HP Envy 14 2021 Review: Great Laptop, But Tread Lightly

hp envy 14 2021 review

“The HP Envy 14 lacks a brilliant display, but makes up for it with impressive performance.”

  • Excellent productivity performance
  • Solid build quality
  • Conservative good looks
  • Good entry-level gaming
  • Superior keyboard and touchpad
  • Display is subpar for the intended creative market
  • A little thick and heavy for the class
  • Media battery life is mediocre

HP’s Envy laptops have morphed from midrange offerings into what the company intends as the most attractive machines for creative types. The Envy 15, for example, is a powerful laptop with a color-accurate OLED display that competes well against other 15-inch laptops in terms of performance and, particularly, price. Now, HP has reintroduced its HP Envy 14 form factor with a new machine that leverages Intel’s 11th-gen Tiger Lake CPUs and discrete Nvidia graphics — all in a chassis that’s a bit smaller than its larger sibling.

I reviewed an $1,150 Envy 14 configuration with the Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), a 14-inch WUXGA (1,920 x 1,200) IPS display in a more productivity-friendly 16:10 aspect ratio, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q GPU.

That’s a premium price for the configuration, proving that the Envy 14 is intended to compete with the very best laptops you can buy. But does it offer the performance and display quality that creative users crave?

Design

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Envy 14 is constructed of stamped aluminum, which is one difference from the CNC-machined Spectre line. The latter is a bit more robust in its build quality, with the Envy 14 demonstrating just a touch of bending in the lid and flexing in the keyboard deck. It’s a solid build, just not up there with the likes of the HP Spectre x360 14 or other premium laptops like the Dell XPS 13.

The MSI Prestige 14 Evo is another 14-inch clamshell laptop that feels about the same as the Envy 14 — solid but not quite top-notch. Note that the Prestige 14 Evo is also a couple of hundred dollars less than the HP with a Core i7 and 1TB SSD. Finally, I’ll mention the Porsche Design Acer Book RS, which mixes carbon fiber and metal for a more solid feel.

Aesthetically, HP was going for a minimalist design with the Envy 14, and it succeeded. Unlike the gem-cut and multicolored Spectre x360 14, the Envy 14 is a matte silver color with an uncluttered appearance and simple lines. It’s attractive enough but doesn’t stand out. The MSI Prestige 14 Evo is also more aggressive in its styling and coloring, but I find the Envy 14 strikes a nice balance.

It’s a lot like Lenovo’s Yoga 9i in this respect — a design that’s not meant to draw attention to itself but won’t embarrass you no matter the environment. If you want a 14-inch clamshell to show off, the Porsche Design Acer Book RS has by far the most aggressive styling.

The Envy 14 is a bit stouter than much of its 14-inch competition. Its chassis is reasonably sized thanks to an 88% screen-to-body ratio and small bezels all around except for the chin, which is only slightly larger than the current trend. But it’s a bit thicker at 0.71 inches and heavier at 3.3 pounds. The Prestige 14 Evo, for example, is 0.63 inches thick and weighs 2.85 pounds, while the Acer Swift 5 is 0.59 inches and 2.31 pounds.

Those laptops don’t have the option for discrete graphics, however, and can give up internal space for keeping things cool. The Envy 14 also looks a bit thicker thanks to a rear leg that props up the keyboard and adds additional space underneath for better airflow.

Connectivity is a real strength, with a USB-A 3.1 port, full-size HDMI 2.0 port, USB4 Type-C port with Thunderbolt 4 support, and a 3.5mm audio jack along the left-hand side, and another USB-A 3.1 port and a microSD card reader on the right-hand side. Wireless connectivity is handled by Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.

Performance

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Unlike the larger Envy 15 that sports a 45-watt Intel CPU, the Envy 14 features an Intel 11th-generation Tiger Lack Core i5-1135G7 processor. We’ve found that to be a quick option in the U-series, nearly as fast in many cases as Intel’s Core i7 that’s clocked just a bit faster.

The Envy 14 lives up to the CPU’s promise. As you can see in the table below, it doesn’t excel in Geekbench 5, but it’s more competitive in our other tests. HP offers its Command Center software that lets you tune the CPU for fan noise and heat versus full-on performance, but it doesn’t make as much of a difference in the Envy 14 as it does in the Envy 15 and Spectre x360 14, as two examples. The Spectre x360 14, in particular, makes good use of the utility — it’s quite fast in Performance mode while very quiet and much slower in Balanced mode. All of the Envy 14 results listed here are with the utility set at Balanced.

