HP Envy Rove 20 review

4 out of 5
£799

For

Smart multi-tilt stand, great touch-sensitive interface, bundled Ethernet dongle, quiet in general use, stays very cool

Against

No height adjustment, inconvenient SD slot placement, love-or-hate keyboard and mouse, heavy for a 'portable'

If you haven't upgraded your PC in the last couple of years, then you're probably still wondering what Microsoft was thinking when it came up with the blocky Start screen in Windows 8. The answer: a computer just like the HP Envy Rove 20.

Much like an iMac or the Sony Tap 11 the whole thing is built into the back of its own display. It's got a built-in battery and the large 20-inch display itself is ten-point touch-sensitive, which means it can detect all of your fingers at once if you use it as a (very) oversized Windows 8 tablet. You'll need strong arms or a broad lap to do so, though.

Tipping the scales at 5.4kg it's both bulky and heavy, but it's still a great implementation of the touch-meets-peripheral fusion that Microsoft was chasing when first sketching out Windows 8. And we don't think many will see this as anything other than a desktop PC replacement with some fun quirks that make it useful as a tabletop tablet too.

The concept might not take all, though, but we've been living with the Envy Rove 20 to see whether its large scale delivers just as big things as an all-in-one PC.

Laid back performer

Around the back of the Rove 20 there's a fold-out stand that you'll use when you want to keep it propped on the desk for more traditional office work and gaming. At the end of the day, you can move it into the lounge - HP calls it the "desktop that leaves the desktop behind" - and fold it flat again for some tabletop gaming if you fancy. It's a neat system and very effective, with the simple, elegant stand surprisingly adept as holding the Rove in whichever position you choose.

Unfortunately, though, it doesn't actually lift the Rove up at all, so unless you put it on a platform or pile of books, it sits as low on the desk as a laptop display, which means that if you have it upright - perhaps to minimise reflections from overhead lighting - then you're looking down through the pixel mesh, rather than straight through it. The result, on the unit we were sent for testing, was that we could see very obvious grey streaking towards the bottom of the screen, almost like a ripple in white fabric.

The design of these kinds of devices is similar whichever model you may look at. We've seen giant devices from Lenovo, such as the 27-inch Horizon tabletop machine, and Sony's similar 20-inch Vaio Tap 20.

READ: Sony Vaio Tap 20 review

Peripherals

Separate to the unit are the peripherals, with both a wireless keyboard and mouse included in the box.

Over the course of our tests we initially found the keyboard quite dead and unresponsive, but after several hours of typing it became clear that it is actually very comfortable for extended periods. It's also quite noisy, so you might still want to swap it out if you work in a shared office.

The mouse - also wireless - has a generous arch to sit below your knuckles, but it's otherwise very boxy, with flat edges that look more than a little retro-90s.

The Rove 20 unit itself isn't silent, but it is very quiet, and if you have music playing in the background it's unlikely you'd notice the gentle hum of the fan. It's got a built in battery, so you can carry on working should the power go out, and even transport it from site to site if you need to give presentations. We wouldn't recommend using it as a laptop replacement, though, because it's just way too heavy.

Layout and build quality

The Rove 20's industrial design is good, with an attractive case and a glossy panel in front of the screen. The resolution is less than we'd like, at 1600 x 900 over that large display. With the likes of 4K displays making their way to devices that's below par, really.

There's a webcam immediately above the display and a few discreet logos scattered about, but otherwise the fascia is blemish free and has more than a hint of Apple about it. The Windows logo at the bottom doubles as a button that returns you to the tiled Windows 8 Start screen.

Ports are sparse: there are two USB 3.0 to the left side and a third one to the right, each in the side of the case; the power socket lives to the left; and a hardware volume rocker and headphone jack are on the right.

There's no optical drive, as is typical these days, but there is an easy-to-miss SD card slot. Where is it? Underneath the unit. That's fine when you have the Rove 20 laid back with the stand folded away, but when it's propped up like a conventional display the slot is face down on the desk, so you have to lift up the whole computer every time you want to insert or remove a memory card. Photographers take note.

Under the hood

That's the visual specs, but peel away the casing - not literally of course, unless you want to break it - and you'll find a pretty decent component line-up inside too.

The Rove 20 is built around an Intel 1.7Ghz Core i3 processor, which was launched at the end of last year and optimised for mobile use, so will help you stay running for longer when you disconnect from the mains.

There's 4GB of memory built in, which we would consider the bare minimum. You might want to consider upgrading it over time, and since one of the two memory slots remains vacant you won't need to jettison the bundled chips when bumping it up.

We performed our tests with the Rove 20 in factory configuration and had no problems running online applications like Google Drive and streaming from YouTube. The built-in speakers were good when watching movies, but could have done with a bit of a kick at the bass end, particularly for a device of this scale. Even tweaking the setting using the Beats Audio utility didn't quite deliver the fullness we were after.

There's a 1TB of storage in the form of a conventional 5400rpm hard drive - not SSD - of which you'll lose around 35GB to accommodate the recovery partition. That still leaves more than enough for years of general use, installing and a wide selection of apps and games. Just bear in mind that as is becoming ever more common you'll have to download them all, so if you're upgrading from another PC and most of your apps are on physical media, budget to buy some of them again.

Built-in network connectivity is entirely wireless, but there's a USB Ethernet adaptor in the box if you're working too far from your router for decent coverage. Fortunately we can't see this being too much of an issue. In a well insulated eco home in which wireless propagation is usually very poor when using tablet devices the Rove 20 got a steady full-bars fix on our Wi-Fi and maintained it throughout our tests.

Pre-installed software

Norton Internet Security comes pre-installed, with inducements to sign up for 60 days of full coverage and the browser extension already added to Internet Explorer. You'll also find a link to Amazon added to the IE bookmarks bar, which redirects you there via HP's own servers. Cheeky.

More productive apps include CyberLink tools for working with photos and videos, while a selection of board games - including Chess, Backgammon and Monopoly - and a play-along music game make great use of the screen when it's folded flat. Although whether you'll use them often is for debate - it might be more likely that your smartphone comes out instead. A Microsoft Office trial is also installed, but if you want to use it long-term you'll have to sign up to an ongoing subscription to Office 365.

The most tempting offer of them all, though, may well turn out to be 12 months of free streaming from Universal Music's back catalogue. But if you want to take advantage of that you'll have to be quick - the offer expires at the end of February.

Verdict

The HP Envy Rove 20 is a well-rounded, beautifully put together portable bundle, even if it's not something that people will use much as a true portable.

We don’t like the fact that the display sits directly on the desk, but that’s an issue with all tablet-desktop crossover products, not just the Rove 20. The SD slot placement is also poorly thought out and you might want to upgrade the keyboard and mouse over time, but otherwise this is a pretty smart buy, and fairly priced, to boot.

HP has been smart to position it as a family device that you’ll want to carry around your home rather than use on the move, despite its built-in battery, and certainly if you have kids they’ll relish the finger painting and music apps that put its multi-orientation stand to good use. We’re less keen on the idea of playing screen-based board games when the analogue editions are just as good - maybe better - but your mileage may vary.

As a desktop replacement with Windows 8 there the HP Envy Rove 20 has plenty of promise and it arrives at a fair price point too. Can't say better than that.