Laptop makers have lagged behind catering to creatives – people who perform demanding tasks like complex photo editing and 4K video editing. HP is a case in point, introducing its new Envy 15 with a laser focus on developers.
However, the HP Envy 15 faces stiff competition, not least the Dell XPS 15, a laptop that we have long considered to be the best 15-inch device you can buy. That distinction has been cemented by the new design, which is simply spectacular. Does the upstart HP Envy 15 stand a chance against the longtime king?
We'll start with pricing as this is important when comparing these two 15-inch laptops. Put simply, the Envy 15 is a significantly cheaper laptop that is designed for a Core i7-10750H CPU, 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB solid-state drive, a 4K AMOLED display, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 with a Max Q 1,600 US -Dollars costs GPU. A similarly equipped XPS 15 with just a GeForce 1650 Ti GPU is priced at $ 2,260 (on sale for $ 2,050).
We don't have full pricing yet, but you can equip the Envy 15 with up to 32 GB of RAM (the XPS 15 reaches a maximum of 64 GB) and a Core i9 CPU. We're sure that if you increase the specs, the price difference will remain, meaning you can get a lot of performance for a lot less money with the Envy 15.
It's the easiest to say that the Envy 15 is actually one of the HP midrange laptops, competing with the premium XPS 15 and in some ways ahead of the curve – at least when you look at the components inside. We'll get into the performance implications in a moment.
The XPS 15 is one of the most impressive laptops you will find, in part because its design is the result of constant optimization of a form factor that was excellent several generations ago. That's not to say the latest XPS 15 wasn't very different from previous iterations – it just had an excellent pedigree to build on. One thing that stays the same is the use of carbon fiber on the bottom of the case and aluminum on the lid, making for a very solid laptop. The overall form factor has shifted a bit, however, as it switched to a display with an aspect ratio of 16:10, which takes up almost all of the available space on the lid. The XPS 15 has tiny bezels, which makes it look quite modern.
The Envy 15 is a whole different beast. It's made from stamped aluminum and while solid, it's not quite in the same class as the XPS 15. It's also all silver with subtle beveled edges and other design elements that give it an attractive look without rising to the level of the current Gemstone HP Specter Laptops. The Envy 15 looks very different from the XPS 15, but it's a pretty laptop in itself.
In terms of its dimensions, the XPS 15 is slightly less wide and deep than the Envy 15, at most half an inch wide and slightly less deep. At 0.71 inches at the thickest point, the XPS 15 is only slightly thinner than the Envy 15 at 0.73 inches. And the Envy 15 is slightly heavier at 4.74 pounds than the 4.5 pounds of the XPS 15 (with the 86-watt-hour battery you'd want). All of this takes into account the larger display of the XPS 15.
The input is a mistake between the two laptops. The Envy 15 has an excellent keyboard that was stolen from the HP Specter – it offers plenty of travel, a light touch, and loads of precision that make it a touch pen's dream. The keyboard of the XPS 15 is also quite good with sufficient travel and a pleasant feel, but not quite the same as that of the Envy 15.
However, the XPS 15's touchpad is huge for a Windows 10 laptop, much larger than that of the Envy 15 (which is by no means small), and therefore much more comfortable to use. Both support Microsoft Precision touchpad drivers and are responsive and reliable. Choosing the right screen gives you a touch panel on both laptops, although the version of the Envy 15 also supports the HP Active Pen.
Connectivity is a real difference between these two laptops. Dell went for USB-C ports – that's all the XPS 15 has to offer, specifically two with Thunderbolt 3 support and one USB-C 3.1. These connect to a full size SD card reader (which is a real plus) and a 3.5mm audio jack.
The Envy 15, on the other hand, has two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, a full-size HDMI 2.0a port, two USB-A 3.1 ports, and a mini SD card reader (a disappointment for photo professionals). With the Envy 15, you'll have to worry less about carrying dongles, even though Dell is throwing a USB-C hub with HDMI and USB-A in the box. Both laptops use Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connection.
We tested the XPS 15 with a Core i7-10875H CPU with eight cores and the Envy 15 with a Core i7-10750H with six cores. Therefore, we cannot directly compare the CPU performance. The XPS 15 came out on top in all CPU-specific benchmarks that we performed. You cannot upgrade the Envy 15 to the XPS 15's CPU. Therefore, we need to purchase both laptops with Core i9 processors for an accurate head-to-head comparison.