Across the board, the Envy 14 performs admirably, even against the Core i7 competition. In our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB file to H.265, the Envy 14 was in line with all but the Prestige 14 Evo and the Ryzen 7 5800U-based Asus ZenBook 13 that blew away its Intel competition. In performance mode, the Envy 14 was in third place among this group.

In Cinebench R23, the results were similar, with the Prestige 14 Evo and the Zenbook 13 leading the pack. Note that the Envy 14 scored an even more competitive 6073 in the Cinebench multi-core test in performance mode. In the PCMark 10 Complete test, the Envy 14 came in second place in the overall score. It also did well in the Productivity and Content Creation portions of the test while falling behind in the Essentials portion.

Overall, the Envy 14 was a solid performer in our benchmarks, and it felt that way while I was using it during the review. It’s a speedy machine for all the productivity tasks you’ll want to throw at it, and it does as well in creative applications as any other Tiger Lake laptop. It can’t keep up with AMD’s Ryzen CPUs in processor-intensive tasks, but that’s where the discrete GPU comes into play.

If you’re using an application that can take advantage of the GPU, then the GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q — a rarity in the 14-inch class — makes a real difference. HP configured the GPU with Nvidia’s Studio platform drivers, which provide better performance and reliability in certain popular creative applications.

For example, I ran the PugetBench benchmark that runs through a series of intensive tasks in Premiere Pro — an application that makes efficient use of a GPU. The Envy 14 did quite well for a U-series machine, scoring 432 to embarrass the ZenBook 13’s 180 and the MacBook Air M1’s 320. It couldn’t keep up with laptops powered by Intel’s 45-watt CPUs and faster GPUs, but it did well based on its components. In fact, it beat out the HP Spectre x360 15 that scored 339 with its Core i7-10750H and GTX 1650 Ti.

Geekbench 5
(single/multi)
Handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single/multi)
PCMark 103DMark Time Spy
HP Envy 14 (Core i5-1135G7)1398/47411901343/502851783147
MSI Prestige 14 Evo (Core i7-1185G7)1593/59041621479/668048661465
Porsche Design Acer Base RS
(Core i5-1135G7)
1415/53641811380/497346821504
Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-1165G7)1540/54322011449/4267N/A1589
Asus ZenBook 13 UM325UA
(Ryzen 7 5800U)
1423/67581241171/782460341342
Acer Swift 5 2020 (Core i7-1165G7)1580/5836190N/AN/A1686

The Envy 14 is also a decent entry-level gaming laptop for anyone who wants a little break from work. It led the pack in the 3DMark Time Spy test, doubling up the Intel Iris Xe-based competition. It also performed decently in Fortnite, hitting 49 frames per second (fps) at 1080p and high graphics (57 fps in Performance mode), where the rest of the Tiger Lake class runs around 30 fps.

With epic graphics enabled, the Envy 14 hit 39 fps (40 fps in Performance mode), still quite playable and much faster than the Tiger Lake average of around 22 fps. You won’t run modern titles with graphical details turned up, but tune things down a little, and most titles will be playable.

Display

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Creative professionals want displays with wide color gamuts and accurate colors to go along with a high brightness level and excellent contrast. Does the Envy 14’s productivity-friendly 16:10 display stack up as well as its design and performance?

In a word, no. It’s a bright display at 371 nits, well above our 300-nit threshold. But it covers just 70% of AdobeRGB and 94% of sRGB, slightly below average for premium and near-premium laptops and well below average for displays intended for creative types. None of the 14-inch laptops I’ve discussed in this review are much better — the MSI Prestige 14 Evo and Porsche Design Acer Base RS both came in at 73% of AdobeRGB and 97% of sRGB, for example, so just slightly higher.

The Envy 14’s color accuracy was good at 1.28 (1.0 or less is considered excellent). The Prestige 14 Evo hit 1.3 and the Porsche Design Acer Base RS was at 1.15. These better than average results and closer to the professional level.

The contrast was another weak spot for the Envy 14, which achieved a ratio of just 880:1. We like to see premium displays at 1000:1 or higher, which the MSI and the Acer both nearly achieved at 970:1 and 940:1, respectively.

In truth, the Envy 14’s display would be barely acceptable as a premium productivity display. It certainly doesn’t live up to the standards desired by creators, unlike the OLED display on the Envy 15 that managed 97% of Adobe RGB, 100% of sRGB, a 404,410:1 contrast ratio (to be fair, that’s typical for OLED displays and no IPS panel will ever come close), and a DeltaE of 0.73.

If the Envy 14 has a weakness regarding its target market, this display would be it. And it’s an important one — anybody wanting to buy this laptop for photo or video editing should keep these results in mind.

