HP Envy 13 (2019) full review
The HP Envy 13 has been one of the best lower-cost alternatives to a MacBook for several years. You get a full aluminium shell, MacBook Pro style power and even some low-level gaming skills.
This 2019 version tweaks a few parts without altering the original appeal, that of a lower-cost laptop with the same visual impact as a much more expensive one. So it rivals the likes of Dell's XPS 13, Asus ZenBook S13 and the Huawei MateBook 13.
What’s new? HP has switched to the new Nvidia MX250 GPU. The bad news: it makes virtually no difference. The trackpad experience is hugely improved in some ways, but its surface is now plastic rather than glass. Display quality has been bumped-up, with much better colour reproduction, brightness and contrast.
We hoped for a little more dynamism, and the trackpad downgrade stings. But you still get a laptop with power to match a £1750 MacBook Pro, for less than the cost of the ancient £949 MacBook Air from 2017 - now discontinued but still available from John Lewis.
As ever, the HP Envy 13 is a great deal.
Just like the last HP Envy 13, the 2019 version starts at £899. That gets you 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and an Intel Core i5 8th-gen CPU (aq0000na).
This is all most people need, and it’s the spec we’d recommend to almost every prospective HP Envy 13 buyer. You get a reasonable amount of storage, great performance for the price, and a little extra on top thanks to the Nvidia MX250 GPU.
As is stands we can only see these models available direct from HP but retailers such as Amazon and Currys should stock them soon. In the US, the top-spec model is available on Amazon for $1,399 or slightly less on Newegg.
The Envy 13 comes with a 1-year parts and labour warranty, which includes a “pickup and return” service.
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Design & Build
HP has not redesigned the Envy 13 significantly this year. It’s an aluminium laptop with a very angular look. Its keyboard keys are sharp-looking squares and even the heat vent above the keyboard has a severe geometric pattern.
The pragmatism of this lack of change is all part of the Envy 13’s broader appeal. This is a metal laptop made for those after a computer that looks and feels “nice”, but doesn’t ask you to pay over the odds for novelty.
It is also very portable, even if there are no particular ultra-slim or light stats worth shouting about. The HP Envy 13 weighs 1.3kg (1.27kg according to our scales) and is 14.9mm thick. However, it is also fairly narrow as the horizontal screen borders are slim.
Just look around the keyboard. Aside from an extra column of keys, there’s no space to spare.
Compare the HP Envy to an HP Spectre or MacBook Pro and you will notice a few obvious build cuts. Its anodised aluminium looks quite shiny, as the texture is rougher than that of the treated metal used in £1300-plus laptops. You can’t open the lid without the base trying to go with it.
There are some nice touches, though. When you fold out the Envy 13 screen, the hinge lightly lifts the screen up, adding a slight angle to the keyboard - this is like the Asus ZenBook S13. The contours of the sides also make the laptop seem slimmer than it is.
We have a lot of affection for the Envy 13. And while it hasn’t really changed much in two years, it doesn’t look dated yet.
Keyboard & Trackpad
Typing is another highlight, and a reason to be glad HP hasn’t messed with the basic HP Envy 13 design much.
Keys have a chunky action, each depresses with a satisfying clonk rather than a weedy click. You could call this an old fashioned approach, but we much prefer it to the ultra-shallow style for long-form typing.
The layout remains largely unchanged since last year. You get very square-looking keys, and a handful of function keys are shifted to an extra column to the right in order to accommodate the heat grille above the keyboard.
There’s one obvious change to the keyboard. Last year we noted the Envy 13’s backlight was a bit weak, and offered no level control. This time there are two intensity levels and the laptop cycles through them when you press the backlight button.
The tracked below is the source for both some of the best Envy 13 changes, and one of the biggest disappointments. HP has switched the trackpad driver, and in doing so has eradicated all the false clicks and bad scroll behaviour we just-about tolerated in the older models. The floaty action has almost entirely gone too. This is where you can depress the pad a bit before it reaches the clicker mechanism.
A much better-behaved trackpad is far easier to live with. However, HP has switched the textured glass surface of the Envy 13 2018 for textured plastic. It performs a fairly good impersonation of glass, but you can’t miss the juddery swipes and tackier surface after a while.
Given the display upgrades HP has added, maybe we shouldn’t grumble. But we miss the glass.
On paper, the HP Envy 13’s screen sounds just like that of the last model. It measures 13.3 inches across and has an IPS LCD Full HD panel.
Right from first boot-up we could tell this is a higher grade of screen than we saw in the 2018 version, though. The screen looks bold and rich, where previous versions had the characteristic “just OK” colour of a mid-range laptop.
Our colorimeter thought the same. It can tell you the real colour and contrast performance of a display and the HP Envy 13 covers 97.9% of sRGB, up from just 78.7% last year. 68.2% coverage of Adobe RGB and 70.3% of DCI P3 are strong for a laptop at the price too. You’ll find many models well over £1200 that perform no better.
This colour ability is clear more-or-less from the moment you bring up the Windows 10 Start menu. The red of the Microsoft News icon looks extremely vivid and punchy, to an extent that may even seem oversaturated if you’re used to a less colour-rich screen.
Contrast has improved hugely too. We recorded 1700:1 ANSI contrast, another excellent result at any price, let alone £899. Last year’s version only managed 867:1.
Brightness is perhaps the most important improvement if you plan to use the Envy 13 while out of the house. Its maximum brightness is 377cd/m. Yet again, you wouldn’t grumble at this at twice the price. The 2018 Envy 13 managed 281cd/m. A 35% increase in brightness makes the laptop much easier to use on bright days.
