HP Envy 13t 2019 review

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OUR VERDICT

The HP Envy 13t is an elegant Ultrabook that offers a blend of premium design and strong performance at a fair price. It has surprisingly few faults for a second-tier laptop.

FOR+

Excellent value
Elegant design
Strong Ultrabook performance
Poppy, tactile keyboard
Marathon battery

AGAINST-

Inconsistent multi-core performance
Hinge design poor for laps
Display could be brighter

HP’s Envy line of laptops is effectively the more affordable alternative to its premium Spectre line of Ultrabooks. 

But, over the years, more and more of the premium features have trickled down into Envy laptops, and the latest Envy 13t keeps that up with plenty to offer at a more affordable price.

Price and availability

The new HP Envy 13t starts at $999 (£849, AU$1,799) but has been frequently on sale in the US for $250 off all models (note: the US base configuration has a non-touch display, while UK and Australia have touchscreens). The unit we’re reviewing starts at $1,189 as configured before any discounts, and includes an 8th-Generation, Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU, 16GB of RAM and Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics.

That puts it well below the $1,499 Spectre 13 with a slower Intel Core i7 and half the memory. Meanwhile, the $978 Dell XPS 13 may fit into the same price ballpark, but the base configuration starts with an Intel Core i3 processor paired with just 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

The $999 (about £785, AU$1,403) Huawei MateBook 13 comes in with close parity between price and specs, while MSI’s newly announced Modern 14 offers 10th-Gen Intel Comet Lake processors, a thin-and-light design and a $749 (about £620, AU$1,110) starting price point.

Design and display

The HP Envy 13t readily fits into the thin-and-light category at just 2.59 pounds and 14.5mm thick. We’ve been tossing the Envy into a backpack that weighs more than it, and it feels light enough on our back that we have to double check it’s even in the backpack before heading out for the day.

The chassis is made from anodized aluminum that is soft to the touch. On the base of the laptop, it’s sturdy with minimal flex, but the screen portion of the laptop is more susceptible to bending and twisting (though less than we experienced with the Acer Swift 5).

One downside to the aluminum is its softness. We managed to get a small ding on the front edge of the laptop which we consistently feel with our thumb when using the clickable trackpad.

Speaking of the trackpad, it’s incredibly wide, offering plenty of space (and Precision drivers to boot) for use. However, it’s vertical dimension feels short when compared to how wide it is. A little way to the side of the trackpad there’s also a small, square fingerprint scanner that we find rarely works on the first try. 

The Envy 13t keyboard is standard for its size, and thankfully doesn’t do anything weird to fit certain keys. There are no shrunken Shift keys or oddly placed arrow keys. It even makes the most of its space to add Home, Pg Up, Pg Dn, and End keys at the far right side.

The keys themselves are a delight to use. They’re all wonderfully poppy with minimal wobble and even travel. Pressing on the very edge of a key works as effectively as pressing on the center, making for a highly accurate typing experience that took almost no time to adjust to coming from another laptop. They are also fully backlit, though the white backlight on silver keys can actually make it harder to see the characters in certain situations.

Each side of the laptop includes a USB Type-A port with an unusual mechanism that partly closes the port when not in use — it’s an interesting solution for making the laptop so thin while still including full-size USB ports, though it can be tricky to plug into. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C port on the left side. 

The power port for the lightweight, 65W power adapter is on the right side. There's also a microSD card slot and a little switch that physically disables the webcam, which sits above the display. The webcam itself is a simple 720p number that can get the job done, but has hazy details even in excellent lighting conditions.

There are four speakers, with two down-firing speakers at the front sides of the laptop and more housed in a long, stylish speaker grille above the keyboard. The speakers are impressively loud and clear. We watched a couple episodes of The Boys out on a balcony with minor street traffic on the road below, and could still hear well enough.

The display uses a special hinge that raises the laptop up on an angle, allowing for better airflow through the bottom vents. HP has cleverly added two small, rubber strips on the back edge of the display so that the aluminum doesn’t get scraped if it’s resting on a metal table.

The downside of this hinge design is that the laptop is uncomfortable to actually use on a lap. We either have to sit it far forward on our knees, or have the back edge focus all the pressure along one line on our legs. It may not be a big issue for people who mostly use their laptop on desks and tables, but it could quickly become a dealbreaker for lap users.

The back of the display also has a discreet but somewhat unsightly strip of plastic near the bottom of it that runs almost the whole length. But, this hopefully improves the performance of the machine, as it’s a pass-through for radio signals like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. What’s strange is that we don’t see this in more designs (it is on the HP Spectre 13, though).

The 13.3-inch display itself is a contender, but shows where the Envy’s affordability results in shortcomings. It has thin bezels on the sides with a slightly thicker bezel up top and a much thicker one at the bottom. It’s not winning any awards for these bezels, especially with the likes of Asus’s ZenBook line.

