HP’s Envy 14 Spectre is an impressive piece of hardware. It is a device with more flaws than an Apple laptop – the glowing red Beats logo is the strangest of several questionable design choices – but the Spectre 14 makes up for such shortcomings with several major wins.

The greatest of these is the display. It’s beautiful. It’s colorful. It’s bright. It’s everything that computer enthusiasts constantly ask for but never receive. No, it’s not perfect (quality is still behind a decent desktop monitor) but it puts most laptop displays to shame. Only Apple’s new Retina MacBook Pro will clearly hand the Spectre its hat, but the base price of the Retina is $2220, so it's not a fair comparison.

Sound quality is another strength. It easily beats laptops of similar size and matches or exceeds many larger multimedia and gaming laptops. If you don’t care about listening to music this may not be of benefit to you, but I do care about that, so I thought Beats audio added a lot to the product.

HP also manages to avoid fumbling on build quality. The Spectre feels robust, luxurious and properly put together. Panel gaps are mostly out of sight and tight when they are, chassis flex is kept to a minimum and material feel is excellent. Apple still has the lead but HP is getting close.

I think HP already built the first legitimate competitor to Apple when it started to ship last year’s HP Envy 15 (though the mentioned display issue put a damper on it). The Spectre is a strong second swing at Cupertino. It’s built nearly as well as Apple’s products, provides a better display than the 13” Air or Pro and offers significantly better sound quality. I also think the Spectre is more attractive.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying the Spectre is better than Apple’s laptops. I am, however, saying that it’s an equal. It makes a few choices that are different from those made at Apple and as a result it’s stronger in some areas and weaker in others, but the Spectre 14 is just as excellent overall. This is an outstanding product that justifies its intimidating price.

« PreviousNext »