HP Envy 15 review: Keyboard and trackpad

As with the design and connections, the keyboard and trackpad just add a little ‘current’ flavour to otherwise traditional hardware. All the space provided by a 15.6-inch frame lets the keyboard pack in a numerical pad and no keys are cut down to an irritating extent.

Press down hard on the centre of the keyboard surround and you can make it flex a tiny bit, but the keyboard feels solid and is comfortable to type on for hours at a time. Actual key feedback is on the light side, but is nevertheless crisp and reasonably well-defined.

One of the rather neat bonus features of the HP Envy is a keyboard backlight, something still often missed out at the price. It's a simple on/off blueish light, but is a godsend if you're going to have to do some typing in the dark. For whatever reason. Also see: Best gaming laptops 2016.

It's the HP Envy 15's trackpad that has the modern twist, with an ultra-elongated design intended simply to give your fingers more room to play with. It's a lovely, smooth surface with a satisfyingly deep clicky action to it. It requires a slightly harder press than some, but we were used to the feel within a few hours.

There are more smarts to the pad than you can initially tell too. One issue that can ruin trackpads of laptops with NUM pads is that due to the way the trackpad is shifted to the left of the frame it can be far too easy to accidentally press the right mouse button when you mean to use the left.

Not so here: only a tiny part of the pad is used to fire the right button, taking up around a fifth of the pad's width. Unlike most Windows laptop trackpads, you get the sense HP has actually played around with the design to find what works best out in the real work, under real fingers.

Its feel isn’t quite a match for a MacBook Pro pad, but it's not that far off, and is also larger.

This kind of thoughtfulness and attention to detail is seen in all the HP Envy 15's best bits. It may not be that exciting, but it actually thinks about the real state of laptop use as much as the HP Spectre 13. Also see: Windows 10 review

HP Envy 15 review: Specs and Performance

This is clear in the specs too. First, it has a very sensible combo of a 128GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive. This gets you real SSD snappiness as well as the capacity of slower HDD storage.

It's a bit of a pity the SSD isn't faster, though. At 185MB/s write and 510MB/s read, it is only a little over a third the speed of the fastest SSDs around. The hard drive is a slow 5400rpm model too.

The CPU choice is telling too. A lot of the larger laptops we review these days have high-power HQ-series processors, but the HP Envy 15 uses U-series chipsets like those of the more portable models. The U designates a lower-voltage processor, intended for slim laptops that need to offer decent battery life.

The HP Envy 15 we're reviewing uses an Intel Core i7-6500U, a dual-core CPU with standard clock speed of 2.5GHz and a 3.1GHz Turbo. That is paired with 8GB RAM.

This is a reasonably powerful system, but only among lighter, slimmer laptops. If you want as much power as you can get for the money, the HP Envy 15 is the wrong laptop for you. For those who can put up with a lot more chunkiness and weight, Asus offers a quad-core GPU and dedicated GPU for this sort of price in the GL552.

Again, we come back to the idea that the Envy 15 is made from the ground up for the average buyer, not someone who spends evenings transcoding videos. For the basics, and even low-level image and video editing, this laptop will feel very fast.

It scores 7052 in Geekbench 3, and 2851 in PC Mark 8.

Its gaming abilities are fairly limited, though. There's no separate GPU, and just the basic Intel HD 520 integrated graphics rather than one of Intel's punchier Iris chipsets.

Alien Isolation is playable if you turn the resolution down to 720p and tone down the graphics, with an average 31.5fps, but Thief is a bit of a struggle at any graphics settings. It manages an average 25.6fps, below the 30fps average we’re aiming for.

You will be able to play games from slightly older generations, though. Dead Space and Skyrim will run well at medium settings thanks to Intel's HD CPU improvements. 

HP Envy 15 review: Battery

Among some of its 15.6-inch laptop peers the HP Envy 15 is a bit of a weakling, but its battery life is an effective comeback.

Playing a video file on loop at 120cd/m brightness, the battery lasts 9 hours 25 minutes. This is an excellent result, matching HP’s own claims.

We also tried using the Envy 15 outside at max brightness to see how it copes in a more natural context. An hour of work took 13 per cent off the battery, suggesting you can expect a solid seven and a half hours of use between charges. Again, it’s a good result considering brightness was maxed-out.

One of the chunkier, more performance-oriented alternatives might only last 3-5 hours under the same conditions, and the Envy 15 significantly outlasts the Envy x360 too. Another side-benefit of using a U-series CPU instead of an HQ one is that the Envy 15 seems to stay cool with fairly little effort. While a fan runs constantly during use, the laptop remains fairly quiet when performing gaming benchmarks.

Its speaker array is passable too. The sound comes from the criss-cross grille on the keyboard surround, and it both louder and fuller-sounding than most other Bang & Olufsen-branded laptop speakers. It’s a shame, though, that HP puts more effort into making the Envy x360 speakers sound that bit better. They deliver better bass.

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Specs

HP Envy 15-as001na: Specs

  • 15.6in (1920 x 1080) 141dpi IPS LCD glossy 2.5 GHz, up to 3.1 GHz Turbo Intel Core i7-6500U, two cores four threads Intel HD 520 GPU 8GB RAM DDR4-2133 128GB SSD 1TB HDD 5400rpm No Ethernet 802.11b/g/n/ac 2x2 Bluetooth 4.2 3 USB 3.0 port 1 USB-C Gen 1 port micro HDMI SDXC card slot stereo Band & Olufsen speakers 0.9MP Webcam single mic 3.5mm headset jack UK tiled keyboard 52Wh lithium-ion battery non-removable 380 x 255 x 17.9 mm 1.93 kg