HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

You know what they say about knock offs; they're never quite as good as the original. But HP's Envy 13, which is clearly a rip of the 13-inch MacBook Pro (everything down to packaging screams Apple), comes pretty darn close.

It has an über attractive all metal build, compact design and eye-loving screen, and if it weren't for the high price and its darn touchpad I'd say the MacBook should be scared.

Price

$1,800 (As configured with a 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor SL9600, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 Graphics, 3GB of RAM, 4-cell battery)

I Don't Want Your Unibody

There is no denying that the HP Envy was built not with the original Voodoo Envy sitting next to it, but with a unibody MacBook to make design comparisons. Being carved out of a solid piece of metal wasn't the way the Envy wanted to come to life since HP says it is heavier. Instead the 3.7 pound notebook, which is .8 pounds lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, is made of an aluminum and magnesium bonded material. It has rounded edges and feels super solid because the metals are anodized layers deep. The Envy gives the MacBook Pro a good run for its money in terms of build quality, but there are still some areas where it can't compete with the unibody structure. The bottom of the Envy doesn't feel as solid and the pressing in on the lid while closed does cause some bend.

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

The Envy's lid is metallic brown (it looks charcoal in certain lights) and the edges, brushed silver. Frankly, I could have done without the two-toned color scheme and the dotted etching on the palmrest, but neither detracts from the overall beautiful design of the Envy 13.

A word about how compact the Envy is for a 13-inch notebook: it is .2 inches shorter and thinner than the MacBook Pro. However, that comes with sacrifices. The Envy only has two USB ports and a HDMI port. It lacks an optical drive or an Ethernet port but comes with a USB dongle for the latter.

Head Turning Display

When powered off the 13.1-inch frameless display looks exactly like that found on the MacBook, complete with the silver frame surrounding the black flush bezel. But that all changes when the system is powered on and the 1600x900 resolution LED Infinity WS display is illuminated.

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

Dubbed the HP Radiance, the 410 nit display has an 82 percent color gamut (versus standard 45-60 percent). Not only are viewing angles good, but colors just pop and are incredibly bright. Compared to the 15-Inch MacBook Pro, the Envy looked crisper and more vivid, though the MacBook looked more natural. While my eyes didn't hurt after about six hours of consistent use, I was warned that the increased dots per inch could be hard on the eyes over a longer period of time.

FrustraPad

HP stole another card from the MacBook with its multitouch trackpad, which they are calling the ClickPad. I‘d suggest another and more appropriate name: FrustrationPad. The buttons are built into the touchpad. While it works fine as a normal trackpad—the left and right mouse button work just like a normal one—the frustration arrives when you try the gestures.

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

Unlike the Apple touchpads, you have to activate the gestures by lightly touching two fingers on the pad. (I only learned this from reading the manual.) Once it is cued up, it responds to certain multitouch gestures, like pinching to zoom. Unfortunately, some gestures just seem to confuse the pad and it decides it doesn't want to respond. Two-finger scrolling is a great example: it took me quite awhile to get the hang of trying to scroll down NYTimes.com, and when I did it was finicky. I missed the MacBook touchpad like a baby misses breast milk. And if you think I am just bad with my fingers, a number of people tried the trackpad and found the same problem. As for the island style keyboard, I love it. If it were only backlit, though, it would be total perfection.

Don't Wait For Windows

I think instant-on operating systems are a dying fad, but the Envy 13 comes with its own version called HP QuickWeb. It took the system no more than 9 seconds to boot up the Linux environment. It was easy to navigate; I signed onto a Wi-Fi network and surfed to Gizmodo.com within seconds. I also logged into Skype and chatted with a German pal of mine. It is a nice trick but if I can wait another 50 seconds to boot into Windows—it takes the Envy about a minute to boot into Windows 7 Professional—why would anyone need the fairly limiting Web environment?

Internal Power

The HP Envy 13's 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor (along with 3GB of RAM) doesn't quite have as much as power as the MacBook Pro's 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, but it still keeps up with everyday tasks. When running Firefox with over 10 tabs open, iTunes and TweetDeck the system showed no performance hit.

When adding in playback of No Country For Old Men on Blu-ray (a $250 external Blu-ray optical drive is available) the system seemed to hold up thanks to the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 graphics card. Instead of weaker, integrated graphics, like the 13-inch MacBook Pro's Nvidia GeForce 9400M, the Envy is outfitted with the discrete ATI GPU. The proof is in the benchmarks: Not only did the Radeon HD 4330 beat out the 9400M on 3DMark06, but it notched better frame rates in Crysis. At higher resolutions the Envy should get about 30 fps, and the MacBook 22.8. On the Envy, you can also turn the discrete graphics off and switch the integrated Intel offering without having to shut down the system to save battery life.

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

The Envy 13 comes with a 4-cell battery (yes, it is swappable) which ran for about three and a half hours during my everyday usage (running Firefox, Pidgin, TweetDeck and streaming music on Playlist.com). You can order an extra 6-cell battery slice that magnetically clips to the bottom of the notebook, appearing as if it is part of the build. HP says that will add about another 10 hours of runtime.

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Verdict

There is no doubt that the starting at $1,700 Envy 13 does some things even better than the $1,200 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro. It has a nicer screen, better graphics performance and a smaller build. However, $500 is quite the premium to pay for a frustrating touchpad, no optical drive and a missing Ethernet port. In fact, you can even snatch up a 15-inch MacBook Pro for the same price which will buy you an extra gig of RAM and more screen real estate. Those lusting after a premium Windows 7 machine will find the Envy 13 to be one of the best out there, but then again, you can always get the real thing for cheaper.

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

Stunning display

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

Very compact chassis

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

External optical drive only

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

Instant-on pre-boot environment

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

Drains bank account

HP Envy 13 Review: The MacBook Imitated, Not Duplicated

Touchpad can be frustrating as hell