(Pocket-lint) - Fancier, more expensive Windows laptops tend to get treated to more frequent visual updates than cheaper ones. The top models can't afford to appear to stand still for more than five minutes.
HP's Envy 13 is not one of these laptops, though. It's a step below, a good buy for, well, sensible people who aren't willing to pay twice the price to shave off a couple of hundred grammes and a handful of millimetres of thickness.
The 2019 Envy 13 looks much like the 2018 version. And that was a dead ringer for the 2017 model too. But you know what? This is still a cracking laptop that manages to hold up thanks to upgrades to the CPU and screen.
It's hundreds of pounds cheaper than some alternatives and the only substantial difference is that the HP Envy 13 has a plastic trackpad. It annoys every day, like a wobbly front doorknob. But at £799 we can live with it (its SRP is £1099, but don't buy this laptop for that much).
- 2x USB-A, 1x USB-C, 1x microSD card slot
- Measures: 307 x 212 x 14.7mm
- Weighs: 1.2kgs
The HP Envy 13 hasn't changed much visually this year, but what was there in the first place? This is an all-aluminium laptop. Its bare silver shows off the anodised finish of the metal. Look up close and you'll see the texture isn't as smooth or matte as a MacBook or one of the HP Spectre series laptops. But that comes with the lower price.
No part of the build really disappoints. The screen isn't bendy. The casing doesn't flex much - even if you type like a spurned lover hammering out an angry email at 2:30am. And just like the last Envy 13, there's a real sense that no space is wasted: the keyboard stretches to the edges. And while there's a bit of room above the keys, it's used as a heat grille.
The HP Envy 13 also has a distinctive style. It's less smoothed-out and rounded than most style laptops, with severe edges and sharp lines. But let's get real: this is a neutral-looking laptop. If its style gets you upset, you're thinking about it too much.
You get two full-size USB ports and a microSD slot. Despite testing all the newest tech, we still use full-size SD cards, but we'll take the micro variety over nothing.
The HP Envy 13's dimensions are also immensely practical. It's light enough and fairly slim too. You can get plenty slimmer and lighter, but this is comfortably in the territory of a laptop you can take with your everywhere. It is portable, just not the dressage of the portable laptop world.
- 13.3-inch IPS WLED-backlit screen, 400 nits
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution
HP has made some real improvements to the screen this year, although you wouldn't know that from the HP Envy 13's specs. This is a 13.3-inch IPS LCD with a touch layer, just like the 2018 version. It's 1080p too, so look closer enough and you'll see a little pixellation.
However, just about every other aspect of image quality is great. Colour is unusually vivid and punchy at the price, brightness is at the higher end of the laptop scale, and contrast is excellent. Laptops like the HP Envy 13 that start some way below £1000 often sacrifice colour depth. This one doesn't.
The HP Envy 13 is a typical ultra-consumer laptop, mind. It has a reflection-attracting glass top layer. In the wrong light conditions, at the wrong angle, your Word doc may have to compete with your grimacing mug. But the backlight is at least powerful enough to give the screen image a chance.
There's just one slightly awkward part, and it's nothing new: the Envy 13 has a touchscreen, but a fairly restrictive hinge. You can't move the screen back very far. Try to bend it over into the classic hybrid 'tent' position and you'll end up with two separate laptops bits, neither of which work anymore. However, this hinge design is likely all part of how HP makes the Envy 13 feel sturdy.
Keyboard and trackpad
- Imagepad with multi-touch gesture support
- Full-size island-style backlit keyboard
Classic laptop style bleeds throughout the HP Envy 13. And if you want a laptop rather than aspirational lifestyle fluff, that's perfect.
The keyboard's keys aren't wafer-thin and clicky. There's a decent mount of travel to them - and they have lower-pitch feedback than Apple's contentious keyboard design and its various Windows copycats.
There's a two-level backlight as well, for all the midnight typists. Just keep it out of the cinema, OK?
