HP dropped out of our top three this year, taking a backseat to Apple, Lenovo and ASUS. It’s not that HP did anything wrong; it’s just not innovating as fast as the competition. Nevertheless, HP outshines most other brands when it comes to design, value and selection and software. The company’s Ultrabooks and Sleekbooks are particularly compelling.
At the beginning of 2012, the Envy 15 and 17 both won Editors’ Choice awards, and for the rest of the past year, the company kept up with consistently above-average notebooks, resulting in a better-than-average score. Highlights included the HP g6t, one of our favorite notebooks for less than $500.
HP turned heads with the sexy Envy Spectre 14, which sported glass on the lid and deck. Subsequent Ultrabooks, including the Envy Spectre XT, played it a little safer, opting for a brushed aluminum chassis and rounded corners. It’s a look that’s
repeated on the Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 and the Pavilion m6t-1000. The soft-touch finish underneath the Envy 4-1030US Ultrabook and the Envy Sleekbook 6z impressed, but the latter notebook’s lid creaked when opened.
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HP’s keyboards are generally comfortable to use. The Pavilion m6t-1000 took top honors for its pleasing keyboard layout and backlighting, but the keys on the Envy x2 proved shallow and uncomfortable. For the most part, we liked the brand’s touchpads and clickpads, thanks to their responsiveness and ease of use. Overall, HP’s positive user experiences earned it a two-point boost over last year, landing it in third place for this category among all brands.
Since last year, HP added a mobile version of its support website, built a YouTube presence and ramped up phone and social support. Model-specific pages provided us with ample information, and live chat and email gave us correct info. However, live chat took a whopping 45 minutes and we didn’t receive a Facebook response until more than a day later. Phone support reps were thorough while answering questions in a timely manner.
HP’s notebook screens ran the gamut from good to great in the past year. We loved the rich color and sharp detail of the Radiance HD+ Infinity screen on the Envy 14 Spectre. The XT TouchSmart’s 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel touch-screen display is simply gorgeous. However, the glossy panel on the Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 proved distracting. The continued inclusion of Beats Audio earned HP some points in this round, providing great bass and good overall sound.
HP maintains a broad selection of notebooks available through HP.com and a wide range of other retailers. On the budget front, you’ll find everything from the new $349 Pavilion Chromebook to the $379 Pavilion g6 with an A6 CPU. HP’s online storefront offers many preconfigured laptops and a fair number of configure-to-order options. Pick a store, any store — and it will offer HP wares such as the Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4 ($649 at Amazon.com) or the business-class HP ProBook 4540s ($519 on Newegg.com). However, some HP laptops lack standout specs for the price, such as the TouchSmart 15t.
With all of HP’s distractions, it’s fair to say that the company took its eye off the innovation ball over the past 12 months. However, there are two notable exceptions. The Envy x2 does an admirable job combining a Windows 8 tablet with an 11-inch ultraportable notebook, and it’s a cinch to undock the slate. While not as ambitious, the Envy 14 Spectre was the first Ultrabook with a glass lid, deck and touchpad.
HP packs in lots of helpful software, earning it a second-place finish here. One of our favorite pieces of HP-branded software is LaunchBox, which stymies the buildup of taskbar clutter. SimplePass 2012 allows you to register your fingerprints for logins to such sites as Facebook, Pinterest and more, and CoolSense helps regulate temperature.
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