HP Envy 13 (2021) full review
The HP Envy 13 is the latest laptop to enter the busy ultraportable arena, and it tries to undercut the competition with a tempting price. It has ranked highly in our best laptops chart for a few years so can it maintain that strong record with the 2021 model?
The model we’ve reviewed only costs RRP £899 in the UK and $711 in the US making it very affordable. The Envy’s beefier specifications cost £1,199 and $1,049, though, and so HP’s laptop clearly aims to compete with high-quality ultraportable rivals from Dell and Apple.
Design & Build
- Sleek, tempered design
The Envy 13 doesn’t break the boundaries when it comes to design, but it does look good: it’s made from aluminium and features an unfussy, sleek body. You don’t get fancier features like RGB LEDs, but the HP doesn’t look out of place when lined up alongside the Dell XPS 13 and Apple MacBook Air.
It’s got reasonable connectivity, too. The HP serves up two full-size USB ports that are cleverly hidden behind drop-hinges. There’s a USB-C port that offers power delivery and 10Gbps file transfers, and there’s an audio jack and a microSD card reader. On the inside, there’s dual-band Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.
That’s entirely fine for everyday use, but there are omissions too. There’s no HDMI output, and no Thunderbolt 4 either. In fact, there's not even Thunderbolt 3 as found on the Envy 13 (2020) as the 'SuperSpeed USB-C' port is limited to 10Gbps.
Extra USB-C ports would have been welcome, and the USB ports could be faster, too. There’s no wired internet and while the HP does have a webcam, it doesn’t support Windows Hello for easier log in.
Build quality is acceptable for everyday use, but this is another area where the HP is ordinary. The base flexes, the keyboard deck bends a bit and pushing the rear of the display causes a little desktop distortion. It’s not a disaster, but a sleeve would be prudent if you regularly take the HP out and about.
The Envy 13 is 17mm thick and weighs 1.3kg, which are fairly ordinary figures too – not bad, but easily undercut by competitors.
Indeed, the Envy faces loads of strong rivals. The Dell XPS 13’s 11th-gen models start at just £849 and US$729, and that machine is sturdy, slimmer and lighter than the HP, and it has Thunderbolt ports but no full-size USB.
The newer Dell XPS laptops start at £1,069/US$969 and have the same advantages. The MSI Prestige 14 Evo is slimmer and lighter and it does have Thunderbolt, but its build quality is mediocre.
The latest MacBook Air is always a contender, too: prices start at £999 and US$999 and you get its rock-solid chassis alongside similar dimensions to the Envy.
Keyboard & Trackpad
- Soft, comfortable keyboard
- Large keys and good backlight
- Disappointing trackpad
The keyboard is on the softer side, and that means the buttons are comfortable and quiet – ideal for long typing sessions. They’re impressively large and they’ve got a clear font and a bright, crisp backlight. It’s solid mainstream hardware, but the Dell has a crisper design if a keyboard is high up your priority list.
It’s a good start, but the 13in chassis means there’s no room for a numberpad, and the large buttons means the layout is a bit cramped in places. The power button is installed next to the Delete key, and it’s irritating – you’ll end up pressing it accidentally. The fingerprint reader is slotted next to the cursor keys (two of which are half size), and the Return key is only single-height.
Moving on and the touchpad is mediocre – a little too short and with a plastic surface that’s a little too rough. The built-in buttons are soft. For everyday use it’s fine, but every key rival is better.
Screen & Speakers
- 13.3in IPS touchscreen
- Full HD, 16:9
- Fantastic quality and contrast
The IPS panel on the Envy 13 has a Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is solid for everyday use. It’s a touchscreen, too, which adds versatility. It’s a shame that HP hasn’t gone with a 16:10 or 3:2 aspect ratio to deliver some extra height, especially when this machine will so often run web browsers and office apps.
The HP’s 13.3in panel serves up superb quality. The backlight reaches a maximum level of 422 nits, so it’s easily got the punch for outdoor work and the black point of 0.21 nits is fantastic meaning loads of depth. The resulting contrast ratio of 2,009:1 is a stunning figure for any IPS panel and it lends the HP loads of vibrancy and nuance.
