Pulling the plug
All connectivity ports are located on the left-hand edge of the computer. I'm pleased to see the inclusion of a gigabit Ethernet port – given the number of offices I visit that offer atrocious Wi-Fi signals with flaky 'guest' sign-ins – but extremely disappointed to note that the two USB ports are built a mere 2mm apart.
Oh so shiny: scratch-resistant glass covers the entire lid surface as well as the display
You may be lucky - perhaps your USB devices come with skinny plugs. Mine don't. I found it somewhere between difficult and impossible to attach two USB devices into the Spectre at the same time because there's not enough space between the ports to accommodate two shielded plugs simultaneously.
It would be bad enough if I was talking about 3G dongles or clunky memory sticks, but I struggled even to connect an external hard disk and DVD drive at the same time without one of the two plugs pushed in at an angle. On the right-hand edge, HP has provided a dial for controlling the audio volume, plus a quick Mute toggle button and another button that calls up the Beats Audio control panel. HP refers to the dial as a 'jog dial' but it's not: it's just a volume dial.
PCMark 7 Results
Longer bars are better
Beats Audio enhances the sound you get from the computer, most noticeably through your headphones. I can also tell the difference with Beats Audio enabled with the Spectre's stereo speakers, which are mounted just under the front edge of the computer, but remember that I'm talking about an enhancement from 'appallingly tinny' to 'very tinny'.
Benchmark performance from the HP Envy 14 Spectre is good, if not the best I have recorded on an Intel Core i7-2677 running at 1.8GHz. Its power management, however, is terrific: Powermark 1.1.1 estimates a real-world battery life of well in excess of four hours of intensive work between charges.
When using the Spectre a backlight shines through the keycaps, then dims automatically when you are not
Booting up the system from cold to a settled Windows desktop (with Wi-Fi happily connected) takes around 35 seconds. Waking from Sleep mode takes just 5 seconds. This is good stuff.
Also included in the price are pre-installed editions of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 and Premiere Elements 10, and a two-year Norton Internet Security licence. There are also various little utilities littered about, and a nag window kept inviting me to upgrade to the full version of CyberLink PowerDVD - a curious promotion to put on a computer that doesn't have a DVD drive.
Despite my concern that the HP Envy 14 Spectre is perhaps a little chunky compared with other Ultrabooks on the market, it compares very favourably with the competition in terms of what you get within those two centimetres: connectivity, performance, battery life, display quality and, not least, classy product design.
If I forget for an instant that certain other Ultrabooks are as thin as a blade, the Spectre stands out as a fabulously slim notebook that (apart from lacking an internal optical drive) does everything I'd want from a supposedly full-size notebook - and it looks absolutely gorgeous. ®
Thanks to Harrods for the loan of the review sample.
More Ultrabook Reviews
HP Envy Spectre
Not convinced about ultra books,
Yes they are portable just like a netbook though they cost £1000 more.
Yes they are as powerful as a full blown laptop but at £500 more.
Yes they are more practical than a tablet but are £600 more.
But still you only get 5 hours battery life, there is no disk drive and the screen is usually below par.
So why bother unless it is a fashion item.
What about us poor buggers?
It's all very well seeing numerous reviews of fab £1000+ laptops and yes, I'd like one (or two), but it'd be nice to see an occasional review for a budget laptop - say sub £500. Even better, a top-ten of the best of the cheapies. Not all of us are Rockefellers.
CD/DVD use has declined a lot and with cheap USB sticks and external drives powered over USB, not all that many use cases where an external drive is a problem nowadays. Good call IMO.