HP Envy 17 Leap Motion SE Notebook: Australian Review

What happens when you take a desktop replacement laptop and add in Leap Motion's fingertip-tracking, movement-control system? You get the special edition HP Envy 17. You can control this laptop without even touching it. But is an otherwise pretty basic consumer notebook worth $2499?

Gizmodo has already taken a look at Leap Motion's wireless Controller, and although it was an impressive technical feat, it was missing that killer feature; there's no reason that you just have to go out and buy one right now. So why has HP put one in the Envy 17?

What Is It?

The $2499 Envy 17 is part of a larger partnership betwen HP and Leap Motion. It's the first PC to have a Leap Motion controller built-in, and HP was so happy with it that it added the tech to 11 more desktop PCs on sale in Australia. The Envy 17's Leap Motion controller is integrated into the body of the notebook, sitting on the top edge of the palmrest — under your right hand when you're typing or using the Envy 17's number pad.

HP's full-size Envy notebook looks like a garden-variety laptop sitting on the edge of business-professional and consumer-funky; its silver and black plastic paintjob means it'd be equally at home in your study nook or in your office cubicle. In terms of vital specs, the Envy 17 that I tested tipped the scales at 3.5kg, measuring 416 x 275 x 33mm — not a particularly small 17-inch notebook, but not nearly as big as the MSI GT70 Dominator Pro.

There is a lot of flex in the keyboard of the Envy 17. Type away quickly with any significant amount of force — and I fully admit that I'm a heavy typist — and you'll find that the HP keyboard wobbles, centred around the G and H keys. It's not a huge problem — it doesn't affect your typing — but it doesn't look great, and it makes the Envy 17 feel cheaper than you want it to.

The HP Envy 17 I tested used an Intel Core i7-4702MQ CPU, 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM, 2x 1TB 5400RPM hard drives (not in RAID, though), and a touchscreen 17.3-inch 1920x1080 pixel Full HD display. These specs mean that the Envy 17 is pretty powerful for a notebook, but not excessively so; its dedicated graphics card is only a 4GB Nvidia GeForce GT 750M, for example. It's a worthy desktop replacement PC if you're not intending to do any especially strenuous graphics or hard-drive-intensive work (video editing, for example).

What Is It Good At?

The Envy 17 is a relatively powerful laptop. I clocked a score of 3295 in PCMark 8, and each hard drive benchmarked a modest 126MBps read and 118MBps write sequential result in CrystalDiskMark. Cinebench recorded a multi 64-bit score of 615, and OpenGL frame rate result of 50fps. These results mean that the Envy 17 is more than capable of handling a regular daily workload or any home use that isn't gaming.

HP Envy 17 Leap Motion SE: Performance

Overall: PCMark 8: 3295 CPU: Cinebench: 615 Cinebench (OpenGL): 50FPS Graphics: 3D Mark Fire Strike: 3480 3D Mark Fire Strike Extreme: 1060 Gaming: Tomb Raider: 21fps Metro: Last Light: 17fps Battlefield 4: 45fps Crysis 3: 12fps Storage: CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Read): 126MBps CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Write): 118Mbps Battery: Gizmodo Torture Test: 3hr 24min Gizmodo Torture Test Extreme: 2hr 18min

The Cinebench and PCMark 8 results are representative of strong everyday performance, and although the GPU isn't able to maintain playable frame rates in the test gameplay, it should be more capable at either reduced resolution or with lower texture and detail settings. If you're planning to use the HP Envy 17 as an everyday laptop with a minimal foray into gaming or photo/video editing, it'll do just fine.

The Envy 17's 17-inch 1920x1080 pixel display is similarly good. It's also a very responsive touchscreen, which is actually more generally useful than the Leap Motion controller when you're moving around the Windows 8.1 Modern interface. With such a large screen, you don't necessarily need an external display, but the Envy 17 has HDMI output as well (alongside four USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, a full-size SD card slot, and a headphone jack).

The HP Envy 17's Leap Motion sensor works well, just as you'd expect. It's a great sensor for wireless control, and with all the apps available on Leap Motion's AirSpace store, there's a lot you can do with it. Playing games with the Leap Motion controller is actually pretty fun — chopping away at Cut The Rope and moving around Google Maps is just as good as the videos suggest it is.

What Is It Not Good At?

The problem with the Leap Motion controller integrated into the Envy 17 is that outside Airspace, it's somewhat of a novelty; there's no one-size-fits-all navigation system for Windows 8.1 using Leap Motion, for example, and any productivity boosts it offers are equally obvious with a good wireless mouse and keyboard attached. Considering you're paying a premium for the Leap Motion hardware integrated into the HP chassis, a more system-level software solution — or another compelling reason to use it — is a disappointing exclusion.

Lacking an SSD, the Envy 17 is not especially quick to boot or to load storage-intensive apps. Two hard drives included as standard means you're able to set the laptop up with one HDD for Windows and your most-used apps and one HDD for media storage, but I think the combination of fast SSD and capacious HDD would have been a smarter choice.

Battery life is similarly mediocre; the extra power draw of the Leap Motion controller is probably negligible, but overall, at maximum brightness with Wi-Fi enabled and looping a 1080p Full HD MKV video (Gizmodo's Torture Test Extreme) I managed 2hr 18min of battery life. A more reasonable workload — half brightness, Wi-Fi on, 720p looping video (the standard Gizmodo Torture Test) — boosted battery figures to 3hr 24min. These figures are alright, but given the large size of the Envy 17's internal cell, I expected a better result.

Should You Buy It?

Maybe. If you like the idea of a Leap Motion controller integrated into a desktop replacement portable computer, the Envy 17 doesn't do a great deal wrong. But despite the inclusion of the Controller, and despite its perfectly adequate mid-range specifications, it doesn't offer anything unique for its slightly high price tag. It's a solid choice, just not a stand-out one.

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