HP Omen 15 (2020) Review: Improved formula make it a gaming laptop worth buying

HP says its Omen 15 gaming laptop is more portable than ever, but it’s still impressively big

The Pros

  • Excellent design
  • Solid performance
  • 144Hz screen makes everything buttery smooth

The Cons

  • Weight makes it awkward to carry around
  • Battery life is abysmal
  • Laptop is a fingerprint magnet

HP’s Omen gaming PC line received a significant refresh this year as the company pivots to a new design. The new Omen 15, for example, pares down the typical ‘gaming aesthetic’ featured on products typically targeted at gamers. Ultimately, I think this is a win from a design perspective, but good looks on your gaming laptop is only part of the equation.

As I’ve said in previous reviews of gaming laptops, I feel the ‘gaming’ and ‘laptop’ aspects are at war with each other. The way that computers work means that to squeeze out the power and performance needed when gaming, thermals are critically important. Unfortunately, that often means PCs need more space to allow for better cooling and heat dispersion.

On the laptop side of things, the goal is often portability. And while gaming laptops are objectively more portable than a desktop, they still often miss the mark when it comes to the incredible portability of ultra-thin notebooks or 2-in-1 devices like Microsoft’s Surface.

Returning to the Omen 15, HP made an effort to reduce the footprint of its gaming laptop, but it still borders on what I’d consider portable. Moreover, the new Omen 15 boasts impressive hardware, but the improved internals may not be enough to make it a viable option.

With all that in mind, let’s dig into the new HP Omen 15 and see if it attains the dream of an incredibly portable and powerful gaming laptop.

Specs

  • Display: 15.6-inch Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, 300 nits brightness
  • Processor: Intel 10th Gen Core i7-10750H
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Dimensions: 35.79 x 23.97 x 2.25cm
  • Weight: 2.36Kg
  • Camera: HD Wide Vision 720p camera with integrated dual array digital microphones
  • Operating System: Window 10 Home
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5
  • Ports: 1x Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port, 3x USB-A ports, 1x Mini DisplayPort, 1x HDMI port, 1x Ethernet port, 1x SD Card slot
  • Graphics: Nvidia RTX 2070 Super Max-Q

‘More portable than ever,’ but still a heavy laptop

First up, HP boasts that its redesigned HP Omen is “more portable than ever.” Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. Last year, I spent a bit of time with the 2019 HP Omen and, aside from how the laptops look, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference.

Both laptops are big, bulky and heavy. Granted, the 2020 version is slightly lighter at 2.36kg to the 2019 model’s 2.4kg. The HP Omen 15 (2020) is also a few millimetres smaller than the 2019 variant — hardly enough to constitute a huge leap forward in terms of portability.

Also annoying is the power brick, which is just as absurdly big and heavy as last year’s model.

These massive power bricks have been a long-running complaint of mine when it comes to gaming laptops of all kinds, not just HP’s Omen series. While likely necessary, large power bricks add to the weight and bulk when you have to bring the laptop somewhere, further decreasing the supposed portability of the whole device. I’ll dig into the battery life more below, but trust me, you’ll need to bring the charger with you.

Thankfully, HP made significant improvements in other areas of the design. I acknowledged that HP’s 2019 Omen 15 managed to avoid some of the worst traits of a ‘gaming’ product, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t garish. With bright red accents, an angular chassis and carbon fibre panelling, last year’s Omen 15 was clearly made for capital ‘G’ Gamers.

The HP Omen 15 (2020) on the other hand could easily work in an office or boardroom without betraying its true purpose. It comes in a ‘Shadow Black’ matte colour and honestly looks great. Some may find the new Omen 15 plain, but I vastly prefer it to the tawdry aesthetic of older Omen products.

One gripe I did have with the design is that the material used is an absolute fingerprint magnet. Within minutes of taking the laptop out of the box, the lid was covered in fingerprints and it took a surprising amount of scrubbing with a microfibre cloth to get the smudges off.

Benchmarks show improved performance thanks to new hardware

In day-to-day use, the Omen 15 handled the tasks I threw at it without much issue. From running Firefox with usually seven or more tabs open to using Photoshop to edit pictures for work, I didn’t run into any significant performance issues here.

