Review: HP Envy Recline 23 TouchSmart all-in-one desktop
4.1Overall Score
Price (RRP): $2299 Manufacturer: HP

Tower computers are mostly dead, and the all-in-one is in, and HP is here to show Windows PC makers how to do it, bundling in speed, a touchscreen, and a stand that makes it possible to use your computer in more ways than just the traditional ones.

Features

All-in-ones are generally replacing the traditional desktop thanks to their ability to take up less space, and HP’s latest take on the formula attempts to improve on that by incorporating technology from the past year in a positive way.

Inside this computer, you’ll find HP is using the latest generation of Intel processors, with the fourth-generation quad-core Core i7 4770T clocked at 2.5GHz, working alongside 16GB RAM, a 16GB solid-state drive working behind the scenes that you can’t touch, and a 1TB hard drive that you totally can play with and install onto.

Two graphics options are provided on this computer, with Intel’s HD4600 graphics chip provided for some things, and then NVidia’s GeForce GT730A graphics processor working with 1GB RAM for other activities, with the computer switching between them automatically.

Connections on this computer a reasonably plentiful, with two USB 3.0 ports, three USB 2.0 ports, a headset jack supporting headphone and microphone, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and even a port to let you plug a subwoofer directly into the computer.

Wireless is taken care of with 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi (sorry, no 802.11ac here), Bluetooth 4.0, and Intel’s wireless display technology, also called WiDi. A memory card reader for SD cards is also located on the computer, just under the right side of the screen.

This sits under a 23 inch screen, supporting ten points of touch and running the resolution of 1920×1080, also known as Full HD.

With such a decent screen size, it would be a shame if you couldn’t use it for anything else, and fortunately you can, with a HDMI-in port included on the left edge of the screen, and the button to change over to the other device found under the bottom left edge.

Audio is provided by Beats Audio, which works in tandem with the speakers built into the screen, while a 720p webcam sits above the display along the top bezel, flanked on each side by microphones.

A wireless keyboard and mouse are included in the box, as is a DVB-T tuner USB dongle and remote control.

Performance

It doesn’t seem like it’s been all that long since we checked out what HP was cooking in the big touchscreen space.

Back in September of last year, we took a look at the Envy Rove 20, a not-quite-all-in-one that was closer to being called a tablet, even if it wasn’t remotely portable. That product brought together an Intel Core i3 processor, 1TB hard drive, 8GB RAM, WiFi, SD card slot, and more, and threw it under a 20 inch display, making it a positively massive tablet and the biggest we had ever seen.

But the specs just didn’t make sense, and with a mediocre screen and low performance, the system didn’t feel right, which affected our score, giving it merely three stars.

Fast forward to now and HP is trying it again, no longer approaching the idea of a big tablet as just that, and shifting the principle to something a little more usable in the home.

Moving on from a humongous handheld, the Envy 23 is an all-in-one, shaped like some of the models we’ve seen from competitors such as Apple and Toshiba, but keeping the touchscreen and enlarging it to fit a 23 inch size.

HP has also increased the resolution, dragging it from the depths that are 900p (1600×900) and just barely above what we called high definition or “HD,” and moving it to the Full HD resolution of 1920×1080.

The design is interesting enough that it will fit in on a clean desk, though HP’s decision to place a few of the ports on the side of the stand could bug people when it comes to keeping the cables looking neat.

The remaining ports are on either side of the monitor, with two USB on the right side and a headset and HDMI port on the left side.

For the most part, this makes the Envy 23 easy to plug external devices into, and anyone who has to plug in and out USB thumb drives will find this position useful, as will someone considering using the HP Envy 23 as a secondary monitor with the HDMI port on the left side.

It won’t work as a touchscreen for a computer in this way — sorry, that’s reserved for the Envy 23, and touch isn’t transmitted over HDMI, merely video and audio — but at least you can plug in a secondary computer, a video game console, or even a mobile phone or tablet this way.

