HP Envy 13 review: A slim, light, and inexpensive workhorse with discrete graphics

The budget-priced HP Envy 13 boasts a trim profile, solid everyday performance, and a dedicated Nvidia graphic card.

Credit: Ben Patterson/IDG

There’s a lot to like about the HP Envy 13, starting with its super-slim design, its bright 4K display, its comfy keypad and impressive quad-core performance. The Envy 13 also manages to pack in a discrete GPU and respectable battery life, all for a very reasonable price tag. That said, we did encounter some issues with the laptop's overly sensitive trackpad (which HP says it's investigating), resulting in a jittery cursor that regularly jumped around the screen and even highlighted and deleted our words by accident.

Configuration

For as little as $750 with discounts, you can snap up an HP Envy 13 with a 13-inch full-HD display, an 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8565U processor, 8GB of RAM, and an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 core. On the other end of the spectrum is a 13-inch HP Envy with a 4K display, a 1TB SSD, a 10th-gen Intel Core i7-10510U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics card, all for a discounted $1,350 sticker price.

We tested the HP Envy 13-aq0044nr ($1,100 on Amazon), which cherry-picks features from both the higher- and lower-end configurations of the laptop.

  • CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i7-8565U
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • GPU: Discrete Nvidia GeForce MX250
  • Display: 13-inch UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS BrightView touchscreen
  • Storage: 512GB SSD

Overall, that’s an impressive amount of power under the hood for a fairly reasonable price. The 8th-gen Core i7 processor might look like a disappointing downgrade to those thirsting for a 10th-gen Intel CPU, but from what we’ve seen, there’s not much of a performance gap between the 8th-gen Whiskey Lake processor in this configuration and the 10th-gen Comet Lake chip in the pricier Envy 13 models. Both of these quad-core CPUs are built on Intel's 14nm process, for one thing. While the Comet Lake processor has a slightly higher boost clock, you’re probably not going to feel the difference in typical daily desktop duties.

Besides the solid CPU, you’re also getting a generous 16GB of RAM and a roomy 512GB SSD, meaning you’ll enjoy plenty of multitasking headroom, plus enough storage to install plenty of programs and even a decent amount of media. The 4K touchscreen should deliver razor-sharp visuals (although you’ll pay a price in the battery-life department), and then there’s the cherry on top: discrete graphics in the form of an entry-level Nvidia mobile graphics card, handy for working in Adobe Premiere or even playing a little Fortnite

Design

Sleek, slim and silver (or “pale gold,” if you cough up an extra $10 on HP’s online configurator), the HP Envy 13 cuts an enviably trim profile. Measuring 12.1 x 8.3 x 0.58 inches and weighing in at just 2.8 pounds (or 3.42 pounds with the AC cord, which comes with a compact power brick), the Envy 13 feels great to hold in your hands, and it’s barely there in your backpack. I should know, because the Envy 13 served as my laptop at CES in Vegas this year. My back is eternally grateful for the Envy 13’s light, wafer-thin shell.

The top of the HP Envy 13’s aluminum lid is featureless save for the HP logo stamped in the middle. When you close the lid, the front lip has an hourglass edge that makes the laptop easier to open, while the L-shaped back edge of the lid covers the hinge, making the rear of the Envy 13 look like the spine of a book. When opened, the hinge props up the Envy 13’s lower chassis, angling the keyboard while also allowing for a cooling airflow beneath the laptop.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr hinge Ben Patterson/IDG

The hinge on the HP Envy 13 props up the keyboard while helping to maintain airflow beneath the chassis.

Opening the Envy 13’s lid reveals (in the case of this particular SKU) the eye-popping 4K display, which is surrounded by slim bezels on the top and sides but a rather chunkier one on the bottom. Above the keyboard sits a speaker grille with an attractive diamond-cut design. The power button takes residence just above the Escape key, which should help prevent the accidental presses users sometimes experience with side-mounted versions.

Display

Protected by a Corning Gorilla Glass NBT coating, the HP Envy 13’s 4K touchscreen checks most of our boxes. With its IPS (in-plane switching) display technology, the Envy 13’s screen boasts solid viewing angles, dimming only slightly when viewed from the side or top.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr display Ben Patterson/IDG

The bright 4K display on the HP Envy 13 features thin top and side bezels, although the bottom bezel is a tad chunky.

