Snarky bloggers (ahem) could easily dismiss the HP Envy 13 as an Apple MacBook Pro plus a few hundred quid, say so in a tweet, and call it a day. Hell, I was certainly tempted. However, this handsome laptop isn't so much a tribute as it is a poke in Apple's eye saying, "We can design similarly sleek, sexy machines...and maybe charge people a little more."

But the HP story here -- and my review -- has a bit more to it than that.

Before I start digging (or, should I say, "lacing"?) into the Envy 13, a disclaimer: We haven't had enough time to run the machine through our rigorous WorldBench 6 tests yet. But under the hood you get a decent amount of juice, comparable to that of a 13-inch MacBook Pro: a 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9600 processor, 3GB of RAM, and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 discrete GPU. A similarly-priced 13-inch MacBook Pro -- one of the cheaper versions -- offers a 2.53GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM, and an nVidia GeForce 9400M GPU. So, I will speak from my initial experience, from boot-ups to letdowns and everything in between -- and update this review with full scores as soon as possible.


In the meantime, this MacB -- I mean, the Envy -- is an eye-catcher. Every place I popped open the laptop to try to get some work done -- even near the Macworld zone in our office -- people couldn't help but crane necks to check it out. The thin, metallic frame is a little on the heavy side, but I'm not offended (it measures 12.6x8.5x0.8 inches and weighs 3.1 pounds). A little meaty? Maybe, but I want a machine that feels like it can take a punch.

Anyhow, flipping the lid and firing up the machine, I get the option to start with HP's Instant On Linux shell. You've seen it before in other machines, and the slick little interface works here just as well. One-second access to pictures, MP3s, the Web, Skype, and the like -- whether it is something sitting on the hard drive or popped into the SD card slot. Of course, you could opt to skip that insta-boot and go straight into Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit edition). It takes about 80 seconds to go to a fully-loaded OS. From a sleep state, this sucker is back in action in under 2 seconds.

The screen is a crisp, glossy 13.1-inch backlit LED with a native resolution of 1,600x900 - so unlike the MacBook Pro it can host Photoshop, InDesign or After Effects' interfaces happily. That resolution, however, is an upgrade option -- the default panel resolution is 1366x768. The colour is appropriately warm enough for video that shows fiery explosions against a black backdrop, and yet it won't wash out the darker colours.

Still photos similarly popped. If only that glossy screen wasn't fighting me. While images are certainly viewable, you'll notice reflections that'll distract you from what you're trying to type if you're parked anywhere near a window. (On the bright side, it's a great rear-view mirror.)

Now onto something else that's been celebrated in press materials about this machine: It has Beats audio. Yep, the high-def audio processing that's found it's way into high-tech hipster headphones is built into a custom DSP chip. The results: Well, you'll need headphones to even remotely appreciate what's going on. The two tiny on-board speakers are there for show. they sound decent enough, but even with the volume cranked, I needed to lean close in a noisy room just to hear a peep out of the Envy 13.