HP is no stranger to making high-end laptops, they’re also no strangers to making gaming laptops, and much like Dell who have the Alienware brand, HP has the Omen brand with multiple devices in it. The Omen 15 we have in is somewhat of a mid step between the high and low of this year and last year, but that doesn’t mean it is not a capable machine.
Disclaimer: HP Sent us this Omen 15 for review. The specific model is the 15-ax011na, and we have had it for just under a month. HP Provided the laptop free of charge, but no money has changed hands and HP have no control over the editorial outcome of this review.
Specifications – Omen 15
- 15.6” 3840×2160 UHD IPS screen (non-touch)
- Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU
- 16GB DDR4-2133Mhz RAM
- Nvidia GeForce GTX965m w/4GB GDDR5
- 256GB NVMe PCIe SSD
- 1TB Mechanical Hard drive
- 61.5Wh battery
For more in-depth specifications, check out the HP product page for the Omen 15 here
Hardware – Omen 15
There are two things I can say to describe the externals of the Omen 15, one of which is fingerprint magnet, the other is demonic, let me get back to that in a minute. Fingerprint magnet is pretty obvious, the lid and the keyboard deck is insanely fingerprint magnet. In a similar way to Dell’s XPS 13 lineup with their carbon fibre bases. The Omen 15 looks like it has a carbon fibre lid, but it could very easily be plastic painted to look like carbon fibre.
Now we get on to the demonic, because that is the first thing that my mum and sister said when they saw the Omen 15, and that was without it even being turned on. The red Omen emblem on the top, the glossy logo just seems… evil, as well as the carbon accent. Opening the 15 up the evil/demonic theme continues. We have the keyboard which is only backlit in red and has a font that is… odd. The triangular Deus Ex looking speaker grille also looks weird and evil here. HP went for the big guns here, and they totally nailed it.
Having a look at the keyboard deck, we can see that they keyboard is sunken into the chassis so that the keys do not affect the screen and leave unsightly marks on it from your finger oils. Above the keyboard we have the speaker grille which once again has HPs triangular grille pattern and Bang and Olufsen branding which sound pretty damn amazing, I wouldn’t say they sounded better than the Envy X360 I recently reviewed, but I do think they rank up there with the better laptop speakers.
Below the keyboard we have a short but wide trackpad, which once again seems to be a hallmark of HP Laptops. Whilst I would have much preferred a taller trackpad for easier vertical scrolling, the tracking is just okay. As with the Envy X360, the Synaptics driver could very much be improved, and be infinitely improved by using the damn Microsoft Precision drivers. The click doesn’t feel all that great, but it is acceptable. If you want to game on the Omen 15, which, you know, it’s a gaming oriented laptop, please please please use an external mouse, you will thank me.
The Bottom is just vents and screws, vents and screws, and you guessed it, some more vents and some more screws. I cannot remove the bottom of this laptop as a review device and void the warranty sticker as this has to go to other people, but with the PCIe SSD being NVMe and M.2, dropping something like a Samsung 960 Pro in there and changing the 1TB 7200RPM mechanical hard drive for a 2TB 850 Evo could be in your future for faster more reliable storage.
Looking at I/O, the Omen 15 is actually pretty damn well stacked.On the right side we a have the Power jack, which sadly once again is the barrel style, but unlike the Envy X360 there is a good reason this time. The Type-C spec allows only (And I mean only in the loosest possible way here) 100w of power to be transferred, whereas the power brick that comes with the Omen 15 (which is really a brick) is 120w, and 20w might not be a lot but still, it’d stop the Omen 15 from charging so quickly, which it really does. So the lack of Type-C for charging makes a lot of sense, and this model having a 6700HQ and a 965m prove that this is not a late 2016 product, it makes sense that there is not a Thunderbolt 3 port on this machine, but I would like there to be one on a future model.