The display is also impressively bright, measuring about 395 nits (or candelas) according to our light meter, which is well over our 250-nit minimum standard for comfortable indoor reading.

Of course, the brightness and 4K resolution of the Envy 13’s display will put a dent in the laptop’s battery life, as we’ll see momentarily.

Keyboard, trackpad, speakers, and extras

The HP Envy 13’s backlit keyboard is among the comfiest that I’ve tried, with a generous amount of travel (the distance a key sinks into the when it’s struck), a crisp mid-stroke bump, and a springy rebound. The Envy 13’s keys are also remarkably quiet, which your coworkers will likely appreciate.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr keyboard Ben Patterson/IDG

We're fans of the HP Envy 13's comfortable keyboard. The niggly trackpad? Not so much.

I did, however, have trouble with the Envy 13’s overly sensitive trackpad, particularly around the bottom corners. With my right palm regularly grazing the trackpad as I typed (given that the trackpad is centered on the main chassis rather than the space bar), the mouse pointer frequently jumped across the screen, occasionally bringing the cursor with it if I happened to nudge the trackpad at the wrong moment. That meant the trackpad sometimes selected and deleted random swaths of text, or moved the cursor from one line to another while I was still typing. The problems persisted even after I fiddled with the laptop's trackpad sensitivity settings.

We reported our issues with the Envy 13's trackpad to HP, and the company was able to replicate the problem. We're told that HP is continuing to investigate whether the trackpad bugginess we encountered was an isolated incident or more widespread, and we'll update this review once we hear back. It's also possible that a firmware update could fix any nagging trackpad issues.

Back on the plus side, I was impressed with the HP Envy 13’s Bang & Olufsen-designed laptop speakers. A sizeable cut above the tinny speakers you usually hear on laptops, the Envy 13’s top-firing drivers deliver solid mid-range sound, with a fair amount of high-end detail and even a little bass. Mind you, the Envy 13’s speakers can’t hold a candle to a decent pair of headphones or external speakers, but we’ve heard worse—much worse.

The HP Envy 13 also boasts a Windows Hello-enabled fingerprint reader near the bottom-right corner of the keyboard, handy for signing into Windows with a swipe of your finger. A switch on the right edge of the laptop electrically disables the webcam (although there's no physical shutter).

Ports

Given the HP Envy 13’s slim and trim profile, the laptop’s limited selection of ports shouldn’t come as a big surprise. On the left side of the Envy 13, you get a drop-jaw USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, and a combo audio jack.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr left side Ben Patterson/IDG

Left-side ports on the HP Envy 13 including a combo audio jack, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port.

On the right side, there’s a second drop-jaw USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, a microSD media card reader, and a barrel-shaped AC port, along with the aforementioned webcam kill switch.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr right side Ben Patterson/IDG

The right side of the HP Envy 13 features a barrel-shaped power port, a second USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, a microSD slot, and a webcam kill switch.

There are no Thunderbolt 3 ports, although that’s not much of a shock given the Envy 13’s $1,000-ish price range.

Performance

While the HP Envy 13 doesn’t break any speed records, it does a nice job of balancing performance with portability, serving up solid benchmark numbers considering its impressively slim and light chassis. If you want substantially faster performance from a less-than-three-pound laptop that’s as svelte as this one, expect to pony up twice as much for an Ice Lake-powered model. That said, the biggest compromise we’re seeing in this particular Envy 13 configuration comes in the battery life department, with the bright 4K display being the likely culprit.

PCMark 8 Work 2.0 Conventional

Our first test measures how well a given laptop performs day-to-day computing tasks, with PCMark 8 designed to simulate such daily duties as spreadsheet work, online shopping, word processing and video chat. A score of 2,000 or more usually points to silky-smooth Office performance.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr pcmark 8 Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Envy 13's PCMark 8 score is near the bottom of the pack, but any result over 3,000 (which the Envy handily achieves) works just fine for us.

