The 2015 HP Envy 13, Great Linux Laptop Let Down by Heat and Short Battery Life.

The 2015 HP Envy 13
The 2015 HP Envy 13

Update 1: Since Intel Skylake is rather new. I would recommend the installation of Intel Graphics Installer (for Ubuntu Wily only). this installer will install the latest Intel graphics stack for a smoother experience.

Update 2: I have posted a follow-up story where i can get 7.30 hours of battery life. (Important to read!)

Update 3: Ubuntu Kernel Team provides the 4.4 mainline Kernel. Please refer to https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Kernel/MainlineBuilds for Installation. Also install Skylake DMC and Skylake GUC if update-initramfs -u tells possible missing firmware.

Long Story Short

I purchased the HP Envy 13 on December 10th for IDR 14000000, the equivalent of USD 1000. Coming from Lenovo IdeaPad U310, the Envy 13 is an upgrade in both performance and experience, but as it costs twice the U310 i expect the laptop to also twice as good.

I originally bidding on Asus Zenbook and Dell XPS 13, but Asus has recently updated their Zenbook line which is not yet available in Indonesia, so i thought it’ll be pointless to buy the older version of it. For XPS 13, if you are Indonesian you will probably asking why the price is almost 50% more than in the U.S? The simple answer, it is most likely does not shipped from the Free Trade Zone. Imported goods from Free Trade Zone has lower cost of barrier.

The Envy 13 is my first HP laptop and i was quite nervous about it. Despite HP is the 2014 most selling laptop brand worldwide, some HP laptop reported to have overheating issue.

I’ve noticed the popular beliefs that running Linux on premium device is overkill now fading, Linux user can now play games on Steam, gaming is indeed required higher laptop specs. Support for newer device in Linux is also getting better than it was years ago, though it is still limited e.g Optimus support that is still a big meh.

Concerning the state of open source software today, it is safe to assume that open source software and open source development rule the tech industry, many companies believes that among other reasons, adopting and open sourcing their software will drive the development more efficient.

The 2015 HP Envy 13

Envy 13 is the thinnest laptop ever been made by HP, it sports the i5-6200U Intel Skylake processor with maximum turbo frequency of 2.8 Ghz. The design of this laptop looks youthful, though if we talk about it, it is plain to see that it’s been influenced by Apple design for their Macbook. Still, it doesn’t looks like a Macbook knockoff either. Perhaps if the color isn’t silver it will distinct itself. What HP could do better with design is to reduce the size of its bottom screen bezel.

The laptop has no Ethernet port, the USB Ethernet adapter is a $35 add-on according to the Indonesian HP store. By default it got 3 USB 3.0 ports, 1 HDMI port, 1 card reader and 1 headset jack.

The display quality of Envy 13 is superb, color reproduction is great and font looks crisped. With naked eyes i cannot see any pixels and the screen brightness and contrast are comparable to the 2015 Macbook Pro. Putting the resolution of 3200×1800 on a 13.3″ panel really is a good decision from HP.

The high screen resolution is of course taking its toll on battery life, the unit i have equipped with a 3-cell, 45 Wh Li-ion battery and it last for less than 6 hours under casual use. This is a big disappointment to have such battery life in 2015.

HP really needs to bump the battery capacity on this laptop to balance the given screen resolution with energy it consumed. Considering the laptop is worth $1000, it deserves more juice on the battery.

But the short battery life is not only the problem with Envy 13. The laptop temperature is slightly above normal for my use case. The temperature when idle is 48°C and it spikes when i do video call on Firefox Hello, it reaches the temperatures of 76°C and i can feel the heat as i hear the fan spinning really fast. I’m worried that in a long term use the heat will damage the components. When compare to the 2015 Macbook Pro, the mac will surely gets warm but not gets hot as the Envy 13. Again, HP should looking into this matter seriously.

Screenshot from 2015-12-13 17-31-45
The laptop gets hot during a Firefox Hello session.

When it comes to the laptop Keyboard and Touchpad, HP made an odd design decision, Although having keyboard backlit is a plus, the keyboard when in use is not as comfortable as in Lenovo or Macbook Pro. You can see in the picture below that the Page Up and Page Down keys are too small, i don’t think the fingers found in most adult will fit on that tiny key, and so i often ended up pressing the wrong key. The Touchpad is also small by comparison to the other Ultrabook, it is not very comfortable but not to the point of its Keyboard.