Of course, given the amount of power packed into the Omen 15, I expect it to handle these tasks with ease.

Gaming is the more important area for a laptop like this since that’s one of its primary use cases. As such, I ran several benchmarks and played a couple titles to see just how well the Omen 15 holds up under pressure.

In short, the performance was better than I expected from a gaming laptop without overdoing it on temperatures, and it rightly left last year’s Omen 15 in the dust.

I left the Omen 15 in its default performance setting of ‘Balanced,’ which tries to strike a balance between cooling and performance. Those who want to squeeze out every last frame will likely benefit from tweaking the performance profiles available in the Omen Command Centre app (or perhaps investing in a desktop rig where they can tweak cooling systems and overclocks to really get every last bit of performance).

Starting with the synthetic CPU benchmarks, the Omen 15 (2020) I tested scored 2,778 in Cinebench R20 and completed the Blender ‘bmw27’ and ‘classroom’ benchmarks in five minutes 27 seconds and 15 minutes respectively (lower times being better). By comparison, the Omen 15 (2019) I tested, which had an i7-8750H, scored 2,373 in Cinebench, six minutes and 24 seconds in bmw27 and took almost 17 and a half minutes to complete classroom.

On the GPU side, the Nvidia RTX 2070 Super Max-Q also performed well in benchmarks, nabbing a FurMark score of 5,987 on the 1080p preset. In Heaven using the extreme preset, the Omen 15 scored 3,238 points with an average framerate around 128.6. Temperatures throughout the testing hovered around 67°C mark.

Compared to last year’s Omen 15, the performance uplift is pretty substantial. It scored 5,740 in Furmark and 2,636 with an average framerate of 104.74 (in both cases, higher is better). Most of this comes from the move to a 2070 Super, although HP’s improved cooling may also contribute to better scores.

Better hardware means better experience in games

Finally, I ran some in-game benchmarks and played some games to get a better idea of real-world performance since benchmarks aren’t everything. Rise of the Tomb Raider saw an average of 112fps while A Total War Saga: Troy got about 66fps. Popular battle royale games like Apex Legends and the new Spellbreak were more than playable and made extra enjoyable by the 144Hz display.

All in all, I think the Omen 15 provides excellent performance for the internals and the cost, but as I’ve said before, the drawbacks of the laptop form factor can hold it back. Someone interested in getting the most performance for their dollar would likely benefit from a desktop PC — pre-built or custom — which can be tweaked and modified to improve performance and boasts a better thermal environment out of the box. Plus, the performance improvement between the 2019 and 2020 models, while significant, I don’t think make it worth an upgrade for anyone rocking last year’s system.

Speaking of thermals, the Omen 15’s fans get quite loud when under load. It appears the cooling system works well and can keep things from getting uncomfortably hot, but if you share a space with other people, it could be annoying for them when the fans boot up. Investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones could be a good idea.

Silky smooth display

Although some might scoff at HP’s decision to include a 1080p panel in the Omen 15, I think that’s probably one of the smartest moves the company made with this laptop. I’ve long maintained that refresh rate makes a greater difference to gaming than resolution, especially when it comes to smaller displays like what you’d get on a laptop.

I think this holds true on the Omen 15. At 15.6-inches, the screen is small enough that I can’t see any pixels or rough edges unless I get uncomfortably close to it — closer than I’d ever get through typical use or gaming. However, I can tell the difference when it comes to the refresh rate. Compared to my desktop, which I typically use for gaming and work, the Omen 15 feels considerably smoother.

The difference stems from the display, not the performance of either machine. Currently, I use an ultra-wide monitor with my desktop that’s locked to 60Hz. I plan to upgrade to a higher refresh rate screen soon, especially now that I’ve felt the difference using the 144Hz display on the Omen 15.

What’s happening here is that a higher refresh rate monitor can display more frames than a lower refresh rate. For example, a 60Hz display can show at most 60 new frames per second (fps), while a 144Hz screen can do 144fps. That means even if you’ve got a powerful system that can output 200fps in some games, you’ll only ever see 60 of those frames each second. By increasing the refresh rate of your display, you’re able to see more information each second and as a result, content feels smoother and more responsive.

