While less weight is almost always a good thing, it has slightly reduced the HP Envy 15's battery life. At best users can expect nine hours of usage, which is down 0.3 hours from the 2015-edition Envy 15.

It's a small reduction and HP hopes to offset the shorter battery life with a reduced recharge cycle. Thanks to fast charging, the electronics firm claims users will be able to fill up an empty battery back up to 90% charge in just 90 minutes.

This slimmer 15-inch laptop also sacrifices its discrete Nvidia 940M graphics, leaving users with the best option of integrated Intel Iris graphics. For those that need an extra graphical bump, you'll have to go with the Envy 15's larger 17-inch brother.

HP Envy 15 review

However, for all the things HP has stripped the Envy 15 of, it has gained a much better looking screen. While older models suffered from washed out and dull panels in the past, it seems that HP has employed a much more vibrant display in its place. The new display features brighter colors and vastly better viewing angles making it much more suitable for watching movies and the like.

You also still get a heap of customization options when it comes to specs. You can load up your 15-inch machine with an 1080p or 4K display, Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and 256GB SSD. HP has also upgraded the ports selection on the Envy 15 with an added USB Type-C port that supports data, alongside three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and a SD card reader.

HP Envy 15 review

Early verdict

Available starting on May 25 for $779 (about £545, AU$1,024), the new HP Envy 15 is more expensive than last year's model, but in some ways the premium is well worth it. A terrible screen held back the 2015 model back, so the new colorful panel a welcome addition. An optical drive also seemed out of place for a modern laptop, so I'm glad it's been removed in favor of a thinner and lighter chassis.

The new HP Envy is an attractive machine to be sure, but its higher price-point also elevates it into an arena with other premium 15-inch laptops like the Dell XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro. Both these machines are more expensive, but they also offer discrete graphics for those who need a bit more power for editing photos and other visually intense applications.

It's too early to say whether the HP Envy 15 is a smart revision, but it looks like an attractive and solid machine, and I can't wait to give it the full review treatment.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.