HP Envy 13 Wood Series review: Walnut enhances a slender, capable laptop

HP is onto something with the home-inspired design elements of its latest laptops.

hp envy 13 aq1195nr main
Ben Patterson/IDG

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At a Glance

The HP Envy 13 Wood Series is the company’s second foray into natural design flourishes—remember the leather-bound Spectre Folio? Now the company’s thin-and-light Envy 13 laptop has a Wood Series variant, featuring a walnut wood palm rest and touchpad.

While these details might seem frivolous to some, the finely textured wood panel makes for a surprisingly warm, yet practical touch in a laptop that (for the most part) nails the fundamentals. That said, the 4K display on this reasonably priced Envy model skimps on a key feature, and we also had some (non wood-related) touchpad issues.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.

Configuration

HP is offering three pre-configured SKUs for its latest quad-core Envy 13 models. We’ve already reviewed the Envy 13 in its “regular” form. The good news is, the special Wood Series is available in the least-expensive SKU, which offers a 10th-gen Core i7-10510U Comet Lake CPU, a Full HD (1920x1080) IPS multi-touch display, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, 16GB of Optane Memory (good stuff!), and an $850 sticker price on HP.com (after a $200 discount). A step-up non-Wood model ($1,200 on HP.com) boasts the same internals save for a larger 512GB SSD and 32GB of Optane memory. The Wood Series model we’re reviewing ups the ante with a 10th-gen Core i7-1065G7 Ice Lake processor and a 4K display that (unfortunately) lacks multi-touch, for $1,300 (or $1,050 after discounts) on HP.com.

Let’s take a closer look at the specifications of our review model:

  • CPU: Quad-core 10th-gen Core i7-1065G7
  • Memory: 8GB DDR4-2400
  • Graphics: Intel Iris Plus
  • Storage: 512GB SSD
  • Optane memory: 32GB
  • Display: 13.3-inch 4K IPS (400 nits, non-touch)
  • Wireless networking: Wi-Fi 5
  • Battery capacity: 52 watt-hour
  • Dimensions: 12.08 x 8.32 x 0.57 inches
  • Weight: 2.82 pounds

On paper, we’re looking at a thin, light, and reasonably powerful productivity workhorse, although a few corners have been cut to achieve that discounted $1,050 price tag.

On the plus side is the Envy 13’s U-series Core i7-1065G7 processor, which is Intel’s second-fastest Ice Lake CPU for laptops, plus a roomy 512GB SSD that gets a nice 32GB Optane Memory speed boost. The integrated Iris Plus graphics should rival the visuals of entry-level discrete graphics cards, while the bright (if power-hungry) 4K IPS display is always a welcome sight.

So far, so good, but this particular model of the Envy is saddled with a few compromises. For starters, while the 8GB of RAM is adequate when it comes to smoothing out multitasking, 16GB would give busy people more room to queue up multiple applications and browser tabs. And while the 4K display is (as we’ll see) crisp and bright, it isn’t touch-enabled. (The HP Envy 13 models with full-HD displays do have touchscreens, and the configurable Envy has a 4K touchscreen option.) We’re also a tad disappointed by the Wi-Fi 5 networking, which means the Envy won’t be able to take full advantage of newer, faster, and more efficient Wi-Fi 6 routers.

Still, if you can live without a touch-enabled display, there’s a lot to like about this Envy 13 Wood Series configuration, which also happens to be among the least expensive Core i7-1065G7-powered laptops we’ve tested (assuming you can snag the discounted price).

Design

Our HP Envy 13 Wood Series review unit boasts the same anodized-aluminum exterior that we’ve seen on other Envy models, complete with a pleasingly slim (0.57-inch) design and a “lift” hinge that props up the laptop when the lid is open, ideal both for boosting the angle of the keyboard and allowing extra airflow beneath the chassis.

hp envy 13 aq1195nr hinge Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Envy 13’s “lift” hinge boosts the keyboard’s typing angle and allows for a cooling airflow beneath the chassis.

Opening the Envy 13’s lid reveals the signature design element of this particular SKU (and the less expensive Comet Lake version): a walnut wood palm rest and touchpad. The finely textured wood grain feels smooth yet pleasingly tactile, particularly when you’re swiping the touchpad, and I enjoyed resting my palms against the firm, yet comfortable surface. 

hp envy 13 aq1195nr wood Ben Patterson/IDG

The walnut wood design of the HP Envy 13’s palm rest and touchpad makes for a warm, yet pratical touch.

Besides its wooden palm rest, the HP Envy 13 boasts a few other nice design flairs, including the diamond-patterned speaker grille that sits above the keyboard, the flat rear spine with the sleek “Envy” logo, and a hourglass-shaped profile where the lip of the Envy 13’s lid meets the bottom edge of the laptop chassis.

