- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hewlett-Packard on Tuesday unveiled several new portable computers for the fall season, among other items. I had a preview showing of several new HP mobile computers last week, and what I saw was, at first glance, impressive.

New are several low- and mid-priced notebook (and netbook) computers, along with a new “Envy” range designed for high-end customers and those desiring superlong battery life, courtesy of an add-on “slice” battery that clamps on to the Envy model’s bottom. In one case, HP is claiming as much as 18 hours of battery time for a well-equipped 13-inch display laptop, and, no, that’s not a typo. (In size terms, that’s equal to the display found on the lowest-end MacBook Pro from Apple, or the MacBook Air.)

Whether the HP Envy 13, with the extra battery, really delivers the promised 18 hours remains to be seen, but it’s an audacious claim from a company not always known for the audacity of its hype. With this, and some other moves, HP is shaking up the computer game just a tad, and that’s a good thing.

Pricing for the Envy 13 starts at $1,699, and the extra battery slice will add to that cost. The firm claims the Envy 13 is 0.8-inches thin, and will weigh 3.74 pounds, while boasting a super-sharp display and high-end audio, along with an “instant on” Web connecting feature.

Add $100 to the Envy 13’s price and you start the bidding for the Envy 15, also stylish, but a tad thicker - a full inch - and checking in at 5.78 pounds. Here, the battery slice, again an option, will take you to about seven or eight hours of power, said HP’s Frederik Hamberger, an affable Swede who directs what HP calls the “Americas Notebook Category.”

Mr. Hamberger claims the new Envy displays will produce an “82 percent color gamut,” versus the 40 percent to 60 percent “for most [other] notebooks.” Thus, the picture will be super sharp, a boon for those working with photos and graphic design, or who wish to view a movie or video. It also should be a hit with computer gamers, although no games are supplied with the Envy devices, which eschew what many call “bloatware” preinstalled in favor of “a clean software load.”

Another notable product, at a much lower price point than the Envy range, is the $399 Mini 311 netbook, featuring an 11.6-inch (diagonal) display, Nvidia graphics and an Intel Atom processor, along with 1 gigabyte of RAM and a 160 GB hard disk drive. Mr. Hamberger suggests it’s a good “weekend companion” kind of computer; my sense is that having a screen that’s larger than the current HP Mini netbook will appeal to many users who want something light and bright to tote around, but don’t want to spend a lot of money in the process. I’m guessing $399 will be an appealing price for many users.

For those seeking more robust, and slightly larger, notebooks, HP’s Probook 5310, at $699 and Pavilion dm3, starting at $579, offer some interesting options. Both sport 13.3-inch displays, the “Quick Web” instant-on feature, and should be rugged enough for most students in high school and college. The chief difference appears to be that the Pavilion dm3 is a bit more multimedia-oriented than the Probook. Both seem to be excellent values, however.

It should be noted that all of the HP devices I saw lacked built-in optical drives. For the Envy and for several other models, external ones should be available; otherwise, there’s a way to daisy chain the drive-less computers to deskbound ones with optical drives, transferring files that way. The thought is that optical drives are becoming less vital, with more and more software — as well as movies — available for electronic download.

With a lot of capability being packed into products whose price points are well within the range of more buyers, I asked Mr. Hamberger whether we were approaching the age of “disposable” computers, i.e., ones that could be bought and used up with less worry than in years past.

He wouldn’t go that far, but suggests “there’s going to be a dividing line between ‘work PCs’ and ‘casual devices,’ ” such as the lower-priced models HP has just introduced. They may well be “casual” computers, but even at the lowest end, the performance potential seems impressive.

E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com.

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