HP Envy 6 Sleekbook

The Ultrabook market is growing rapidly. But just as quickly as it grows, it segments. The HP Envy 6 can't consider itself an "Ultrabook" because it's not powered by an Intel processor. Instead its "Sleekbook" moniker goes hand in hand with the AMD CPU at its core.

This 15.6-inch, affordable laptop doesn’t have the kind of weighty processing power beneath its shell to measure up against the more performance-tuned kit out there. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Indeed this HP - the Envy 6-1006ea (B6W52EA) model as reviewed here - is all about a balance of looks and performance against a modest price.

A tie-in with Beats Audio helps to "trendy" the HP’s appeal; and this company has been trying to shake off its "average and functional" label for some time now. Can the HP Envy 6 do just that?

Design

With many low-middle spec laptops very similar, if not the very same, on their insides, it’s more and more down to external appearance that helps to sell a laptop.

Initial impressions of the HP Envy 6 are good: its got a black plastic top with the slightest of textures that almost shimmers in the light; with a cherry-red base and sides that offsets well against the black. The HP logo is emblazoned in a raised, silver-coloured circle on the main lid.

But get up close and personal and it’s more clear that the HP Envy 6 isn’t a pricey machine. Its plasticky finish can be felt; the screen and surrounding bezel has some flex in it when it's raised for use, for example. The plastic top and interior keyboard surrounds also mark easily with fingerprints and smudges - a minor point, but while the Envy looks pristine when it first comes out of the box - indeed, perhaps to the, ahem, envy of your friends - this won’t be something that will last.

But it’s not all about looks. There’s functionality to consider too. The 15.6-inch size lends itself well to a decent keyboard spread with good distance between the keys. Typing is comfortable, though not anything special, and there’s no backlighting to the keys or anything snazzy like that - just what we’d expect for the price point.

Performance

HP hasn’t held back on some up-to-date features, unlike some of its competitors. There are two USB 3.0 ports features to the left side of the machine, backed-up with a single USB 2 port to the right, if you need that extra socket.

The trackpad also supports single and two-finger input for quick scrolling through webpages and the like. Yes, it’s very Apple-esque, and a useful touch, though it’s not as well featured as the fruit-logoed company’s full multiple-gesture system.

The Envy 6’s screen is an LED-backlit design which, while bright and easy to view, offers only a rather pedestrian 1366 x 768 resolution. Again, this is the consequence of its price point, but it’s not low resolution and does cater for the majority of tasks. Some users might want more resolution real estate though, and demanding gamers ought to plump for a pricier system on account not only this, but also of the background graphics and processing support.

The HP Envy 6 that we got to review runs a 2.6GHz AMD Dual-Core A6-4455M APU paired up with 6GB of DDR3 RAM and a Radeon HD 7500G graphics card.

We’ve run Photoshop CS6 and have played a lot of Sim City 4 via Steam. For the most part the Envy is fine enough, which shows that modest power will deal with most peoples’ demands, but that’s not to say there wasn’t the occasional stutter and splutter where video and audio playback was concerned. This isn't the higher-level Intel Core i7 backed up with a beefy graphics card like some of its higher-priced competitors, after all.

Audio

Then there’s that Beats endorsement. It seems like every Tom, Dick and Harry of the music world is getting in on the action of late: Dre, RZA, Fiddy, and so on. HP wants a bit of that "bling pie", and the Envy 6’s red "b" Beats logo on its main dash is that very symbol.

Anyone who's used Beats headphones, particularly the higher-end ones, will know that they’re pretty bloomin’ stonking cans. But the HP Envy 6 obviously isn't a pair of headphones. What, exactly, Beats Audio is in a laptop context - at least beyond a brand label - is a little perplexing. It may tick the marketing boxes, but it’s not just about that: a redesigned headphone jack reduces ground noise, while sound is processed for more powerful, better separated results. Whether it makes that much difference is arguable.

The Envy 6 also has a soundbar that runs across most of the length of the unit, which incorporates two speakers and a subwoofer. We’d take that with a pinch of salt though; a decent subwoofer needs space to pump out the bass and, as a result, the Envy 6 sounds okay, but it’s not going to blow your socks off.

Other Extras

On board the HP Envy 6 you’ll find Windows 7 Home Premium as standard, and while there is a pre-loaded Norton Anti-virus package that more or less "demands" you sign up, the Envy is otherwise not full of "bloatware". And that can only be a good thing.

The 6-1006ea review model has a 500GB, 5400rpm hard disk drive. It might not be a super-fast solid state drive (SSD) but, again, that just doesn’t come with the price territory.

There is scope to upgrade if you really feel like it: there’s room for 8GB of RAM, or a more significant hard disk drive. Those after Blu-ray, DVD or CD-reading capabilities will need to look elsewhere, however, as there is no optical drive - a trend in many modern machines.

Battery life lasts somewhere between the four to six-hour range, depending on what you happen to be doing. More processor-intensive work may cut this down yet further but for on-the-go work there’s plenty of scope here. That is assuming the 2.15kg weight and 15.6-inch size aren’t a bother for those looking to use the Envy 6 on the go.

There's another useful feature too: HP claims that an accidental drop will register with the ProtectSmart accelerometer in order to put the brakes on the hard drive in order to protect data. Not something we dared test, but a great idea.

Verdict

The HP Envy 6 wraps up reasonable capabilities into a decent-looking, if not rather plasticky body. It’s not going to be the very fastest or most able machine, but then what this Sleekbook lacks in higher-end features it makes up for in its price.

We’re fond of the USB 3.0 ports and the comfortable keyboard, but the so-so screen resolution and middling performance don’t necessarily see the HP shake off its "average and functional" badge. Yes, there might be a Beats Audio badge, but the audio abilities - which aren’t anything standout here - can only go so far in pushing a series forward.

If you’re in the market for a 15-inch budget laptop then the HP Envy 6 has got enough grunt behind it to deal with most tasks. It’s not meant to be a high-end model, and that shows. But when money is a major deciding factor the Envy 6 succeeds in filling that near-£600 gap in the market. And by doing so it’s already done its job: there’s enough on offer for the cash, and buyers will know they’re not buying a powerhouse.