updated 03:55 am EST, Wed January 11, 2012
We test the HP Envy 14 Spectre at CES
We had an opportunity to try the HP Envy 14 Spectre this evening. The ultrabook is HP's most advanced and bears an uncanny similarity to a cross between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro through its attention to design. Is it a replacement for a Mac, though, or a try at riding Apple's coattails? Read on for our take.
The Spectre is in line with the design principles of the recent Envy line in mind. There's no getting around the obvious: the design is very reminiscent of Apple's smaller notebooks. Even the hardened glass back is reminiscient of an iPhone.
That's not a bad thing, though, as it's certainly a handsome-looking design at a time when many Windows PCs are still very utilitarian. Part of it comes from HP trimming the bezel down to a much smaller width, likely through the use of an LG Shuriken LCD panel. Regardless of the origin, the panel if it's mixed with a dark screen creates an illusion of seamlessness that's nice to see; it's a 1600x900 IPS panel, too, producing rich colors. The backlit keyboard can even be programmed to light up or darken in a "wave" when woken up or put asleep with the keyboard visible: it's a trivial notice, but it shows an attention to detail.
We're not sure how the glass lid back will hold up in an unprotected bag, but we do like the glass on the palm rest. Having a smooth, uninterrupted surface for your hands is an unusual feeling, but a good one and a trick that helps keep the palm rest from showing visible signs of wear.
HP has done a good job with both the keyboard and trackpad, either of which are comfortable, and in the keyboard's case, backlit. We'd still give the edge to Apple for at least the trackpad, since it doesn't need a dedicated button area for right-clicks and supports considerably more multi-touch gestures.
Whatever you think of Windows will dictate the Spectre's appeal as well, but it at least has a minimal amount of bloatware. The 1.8GHz Core i7, solid-state drive, and load time optimizations are certainly used to great effect. We saw the system reboot and reach Windows in what looked to be in or near 10 seconds, which certainly defied logic given Windows' reputation for being slow to start.
The core drawback of the design is that it's heavy -- noticeably heavy. HP is keeping it under four pounds, but there's very noticeable difference between this and the three-pound 13-inch MacBook Air. Neither is a burden compared to most larger notebooks, but it somewhat defeats the point if the design is heavy
Any definitive look at the Spectre would have to wait for a full review, but for now it's a step forward for HP. Earlier Envy models were a sign HP was taking higher-end PCs seriously; this shows that its design philosophy could be here to stay.