Windows 8 PCs are arriving in our labs, including the HP Envy Touchsmart Ultrabook 4. It looks like a fairly solid computer, based on my first impression of the 14-inch laptop. But at $900 for the configuration I tried out, it suffers from the same problem many Ultrabooks have: You'll pay a premium for a thinner, lighter computer.
The specs. The press sample I tried came with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and a hybrid drive consisting of a 500GB hard drive and a 32GB solid-state drive for faster wake-up from sleep mode and fast launching of applications.
Two USB 3.0 ports are built in; an additional high-power USB port is helpful for plugging in an external DVD drive, as there isn't one built in. This Ultrabook weighed in at just under 4.5 pounds, not among the lightest of the Ultrabooks we've tested even at this screen size. It is, however, a touchscreen, which adds to the weight.
Display. The touchscreen on this model makes the Windows 8 experience more enjoyable; it was responsive and accurate, so you can tap away on the new live-tile interface.
But the display itself wasn't one of the best we've seen. It wasn't very bright, and as a result, it's not optimal for working in sunlight. The viewing angle was also rather narrow, so you'll get the best picture looking at it head-on.
Keyboard and touch pad. I liked the keyboard on this HP. The keys have a velvety feel that's pleasant to type on, and they're large chiclet-style keys that your fingers don't stumble over. The keyboard is backlighted, and there's a special key that stays lighted for turning the backlight on and off, which comes in handy when you're in a dark room.
The touch pad supports Windows 8 gestures, including swiping from the right to bring up the charms toolbar and swiping from the left to flip through open apps.
Sound. The Envy 4 comes with the Beats speakers you'll find on many HP laptops. Sound quality from the speakers was about what you'd expect from a laptop this size: It wasn't terribly rich, there was little bass, and the speakers weren't very loud even turned all the way up. You'll want to hook up external speakers or a good pair of headphones for serious or prolonged listening.
Bottom line. The Core i5-based computers we've tested with Windows 7 have been excellent performers. We expect the same to hold true with Windows 8 systems. But this is a costly laptop, thanks in part to the touchscreen. If $900 is out of your price range, there are less-expensive configurations of the HP Envy Touchsmart Ultrabook 4, with a less-expensive Core i3 processor, starting at $800.
—Donna L. Tapellini