The 2019 Envy 13 is better all-round for movies, YouTube streaming and gaming as a result too. This is one of the best-performing Windows laptop screens we’ve ever seen at sub-£900. It’s a touchscreen too, although the limited sub-135-degree rotation of the hinge means this is anything but a hybrid.
Specs & Performance
The 2019 Envy 13 uses Intel’s latest CPUs, ones a “half generation” on from those used before. HP sent us the high-end Core i7 version. It has a Core i7-8565U, 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. We would not recommend this version to all that many people as the entry-level model is likely to be sufficient.
Here's a summary of the models on offer:
- Core i5-8265U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, MX250
- Core i7-8565U, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, MX250
- Core i7-8565U, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, MX250
Both Core i5 and Core i7 models have four cores, and are capable of just about any productivity job you push their way. We’d be happy to edit video on the Envy 13, and have edited photos with this laptop.
Want to hear something amusing? To spec up the MacBook Pro 13 to roughly the same level as this higher-end Envy 13, you have to pay over £2000.
It scores 3838 in PC Mark 10. This is only slightly better than the 3759 of the Core i5 version we reviewed last year. PC Mark is designed to be a fairly contextualised test, emulating apps you might use day-to-day.
That performance similarity demonstrates why we recommend the cheaper Core i5 version to most. The difference is not huge in most scenarios, although a bump up to 16GB RAM is useful for all sorts of more demanding apps, as well as general multi-tasking.
In one other respects we’re slightly disappointed by the Envy 13. But it’s largely Nvidia’s fault.
You get Nvidia’s brand new MX250 GPU. It’s a low-power graphics chipset for laptops without cooling systems designed to get rid of the extra heat of a true gamer’s card. Still, key rivals like the Huawei MateBook 13 and Dell XPS 13 rely on integrated graphics, and the ZenBook S13 has the older MX150.
Here's a table of benchmarks so you can see how the Envy 13 performs against its predecessor and rivals. We've included the MateBook X Pro as it also has the MX250 GPU.
We hoped for some significant improvement over the MX150 used last year, but there’s barely any difference. Just like the last version, the Envy 13 also gets the lower-power version of the MX250. This is no great surprise considering how slim the laptop is.
It can just about play Ghost Recon: Wildlands, at 1080p with the graphics set to “low”. It averages 30.2fps, so you will see some slow-down in busy scenes. At “Medium” graphics this drops to 19.0fps, and a dismal 4.2fps at Ultra. The performance drop is compound the humble amount of video RAM.
You can play tricky games with the HP Envy 13, but only at very stripped-back settings. We also did some mild stress testing and found the “Low” graphics 30fps result drops to 28fps after a couple of runs, suggesting some heat-related throttling.
Warhammer II runs at 21.4fps, medium settings, dropping to 12.8 at “high” visuals. We found you can get a much smoother 33fps average if you switch the resolution down to 720p. You can play games like The Witcher 3 on this laptop.
This is still much better than the results you’d get with the UHD 620 integrated graphics of most other laptops in this class. The HP Envy 13 isn’t a laptop for gamers, but it’s far better at playing games than a lot of thin and light models.
Connectivity & Audio
Its connections are pretty all-embracing. You get two full-size USB 3.0 ports, a microSD slot (very rare these days) and a USB-C 3.1 socket. The power adapter is separate too, so the USB-C is not taken up when charging.
HP also includes a USB-C adapter. It’s a little breakout cable with an HDMI socket. There’s even a webcam “killswitch” on the side, handy if you’re worried about hackers (or the government) accessing the Envy 13 camera. It's worth noting that the USB-C port does support Thunderbolt 3 though, which is a shame.
The HP Envy 13 speakers are Bang & Olufsen branded, like those of several other HP laptops. This is no guarantee of quality, but we’re fairly happy with the results here.
There’s a hint of bass to give kick drums actual representation, solid mid-range presence and perfectly respectable volume on tap. At high volumes there’s a little mid distortion with some content, but considering this is not a “money not object” laptop we’re just happy these speakers make movie soundtracks listenable.
HP also seems to have improved battery life a little with this generation. We found the last Envy 13 lasted nine hours between charges.
This one lasted 10 hours 1 minute, playing the same video on loop at 120cd/m. According to a Windows 10 battery report, the laptop has a 53.6Wh battery, only fractionally larger than the last model.
Whether down to luck, peculiarities of the air temperature or genuine efficiency savings, this appears to be a commendably long-lasting laptop considering it has a quad-core Intel Core CPU inside.
The HP Envy 13 is in some ways a very routine update of a crowd-pleaser laptop.
HP hasn’t changed the design fundamentals. And it’s not even much more powerful than the last, especially considering the CPU and GPU have both been upgraded. You can blame Intel and Nvidia for that.
However, HP has improved it in other ways. Display quality is much improved and the trackpad has been entirely tamed, with new drivers and a tweaked pad design. We lose out too, though, as the glass surface of the old model has been replaced with plastic.
You win some, and lose some. But the HP Envy is still one of the very best “mid-range” laptops.
HP Envy 13 (2019): Specs
- Windows 10 Home 64-bit
- 13.3in (1920 x 1080) Full HD 165ppi IPS LCD glossy
- 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8565U (4.6GHz boost) 4 cores, 8 threads
- Nvidia GeForce MX250 2GB GPU
- 16GB 2133MHz DDR3 RAM
- 512GBGB SSD
- 802.11b/g/n/ac 2x2 MIMO
- Bluetooth 4.1
- 1x USB-C 3.1
- 2x USB 3.1
- microSD card slot
- Stereo speakers
- HD webcam
- Single mic
- 3.5mm headset jack
- UK tiled keyboard with numberpad
- Two-button trackpad
- 53.6Wh lithium-ion battery, non-removable
- 307 x 212 x 14.5mm
- 1-year onsite warranty
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