While the HP Envy 13’s PCMark 8 score is second to last in our chart (we’ve compared the Envy 13 to a range of similarly priced two- and four-core Intel Core-powered laptops, along with a Dell running on a six-core Ice Lake chip), the laptop still has no trouble dusting our 2,000 low-water mark for the PCMark 8 benchmark. Indeed, if you take a laptop that scored about 3,000 in PCMark 8 (such as the Dell Inspiron 15 at the bottom of our chart) and another that snagged a 3,500 result (like our chart-topping Lenovo IdeaPad S340), you’d be hard-pressed to notice any difference in terms of general computing performance.

It’s also worth noting that the Ice Lake-packing Dell XPS 13’s PCMark 8 score sits almost smack-dab in the middle of our chart, which goes to show that paying extra for Intel’s hottest new CPU won’t pay much in the way of dividends when it comes to web browsing or Office.

HandBrake

A considerably more demanding test than PCMark 8, our next benchmark involves converting a 40GB MKV video file into a format suitable for Android tablets using the free HandBrake utility. Unlike PCMark 8, our HandBrake benchmark is a multi-core, CPU-intensive test that sends internal laptop temperatures soaring. Because it also takes up to an hour or more to perform, it gives us a good idea of how a given laptop handles heat management over a long period of time.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr handbrake Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Envy 13's HandBrake score is pretty impressive given its thin-and-light chassis.

Looking at our results, the HP Envy 13 turns in a pretty solid showing considering its thin, light, and thus difficult-to-cool design. It sits in a tight bunch with similar (and generally thicker and heavier) quad-core, 8th-gen laptops. Meanwhile, the Dell XPS 13 and its six-core Ice Lake CPU (here’s where that pricey new Ice Lake chip starts to pay off) sits comfortably in first place, while the dual-core Acer Aspire 5 lags way behind the rest.

Cinebench

Like our HandBrake benchmark, Cinebench is a processor-intensive test that dependably spins up cooling fans. But while HandBrake takes about an hour or so to complete, Cinebench (which involves rendering a 3D image in real time) is generally over within minutes, a scenario that shows us how a laptop handles brief but crushing CPU loads.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr cinebench Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Envy 13's Cinebench score gets a small boost thanks to its Intel Core i7 processor.

Again, the quad-core HP Envy 13 does well. The extra boost clock in its Core i7 CPU gives it a slight leg up versus its quad-core Core i5-packing competitors. In fact, the Envy 13 trails only the Dell XPS 13 and its Ice Lake processor, which manages to crush the rest of the field, while the dual-core Acer Aspire 5 (again) brings up the rear. For such a thin, light, and reasonably priced laptop, the Envy 13’s single- and multi-threaded Cinebench scores are nothing to sneeze at.

3D Mark SkyDiver 1.0

With its discrete graphics card, the HP Envy 13 is a thin-and-light laptop that’s actually got some modest game, although “modest” is the key word. While the Envy 13’s Nvidia GeForce MX250 graphics card is a vast improvement over Intel’s integrated UHD Graphics 620 core, we’re still only talking entry-level discrete graphics here. In other words, don’t expect to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare at 60 fps on Ultra settings.

hp envy 13 aq0044nr 3dmark Ben Patterson/IDG

With its discrete Nvidia graphics card, the HP Envy 13 whips  its integrated-graphics competitors in our 3DMark Sky Diver benchmark.

Still, taking a quick look at our performance chart, you can see what a difference a discrete graphics card can make. Even with its new, super-charged integrated Iris Plus graphics, the pricey Dell XPS 13 can’t touch the graphics performance of the Envy 13 and the (barely) chart-topping Dell Inspiron 15 7000, each of which boast discrete GeForce MX250 graphics cards. The Inspiron probably gets its (slight) edge over the HP Envy 13 thanks to its larger, easier-to-cool chassis. Far below the Dell Inspiron and HP Envy are all the laptops saddled with integrated graphics, including the new Dell XPS 13 with its 10th-gen Iris Plus integrated graphics core.

While the GeForce MX250 is primarily intended for pro-video users working with (for example) Adobe Premiere, it can play some games provided you keep your expectations in check. Firing up Fortnite, the Envy 13 managed to squeeze out 50- to 60-fps visuals at medium settings for about five minutes or so. That figure fell to a still-playable 30 fps once the Envy’s fans began spinning up.

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Ben Patterson

PC World (US online)
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