While I don't have Beats headphones for the 'optimal' experience, I plugged in what most people would probably use--a pair of earbuds. Nothing fancy, and yet the sound is indeed noticeably crisper. Dre's "Nuthin' But a G Thang" (hey, it seemed an appropriate choice at the time) is more than just bumping bass -- the headphone audio adds a meaty middle. The same song out of another notebook I had sitting around sounded a little sharper. Not nails on a chalkboard, but noticeable.
Speaking of inappropriate uses of hardware, I've never had such a love-hate relationship with a touchpad since....the newer MacBook Pros, I guess. First the love: the multitouch functionality. It works, I like it, done. Now the hate: With the mouse buttons tucked away underneath the touchpad's comfortable strike zone, I had a tough time pegging where the buttons ended and the touch controls began. At first I had to pound like a maniac on the corners just to highlight bits of text when writing this review. But over time, it became a little more manageable.
The keyboard, on the other hand, garners little to no complaints from me. In fact, the cut-out keys on this machine are a breeze to use. Well-spaced, springy, and solidly secured--this is a no-nonsense design. And, following the lead of machines like Dell's Studio 14z, the keys lining the top are multimedia and hardware toggles first (no button combos required), then F1 through F12 keys when combined with the "fn" button. The Up and Down arrow keys are a little too tiny, but if that's the only complaint about the keyboard on a 13-inch laptop, HP's doing okay.
Looking around the rest of the notebook, you'll see a couple of USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI-out, an SD flash-card reader, and a combo headphone/mic jack. That's it. No wired ethernet port or legacy VGA (those require dongles)--but you do get Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi under the hood. And an optical drive? That falls under the "extras" category.
The matching external optical drive starts at $100 for the DVD-ROM (or $250 for the BD-ROM), and the slick 6-cell battery slice that sits beneath goes for another $100.
A quick aside about this slice: It's just smart. The extra battery snaps on, and you'd have to look closely to know that it's even there, though it adds a little extra thickness to the profile--and, of course, an extra 1.4 pounds of weight. (We can't say anything about the length of battery life just yet. Stay tuned and we'll update that ASAP.)
We've given HP the nod for smart design all around -- might as well mention the premium packaging (and the promise of premium support). It makes you feel like you're getting a first-class seat to Windowsville. You even get a 2GB SDHC card that contains the manual. But that makes me think, "Hey, why not just put all the lovely 'bonus' software on the SD card, not the hard drive?"
But let me assure you that I don't care if Norton trialware is loaded on my machine. I don't own a Slingbox, and don't like the Flash ad for it on the machine.
All that aside, the Envy 13 has a lot of eye-catching touches. Let's not forget that last year's HP Voodoo Envy 133 (hmm, I wonder where that "Voodoo" name went off to, anyhow?) was even more expensive and was amazingly underpowered compared with a MacBook back then. This is a good machine for people that have money to burn. Once we get our performance results back from the labs, I'll circle back and tell you if it's fully worth said cash.