Even so, the Envy 15 performed exceptionally well in our synthetic benchmarks as well as in our tests in practice compared to other laptops with the same CPU. Enable performance mode in the HP Command Center utility – something you have to do when you hit the system as HP tunes the Envy 15 very conservatively in standard mode – and the Envy 15 hits the XPS 15 in our handbrake test that hits 420MB video converted to H.265. The Envy 15 lasted exactly two minutes while the XPS 15 lasted two seconds longer. Of course, that's not a big difference. It is noteworthy, however, to see such an inexpensive laptop with slower CPU performance, as well as a laptop that costs hundreds of dollars more and has two additional cores and four additional threads.
However, it's the GPU that we need to look out for. As already mentioned, the Envy 15 equips the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q compared to the GeForce GTX 1650 TI in the XPS 15. That extra GPU performance pays off not only in gaming, where the Envy 15 was much faster than the XPS 15, but also in creative apps that can leverage the GPU. We took the Envy 15 through our Premiere Pro rendering test and it finished in three minutes and 53 seconds in Performance mode (it took five minutes and a second in Standard mode). This compares favorably to the Dell XPS 17, which also uses the GTX 2060 Max-Q GPU and is ready in three minutes and 38 seconds. The XPS 15, on the other hand, took four minutes and 50 seconds to run the same test.
Speaking of gaming, the Envy 15 was of course a much faster performer. In Assassin's Creed Odyssey, for example, the Envy 15 managed 45 frames per second in 1080p Ultra mode compared to the XPS 15 with 26 fps. In Civilization VI, the Envy 15 reached 100 fps in 1080p Ultra mode, while the XPS 15 only managed 64 fps. This performance delta affected all of our gaming tests. So if you're looking for a creative workstation that can also play some games at reasonable frames per second and graphical detail, the Envy 15 is by far a better choice. Not bad for a laptop that will save you $ 500 or more.
We'll briefly touch on battery life here, as there isn't much of a difference between the Envy 15 and the XPS 15 in terms of longevity (we're talking minutes here). Simply put, none of these laptops are likely to take you through a full day of real work without plugging them in. Both of them also use fairly large power bricks, which means they aren't trivial to carry around with you.
Dell and HP went in slightly different directions when choosing their displays, but ended up close to the same place. We tested both laptops with their 4K options. In the case of the Envy 15, this meant the 4K AMOLED display with an aspect ratio of 16: 9 and in the case of the XPS 15, a 4K IPS display with an aspect ratio of 16:10. Both displays have a lot to offer. The Dell panel is bigger and more productive, and that alone could appeal to a lot of people. HP would be well advised to switch to the same aspect ratio (or, better yet, follow Microsoft's lead and go straight to 3: 2).
Both displays had a wide color space, the Dell with 100% of AdobeRGB and sRGB and the HP with 97% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB. The XPS 15 was slightly more accurate at 0.65 than the Envy 15 at 0.73, but both are well below the 1.0 threshold that defines the most accurate displays.
Additionally, at 442 nits, the XPS 15 was slightly brighter than the Envy 15's 404 nits. But it's a contrast where the Envy 15's AMOLED display really glows – or really doesn't, at least when it comes to the deepest blacks that you can find on a laptop. The contrast ratio of the XPS 15 was 1480: 1, which is excellent for an IPS display. But the Envy 15 was clearly in a completely different league with 404,410: 1.
You can't go wrong with either of these ads. If you prefer a larger aspect ratio and a slightly brighter display, the XPS 15 is for you. However, if you want unmatched contrast and deep, deep blacks, the Envy 15 is for you.
The XPS 15 is the better laptop, but the Envy 15 is the better value
There is no doubt that the XPS 15 is the sleeker, more sophisticated laptop, and best in its class when you factor in every factor that goes into evaluating a machine. At the same time, the Envy 15 is so powerful and costs so much less that it's not fair to just pass the award on to the XPS 15. The Envy 15 can save you a ton of money and, in many ways, get a better experience than the XPS 15.
If you have deep pockets and don't need fast GPU performance, definitely go for the XPS 15. However, if you're on a budget and benefit from significantly faster graphics, the Envy 15 is the one for you.