The HP Envy 14-2136NR Laptop is a good starting point when considering a “back-to-school” laptop for students. For about $600 you get an Intel® i5 2.4GHz CPU, 6GB of memory, 1GB ATI Radeon graphics, Beats Audio™, DVD burner, SD card slot, USB 3.0 (1 port) a decent 14.5 inch screen and the whole package weighs in just over 5 pounds.
The fit and finish is quite good on the HP Envy. The full size keyboard feels good and is reasonably spaced for hands both large and small. The system boots up and loads Windows quickly. It’s not as fast as an SSD based system but reasonable nonetheless. Built-in wireless networking is fast and we had no problems jacking into the network or keeping our network connections. Networking to the HP printer on the network took literally 5 seconds. The beats audio is great for background music, streaming Pandora that kinds of thing. It sounds better than your typical laptop.
Overall, the HP Envy 14-2136NR offers solid performance for everyday computing; Web, Facebook, MS-Office, Picassa...etc., and should serve mainstream users well.
The weak links are the display and the hard drive. Both offer reasonable performance for this price range but if you plan on gaming or editing video you need to step up to a 7200RPM Hard Drive or Solid State Drive and a better video card. The display is okay but not that vibrant and off axis viewing is poor. Again, reasonable for this price range but know that going in.
We highly recommend buying a Laptop at a retailer where you can get some quality hand-on time with the product before you make your purchase and one that offers a longer return period such as Costco. With laptops in the $500-$600 price range you’ll find a lot of the same specifications. However, the subtle differences all add up. Be sure to make sure you like the way the keyboard feels and the overall design works for you.