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If it’s laptops, phones or PCs, I’m a dab hand at guessing the price of an item. (It helps that I’ve been reviewing them for 19 years.) Admittedly, it’s not a party trick that will woo the ladies, but you can’t have everything.
With this 2018 edition of the HP Envy 13, though, I was some way off. I guessed £999; in fact, it costs £850. In this HP Envy 13 review, I’ll explain how I got it wrong – and why you should buy one.
HP Envy 13 review: the design
Gorgeous laptops for less than a grand are nothing new. We’ve already seen it in the Asus ZenBook range, for instance. But the HP Envy 13 takes it one step further: you could give this to the fussiest executive and he, or she, would be delighted.
For instance, I like the way the lid levers the keyboard up when you open it. I like the aluminium finish, which is stylish without being showy. I like the edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass that protects the screen, giving it a premium touch of class.
Then there’s the fact this laptop slips so easily into a bag. At 1.21kg, you’ll have to double-check it’s there before you set off. Even its dimensions are super-slim: 1.49cm thick, as wide as a school ruler at 30.7cm, and with a depth of 21.2cm it will sit happily on your lap on a plane.
HP Envy 13 review: the spec
The 2018 edition of the HP Envy 13 currently comes in two different specifications, and HP sent me the entry-level model. Denoted by the catchy ah0001na suffix, it includes a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe NVMe solid-state drive.
I’m aware that’s just a bunch of numbers and letters for those not steeped in such things, so let me unpick it. The processor – the Core i5-8250U – is damn nippy. With four cores and the ability to jump up to 3.4GHz when you need it (albeit for short bursts), it’s a brilliant choice for a machine such as this. I’d have liked more than 8GB of RAM, especially as there’s no way to upgrade it, but it’s enough to run Windows 10 smoothly.
Then there’s the solid-state drive. The fact it’s NVMe is important because it means it won’t hold you up: it’s about as fast as they come in laptops, and a sign that HP hasn’t cut corners with the specification.
Switch to the £1,099 ah0003na and you can enjoy 16GB of RAM, a faster processor and a 512GB SSD.
HP Envy 13 review: gaming ability
Then there’s the cherry atop the cake: an Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics chip.
It’s true this is no GTX chip, but it is capable of playing games if you’re willing to sacrifice detail. For instance, it scored an average frame rate of 35fps in Rise of the Tomb Raider at a 1,280 x 800 resolution and Medium settings. Older games should play smoothly at the screen’s native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080.
I hooked up my Dell Visor VR headset and it was quite happy to run the Windows Mixed Reality environment. Again, lower-powered games will run okay, but as soon as I switched to the far more demanding SteamVR, frame rates fell through the virtual floor.
Truth be told, you’ll find yourself watching TV and films on the HP Envy 13 far more than playing VR games – and it’s well suited to such tasks. You don’t need a bright screen to enjoy a film, and with a contrast ratio of above 1,100:1 I had no troubles picking out details tucked in shadows. The Bang & Olufsen-tuned speakers come into their own here, too, packing a rich sound that belies this laptop’s size.
HP Envy 13 review: slots and ports
It’s good to see that HP hasn’t jettisoned USB ports in its quest for slimness. One older-style USB 3.1 port sits on either side, with a modern USB-C slot on the left. This isn’t Thunderbolt 3 – which is a shame, because that’s a more versatile port – but USB-C 3.1. That means it can be used for data transfer, hooking up suitable screens and to supply power.
HP supplies a USB to HDMI adapter in the box, too, which makes up for the fact there’s no dedicated video output. There is a 3.5mm audio jack, though, while a fingerprint reader sits next to the right-hand USB port. This position takes a bit of getting used to, but I grew to like it there.
Back on the left, you’ll also find a microSD card slot.
HP Envy 13 review: keyboard and touchpad
Then we come to one of the HP Envy 13’s best features: its keyboard. I love this for its sheer boringness. The keys are large and well-spaced, there’s no function doubling to catch you out, and while there’s nothing special about the key action it’s fine to sit at and tap away on.
Minor criticisms? Well, they are minor. The Enter key is single-height, so you may need to adjust your typing action a smidgen. Some people might not like the Home, End, Page Up and Page Down buttons sitting on the far right, because it means the Backspace button isn’t at the top-right of the keyboard. But really, that’s it.
I could also criticise the touchpad for not being a Microsoft Precision device, which means it doesn’t respond to all of the Windows 10 gestures, but it supports most of them. I can’t get worked up about this, because it’s still a responsive touchpad.
HP Envy 13 review: the sacrifices
So where has HP cut corners? The most obvious sign is the screen. This is still a perfectly good display, but I measured its average Delta E at 3.29 and its sRGB gamut coverage at 76.5%. What does that mean? That you can’t trust the colours you see; for instance, in the review unit I was sent, the reds were overblown.
I’m not saying that this is a killer problem. In fact, it’s likely to be a jump up in quality compared to the display of the laptop it replaces. The only genuinely frustrating thing I found about it was its brightness. It could only reach 278cd/m², which is okay (and again, likely to be better than what it replaces) but falls behind the best modern laptops.
HP Envy 13 review: battery life
Nor was I stunned by its battery life. Looping through a video until it died, the Envy lasted for around seven hours; HP quotes up to 14 hours, but I suspect that’s with the brightness dimmed almost to zero.
You may decide you want to throw the 210g power pack in the bag, especially as it can take the Envy from 0% to 50% in 45 minutes.
HP Envy 13 review: buying decision
Should you buy the HP Envy 13? If you’ve read this far, the answer is probably yes. This laptop’s only black mark is the display, and even that’s a dark grey mark rather than true black (not that such a subtlety would show on the screen).
In fact, the bigger question is which one you should buy. Right now, there are only two specifications available: the ah0001na for £849 and the ah0003na for £1,099. However, for a limited time you can claim 10% off with the code “SAVE10P”. That brings the higher-spec model to below £1,000, and for that price it’s an undoubted bargain.
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HP Envy 13 review
Features and design
Value for money
Writes new rules for ultraportables – a terrific bargain with just one flaw