When HP released its Envy line of laptops last year, we were taken with the dark aluminium exterior and attractive geometric dimples - although we worried about their capacity to collect dirt and grime.
The freshly updated Envy line now carries Intel's new Core i5 and Core i7 processors, but in every other respect the design is unchanged. The build quality is as solid as ever, reassuringly unflexible and sturdy where it counts. There are a few feature adjustments, which we'll outline below.
We received the Envy 17 1001TX from HP. It's the largest of the Envy line, and weighs in at 3.4kg. Even at that weight, it's balanced nicely and there's barely a wasted gram: the chassis has a gentle slope from the rear of the machine to the front, ensuring that typing is comfortable, and both sides of the laptop are packed with ports.
One of our complaints about the previous Envy 15 we tested was the screen resolution, so its pleasing that this time around, the Envy 17, at least, boasts a 1600 x 900 screen. It may not be 1080p, which we might wish for on an entertainment-centric, 17in desktop replacement, but you can opt for a screen of that resolution if you desire. And we've got no complaints about the 1600 x 900 screen - it's clear, bright and vivid, with smooth gradients in our Displaymate testing.
Our other previous issue with the Envy range was with the lack of inputs, but HP has made a couple of additions that help the new models feel more rounded. They now come with three USB ports - one of which is superspeed USB 3.0 - eSata, HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, D-Sub, and a card reader, as well as separate sockets for mic and headphones. It also features ATI Eyefinity, which allows you to connect up to three external displays.
The keyboard has improved, and there's more travel in the scrabble-tile keys than in previous models, making it more comfortable for long stretches of typing. The trackpad is slightly less erratic than the Envy 13, and the buttons are more user-friendly, but it's still likely to cause you some moments of frustration if you're not used to ultra-sensitive multitouch, especially for those who rest their thumb on the mousebutton while using fingers to scroll.
When it comes to performance, the Envy 17's 2.53GHz i5-540M processor, along with 6GB of DDR3 RAM, powered it to an excellent score of 1.75. That score is up there with the new MacBook Pro i7 systems - which rate 1.78 in our Real World benchmarks - and beaten only by the super powerhouse Asus G and Sony VAIO Z Core i7 models.
Battery life is, as you might expect for a desktop replacement laptops, nothing to write home about. Even on light use, the Envy 17 could only manage 2hrs 24mins. At full tilt, it crawled past an hour with a couple of minutes up it's sleeve. That sounds dreadful, but it's on a par with other high-performance laptops, and we'd rather have the Envy on our desktop to admire than some of the alternatives...
If battery is lackluster, the HP Envy performed well in one area where we have started to expect something out of the ordinary in desktop replacements - gaming. On Crysis low settings, for example, it cruised to a smooth 119fps in our benchmark. Even at high settings, it managed an eminently playable 32fps. Given the 640GB hard drive, the quality of the sound from the speakers and subwoofer, and the excellent screen, this makes a handy little gaming machine if you can't stand the thought of a desktop, and it's around a kilogram less hefty than most of the alternatives.
All up, the Envy 17 has a lot to like, and while we still have a couple of reservations, the performance goes a long way to silencing our criticisms. At $2699, it doesn't take too much of a bite out of your wallet, either.