The HP Envy 14-1196ea laptop sports the Beats by Dr Dre colours and packs some potentially powerful components. Sadly, we didn't find the sort of performance we were hoping for.
Our model came with a quad-core Intel Core i7-Q720 processor and 4GB RAM. It's available now for around £1,000.
Design and build quality
The Envy 14-1196ea is immediately recognisable as being part of the Beats audio range; the black plastic lid has a humongous red Beats logo taking up the middle, which dwarfs the actual HP logo in the bottom corner. Evidently, when HP goes toe-to-toe with Dr Dre, there's only going to be one winner. Other than the Beats logo, there's not much going on with the lid; it's a standard matte black affair.
It's not bad looking though, so long as you don't mind proudly displaying to all and sundry that you worship at the church of Dre. Sadly, once you get your hands on the laptop, the matte coating proves to be a total fingerprint trap; a smart-looking machine is soon transformed into a grimey slate of grease.
It doesn't feel particularly well built either. We prodded and poked at the lid and found a fair bit of flex, which is never a good sign. The plastic also seems rather brittle and we wouldn't be surprised if it cracked if it were to take a stern tumble to the floor. If you're going to be taking it out and about with you, we suggest using a well-padded laptop bag.
Things are somewhat better around the edge, where you can find metal banding that feels a lot more secure, as well as giving it more of a premium look.
The keyboard, surround and wrist-rest are every bit as black as the lid -- if you're after a pretty, colourful machine to brighten up your work day, the moody-looking Envy 14-1196ea is not for you. The wrist-rest has a rubberised finish that feels good enough to stroke but did pick up marks quite easily. Thankfully, it feels much more sturdy than the lid and provided no flex beneath our vicious poking.
It may be part of the Beats line, but the speakers on the Envy 14-1196ea are nothing to shout about. They reach an average volume for a laptop, but they lack the clarity at the high end and the punchy bass at the low end that we had hoped for. You'll certainly need a good pair of headphones -- perhaps the Monster Beats Solo to match the laptop -- if you want to enjoy some brain-shaking sound.
Keyboard and trackpad
It's not all gloomy and dull though; the lettering on the keyboard is in the distinctive Beats red -- even the letter B has been changed to the Beats logo -- so there's no mistaking who is responsible for this laptop. The keyboard uses square, isolated keys that are very easy to type on without making too many errors; they're comfortable enough to keep going for long periods of time. It's not backlit though, so if you want to type at night, you'll have to try and catch those red letters in the right light.
The trackpad is pretty big and responsive and the whole thing is clickable, dispensing with separate buttons. It doesn't have the easiest click to it -- it's certainly not as pleasant as the clickable pad on the Apple MacBook Air -- so if you're settling down for an evening of web browsing involving a lot of clicks, you might want to pop in a USB mouse.
Set into that metal edge you'll find a slot-loading DVD drive, an HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 2.0/eSATA port, a mini display port, headphone and microphone jacks and a SD card reader. There's sadly no sign of USB 3.0 on the Envy so you can forget about super-quick transfers to an external hard drive.
The 14.5-inch screen has a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which isn't fantastic, but text and small icons are generally clear and sharp; it'll do the job fine for standard computing tasks. It's pretty bright but it has poor contrast levels and weak blacks resulting in a picture that lacks punch and often seems a little washed out. We advise you get a proper eyes-on with it if you're wanting it for movies and TV shows. If you're at home, you can always hook it up to a bigger TV via the HDMI port.
Stuck inside the Envy 14 is an Intel Core i7-Q720 processor running at 1.6GHz paired up with 4GB of RAM. That chip doesn't have the fastest speed in the industry, but the quad cores should lend a good helping-hand with the more intense tasks. The processor can handle speeds up to 2.8GHz though so if you know what you're doing, you could probably overclock it to get a bit more power. We didn't tell you to do it though.
We ran the PCMark05 benchmark test and got a score of 6,607. On the Geekbench test it achieved 6,434. We're hardly blown away by those scores. In fact, they're frankly average. We expected the Core i7 processor to be more burly, take our benchmark tests and shake the fillings from their teeth.
Still, performance was at the very least acceptable; heavy multi-tasking and multi-tabbed web browsing was dealt with well. It comes pre-loaded with Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, which is great news if you want to do photo or video editing. We loaded up some high-resolution images into Photoshop and we were able to edit without much of a slowdown. If you start working with huge raw files though, expect some long waits while it renders your images.
If you're working away in an office full of busy colleagues, try not to do anything too labour-intensive on it -- when the processor runs at high speed, the fans become incredibly loud for such a small machine. It's a wonder how HP has managed to trap a small tornado in the shell.
The Envy 14-1196ea is packing an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 graphics card, which will lend a hand to your video watching, but don't ask too much of it. We ran the 3DMark06 benchmark, which tests how well a machine will handle 3D gaming. It returned a score of 5,344, which is again pretty average.
It's certainly not going to handle the high-end games, so if you've got big hopes for playing Crysis 2 or the new Battlefield 3 then you're going to be out of luck. It might manage to handle some older games, but you're going to have to dial the settings back quite a lot.
The graphics power will lend a hand to playing HD video though and will give some extra grunt if you're doing a spot of video editing in Premiere Elements.
It's not the lightest laptop on the market, so we wouldn't want to be carrying it around for too long, but just in case you do want to use it on a long trip, we thought we'd see what this thing's battery could do.
In our battery benchmark test, it managed to last one hour before giving up on us. It's a brutal benchmark though and, frankly, we feel a little cruel sometimes in subjecting these poor little things to it. If you use it sensibly and restrict wireless connections and screen brightness, you'll get a much better performance.
The Envy 14-1196ea looks every bit as modern and bold as you'd expect from something boasting the Beats name. It may be packing an Intel Core i7 processor but it sadly doesn't give the sort of performance we'd expect for the price.