Keyboard and touchpad

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Envy 14 inherited a similar keyboard to the one found in HP’s Spectre line — and that’s a good thing. There’s plenty of spacing between the square keys and the switches are light and precise, with a comfortable bottoming action. The lettering is attractive and legible in good lighting, and the two-level backlighting is effective and consistent. This is one of the better keyboards around, rivaling Dell’s XPS 13 and only slightly falling behind Apple’s latest Magic Keyboard on its MacBook line.

The touchpad is also excellent, benefitting from the larger keyboard deck thanks to the taller 16:10 display. The touchpad is a Microsoft Precision version, of course, and so it’s responsive and precise. The buttons click solidly but without too much noise, which is a plus. There’s also an equally responsive touch display, and I appreciated it during my testing.

A fingerprint reader provides windows 10 Hello support on the keyboard and replaces the right control button. I’m not a fan of that placement, having run into at least one application with a hard-coded use for the right control button, but the fingerprint reader was accurate and fast in my testing.

Additional security and privacy are provided by a function key that controls a physical shutter for the webcam and a dedicated button to turn off the microphone. These are small touches that are appreciated for those times when you don’t want your webcam showing off your messy office — or worse, being hacked and used to spy on you.

Battery life

HP Envy 14 2021
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Envy 14 packs a 63 watt-hour battery, which frankly is smaller than I expected. The Spectre x360 14, a much smaller laptop, managed to fit in 67 watt-hours. Even so, I was expecting better longevity out of the Envy 14 thanks to its lower-resolution 1,920 x 1,200 IPS display compared to the Spectre’s 3,000 x 2,000 OLED panel.

As it turns out, my expectations were met. The Envy 14 achieved just over 12.5 hours on our web browsing test that loops through a series of popular websites. That’s a strong score that beats out all the 14-inch competition I’ve mentioned by several hours and is in the upper echelon of all the laptops we’ve tested.

The Envy 14 wasn’t quite as strong in our video test that plays a Full HD Avengers trailer until the battery runs out. Here, the HP managed 14.5 hours, a good score but one that’s beat out by the MSI Prestige 14 Evo and the Porsche Design Acer Base RS. Usually, we see a larger difference between the web and video tests, with the latter typically being quite a bit longer.

Finally, I ran the PCMark 10 Gaming battery test that stresses the CPU and GPU, and the Envy 14 manages just under 1.5 hours. That’s at the low end of all the machines we’ve tested, demonstrating that the Envy 14 is a real battery hog when it’s under load. Unfortunately, the Envy 14 couldn’t complete the PCMark 10 Applications battery test, which is the best indication of real-world productivity.

Overall, I’d rate the Envy 14’s battery life as good for productivity work and not as good for media consumption. And certainly, if you’re going to be pushing the CPU and GPU, then you’ll want to carry your charger with you.

Our take

The Envy 14 is a well-built, good-looking 14-inch laptop with a fast Core i5 and a discrete GPU that’s unusual for a nongaming laptop of this size. That makes it a strong performer and, in that sense, a good option for the creative types that HP is aiming to please. Unfortunately, its display is a bit subpar — it’s good enough for productivity users but not so much for creativity.

That makes the Envy 14 an interesting laptop to rate. It’s a solid offering for general users, with good performance and productivity battery life, a solid build, and an excellent keyboard and touchpad. It may not meet the needs of the creative types that HP is aiming at, but it’s a very good laptop for everyone else.

Are there any alternatives?

The MSI Prestige 14 Evo is a solid alternative to the Envy 14. It’s faster at CPU-intensive tasks, has a better display, and good battery life. It’s also quite a bit less expensive, but of course, you don’t get the fast GPU.

If a 2-in-1 is more your style, then you’ll want to consider the HP Spectre x360 14. It’s faster when in performance mode, it’s built and looks better, and its OLED display meets the needs of photo and video editors in a way that the Envy 14 can’t.

As usual, I’ll also offer up the Dell XPS 13 as an alternative. It’s smaller, sure, with its 13.4-inch 16:10 display, but that display is slightly better, and the Dell has a much better build quality.

How long will it last?

The Envy 14 is built well enough to last for years of productive service. The components are up to date and should keep up with the typical user’s demands for quite some time. The one-year warranty is disappointing but the industry standard.

Should you buy it?

Yes, but not for photo or video editing if tons of accurate colors are required. The Envy 14 is a great productivity machine and should be judged as one rather than the creative powerhouse that HP positions it as.

Editors’ Recommendations






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