The envy 13 has fingerprint scanner which unfortunately is not working in Ubuntu as it is not listed as supported hardware by Fingerprint GUI. lsusb identify the hardware as Bus 001 Device 004: ID 138a:0050 Validity Sensors, Inc. Swipe Fingerprint Sensor.

Most of the time, i just plugged in my LG Nexus earphone to a laptop, so i rarely use the built in speakers but i should note that the Bang & Olufsen speakers in this laptop surprisingly sounds pretty decent, the Danish company sure are doing a good work on this.

Below is the detail of my Envy 13 configuration:

Operating system Windows 10 Home 64-bit (Pre-installed), Ubuntu 15.10 64-bit.
Product Title HP ENVY Notebook – 13-d026tu
Microprocessor Intel® Core™ i5-6200U  (2.3 GHz, up to 2.8 GHz, 3 MB cache)
Chipset Intel® Core™ i5 processor
Product Color Natural silver
Memory Ram 4 GB LPDDR3-1600 SDRAM (onboard)
Expansion slots 1 multi-format SD media card reader
Graphics Device Intel® HD Graphics 520
Display Non-touchsreen 13.3″ 16:9 3200×1800 IPS LED-backlit.
Hard drive 256 GB M.2 Samsung SSD
Wireless Connectivity 802.11b/g/n (1×1) and Bluetooth® 4.0 combo (Miracast compatible)

note: the WLAN card is Broadcom BCM43142, it needs to use proprietary driver to work.

Audio Bang & Olufsen Stereo Speakers
Energy efficiency ENERGY STAR® certified
EPEAT® Silver registered
Keyboard Full-size island-style backlit
Camera HP TrueVision HD Webcam (front-facing) with integrated dual array digital microphone
Ports 3 USB 3.0
1 HDMI
1 headphone/microphone combo
Power supply 45 W AC power adapter
Battery 3-cell, 45 Wh Li-ion polymer
Dimensions 32.65 x 22.6 x 1.29 cm
Package weight Starting at 1.36 kg

Ubuntu On  It

What interests me about the Envy 13 is that it uses the latest Intel Processor (Skylake) which Intel claimed to have improve power efficiency, but like i’ve mentioned earlier, the battery life is disappointing because HP is being less generous in giving bigger battery capacity for this laptop.

Intel Skylake support in Linux is already available. I tried to boot Debian Jessie, but on live session both Debian KDE and GNOME are failed to enter the login screen. When i install it, it drops to BusyBox. I have yet to find the cause, but i assume it has something to do with Intel Skylake support in Debian.

Now because i’m always in the deb camp, Ubuntu is my other choice. Ubuntu is known for enabling the non-free repository by default. The proprietary driver needed by the laptop will be detected once you apt-get update for the first time. There are two proprietary driver needed for the Envy 13, wl and intel-microcode.

Ubuntu login manager LightDM needed a workaround to scale in HiDPI mode, so without this workaround the login screen is tiny.

Screenshot from 2015-12-13 20-50-29

I’m still struggling to like Unity, years since it was being introduced, it is still slow, confusing and lack of configuration compared to my preferred Desktop Environment, KDE. But Unity plays nicely with HiDPI screen where KDE isn’t.

The envy 13 working fine with Ubuntu Wily running 4.2 Kernel, glx-info | grep OpenGL shows Mesa is working. But upgrading to 4.3 and then to 4.4RC Kernel in order to have better Skylake support only makes wl to stop working. I tried to rebuild the Broadcom modules but the problem persist. So as i wrote this blog post, i am still default to Wily Kernel.

Final Words

HP Envy 13 is a promising great laptop that’s being let down by the short battery life and above the average temperature when it operates. It can run Linux (Ubuntu) with limitation, the non working fingerprint scanner is to note if you need this feature to work.

The selling point for this laptop is probably the superb display quality, at 3200×1800 everything looks better. The laptop design is also other thing that the owner can be proud of. And about the Intel Skylake, at least for this laptop i suggest you not to get hyped by it. But if you really want to try the latest and greatest thing, this is one of the laptop to buy.

Giri Alam
My name is Giri Alam Wigunnara. I live in the beautiful, yet hectic city of Bandung in Indonesia. I am currently a graduate student at Parahyangan Catholic University studying International Relations. Besides politics, my other interest is in open source technology. I have been a Linux user since 2007, and have contributed to several open source projects since then. I enjoy blues music and old movies. Recently I have travelled widely around the ten ASEAN nations, as I see great potential in them and together with some friends, I export and import spices, fruits and leather into the region.