Below the power jack we have a full RJ45 ethernet port, though a collapsible one. I don’t know if i feel great about the longevity of this, I feel like it could very easily be broken, but I do appreciate the fact they have put an ethernet jack into the Omen 15 for those times when gaming on WiFi just isn’t viable (which, let’s be real, is most of the time). Below the Ethernet jack is the Full sized HDMI port, I believe it is 2.0a, but It could very easily be 1.4b as well, meaning that your external monitor support could be more limited. Below that once again is the USB3.0 Type-A port, standard, nothing to be impressed about, again, no Type-C and definitely no thunderbolt 3, but a bog standard USB-A with 3.0 interface. Then we have the HDD activity LED, and below that, what is this, a full-sized SD card reader *gasp* such an arcane concept, but it does make transferring files from my camera easier.
Flipping to the left side I/O, it is a much smaller selection, with a Kensington lock (which is good when you’re lugging around, at minimum, an £1100 laptop) a USB 2.0 Type -A port, mostly for compatibility reasons and price. Whilst USB3.0 has been around for a while now, 2.0 has been around longer, and has the near universal compatibility that PS2 has, and 3.0 still has some compatibility issues annoying. But also cost. Whilst USB3.0 has been getting cheaper and cheaper, and even more so with Intel moving the controller onto the die, the actual ports themselves are nowhere near as cheap as the USB2.0 ones are, which at this point are essentially free with your box of cereal. Below that we have another USB3.0 Type-A port, because, the more USB ports the better. Lastly is the 3.5mm combo audio and microphone jack, it is an audio jack, I don’t know how much more I can say other than the interference seems low, but amplification doesn’t seem great.
Software – Omen 15
It’s Windows 10 64Bit, Whether or not the software on here is HP bloat, or just things left on by the previous reviewer, I can’t be sure, but there is a fair amount of crap on here, luckily most if not all of it can be uninstalled, but if I’m honest with you, a total wipe and reinstall of Windows will probably be your best bet to get rid of the cruft that builds up when installing and uninstalling things.
Performance – Omen 15
Now this is where the Omen 15 gets interesting, it’s a pretty damn high-end laptop, the Core i7-6700HQ is one of the highest end Skylake CPU options, and when this model debuted Kaby Lake SKUs were still being guessed. The GeForce 965m is from the last, Maxwell V2 Family, instead of the newer, more powerful and power efficient Pascal Architecture, but if I’m honest, this thing flies, even when pushing the 4K UHD screen without any scaling whatsoever. I won’t lie to you and pretend I played games for hours and hours on end with the Omen 15, I did play some, namely Rocket League, and AC3 (when I could get it to work) and they played really quite well, either at native 4k, or at 200% scaling and running at 1080p and every setting maxed out, the Omen 15 rarely had a problem.
What I did use the Omen 15 more for though, was video transcoding (using MakeMKV and Handbrake) and also large batch video conversions, and the Omen 15 smoked everything else in my office. The combination of a super high-end Intel Chip (with SpeedStep and QuickSync) as well as an Nvidia GeForce card and programmes which have CUDA acceleration, the Omen 15 cut my Blu-Ray rip times nearly by 75%, and my encoding from MKV to MP4 in half. This isn’t unique to the Omen 15, any high-end laptop would benefit from this and the software used, but still, from what I mainly used it for, as well as the gaming, the Omen 15 flew.
One weird thing for me was it’s inability to smoothly play back 4K YouTube videos in Chrome, same as the Envy X360, though I would have thought that the 965m would have helped HP be able to do that, sadly not. Though if you really wanna take advantage of that UHD screen with some UHD Youtube, head on over to YouTube in Edge, from the smoothest 4K UHD video content, not a single dropped frame in the multiple tests I did.