The Envy 13's trackpad also seems much better behaved than last year's. HP's last version had a tendency to register finger contact as a tap, and you had to modulate how you used the thing to compensate. All that is fixed now. This trackpad behaves as any self-respecting trackpad should.
There is, again, one issue: the trackpad is plastic rather than glass, which is the one obvious downgrade of this 2019 version compared to those of 2017 and 2018. Plastic is less smooth to swipe across, and tackier, but the Acer Swift 5 and Huawei Matebook have plastic pads too.
This laptop loses out to, well, itself. But not its direct rivals.
- 8th Generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor
- 8GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB SSD storage
- Nvidia GeForce MX250 (2GB RAM)
You're likely to buy the HP Envy 13 in one of two specs, both of which feature an Intel Core i7 CPU, ours featuring 8GB RAM and a 500GB SSD. You have more scope to install apps, and run a bunch of them at the same time. If you're that desperate for the extra power, you may be better off with a heavier, fatter laptop.
We'd trust the HP Envy 13 with almost any normal productivity job. Windows 10 feels great and there's enough power for tougher tasks like editing large photo files or video.
There are two caveats. The HP Envy 13 is not the fastest to boot from sleep and it doesn't take too much for the cooling fans to start whirring. They aren't unusually noisy, but you need to downgrade to a Y-series or Qualcomm CPU laptop to get one that doesn't make such noise.
The HP Envy 13 is better than most at gaming, because it has an Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics card as well as the CPU's own graphics chip. This next-gen card is barely any quicker than last year's MX150, amounting to perhaps a frame or two per second difference. One for the real tech nerds out there: the Envy 13 also has the low-power version of the MX250, not the full fat one you'll find in bigger laptops.
Even so, the Envy 13 is far better for gaming than many much more expensive thin laptops. It'll provide around double the frame rate of an integrated graphics chipset. This means you can play quite a lot of recent high-end games at their lowest settings, although you may also have to decrease the resolution to 720p to make them bearable. Or you can embrace the past and clean up one older console-style games often available for a few quid on Steam, GOG or the Epic Games Store.
Battery life and speakers
- 52.6Wh battery
- Bang & Olufsen speakers
Lasting a good while off a charge is a much more important feature in this class, which the HP Envy 13 handles well. Using it for writing and the occasional bit of browsing, or streaming video, you can expect it to last up to 10 hours. We saw it reach that when playing a video stored on the SSD on loop, with the battery saver mode switched on. It's certainly not the longest-lasting laptop around. But you can't really ask for much more than that from a keenly priced one with a full Intel CPU.
The Envy 13 also has surprisingly good speakers. They're branded with the name of hi-fi master Bang & Olufsen, but this is no guarantee a laptop will sound good. This one does, fortunately, with fairly full bass, and sound that seems to sprout effortlessly out of the laptop's own dimensions.
There's just one little issue. The solid sound quality is partly down to clever dynamic compression, where at higher volumes the overall sound level may seem to dip in busy parts. It's what you get when trying to maximise the output of tiny drivers. This is far from unusual, but it's less obvious in, say, a MacBook.
Although there's little real-world performance difference between this 2019 model and last year's edition, it's still a really great laptop. The screen is much better, while the trackpad behaves itself this time around too.
Most important of all, though, the HP Envy 13 is still a beacon of fiscal reasonableness in a sea of metal laptops that start at over £1000 (this one is meant to, by SRP, but it's available for much less).
Huawei Matebook 13
Huawei's much newer to laptops than HP, which is perhaps why you'll often find the Matebook 13 for less online. It's out to prove a point. It also has a sharper screen and a much more Apple MacBook-like design, if that's what you really want. The HP Envy 13 is much better for gaming, though, and we prefer its typing experience.
Acer Swift 5
We've only seen the 2018 version, but it mines the same vein of high-end touches at a reasonable price. It doesn't come with a dedicated graphics card, though, so the HP is still the obvious choice for gaming fans.