December 11, 2008, 10:33 AM — Admit it: You've said to your boss that you need an ultraportable laptop because it would give you easy and instant access to your work data. But the truth is, the main reason anyone buys a sleek, slim ultraportable is to turn heads. The HP Voodoo Envy 133 is one such shiny new toy, with just enough features to legitimize it as a slick business box as well. Like the Apple MacBook Air, the Envy 133 sports enough interesting design choices for it to be a genuine attention-getter. Unfortunately, however, it also shares the Air's anemic guts and high price tag.
Whereas Apple's thin-and-light is slightly curvy and well-rounded, the Envy 133 is boxy -- yet with its glossy sheen, it's still sexy. This Voodoo laptop measures 12.7 by 9 by 0.8 inches (closely matching the Air), and it weighs 3.5 pounds without its incredibly unique power brick, which I'll go into more detail about soon.
What I need to address first, though, are the system's less-than-speedy components.
For starters, the NV4040NA model we tested (a configuration that HP says is suitable for the road warrior) comes equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6-GHz CPU (SP7500), 2GB of RAM, and a poky 80GB hard drive that spins at 4200 rpm. You probably won't be shocked to learn that the system didn't exactly sail through WorldBench 6. It received an overall score of 64, and it ran single-digit slide shows in Doom 3 (7 frames per second at 1024-by-768-pixel resolution). Nobody will mistake this Voodoo box for a game machine.
And while the Envy 133 doesn't have the worst battery life, its results in our tests were far from the best: Lasting 2 hours, 39 minutes, it ran a little longer than the MacBook Air but fell way behind almost everything else we've seen. (By comparison, the Lenovo ThinkPad X200 rules the roost, having lasted a staggering 8 hours, 54 minutes. And the sexy Samsung X360 hung on for 7 hours, 36 minutes.) On average, laptops we test can run approximately 4.5 hours.
Innovative Design Choices
So, with those performance knocks against the HP Voodoo Envy 133, why would anyone in their right mind consider dropping roughly $2349 for it? Let's take a look at some aspects of its design.
This ultraportable incorporates a number of genuinely unique ideas -- stuff that I'd never seen before -- and I applaud a few of them. The slim, sealed case doesn't allow much room, so don't try looking for a lot of inputs. The Envy 133 has one headphone jack and one USB port, and it makes a couple of nods to the high end with an HDMI-out and a shared eSATA/USB port. One interesting choice: The slot-loading external optical drive that sells with this unit plugs in with an eSATA cable.
No ethernet port on this machine? No worries. In a first-of-its-kind move, the Envy 133 parks the ethernet jack in the power brick. Okay, technically it's a wireless access point built into the brick, but it works. And it makes a ton of sense. Leave the power supply at your desk, and it serves as a miniature docking station, providing both power and network access to the Envy.
I also love the HDMI-to-VGA connector that accompanied our review unit. It could've been a simple dongle, but it's a whole lot more. Once you plug the HDMI converter in, it instantly optimizes the image for the VGA output and adjusts the laptop's settings appropriately for giving a presentation. No extra buttons to press!
I will say one thing for the Envy 133: The lid is secure. The hinges stand firm, and the thick protective bezel encasing the screen isn't too distracting. The glossy lid is smooth to the touch; and upon opening, it reveals a decent 13.3-inch screen. (That's the 133 in its name, get it?) In your standard-issue office -- or most indoor locations, for that matter -- the screen is crisp and easily viewable, thanks to its 1280-by-800-pixel native resolution. Since the screen is glossy, however, outdoors you must factor in sunlight, which makes the display a little harder to see. You know the drill by now. I think Samsung did better with the sharp screens on its X360 and X460, which are viewable anywhere you set up shop.
At first, I wasn't quite sure how I'd feel about the keyboard. It doesn't have any multimedia shortcuts (instead, they're all tasked to function-button combinations). It also sandwiches the power and Wi-Fi buttons into a corner, flanking the Delete key. To be honest, I was expecting to make many typos -- and thinking I might turn off the laptop accidentally more than once. Using it actually wasn't bad, though. For one thing, you need to hold down the power button for a couple seconds before it will do anything.
The key spacing and key travel felt substantial and of high quality, enough that I could comfortably type this review without stumbling over the keys. (Even so, the Envy 133 won't unseat any of Lenovo's ThinkPads anytime soon; Lenovo remains the champ of creating laptops with keyboards that feel lush to the touch and have a satisfying amount of give.)
I wish I were as high on the touchpad, which sits below the keys in the wrist rest. Or, at least, I think that's where it is. You see, in an effort to be supercool, the Envy 133 has just a large area with divots that denotes the active mousing space. A tiny sliver of a plastic bar serves as your left and right mouse click, all in one. And I hate it.
I get how the touchpad stylistically matches the two speaker vents on either side of the keyboard. It just doesn't give me enough of a sensation that I'm in a different area than the wrist rest. While I was typing, a stray finger or my wrist more than once grazed the pad, and I unintentionally highlighted text or moved the mouse pointer. And, more often than not, I'd trigger one of the multitouch functions. The HP Voodoo designers need to do a better job of indicating the boundaries separating the keyboard, wrist rest, and touchpad.
Another problem with the mousing surface that's easily spotted: fingerprints. You'd think it was a smudgy, greasy crime scene. The shiny plastics that make this thing look so sweet end up attracting fingerprints instantly. And God help you if you're trying to eat cheese puffs while using the Envy 133. Oh, yeah, the case gets hot, too. While the end result isn't skin-scorching, the two side vents don't expel enough heat, so if you rest your wrists on the machine long enough, you'll notice it. I did.
The speakers' sound quality was a pleasant surprise. You get some surprisingly clear and crisp audio from this ultraportable. Of course, you won't hear much in the way of bass out of the two tiny side-mounted speakers (there's no subwoofer to be found), but the sound is certainly good enough if you want to watch videos or play a few tunes while working.
The included software isn't as much of a big deal as is the Linux shell wrapped around Windows, dubbed Voodoo IOS. Upon starting up the Envy 133, pressing Function-F2 lets you opt to do a couple other things before booting into Windows. These shortcuts allow you to use your laptop for Web browsing, photo viewing, MP3 playback, IM chats (with support for everything from AIM to Yahoo Messenger), and Skype. It's a nice added feature -- one that just so happens to work in the same manner that Asus's Express Gate software does.
In price, performance, and specs, it's more than fair to compare the HP Voodoo Envy 133 with the MacBook Air and Samsung's X360. All have their share of design pros and cons. However, a number of less sexy but more functional laptops have fared well in our tests, and cost less. If you haven't already, take a look at Lenovo's ThinkPad X200 or, if you're more a cost-conscious fashionista, check out the Asus U6V.