The last Omen notebook tried to downplay its gaming sensibility with a somewhat boring aesthetic. Perhaps that was in an effort to make it appeal to a more broad audience, but it’s not the sort of thing most gamers are looking for. The new Omen 15 has a more aggressive, “fighter jet” design that emphasizes sharp lines and angles, instead of friendlier rounded corners. You can tell it’s a gaming machine just by looking at it, which should make it more tempting to people who view their rigs like hot rods.
The Omen 15’s case is still made of plastic — not machined aluminum like the gorgeous 2014 model — but it’s mostly sturdy. The aesthetic is all black and crimson, with a touch of faux-carbon fiber for good measure. It’s an elegant design overall, but I’m not sure how well it would hold up over time. I managed to somehow scratch the top of the case in the midst of this review, and I honestly have no idea how that happened. There’s a bit of flex behind the Omen logo and the display as well, which makes me wonder how safe it would be if I were to stuff it into a laptop bag.
At 5.68 pounds, it’s on the lighter end for full-fledged gaming laptops. You definitely won’t mistake the Omen 15 for an ultraportable, but it’s easy to carry around. Additionally, HP applied NVIDIA’s Max-Q design philosophy, which is one reason why it’s so portable. The Omen 15 doesn’t take Max-Q as far as ASUS’ Zephyrus laptop, though, which comes in under five pounds and packs in more powerful hardware.
As for ports, the Omen 15 includes three USB 3.0 connections, a USB-C socket with optional Thunderbolt connectivity, an SD card reader and an Ethernet jack. It also has full-sized HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connections for video output. If you want to upgrade later on, you can also remove the bottom of the laptop to swap out its SSD, hard drive and RAM. In theory, at least — some of the tiny screws just wouldn’t budge when I tried to open the case. Even worse, they ended up getting stripped, which means a phillips-head screwdriver can’t grip them anymore.
Keyboard and trackpad
To give the laptop more of a premium feel, HP draped a layer of aluminum around the keyboard and trackpad, both of which are also significantly improved over last year. The keyboard feels great to type on, with a decent amount of travel. And it’s also very responsive for games — I felt just as capable maneuvering through Overwatch matches as I do on my desktop keyboard.
Sure, it’s not mechanical, but you have to step up to far more expensive gaming laptops for that (e.g., HP’s huge Omen X). There’s a full number pad on the right side of the keyboard, as well as a crimson backlight for when you’re gaming in the dark. HP claims it offers “26-key rollover anti-ghosting,” which means it can accept that many key commands at once without mistaking any inputs. That’s particularly useful for fast typists, and gamers who need to hit a plenty of keys often.
The Omen 15’s touchpad is smooth and accurate for all of your productivity needs, and its two buttons are also very responsive. While you’ll still need a decent mouse for playing most games, I particularly appreciated the touchpad. Plenty of Windows machines tend to skimp on them, especially gaming laptops.
Display and sound
The Omen 15’s 15.6-inch display is available in in 4K, or 1080p with a fast 120Hz refresh rate. You can also choose from G-Sync-compatible screens for NVIDIA GPUs, and Freesync displays for AMD chips. I tested the 4K G-Sync version, which was bright, colorful and responsive enough for fast-paced games. The screen was also great for movies and TV shows, but that’s a less notable achievement.
I didn’t see much point in having such a high resolution, though, since the Omen isn’t powerful enough to play games well in 4K. Most gamers would be better off with the 1080p screen, since its speedy refresh rate would let you see up to 120 frames per second. That adds up to a much smoother gaming experience overall.
The Omen 15’s speakers were also impressive, delivering a surprising amount of volume and detail for laptop speakers. Since they sit toward the front of the laptop, it’s almost as if the sound is coming toward you, which makes for much natural-sounding audio. Obviously, they’re no match for a decent set of gaming headphones or external speakers, but it’s nice to have some solid built-in sound.
Performance and battery life
The Omen 15 is powered by Intel’s i7-7700HQ CPU and your choice of NVIDIA’s GTX 1050, 1050Ti or 1060 graphics cards. The lowest-end model features AMD’s Radeon RX550 GPU, if you’re aiming to save a few bucks. The laptop also packs in between 8GB and 16GB of RAM, and you can choose between a variety of SSD options and larger 2.5-inch hard drives for storing all your games.
Overall, it has much more horsepower than last year’s Omen. If you want to dabble in VR, though, you’ll have to step up to the GTX 1060 version to run the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. While every Omen 15 model has enough USB ports to support those headsets and their accompanying sensors, you need the extra bit of power from the GTX 1060 to make sure your games run smoothly. VR isn’t like typical gaming; a few dropped frames could easily make you sick.
Even though it’s not nearly as beefy as the ASUS Zephyrus, the Omen 15 still offers enough power to reach a solid 60 FPS in most modern games running at 1080p. I clocked in around 120 FPS in Overwatch on high graphical settings, and between 60 and 70 FPS in The Witcher 3 and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Thanks to the G-Sync screen, I also didn’t notice any screen tearing once the frame rate started creeping up.