HP Creatively Refreshes Business Laptop Line with a Touch of Envy

Rob Enderle

Last week, I received a notebook bag from HP. Inside, there wasn't a notebook. Instead, there were parts, telling the story of what HP changed in its recent refresh of its business notebook line. I thought the presentation was very creative and it is worth spending a little time talking about the improvements.


In addition, the company launched the latest MacBook Air competitor. This one is even more advanced than what Lenovo launched several months ago. It won't show up for a few more weeks but, since we are talking about notebooks, let's touch on that as well.


Metals, It's All About Metals


It is interesting that HP's new consumer and business notebooks are all based around advancements in metals. In the case of the consumer line, it is liquid metal, which is used on the inside and makes the keyboard look like it is floating on chromed steel. This is largely for appearance, but the business line has a practical aspect to it.


Historically, if you used a metal casing, you would paint it. Then, the paint would scratch and wear, making the notebook look old and beat up in a few short weeks. In addition, painted surfaces are more difficult to recycle in an environmentally safe way; the paint has to typically be removed by caustic chemicals and that generates hazardous waste. HP has, with this line, carried finished metals broadly across more products. This gives the cover a brushed metal finish and the result is not only very durable (HP sent steel wool to showcase that it was very difficult to scratch or mar it), but it can be recycled without creating as much waste as came from previous lines. This makes the product more durable and greener.


Safer Drives, Keyboards and Batteries


You can destroy a laptop in lots of ways, and recently we found that when you have a major battery problem, the result could be life threatening because of the heat released. HP has redesigned the battery to be much more resilient to this kind of problem and the changes should reduce dramatically the chance of a fire or other catastrophic battery failure.


I can't tell you the number of times that I've seen someone spill a beverage on their laptop, basically turning it into an expensive brick. Hardened laptops are designed with water-resistant keyboards but they were thought to be too expensive for general use. HP has built water-resistant keyboards into the new line so, while I wouldn't put them in the dishwasher (I've heard there are actually people who have done this), there is a vastly better chance that your laptop will survive an accidental spill.


Speaking of survival, the data on the laptop often has much more value than the laptop itself does and it isn't uncommon for folks to pick up a running laptop and rush to a meeting. Unfortunately, it is also not uncommon for folks to drop the thing, grounding the heads and destroying the drive. ThinkPad actually pioneered the idea of massively shock mounting the drive and putting in an accelerometer to ensure the heads locked safely away if the laptop was dropped. With this line, HP moves in a similar fashion with what appears to be a similar technology. It certainly is an improvement. Word on whether it is as good as Lenovo will have to wait for solid third-party testing.


Hardening Laptop Trends


This is all a part of a general trend to harden business laptops and coincidentally this week I'm in Japan touring Panasonic's hardened laptop factory. Panasonic has led the market in this class of product. Dell, HP and Lenovo have all started stepping up with products that approach the hardened laptops that Panasonic has made. Clearly, Panasonic has to move the bar and that is what I'm in the process of finding out about. I'll post on this later in the week.


Voodoo Envy: The Most Appropriate Product Name Ever


I've always been a fan of the Voodoo Envy. It seemed to blend portability and performance with custom colors in a way that was unmatched by any other vendor. The recently announced thinner-than-MacBook-Air laptop is no exception and goes well beyond any other product in both technology and personalization.


This product starts with a full graphite case and frame. This not only makes the product very strong but very light. A few years back, Sony did a graphite laptop and it remains the lightest practical laptop I have ever had the pleasure to use. One thing Sony did not do, however, was offer a solid state drive (they were both too expensive and too slow at the time) or colors, so I had ours custom painted with color morphing paint, something I think Voodoo (part of HP) should also do. It does offer the notebook in custom colors, though the standard high-gloss black is stunning in person and you can see the graphite weave subtly underneath the color, which is really cool.


Unlike the Lenovo ThinkPad X300, the Envy doesn't have a full business configuration or an optical drive. But it is thinner and has a good port out and has a unique power brick with a built-in Ethernet port and every wireless option you could think of. Unlike the Apple Air -- and like the Lenovo -- it has a replaceable battery, making it vastly more practical than Apple's offering.


I wonder about its graphics performance, though, as it uses the latest version of Intel's integrated graphics, which, while vastly improved, still lags AMD/ATI and NVIDIA's integrated offerings on spec, though it is more power efficient. I think this product would be perfect for AMD/ATI's XGP external graphics solution, which would turn this notebook into what could be a graphics power house.


Trust me, this is only the start of what is likely to be a vendor war over these ultra-thin notebooks, but, until others show up, remember the name Envy, as this product engenders real lust.


Wrapping Up


This is the beginning of what will likely be major changes across all of the vendors as each steps up to compete on thinness, durability, design, battery life, green and manageability. You are going to see some improvements in user interface as well over time and this segment is about to be put under major pressure from ever more capable smartphones. Change is coming, big change.

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