This we know: Windows 8 is more usable with a touchscreen, plain and simple. Whether that’s a practical scenario for tower-and-monitor setups is arguable, but it turns out that using touch on a laptop comes pretty naturally—even more so than we expected. So it’s good news for consumers that touchscreen laptops are now legion, and that they run the gamut in features and price.
Optional keyboard backlighting spruces up the Envy 4’s black and brushed-metal interior.
Representing the midrange is the HP Envy TouchSmart 4 Ultrabook. What you see is what you get with this 14-inch clamshell—it doesn’t assume the persona of a tablet with the twist of a hinge, like some of its higher-profile touch brethren. That keeps the price in check—the Envy TS 4 starts at $800—but there’s more to a laptop than a modest price.
Since the touchscreen is such a key feature of the Envy 4, let’s start there. It’s 14 inches on the diagonal, has a native resolution of 1366x768, and consists of a TN panel with a glossy finish. If that sounds thoroughly ho-hum, you’ve got the picture. It looks pretty down-market—not very crisp, not very bright, with an annoyingly narrow vertical viewing angle. It’s redeemed to some extent by the highly responsive capacitive-touch overlay, which registered our every tap, swipe, and poke at the screen accurately. Be warned, however: All that touching on the glossy surface makes for some spectacular fingerprintage.
Thank goodness for the touchscreen, though, because the touchpad had some issues—the usual sort of inconsistent performance found in many clickpads. Sometimes Win8 gestures registered, sometimes they didn’t; other times programs seemed to launch just because the pointer drew near—that kind of thing. You can do some tweaking of the pad in the control panel, but we found ourselves just using the touchscreen for many chores.
The chiclet keyboard is nicely sized and spaced, and the keys have a slightly rubberized surface. All-in-all, typing on the Envy 4 was fairly comfortable and error-free. Our model featured the optional keyboard backlighting, which can be switched on and off with a top-row key, but not otherwise adjusted.
Our model also featured another upgrade option: the 1.7GHz Core i5-377U (versus a Core-i3). This makes its configuration very similar to the Lenovo Yoga Ultrabook. As with that device, the Envy 4 fell behind our 1.8GHz zero-point in every benchmark test—not surprising, given the ZP’s slightly higher base and Turbo clocks. More interestingly, the Envy 4 performed about 10-15 percent faster than the Yoga in our computing tests. That’s the result of thermal management. While the Yoga’s CPU had a tendency to throttle down at regular intervals of testing, the Envy 4 held its high clock speed consistently. Of course, the Yoga is also a bit smaller at 13 inches, and a bit thinner (not to mention more than a pound lighter), so it makes sense the thermals would be adjusted accordingly.
Despite the Envy 4’s slight speed advantage and its lower price, we’d be inclined to plunk down the additional $100 for the Yoga. That laptop has a far superior screen, a better keyboard and touchpad, a sturdier build quality, and the ability to fold into a tablet for times when that makes sense. And did we mention that it weighs more than a pound less? But, if you really need to count your sheckles, the Envy 4 is a serviceable touchscreen option at an affordable price.