Laptops with touchscreens used to be a rarity, but the unsuitability of Windows 8 for any device without one has increased their popularity considerably. We question the short-term gains from Microsoft's strategy, but there's no doubt that manufacturers are rising to the challenge, as their continued existence depends on it. HP's Envy TouchSmart 15-j004ea takes a high-end approach to the touchscreen laptop, but still manages to deliver a reasonable price.
The Envy is more exciting than just another touchscreen portable, however. It also incorporates Intel's brand new Haswell processor generation, which includes design optimisations over Ivy Bridge. In the Envy's case, a Core i7-4770MQ is supplied, which is a 45W quad-core mobile processor running at a nominal 2.4GHz. But all four cores can run at up to 3.2GHz thanks to Turbo Boost, although this entails a shift to 55W power consumption, and a single core can run at up to 3.4GHz. With Hyper-Threading on call as well, the Core i7 presents itself as eight virtual cores, for excellent multi-threaded abilities. HP aims to make the most of this, too, by partnering the processor with a very healthy 16GB of DDR3 SDRAM.
Although Intel's Haswell also includes another quantum leap in integrated graphics performance, the Envy only relies on this when not performing graphics-intensive tasks. The Core i7-4700MQ sports the lesser Intel HD 4600 version, but this still has 20 execution units rather than the 16 available in HD 4000, whilst the 5000 series available in some Haswell processors offers 40 execution units, so really will provide performance on par with entry-level discrete graphics.
For 3D-intensive applications, however, the Envy offers Nvidia's GeForce GT 740M, switching between the two graphics chipsets dynamically using NVIDIA's Optimus technology. The GeForce GT 740M is from NVIDIA's Kepler generation, and sports 384 CUDA cores, which is pretty phenomenal for a notebook that isn't specifically aimed at gaming. The GeForce is supported by 2GB of dedicated DDR3 memory, as well, so should be able to cope well with texture-intensive 3D.
There are no compromises for lower power consumption when it comes to storage. Unless you were hoping for a speedy SSD, however, we have few complaints about the 5,400rpm HGST 5K1000 SATA hard disk, which offers a generous 1TB of capacity. There is no optical disc on board, which is unusual for a laptop this size, but most of the time you are unlikely to miss this.
Although the Envy is more in the desktop replacement camp than any other category, it's not back-breakingly huge, thanks to the use of a 15.6in chassis rather than a 17in one. It weighs a touch over 2.5kg, which means you will notice it in your bag, but it will still definitely be portable. The brushed metal and black plastic exterior is stylish but understated enough for the business user, making this an attractive proposition as an entertainment portable you can use for business, or vice versa.
The Envy is a comfortable notebook to use. The chiclet-style keyboard has a soft action, but is laid out well for touch typing. Backlighting is available, too, if you find yourself typing in the dark. There's enough space for a separate keypad on the right, and the large, all-in-one trackpad is sensibly placed to the left. Although it's not quite directly beneath the spacebar, the touchpad doesn't present any problems with accidental touching by the palm of the hand, and it proves accurate in use. For the serious business user, the Envy also includes a fingerprint reader, so you can use biometrics to keep your data secure.
Despite being a touchscreen, the 15.6in TFT is richly coloured, with sharp detail thanks to its 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. The viewing angles are pretty decent, too. It's a great display for watching video or other entertainment viewing. This experience is further enhanced by the Beats-derived audio, which consists of four main speakers and a subwoofer. The sound produced is nowhere near as tinny as the usual laptop fare, and in fact has plenty of mid-range. As portable audio goes, it's well above average.
The Envy's new Intel Haswell Core i7 certainly showed its capabilities in our performance benchmarks. The result of 6.9 in the Maxon Cinebench R11.5 rendering test is one of the fastest we have seen, in fact it’s the fourth quickest of all the systems we have reviewed and only slightly behind huge desktop replacement models. Our focus on business users means we don't see a lot of notebooks with discrete graphics, but it's also commendable that the Envy was also the fourth fastest we have reviewed in the OpenGL portion of Cinebench R11.5 as well, with a score of 42.34 – which implies that this notebook will be at home with professional 3D applications. The Futuremark 3DMark11 result of 2,048 rounds off the impressive set of performance scores.
One area where the Envy doesn't excel quite so much, however, is battery life. It managed 106 minutes in our 100 per cent processor and graphics test, which is better than most desktop replacements and would imply around five hours of more moderate use. This is decent for such a powerful system, but not a full day's work. At least the six-cell battery is removable, so you could carry a second one if you really do need an extended period away from the power socket.
If you're not looking for an out-and-out portable, the HP Envy TouchSmart 15-j004ea is a compelling proposition. It looks good and is very pleasant to use, but also has lots of power available when you need it, both for 2D and 3D work. It has a vibrant screen and great audio for multimedia presentations, too. Considering that this is a touchscreen system, too, the price of £1,000 is very reasonable.
Overall, this is a capable, stylish and powerful desktop replacement for a decent price, and it doesn’t need an actual desktop to be used comfortably.
Manufacturer and Model
HP Envy TouchSmart 15-j004ea
2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ
16GB DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4600 and NVIDIA GeForce 740M GT
1TB 5,400rpm HGST Travelstar 5K1000
15.6in HD BrightView LED-backlit touchscreen with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4
4 x USB 3.0, HDMI, LAN, headphone/microphone combo, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
379.5 x 250.7 x 29.9mm
1 year collect and return