Ultrabook is the buzz word this year, with a swathe of launches planned. HP aims to separate the Envy 14 Spectre from the chaff by covering it in glass.
It will be available towards March, starting at £1,199, which will get you an Intel Core i-series processor and a 128GB SSD. Annoyingly, final configuration options haven't been finalised yet.
Design and build quality
With ultrabooks coming at us left, right and centre, it's all too easy to see them as one big grey blur of slim chassis and Intel processors. HP evidently hates nothing more than to be lost in the crowd, so it's gone to great lengths to make sure the Spectre sticks out.
Instead of a muted grey colour, a huge slab of black glass covers the entire lid. It's an extremely bold statement and one that we're quite keen on. It's encouraging to see companies appreciating that we don't all want to carry around identical-looking laptops.
If alarm bells are ringing at the idea of lugging a big sheet of glass about, worry not, as HP has used Gorilla Glass -- famously toughened and extremely resistant to scuffs and scratches. We still reckon it will shatter like a Fabergé egg if it takes a tumble to a concrete floor though. But the same can be said of most technology, so it's not an immediate concern.
We spent a good while poking and prodding at the Spectre and were chuffed with its resistance. The lid offers no flex and our experience with Gorilla Glass on the iPhone 4 makes us confident that it will shrug off attacks from errant keys in your bag.
The black glass top also makes the Spectre look rather similar to the glass-fronted iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S too, although sadly the curved matte black plastic underside is lifted straight from the rest of HP's Envy line so it doesn't offer the same succulent looks.
HP's efforts to make the Spectre stand out have sadly had a negative impact on the overall weight. At 1.83kg, it's at the top end of the ultrabook scales, and considerably less bag-friendly than the 1.3kg Asus Zenbook UX31. At 20mm thick, it's also rather porky too, especially in light of the new crop of ultrabooks boasting 15mm bodies.
Under the lid you'll find a keyboard that uses square, isolated keys that have a good travel on them and are easy to press. We found typing was extremely comfortable, even at speed for long periods. The keys are spaced very evenly over the base so your hands don't feel squashed up.
It's backlit too, so you needn't get up to pop a light on when typing into the night. HP has also whacked in a proximity sensor, which automatically dims the backlighting when you're not nearby. We found this works really well. It's an excellent touch that we haven't seen on other models.
The wrist rest is made from more Gorilla Glass, which makes it stylishly shiny, but we can't help but feel it's overkill -- would metal have really been so bad? The trackpad is a decent size and supports multi-touch gestures such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom.
Swiping around was responsive, but the buttons are incredibly firm, making clicking needlessly uncomfortable. We found ourselves just tapping to click, rather than physically pressing down. This becomes more of an issue if you have to click and hold while scrolling.
Like much of HP's computer range, the Spectre comes with Beats Audio branding, so expect the low frequencies to have been given a boost. There's also an unusual analogue wheel on the side of the body for quickly altering the volume -- this machine has music on its mind.
Although it has the Beats branding, the speakers aren't exactly the most powerful things we've ever heard but they will do the trick if watching TV shows. You'll definitely want to plug in a proper set of speakers to do your music library justice.
In general, while the Spectre is a refreshing change from many of the new ultrabooks, we're not sure it's a shift in the right direction. The glass panels make it much thicker and heavier than its competitors, which frankly defeats the object of it being an ultrabook in the first place. The focus of the Spectre is clearly more on design than on portability. If travelling light is your top priority, other ultrabooks will likely suit you better.
The Spectre packs in a 14-inch screen, which is bigger than the typical 11 or 13-inch displays found on most ultrabooks. It offers a 1,600x900-pixel resolution -- the same as you'll find on the 13-inch screen of the Asus Zenbook UX31 -- so we're a little disappointed not to see a few more pixels here.
The screen is both bright and vivid so your movies or YouTube clips will look great. The glass front goes from edge to edge, which is an attractive look -- as there is no physical bezel around the edge -- but it's rather reflective so you may find yourself staring back at your own mug.
The bezel beneath the glass is really slim. HP has been able to cram the 14-inch screen into a body size that would normally house a 13-inch display. The Spectre may not be the most portable of ultrabooks, but it's got one of the nicest displays we've seen.
Our review model of the Spectre came packing a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state disk.
At the time of writing, HP said it had no plans to offer the Spectre in other configurations. That's pretty annoying as Core i3 and i7 variations are offered by most other manufacturers. It's a shame that HP isn't letting you customise the Spectre to your own needs.
Still, the Core i5 chip is at least in the middle of the range. It's arguably a fair compromise of power and cost. To see what sort of grunt it provides, we booted up the Geekbench benchmark test and were given a score of 5,699.
That's pretty much the same score achieved by the 11-inch Asus Zenbook UX21, which also packs a Core i5 chip. It's not a bad score by any means, but considering the Spectre is a full £350 more expensive than the UX21, we'd really want some extra power from it. The 13-inch Asus Zenbook UX31 managed to achieve 7,547 on the same test and that only costs £1,000.
General performance from the Spectre was nippy though. It's certainly got enough power for office tasks and will happily handle high-definition video. It managed to encode our 11-minute 1080p resolution video into 24fps H.264 in just under 23 minutes. That isn't exactly speedy, but it's pretty good for a machine designed for portable use.
It will handle some light photo and video editing -- for which Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements come pre-installed -- but don't ask it to handle high-resolution raw image files or render massive 1080p videos.
It's not designed as a gaming machine, but we still threw the 3DMark06 benchmark at it to see just how it handled the polygons. It gave a score of 3,466, which is about what we expected. It's not going to handle the latest games such as Skyrim, but it may handle older titles, so long as you dial the settings down a lot.
The 128GB SSD provides your storage and the faster read/write speeds of these drives over traditional hard disk drives means that the Spectre achieves a quick start-up and a resume-from-sleep time of only a couple of seconds.
In general, while the Spectre does offer enough power for most everyday applications, it doesn't provide any extra juice over and above much cheaper models. If power on the go is most important to you, the Spectre won't be the best choice.
Ultrabooks are designed for slinging in a bag and carrying off on your adventures. You'd therefore be right to expect the battery to last long enough to keep going away from the plug.
We launched our battery test and the Spectre was able to keep going for 2 hours and 6 minutes. The UX31 managed to keep going for over three hours, so we're a little disappointed with the Spectre's performance here.
It's an incredibly brutal test though. It runs the processor at a constant 100 per cent so you'll find that you can get much better battery life with cautious usage.
While it's refreshing to see HP offering an ultrabook with a different look to the plethora of new models arriving, we can't help but feel that the glass panels detract from the slim and light nature of the genre.
With a steep price tag and only average performance, HP might have a challenge on its hands convincing people to shell out their cash.