Even more useful is the stand, which can be position in the typical position an all-in-one predominantly relies on with the screen facing you, or even pushed flat and at various angles.

This makes the Envy 23 a little bit more playful than the typical desktop, and means you can lay it flat like a tablet, draw on it, play games looking down, and generally have a touchscreen computer that you can decide on the usable angle for.

That’s a big deal, too, as touchscreen desktops tend to be a little uncomfortable to use, thanks to the large sweeping motions that your hand has to do, which work on a small screen because the gestures are far smaller, but feels a little cumbersome when you’re swinging your arms in front of you.

It’s especially cool in some of the entertainment activities, with games that support touch being very cool on this screen, almost as if you’re touching and using something straight out of a science fiction movie. We played “Defense Grid” and “Civilisation 5” during this review, both of which support touch and work with it tremendously well.

Ultimately, we want more touch enabled games from here on in.

Inside the computer, you’ll find enough processing power for most things, with an overkill spec for office work and web surfing, but just enough oomph for the odd game or two. We didn’t experience much lag across anything we did, and Windows 8 generally flowed nicely, with the touchscreen helping matters here, since Microsoft’s latest operating system was developed with touch in mind.

A generous supply of storage is provided, with one terabyte built in, though you’ll only find around 860GB available to you. HP has also included 16GB of solid-state storage that you can’t access, though this will be used in the background, sending files to this faster form of storage and speeding up everything else you’re doing.

While the specs are pretty decent, the graphics could be better, and it seems silly to us to pair a Core i7 chip with such a low-grade video card. Unfortunately, the GeForce 730 isn’t a remarkably strong contender here, and so while the rest of the computer is relatively high end — Intel Core i7 fourth-gen 2.5GHz, 16GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Full HD touchscreen — the video card will let you down, and if you plan to run more than just the occasional game, you won’t get on well with the Envy 23.

It’s interesting too, because occasionally a game would run out of memory on this computer, which is odd given how decent the 16GB supply of memory is. We suspect it’s the video card killing this, as while Intel’s HD4600 graphics chip is reasonably improved from where it was several generations ago, HP has basically matched a hum-drum set of internal graphics with an even more hum-drum discrete graphics chip set.

Beyond this technical issue, the HP Envy 23 is mostly a success.

We say “mostly” because there’s a factor in the screen that bothers us, and that’s the brightness, and how little of it you get.

Unfortunately, there’s just very little brightness to write about here, and HP has even disabled the Windows 8 brightness controls, and removed any hardware buttons to let you tune it, forcing you to rely on a tiny piece of software that offers a few colour temperature changes, some contrast control, and very little brightness.

At points, we thought it was our eyes, and had to desperately seek the brightness options to see if these could be changed, and changed quickly. Sadly, there just isn’t much movement here, and if you don’t like how dim the world is on the HP Envy 23, you won’t have many options to turn to. Unless you want to buy a new screen, which given the all-in-one form-factor at play here, probably defeats the point to begin with.

Oh, and we’d suggest to replace the keyboard and mouse immediately, though, as they’re among the worst of the supplied peripherals you’ll ever use. If you thought that maybe you’d get a decent set of accessories with a machine that costs over two grand, think again. These bits just aren’t good at all.

Conclusion

Unless you’re a gamer, the Envy 23 is perfectly matched to most people, providing plenty of storage along with decent specs and a respectable touchscreen.

HP’s special stand helps to bring this together, culminating in a machine that isn’t just suited to desks, but also anyone who wants a top down approach to using their computer.

 

Review: HP Envy Recline 23 TouchSmart all-in-one desktop
Price (RRP): $2299 Manufacturer: HP
Reasonably stylish; Neat hinge mechanism means the Envy 23 can be used either as a typical computer, or flat like a tablet; Outside of the video card, a well spec'd machine; Works as a monitor or TV through an HDMI port;
Video chipset needs to be better than the GeForce 730 HP included; Display isn't bright enough; Included keyboard and mouse aren't great;
Overall
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Value for money
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4.1Overall Score
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