HP’s Envy line is a longtime favorite of ours, with the 2019 Envy 13 earning a PCMag Editors’ Choice among ultraportable laptops. The new Envy 13 (Wood Edition) ($1,299.99) has many similarities, but key internal and external differences—starting with the latter, as its name suggests, genuine and genuinely attractive wood in its design. The special model also offers a 4K display and quick components while maintaining a reasonable price tag. The Dell Inspiron 14 7000 (7490) remains our current top pick in the category for superior performance and battery life, but the wooden HP is a strong, stylish contender.
Wood You Look at That?
This is a handsome laptop, due in large part to the inclusion of the wood. For some, it may conjure images of a paneled basement or a wood-striped minivan, but in this modern context it’s attractive. A big reason is that it’s so unique—we’ve really never seen anything like it. My test model had the black and dark walnut combination, but other Envy models (as we saw in a hands-on preview) offer a white and lighter birch design. I personally like that scheme a bit more, but walnut is the wood available for this model and size (birch is offered with different screen sizes and convertible versions of the laptop), and it’s all subjective anyway.
Make no mistake, this is genuine wood—sourced sustainably, HP says, and treated on both sides for durability and a more comfortable feel (and to prevent splinters!). It’s smooth, but retains some texture to prove it’s authentic. Every grain pattern on the palm rest and touchpad is unique.
All of this comes together in a tight form factor, measuring 0.57 by 12.1 by 8.3 inches and weighing 2.82 pounds. This is more or less identical to the last Envy 13 we reviewed, so this update is more about the aesthetic and feature set. As far as competitors, the Apple MacBook Pro 13 is a bit heftier at 3 pounds, but has almost the same dimensions (0.59 by 12 by 8.4 inches), while the Dell XPS 13 (7390) is slightly trimmer all around at 2.7 pounds and 0.46 by 11.9 by 7.8 inches.
Other than the wood, the Envy 13’s most eye-catching feature is the 13.3-inch display. That likely isn’t the case with the standard model, but my loaner boasts 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) resolution. It’s very sharp and boasts bright, vibrant colors, with a glossy glass finish that helps it stand out further. It is not an OLED screen, nor does it include touch capabilities.
For many, a 1080p screen at this size would suffice, but that option is only open to you with the regular (sans wood) Envy 13. UHD resolution certainly isn’t necessary and adds to the cost while decreasing battery life, but it does look great. Anyone with extra cash who likes to work with several windows open at once or to view 4K video content will appreciate the option.
Configuration and Extras
While we’re talking about options, there aren’t exactly many configuration choices for this particular model—the only available Wood Edition is the black and walnut, 4K screen, non-convertible Envy 13. We saw other models with wood inlays in our hands-on preview, but those had different screen sizes or were 2-in-1 convertibles. The test unit—technically named the Envy 13-aq1195nr—was marked down from $1,299.99 to $1,099.99 on HP’s site as I completed this review. It features a quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor, 8GB of memory, and a 512GB solid-state drive teamed with 32GB of Intel Optane memory for faster storage.
In addition to those core components and the 4K screen, the Envy 13 features a comfortable backlit keyboard. It’s above average in quality, with keys that have a good amount of travel without feeling mushy or cheap. The display hinge also lifts the back of the laptop off the desk as you pull it open, tilting the keyboard at a slight angle for added comfort.
The touchpad is also walnut, the same texture as the wrist rest on either side of it. It acts almost like a cutout from the keyboard deck itself, which is impressive engineering and aesthetically pleasing. However, I think it impacts the functionality of the touchpad and would prefer a more traditional material—my finger drags occasionally because of the texture, making the pad feel less responsive than it should. It works fine most of the time, and is very novel, but it’s not quite as good as a standard touchpad.
The ultraportable offers solid connectivity, though it doesn’t have everything. On the left flank, you’ll find a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, a USB 3.1 Type-A port, and a headphone jack:
On the right edge are another USB 3.1 port (which can charge the laptop, while the other is only for data transfer), the AC power jack, a microSD card slot, and a tiny switch for shuttering the webcam. You can fulfill your video-out needs with a USB-C adapter, but the lack of an HDMI port may prove annoying to some. Two USB-A ports isn’t a lot, but hopefully enough for most users.
Solid-quality speakers from Bang & Olufsen, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, a fingerprint reader, and one free year of Microsoft Office 365 round out the feature set. Now, on to the performance.
Performance Testing: Plenty of Pep
For our benchmark comparisons, I’ve gathered a group of similar ultraportables to pit against this Envy 13 unit. You can see each of their loadouts in the table below:
First, some pricing context. There’s an array of components and price tags in this batch, so it’s helpful to know where every machine stands when looking at the performance (of course, things like storage capacity and display resolution factor into the price without impacting many of the benchmark results, so it’s not 1:1). The Dell Inspiron 14 7000 is the least costly of the group at $1,126.99, while others such as the Apple MacBook Pro 13 ($1,499) and late 2019 Razer Blade Stealth being more expensive at $1,499 and $1,799, respectively. We reviewed another Blade Stealth earlier in 2019 that didn’t have such potent discrete graphics and as such was closer in price, but I went with the later model since it had a newer, more comparable CPU.
Productivity & Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
On PCMark 10, almost all of the Windows laptops are equal. The Razer was quickest, but the general level of performance here is enough that you won’t notice slowdown or lag during everyday tasks. The storage throughput results are even more clustered; the ultraportables’ SSDs deliver almost identically swift speeds.
Media Processing & Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image, timing each operation and adding up the total. As with Handbrake, lower times are better. This test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The Envy 13 doesn’t consistently land in the front or back of the pack here, making it a middle-of-the-road option as far as media-related tasks are concerned. All these laptops are designed more for daily productivity than content creation, so I’m judging their relative performance in that context. The six-core Dell XPS is the standout in the group, while the Envy 13 can get the job done, but I wouldn’t recommend leaning on it for heavy photo or video editing.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike; both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores. Again, the MacBook Pro is excluded from this (and the next) Windows-based test.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
The Envy 13’s Intel Iris Plus graphics are a step above the traditional integrated-graphics baseline, if not a match for laptops with dedicated GPUs (look at the difference compared to the Blade Stealth). You still won’t want to use this system for professional 3D work or any serious gaming, however.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode where available) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel short used in our Handbrake test with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
The Wood Edition’s nearly 11-hour result is a decent runtime, though clearly not the best. A big part of that is the 4K screen, which drains power a lot faster than a 1080p display since it has four times as many pixels to illuminate. Right now, though, if you want the wood version of the Envy 13, you have to take the 4K screen with it. This amount of battery life will see you through much (or all) of a workday, depending on usage, since some activities will drain the battery faster than our video test does.
A Stylish and Unique Ultraportable
The HP Envy 13 (Wood Edition) is a very appealing laptop on all fronts. Considering its high-end CPU and display and nice design, the price tag is very reasonable. The Dell Inspiron 14 7000 remains our Editors’ Choice for its lower price tag, mostly superior performance, and longer battery life, but the HP is a strong contender as well as a uniquely attractive conversation piece.