In games, high refresh rates can make it feel like the game responds faster to your input. Things like turning the camera or hitting a button feel faster because the time between the game registering the input and displaying the result on screen is less than a lower refresh rate screen. Likewise, players may be able to see something happen on a high refresh rate screen before someone with a lower refresh rate, although the differences here are less pronounced.

Outside of games, navigating Windows just feels fast and smooth. Scrolling is delightful, the web feels more responsive and in general it’s a better experience. Arguably the display will be most noticeable change here for anyone coming from a machine with the standard 60Hz refresh rate. Granted, not everyone may notice the difference and at a certain point, the advantages of increased refresh rate diminish, but for many people, a jump from 60Hz to 144Hz will be significant.

All that performance comes at a cost

Despite all the capabilities of the Omen 15, one area that continues to disappoint is battery life. It’s another common issue with gaming laptops — they’re packed full of powerful internals that draw significant power. Poor battery is also another hit when it comes to portability since you can’t rely on the Omen 15 to last a long time away from an outlet.

I had hoped that HP made some significant improvements this time around. The 2019 Omen claimed it could get close to five hours on a charge, although I averaged three and a half. HP claims the Omen 15 (2020) can get up to eight hours but I barely got more than two or three hours doing little more than browsing the web.

Considering you can’t expect the laptop to last a long time on its battery when doing light activities like web browsing, bringing the charger with you is a must. And while I already mentioned it, I have to stress again that the charging brick is massive and heavy. To me, it just degrades any portability benefits for a gaming laptop like this.

Revamped typing and trackpad experience

Another aspect of the Omen 15 that HP greatly improved is the keyboard. 2019’s Omen 15 had a passable keyboard, but typing on the new Omen 15 is a joy. The keyboard feels very tactical without being overly loud and clicky. While I enjoy the click of a mechanical keyboard, I also recognize the sound can be annoying for those around me — you won’t have that problem with the Omen 15, which has a muted typing sound.

I typed the entirety of this review on the Omen 15 and didn’t have a single problem doing so. I’m not sure I’d placed the keyboard above the likes of the Surface Laptop 3, but it’s definitely much better than last year.

Another plus is that the Omen Command Centre app makes it easy to change the lighting colours of the keyboard, which includes four distinct lighting zones.

HP also included a much, much better trackpad this time around. It feels smooth and responsive and the trackpad is wonderfully clicky. Does it compare to Apple’s MacBook touchpads? No, but I’ve yet to find a Windows laptop that does. Still, it’s leagues better than before.

One issue I did have with the trackpad was it felt loose, as if the surface had a bit of play. It’d make a small clunk noise when touching it (not when clicking the trackpad, but when running finger along it to scroll or move the cursor). Ultimately, it shouldn’t be a huge deal as I imagine most people using the Omen will connect a mouse. Trackpads just aren’t feasible for gaming.

The Omen 15 (2020) is a considerable improvement, but I’m not sold on gaming laptops

Although I may come down harsh on gaming laptops, I have to say that I recognize their usefulness. Many people can’t justify the cost of owning two different computers and gaming laptops represent an excellent compromise between desktop power and laptop portability.

From that perspective, the HP Omen 15 (2020) is an excellent option. It is slightly lighter and smaller than previous models, which helps when it comes to lugging it around. However, make no mistake, it’s a heavy computer and using it on the go isn’t a great experience. Still, the fact that you can use it on the go is a benefit over desktop PCs.

All that said, it’s also crucial to recognize where gaming laptops fall short compared to other laptops and desktops. A gaming laptop will always ask you to compromise -- recognizing those compromises is key to making a good purchase decision.

I think HP’s Omen 15 (2020) is one of those good purchase decisions. It offers a reasonable amount of performance, looks great and is plenty portable. If you need one computer that can game, move around and work in an office setting, this is probably the one to get.

At the same time, if you can afford to get a laptop and desktop, or if you don’t need to move your computer around, investing the money you’d spend on the Omen 15 into a similarly equipped (or better with the new Nvidia RTX 3000 series cards on the way) desktop will give you better performance for your dollar.

The HP Omen 15 (2020) costs $2,199.99 in Canada and is available on HP's website.

"The HP Omen 15 (2020) offers a reasonable amount of performance, looks great and is plenty portable -- if you need a gaming laptop, this is one to get"

7.5

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