One big aspect to the speed of the Omen? the boot drive. Not only is it an SSD, not only is it a PCIe SSD, it’s an NVMe PCIe SSD!, It’s not the faster PCIe SSD i’ve ever tested,, and it’s actually on the lower end of NVMe, but that doesn’t change the fact that it kicks the snot out of a SATA SSD, and it feels so bad for the mechanical HDD that it gives it a little pat on the head whenever it has to interact with it. HP knows that performance is like a chain, the computer can only go as fast as its slowest part, and HP isn’t taking any chances with the Omen 15.
Battery – Omen 15
This is slightly less of an impressive aspect for me, though at least on this model, HP’s “90 in 90” branding actually seems close to achievable on the Omen 15. When doing anything intensive, whether that be gaming, video editing, photo editing, or video conversion/transcoding work, getting 4 hours out of the Omen 15 was amazing, 3 hours was far more achievable.
HP Claim up to 10 and a half hours of battery life for the Omen 15, but the only way I can see you getting that is when you’re on the lowest brightness, with everything turned off, watching a locally stored video on loop. The Omen 15 doing light tasks can maybe net me 6 hours, 7 if I’m willing to turn the brightness down further, but 10.5 hours is just unachievable for anything you’d realistically be doing on the Omen 15.
Luckily, as I said the charging is very good. Whether it has to do with the 120w charger or not, the 90% in 90 minutes claim actually holds up here, or gets close enough that I don’t care.
Miscellaneous – Omen 15
There are a few things I want to talk about in this section, those are webcam, screen and security/login. Starting with Webcam. It is just okay. The HD webcam (720p) one that HP include is just meh, it is suitable for video calls, and maybe if you’re just starting out live streaming and want the focus to be on audio instead of your video, that’s fine, but later on, investing in a Logitech C920 would definitely be a good investment.
Next up is that screen. The 15.6” panel is too big for my liking as a daily laptop, but I feel for a gaming or portable workstation, it makes sense, it gives you enough real estate to get some serious work done, with one caveat… if your eyes are good enough. Out of the box, my Omen 15 came at 200% scaling, meaning that for every pixel windows saw, the screen actually had 4 pixels, meaning my Omen 15 is basically a super sharp 1080p panel, which is great for me, and I’ve said on multiple occasions that I think 1080p is enough for a lot of things, but there comes a problem in that you only get the virtual screen real estate of 1080p and not the 4K/UHD of the native panel resolution, so you either go for clarity and lose the virtual desk space, or go for desk space, and pray that your eyes are good enough to see everything without squinting so hard you give yourself a headache. Oh and it’s also capped a little too low when on battery power, but that is fixable via a software update.
Lastly Is security/Login, and I mention this not because it is insecure or anything along those lines, but because it lacks two quite important features in a high-end Windows 10 laptop, either a Windows Hello compatible IR webcam, or a fingerprint scanner for Windows Hello. After using the Windows Hello camera on the Envy X360 a few weeks back, I instantly missed it on My YogaBook, and when I got this Omen 15 in, I just expected it would be there, more because of it’s cost than anything else, and It was quite disappointing not to see it there.
Conclusion – Omen 15
So should you buy the Omen 15? Well, actually yeah. It’s an awesome machine, it’s powerful, it’s relatively quiet for the hardware inside of it, It’s got a spectacular screen and It charges fast. The downsides to the Omen 15 are that it gets a hold of all the oils on your hands before your hands even know they’re there, and it’s battery kinda sucks, but if you can deal with the battery being less than stellar, and the fact you’re constantly going to have to be wiping this thing down? £1100 is a steal for this machine.
Not only is £1100 a steal for this machine as Is, the fact that the Hard drive and M.” SSD are easily upgradeable means that for years to come you can improve your speed and capacity quite easily. When the 970 pro and Evo comes out next year or so and are even faster and suck less juice and produce less heat than the 960 Pro/Evos do, you’ll be able to get it and you’ll barely get a chance to blink before this thing has fully booted up.
I totally endorse this Omen 15, even if I won’t personally use one due to its size and weight.