HP Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: July 17, 2012
Product Name: ENVY 14 Spectre
Part Number: HP ENVY 14-3000
Warranty: 1 Year (CAN) 2 Years (USA)
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Not all that long ago, many were predicting the downfall of the once venerable Hewett Packard. Their Touchpad was an abysmal failure from a sales perspective, upheavals on their executive team tanked the company’s value and rumors swirled concerning the possible elimination of their PC division. Thankfully, the outlook is looking much brighter these days.

As they say: sometimes you have to get lost in order to realize where you’re going. That’s exactly what happened with HP as they’ve emerged from a rocky 2011 looking more ready to compete than ever. There is no better example of this than the new Envy Spectre Ultrabooks which spearhead a reinvigorated lineup that contains some of the best looking notebooks we’ve seen in a long time.

The Spectre series comes in two forms: the XT and the non-XT Envy 14. The former uses the same basic 13.3” design we’ve seen on countless Ultrabooks, comes decked out in premium materials like an all metal body and has a reasonable price of $999. The Envy 14 Spectre on the other hand is the so-called “premium Ultrabook” we’re looking at today and with a staggering price of $1400, few will argue against the high end branding of this product.

Regardless of its price, the Envy 14 Spectre doesn’t include anything special in terms of specifications. The 4GB of non-upgradable memory, integrated graphics, low voltage processor and 128GB SSD are par for the course in the Ultrabook market and certainly won’t be drawing consumers away from the competition’s offerings. These options can be augmented by the addition of more memory (up to 8GB) or a 256GB SSD. Versions sporting Intel’s Ivy Bride processors will soon be arriving as well but for the time being, there are still plenty of these perfectly capable Sandy Bridge units around.

Other than extremely high standards of build quality, the Spectre’s real claim to fame is its long list of features. Not only does it include the standard Bluetooth module but Intel’s Wireless Display technology and Beats Audio have been thrown in for good measure. Another interesting addition is NFC compatibility which allows for data sharing between an Andriod smartphone (provided it too has NFC support) and the Spectre.

HP’s warranty system is complicated maze to navigate and it is filled with conflicting information but we’ll do our best to explain it. Contrary to what the marketing documents would have us believe, the original 3000-series Spectre (and the one we happen to be reviewing) comes with a 1 year warranty in Canada and the USA. On the other hand, the newer 3100-series model with an Ivy Bridge processor receives a 2-year warranty south of the border while Canada retains its one year of Total Care coverage. Even with the class-leading coverage, there's also access to HP's interesting Concierge Service, giving Envy buyers access to a number of advanced customer care initiatives.

Upon first glance the Envy 14 Spectre won’t look all that different from its competitors and many will likely roll their eyes heavenward at the ultra glossy exterior, thinking it will be marred with scratches in no time. Well, we’ve got news for you: part of the $1400 you just invested went towards an exterior that’s been encased in Gorilla Glass.

We put the exterior to the test (while risking permanent expulsion from HP’s reviewer program) by constantly lugging it around in a travel bag filled with other items and the Spectre emerged unscathed. This is one durable finish but it is also an absolute fingerprint magnet so be sure keep the included microfiber cleaning cloth handy at all times.

Naturally, with nearly a square foot of 3mm Gorilla Glass, some sacrifices were bound to be made. At 3.97lbs and 0.79” thick, Spectre is on the chunky side of the Ultrabook spectrum but to us it boasts Marylyn Monroe-esque form rather than most other Ultrabooks’ anorexic European runway model look. In other words, you won’t be sacrificing much in order to get great looks and additional longevity.

Flipping open the lid, we’re greeted with a palmrest that –like the exterior lid- has been liberally encased in Gorilla Glass along with a chassis built with machined aluminum, magnesium and plastic. The design may look futuristic and somewhat flimsy but there is no flex anywhere, closing the lid results in a satisfying “thunk” and we couldn’t detect a single fabrication misstep. All in all, the Spectre is solid, well built and simply exudes quality at every turn. In our opinion, this is what a $1400 Ultrabook SHOULD feel like.

Aside from the obvious attention to detail, HP’s design gurus have also managed to cram a 14” screen into an Ultrabook that’s no larger than many 13.3” models. So while the Envy 14 Spectre may be a bit thick around the hips, it should still fit into most compact carrying cases.

While the Envy 14 Spectre certainly can’t be considered subtle in its approach, its interior design seems to be geared towards the professional user who doesn’t want marketing in their face. Tone on tone decals and subtle hints of the Beats Audio partnership run hand in hand with seamless construction.

Since this Ultrabook is thicker than some of the competition, HP had the luxury of vertical space and made the most out of it. On the left edge there are connectors for a mini DisplayPort, HDMI 1.3, LAN, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 that are joined by a combination headphone / mic jack and an SD Card slot. The other edge is a bit sparser with a power connector, two small LEDs for hard drive activity and charge status along with controls for the Beats Audio. For all of you professionals out there, a HDMI to VGA adaptor is an unfortunate $50 option on this $1400 Ultrabook but otherwise, this is one of the richest connector selections we have seen in a while.

HP’s attention to detail extends to the Spectre’s underside as well. Here, a supple finish nearly eliminates scratches and provides a surface that’s easy to grip while protecting your exposed lap by evenly distributing any heat buildup. According to HP the battery can be replaced –making this a first in the Ultrabook category- with the built-in latching system but we couldn’t get it to work properly.

The last item we wanted to touch upon is the power supply; something normally so innocuous by its presence that many take it for granted. In this case, it provides equal measures of convenience and frustration. HP deserves some credit since their inclusion of a USB connector for external device charging is nothing short of brilliant and the cord’s locking system ensures it doesn’t run amok at the most inconvenient of times.

Unfortunately, with great innovation comes a serious misstep in our books: the cord length between the Ultrabook at the power brick is far too short. The brick will either have to remain on your desk or dangle midway between the floor and your tabletop since there isn’t enough cord to actually get it anywhere else. Thankfully the Spectre is nearly 4 lbs so it won’t be dragged straight off of your work surface.

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