Display

The 4K display on our HP Envy 13 Wood Series review unit looked predictably sharp and vivid, and it’s also impressively bright. HP’s specs promise 400 nits (or candelas) of brightness for the screen, but our own measurements gave us a 495-nit reading—so yes, we’re talking a bright display here, although it should be noted that the brightness drops precipitously after just a couple of taps on the brightness-down button. It’s also worth remembering that a bright 4K display like the Envy 13’s will take a heavy toll on battery life.

hp envy 13 aq1195nr display Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Envy 13’s 4K display is bright and vivid, although it also takes a toll on battery life.

The Envy 13’s display boasts wide viewing angles thanks to its IPS (in-plane switching) design. The screen dims only slightly when viewed from an angle, and I was able to read text on the display even when looking way over from one side or the other. For its part, HP promises a 178-degree viewing angle, and that sounds about right based on my experience.

A missing feature on the display of this particular Envy 13 model, however, is touch sensitivity. You won’t be able to swipe or tap the screen to interact with it, nor will you be able to write or draw on it with a stylus. The lack of touch support is surprising given how common it’s become on laptop displays, particularly on mid-tier and premium models. There are other Envy models that do boast full-HD and 4K touchscreens, although a custom-configured 4K touchscreen model with equivalent specifications (save for a downgraded Core i7 Comet Lake processor) costs about $240 more than the discounted price of our review unit.

Keyboard, trackpad, speakers, and extras

The HP Envy 13’s keyboard feels solid and comfy, with snappy yet quiet keystrokes, decent travel, and easy discoverability. You also get hotkeys for media playback, airplane mode, and mute, but none for laptop settings or disabling the built-in camera (although, as we’ll soon see, there’s another way to quickly shut off the Envy 13’s webcam).

hp envy 13 aq1195nr keyboard Ben Patterson/IDG

The HP Envy 13’s comfortable keyboard boasts shortcuts for media playback and airplane mode.

While the Envy 13’s wood-crafted touchpad looks and feels great, we experienced the same occasionally jittery behavior from the touchpad on the Envy 13 Wood as we recently did with its aluminum sibling, the Envy 13, and a little further into the past with units such as the HP Pavilion x360 14. Not all typists who tried it had the same experience, so you might check your typing style for excessive palm-grazing, and try adjusting your touchpad drivers' sensitivity as well.

Sitting just below the bottom-right corner of the Envy 13’s keyboard is a Windows Hello-enabled fingerprint reader, which lets you swipe a fingerprint to unlock Windows or log into Windows Hello-enabled apps. I enrolled my fingerprint shortly after I began testing my Envy 13 review unit and (aside from a very occasional hiccup) didn’t encounter any problems.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the Envy 13’s top-firing Bang & Olufsen speakers, which sounded impressively robust for laptop audio components. Just to be clear, the Envy 13’s speakers can’t rival the audio of external speakers or a good set of cans, but they sounded well above average, with a rich mid-range, plenty of high-end detail and even a sprinkling of bass.

Ports

While the HP Envy 13 might not give you all the ports you want, you get what you need. Starting on the left side, there’s a drop-jaw USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port (the first of two), a Thunderbolt 3 port (which supports data transfer rates up to 40GBps), and a combo audio jack.

hp envy 13 aq1195nr left side Ben Patterson/IDG

The left-side ports on the HP Envy 13 include a drop-jaw USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, and a combo audio jack.

On the right side sits a second drop-jaw USB 3.0 port, along with a microSD card slot and a barrel-shaped charging port. Also on the right side is a switch that electronically disables the Envy’s webcam (there’s no physical lens shutter, however).

hp envy 13 aq1195nr right side Ben Patterson/IDG

One the right side, the HP Envy 13 features a second USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, a microSD memory card slot, a barrel-shaped charging port, and a switch that can electrically disable the webcam.

Missing in action is an ethernet port, which isn’t a huge surprise given the Envy’s slim-and-light design, and HDMI, which you can do without, as the Thunderbolt 3 port can power a pair of 4K displays or a single 5K display.

Keep reading for performance scores for the CPU, graphics, and battery.

At a Glance
  • The HP Envy 13's walnut wood palm rest makes for a warm yet practical design touch, while its Ice Lake CPU can rev its engine when it needs to.

    Pros

    • Discounted price makes for a solid value
    • Speedy performance during short CPU-intensive bursts
    • Bright 4K display
    • Walnut wood palm rest looks and feels great

    Cons

    • High-res display taxes battery life
    • Display isn’t touch-enabled
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