HP must be doing alright out of its high-end Envy laptops, because it keeps on updating them. As long as it keeps on updatin', we'll keep on reviewin'. The latest Envy 17 model, the Envy 17-1195ea, packs 3D capability and Beats by Dr Dre technology to make it sound pleasant. It's more luxurious than ever, but will set you back a monumental £1,600. Can this 17.3-inch laptop possibly be worth the price?
Same old Envy
The design is unchanged from that of the previous Envy 17. We've remarked before that this laptop looks like an ornament rather than a computer, what with the abstract, floral pattern dotted across the lid, the chassis' coppery golden tone, and the minimalist interior. With the keyboard taking up relatively little space, most of the bottom half of the Envy 17 is devoted to great swathes of wrist rest space.
It's a striking and luxurious-looking machine, then, but resist the urge to feed this laptop chocolate-covered strawberries and slip it into a bubble bath. Apart from risking death, you might slip and hurt yourself, because the Envy 17 is astonishingly heavy.
To be fair, it's clear that this laptop isn't designed to be hugely portable -- it's unbelievably huge for one thing. Weighing around 3.4kg, and measuring 416 by 39 by 275mm, you wouldn't want to lug it around. It's actually a rather slim laptop considering the screen size, but its girth and weight mean you'll only want to position it once -- probably on your desk or next to your telly, as part of your media set-up.
Nothing's changed about the keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard is still pretty comfy, even if the arrow keys have a very odd, cramped layout. That's an odd decision considering quite how much space HP has chosen not to use, but we suppose it keeps the edges of the keyboard neat and tidy.
The trackpad is somewhat infuriating. Its obscene size is appreciated, but HP has a habit of extending the touch-sensitive area over the actual click buttons, which means that, if you have one finger in the centre of the trackpad and a thumb over the click button ready to click, you might find your thumb nudging the cursor away from its target. That's so annoying we tore our hair out, and then tore out the hair of everyone else in the office.
The display is rather gorgeous. We've seen brighter, more vibrant panels, but not too many. With a stonkingly high resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, everything rendered on the screen looks razor-sharp. It's perfect for enjoying some beautiful high-definition video.
This Envy packs 3D tech, and it's one of the more impressive implementations we've seen. For starters, the 3D goggles that come bundled with the laptop are simple to use. There's no power switch -- you just point them at the laptop. There's no annoying infrared USB accessory either. Everything is handled inside the laptop, which is welcome.
The 3D effect works very well with movies and games, although it'll work better with some games than others -- not all titles have been built with this technology in mind. 3D video has pleasing depth, and doesn't look too dark -- something that often plagues glasses-based 3D.
All in all, we're happy with the 3D capability. We definitely wouldn't say it's a must-have feature, though. While it's a cool extra, we'd warn potential buyers against throwing down the best part of two grand just to get some 3D jollies, because you can get a proper 3D telly for that kind of money.
In terms of pure performance, the Envy 17 packs a real punch. With a quad-core, 1.6GHz Intel Core i7-720QM CPU, 6GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card, this laptop performed very well in our benchmark tests. In PCMark05, it scored a rather decent 7,548. In 3DMark06, which tests a laptop's graphics capabilities, it scored a mammoth 10,720.
Those are great scores, but we wouldn't say they're commensurate with the Envy 17's price tag. We've seen laptops offer similar performance for several hundred pounds less. The Envy 17 offers brilliant high-end performance, but you're paying extra for the design and the 3D capability. Make sure you're comfortable with that before throwing down your notes.
Beat on the brat
The new Envy 17, like other laptops in HP's range, now sports a Beats sound system, with a subwoofer on the underside of the laptop. It makes for far better sound that most laptops can offer, but, to really enjoy your tunes, you'll want a proper pair of laptop speakers or decent headphones.
HP has also added its own skin to the Windows 7 interface, giving it a grey, edgier look. It might get a little irritating, though, if you're used to the standard Windows 7 interface and colours.
Connectivity is reasonable. The laptop offers three USB ports, one of which supports USB 3.0; a Blu-ray player; a multi-format card reader; VGA and HDMI outputs; an eSATA/USB port; an Ethernet jack; and a mini-DisplayPort connection.
The Envy 17 ships with the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium and a 500GB hard drive. For the price, we'd expect more storage space, but, again, the Envy is a luxury device and its design is a large part of what you're paying for.
The machine's battery life is naff. When we spun the Envy 17's CPU at a constant 100 per cent using the Battery Eater Classic test, the battery lasted only 53 minutes before running out of juice. It'll last longer with more sensible use, but this isn't really a machine that's built to be used away from the mains.
The HP Envy 17-1195ea performs just as well as its predecessor, and adds a couple of useful extras, like 3D support. There's still not enough hardware to justify the incredibly high price tag, but, as luxury laptops go, it's a good-looking, powerful beast.
Consider it as a more affordable option if you're thinking of getting a 17-inch MacBook Pro. If all you really want is computational grunt, though, take a look at machines like the Samsung R780 or the shockingly powerful Medion Erazer X6811, which are both much cheaper.
Edited by Charles Kloet