Name: Envy 14 Beats Edition (HP)
Specs: Click here for full specs
Price: £1399 direct from HP
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When HP first launched their aluminium-build Envy laptop range back in 2009, it was clear that they had their sights squared solely on Apple's MacBook Pros. A lack of polish in those early models held HPs contenders back from true greatness then, but a refresh of the line, complete with celebrity endorsement from rap godfather Dr Dre, sees them produce a far more capable machine this time around in the shape of the 14.5-inch HP Envy 14 Beats Edition.
Like its predecessors, the Envy 14 has a lush aluminium chassis that, while weighty at around 2.6 kg, is reassuringly sturdy. A curved finish to the edges again brings to mind the unibody MacBook Pro computers, though we found the lip where our wrists rested just a little too sharp for our delicate skin. The laptop lid has a large red "Beats" logo sitting in the middle of the matte black coating which, while certainly eye-catching, may not be to everyone's taste.
The great island-style backlit keyboard with red detail was a dream to type with. Smooth and well spaced, we could easily see ourselves tapping away without any discomfort for long stretches. The trackpad however gave us some concern. The mouse buttons are built into this pad, with only a red line rather than a physical marker dividing them. It was far too easy to push the wrong one, or for our thumb to lean out of the cursor movement zone and hit the buttons, sending our pointer everywhere but where we wanted it. It's a real shame, as the rest of the build is damn good.
The laptop squeezes in a generous amount of ports and connectivity options for a machine its size. A HDMI port is bolstered by a mini-display port, 3 USB 2.0 ports (one shared with an eSATA port), an Ethernet connection, headphone and mic jacks and a 2-in-1 card reader. 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi is built in, along with Bluetooth and a HD webcam just above the screen.
The real magic of the HP Envy 14 Beats Edition however sits under the hood, where enough processing and graphics power to trouble a reasonable desktop resides. An Intel Core i7 720QM processor (clocked at 1.6 GHz, with "Turbo Boost" overclocking of up to 2.8 GHz) paired with 4GB of DDR3 RAM meant that we could happily multi-task with multiple intensive programs, such as Photoshop, video playback and Flash content simultaneously with barely any stutter at all. The fans, while a little noisy, did a great job of keeping the system at a comfortable heat too, so you shouldn't have to worry about char-grilled thighs when working. Note that you'll also get a copy of Windows 7 Home and Student edition, as well as Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Première Elements with the £1399 price tag.
Graphics duties are carried out by an ATI Mobility Radeon™ HD 5650 chip with 1GB of dedicated DDR3 memory. Again, the HP Envy 14 impressed here, passing at a quick glance as a pretty decent mobile gaming rig too. We played a fair chunk of Mass Effect 2 and Borderlands at system-stretching settings and the Envy 14 fared reasonably well. A DVD+R/RW optical drive will also help for installing games if you're not a fan of digital downloads, as well as being an obvious aid in backing up files stored on the 500GB hard drive. Be under no illusions that this will match dedicated gaming laptops from the likes of Alienware, but it was reassuring to know that it would hold its own should you need a portable gaming fix.
The screen was also well suited to media and gaming playback. While the 1366 x 768 resolution wasn't particularly impressive, the 14.5 inch LED screen managed to keep up with the capability of the graphics card, with good colour accuracy and deep blacks. The screen finish is a little glossy though, so you may want to keep it out of direct light if possible. Battery life was acceptable, if nothing to write home about, averaging around 200 minutes at a full charge.
HP are keen to push the audio capabilities of the Envy 14, what with the "Beats Edition" moniker and Dr Dre's blessing. They've put together a bespoke stereo system that gives a really warm sound, far more rounded than you'd usually expect from a laptop. The Envy 14 Beats Edition also comes packaged with a pair of "Beats by Dre" Solo headphones, especially tuned to work with the system. Plug them in to the headphone jack and they go frighteningly loud thank to the placement of the soundcard adjacent to the input socket. Keep them at a safe volume and you'll find the laptop and Solo headphones are a real joy when used in tandem, particularly resonant if you're into the booming bass of hip-hop sounds that Dre made his millions with. Keep in mind that the headphones alone are worth around £150, and that slightly frightening price tag looks far more reasonable.
While the weight and poor trackpad (meaning you'll always feel inclined to carry a mouse around) knock a point off in the portability stakes for the HP Envy 14, this is a seriously high-powered machine. The i7 processor in our £1399 set-up was blisteringly fast and more than capable of handling intensive multimedia and multi-tasking, while the ATI Mobility Radeon 5650 graphics chip makes this a machine even gaming connoisseurs won't turn their noses up at. Add in the clever audio tech and you've got a very capable desktop replacement. We're sure the good Dr Dre himself would approve.