The delta E of 1.26 means colours are accurate and the panel rendered 97% of the sRGB gamut – although it can’t handle the Adobe RGB or DCI-P3 colour spaces. The colour temperature of 6,086K is on the warm side, but it doesn’t cause issues.
This screen is the equal of any rival panel and it’s good enough for colour-sensitive creative tasks. You’ll only get a serious upgrade if you spend more cash.
The speakers are good enough for everyday music use thanks to a rich mid-range and a top-end that doesn’t get tinny, but it doesn’t have much bass.
Specs & Performance
- 11th-gen Intel Core i5 & i7 CPUs
- Up to 16GB RAM and 1TB SSDs
- Nvidia GeForce MX graphics
Unsurprisingly, the HP has a mid-range specification. The key component is the Intel Core i5-1135G7, which is a Tiger Lake CPU with four cores and a peak Turbo pace of 4.2GHz. There’s 8GB of dual-channel memory and a 512GB SSD while an Nvidia GeForce MX450 GPU is a nice surprise considering most rivals runs on integrated graphics.
The HP’s single- and multi-core Geekbench results of 1,37 and 4,486 are fine, and they enable solid everyday performance – there’s enough power here to run Office tasks and loads of browser tabs. It’ll run undemanding creative apps, too. It’s a good thermal performer, with hardly any fan noise and heat present during benchmarks.
There’s little the Core i5 part can’t do in terms of everyday computing, and its PC Mark 10 score is on par with the results delivered by the Core i7 CPUs in the MSI and Dell notebooks. That’s no surprise in those benchmarks, which concentrate on mainstream scenarios.
Any of the Core i7 chips in rival machines will add about 1,000 points to that Geekbench result, though, and that’ll give you the extra grunt required for tougher content-creation tasks. The Apple M1 CPU inside the MacBook Air is even faster.
The Nvidia GeForce MX450 graphics core helped the HP to a score of 13,554 in 3D Mark Night Raid. That’s decent, but it’s only a couple of thousand points beyond Intel’s Iris Xe core. The Nvidia GPU delivers a bit more speed in casual games and a tad more editing grunt, but it’s not a transformative addition.
Battery life, meanwhile, is decent. The Envy 13 lasted for 10 hours and 22 minutes in a work test, and 14 hours and 37 minutes in a video test at 120 nits. Those results are better than the MSI machine and Dell and while you’ll have no problem lasting through a whole day with the Envy, longer battery life is out there if you need it.
Price & Availability
The Core i5 model I’ve reviewed costs £899 in the UK and US$711 in the US (sale price). In the UK, it’s the cheapest HP Envy 13 available. In the US, you can save cash by ditching the touchscreen and halving the storage capacity. That drops the price to just US$599 (sale price). UK buyers don’t get customisation options.
In the UK, the Core i5 and Core i7 machines use the part codes 13-ba1013na and 13-ba1565sa. In the US, they use 13t-ba100 and 13-ba1097nr.
The HP Envy 13 is a decent mainstream laptop, but it struggles to stand out – it’s got a superb screen, but that’s the only area where it truly excels.
Elsewhere, the Envy 13 has decent design, a reasonable keyboard and good battery life alongside solid performance from the Core i5 CPU and Nvidia GPU. Negatively, though, its competitors are slimmer and more robust, and the Envy’s connectivity and trackpad are mediocre.
The HP is ordinary in too many areas, and that means its pricier Core i7 versions are not worth buying when so many rivals are sleeker, stronger and no more expensive. But if the competition is a bit too pricey, the Core i5 model is a reasonable alternative if you’d like a decent ultraportable on a budget.
HP Envy 13 (2021): Specs
- Screen: 13.3in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS
- Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-1135G7
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce MX450
- Memory: 16GB LPDDR4
- Storage: 512GB SSD
- Ports: 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C/power delivery, 1 x audio, 1 x microSD
- Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ax WiFi, Bluetooth 5
- Dimensions: 319 x 219 x 16mm (WxDxH)
- Weight: 1.3kg
- Warranty: 1yr RTB
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