The HP Envy 13t can come with an Ultra HD display, and we have the Full HD model. It’s plenty sharp for everything we need on a display this size, and doesn’t come with the big hit to battery life that 4K displays are known for. 

The screen can get fairly bright, but it’s somewhat hampered by being glossy. Even though it can get bright enough to use outdoors, the glare (and finger oils — it’s a touchscreen after all) can still make it slightly strenuous. And, HP doesn’t provide an anti-glare display option.

The HP Envy 13t, as we have it configured, is on the beefy side for an Ultrabook. The Intel Core i7-8565U offers strong performance matched with efficiency, and the GeForce MX250 graphics processor gives it a serious boost over similar machines with Intel’s integrated graphics, though itself definitely not enough power for AAA gaming.

In our day-to-day use, the Envy 13t easily keeps up with our demands. Four cores of computing power is plenty for most tasks, and with the headroom to boost clock speeds up to 4.6GHz, it can burst as needed. This keeps the laptop feeling snappy, with programs launching quickly and some simple tasks, like basic photo editing, working fast. 

With thin-and-light computers, thermal management is always something to watch out for. Two computers with the same processor can have fairly different performance because of their design, and we see that here. The Envy 13t earns strong marks for single-core performance, with a GeekBench score of 5,255 that gives it a slight lead over the Dell XPS 13. But, we see regularly see inconsistent multi-core performance in both Geekbench and Cinebench. Our first run through of the benchmarks saw the Envy 13t score significantly lower than the XPS 13 with the same processor.

Curiously, we repeated some of the same tests later just incidentally in front of a fan, and got dramatically improved results. In one GeekBench test, the Envy achieved a multi-core score of 16,103, well above its own score and above the average of the XPS 13, and it also managed to double its CPU score in Cinebench. (We also tried some of the tests over with HP Command Center set to maximize fan speeds for performance and saw no difference). We repeated the benchmarks again later to get a new average for Geekbench multi-core results and Cinebench CPU results, and we’ve noted those scores as “re-tested” in our benchmark notes.

That raises some concerns for thermal management, as the Envy 13t may not manage to keep cool enough to offer sustained boost speeds. But, since the laptop has never felt more than a little warm, it may be a trade-off HP has made for comfort. 

For its lack in consistent multi-core performance, it excels in graphics for an Ultrabook. In our 3DMark and Cinebench graphics tests, the Envy 13t trounces the XPS 13 with integrated graphics. It handily beats the XPS 13’s Sky Diver score, and more than doubles its Fire Strike and Time Spy scores. These outpace Ultrabooks with the same CPU and integrated graphics, but don’t compare to laptops with higher-end dedicated graphics (Vega Graphics on AMD APUs are also a different story).

Battery life

For its performance advantages, the Envy 13t also manages to offer efficiency with a long-lasting battery. It features a four-cell, 53Wh battery and supports fast charging that can go from drained to 50% charge in 45 minutes.

In our experience, the battery holds up well. We’ve sat down to do a bit of work with 30% charge without feeling anxious about how soon it would die.

After two hours of work (Chrome running with over 20 tabs, Slack open, music streaming, and one quick benchmark) with the screen at 50% brightness and modest battery-saver settings, we only lost 23% charge. After 3 hours and 15 minutes, we were down to 66% charge. We then took an hour lunch (3% lost during lunch). After, we moved outdoors and increased the screen brightness to its maximum, where the battery only dropped to 57% after another hour running. After 3 hours of running at max brightness, we’d gone down to 21% charge (a 42% drop). We kept going, and eventually battery-saver mode kicked in and dimmed the screen, but we made it to well over 7 hours of active time with the screen at max brightness for most of it.

Our tests also showed strong results. With a PCMark 8 battery life test result of 5 hours and 39 minutes, the Envy 13t exceeds the XPS 13, HP Spectre x360 and HP Spectre 13 all by more than an hour. 

It’s longevity is even better for video playback. In our test playing a looped 1080p video with the screen at 50% brightness, the Envy 13t managed to chug along for a full 11 hours and 32 minutes before running out of juice. That’s enough time for even some of the longest intercontinental flights, and it could go even longer with the brightness lowered to a level that would likely be reasonable in the dim cabin of an airplane.

Final verdict

The HP Envy 13t puts a lot into one package, going premium in many ways while keeping the price well below some of its competitors. The laptop’s design earns it plenty of credit, and its overall performance leaves little to be desired outside of serious multi-core workloads.

Among its contemporaries, the HP Envy 13t is an excellent-value Ultrabook. But, with Intel Ice Lake and Intel Comet Lake CPUs showing up, the Ultrabook market is likely to get a lot more competitive soon.