When it comes to luxury laptops HP's Envy series has been a favourite in the PC & Tech Authority Labs. There are various flavours of Envy out there, targeted to different markets. With the Beats Edition Envy 14, HP is focusing on music makers and consumers, pairing up with Monster Cable's "Beats by Dr Dre" brand.
For those not down with the hip-hop music, Dr Dre is one of the most enduring producers in the industry. Starting out as part of 90's group NWA he has gone on to produce a massive amount of music, most famously launching the careers of Snoop Dog and Eminem. This legacy is being tapped by Monster with the Beats branding, and this Hip-Hop legacy is important to keep in mind as it shapes the audio quality of the laptop.
HP has slapped the beats label on the audio subsystems of the laptop (although it does look like the control panel is a simple reskin of the default Realtek one) and packaged a set of 'Solo' portable headphones with the laptop. The rest is pure high-end Envy, with an Intel Core i7-720QM processor, 4GB of DDR3, 640GB SATA drive, Supermulti DVD and Mobility Radeon HD 5650 graphics. It also features HP's gorgeous 14.5in Brightview LED backlit display, which adds a lot to the package.
This is packed into one of the nicest laptop chassis that we have encountered outside of an Apple store. The Scrabble-tile keyboard is surrounded by a gorgeous rubberised black surface, and the touchpad is up to HP's usual high quality. The outer chassis is a combination of shiny and matt metal. There is a beats logo on the lid, and the screen is surrounded by a rubber strip designed to seal the gap between laptop and lid when closed.
Speakers sit under the front of the laptop, while on the sides sit a somewhat unusual selection of expansion ports. The right side has a combination e-SATA/USB port, HDMI out and a mini-displayport connector. On the left are headphone and mic jacks, Ethernet and two more USB 2 ports. There is also a built-in 2-in-1 card reader.
Our first port of call when testing the Envy 14 Beats edition was to test out audio playback. The quality was fantastic (although we do think that the Toshiba NB550D has better all round audio quality). One thing we did notice when listening through a variety of familiar tracks was that the laptop speakers were clear and crisp but relatively bass-poor, while the headphones were incredibly bass heavy (while still being quite clear).
We actually had a lot of difficulty benchmarking the Envy 14. This isn't down to performance issues – the overall performance was what we expect from an I7-720QM. The issue was largely with the massive amount of software customisation done to the laptop. This starts with a complete reskinning of Windows itself via Stardock's My Colors software and continues through to Photoshop and Premiere elements and a bunch of HP specific software.
In the end it scored 1.57 in our 2D tests, pretty much what we expect from this hardware configuration. In our Crysis tests the RADEON HD 5650 managed to deliver playable framerates at Low and Medium settings, with the mobile graphics struggling at higher resolutions.
In our testing the one area where the Envy 14 didn't shine was battery life. The sheer heft and solidity of the chassis hinted to us that this wasn't designed with portability at the forefront, and this was played out in our battery life results. Our light load tests had the Envy 14 lasting 2:21 while the heavy use test had it running out of juice after 1:51.
If mobility is your priority then the Envy 14 Beats edition definitely doesn't satisfy. However if you are after a mix of great looks, build quality and performance then this is a tempting offering. The enhanced audio features are a bonus, but you'll likely still want a set of discrete speakers if you are that into the audio side of things.
Overall the Envy 14 is a fantastic example of a premium laptop. It bears a high pricetag, but it also has the build quality and feature set to back it up. Just don't expect to be blown over by the mobility features of the laptop though – this is definitely a product designed not to stray too far from a power socket.