New HP Notebooks: Envy Updates, Posher Pavilions, AMD (Almost) Everywhere

HP announced scads of new notebooks today. I’m not going to try and cover every detail on every model. But here are a few notes on items I found interesting. (I was briefed by the company and saw the new systems in person.)

MUSE. For several years, HP has been into industrial design that strives to be eye-catching rather than typical-PC bland and generic–especially laptops with unusual textures, finishes, and materials. This HP look has spread to most of the new models, and the company has come up with an acronym to describe it and other design philosophies: MUSE, which stands for Materials, Usability, Sensory Appeal, and Experience. I have to admit that I don’t immediately gravitate to some of the techniques the company is using, like engraving cases with intricate patterns. But I give ‘em credit for being experimental, avoiding beige-box syndrome, and attempting to come with a design aesthetic that’s recognizably HP.

New Envys. Envy started out in 2008 as a single high-end notebook from HP subsidiary Voodoo PC. Then that model went away and a couple of HP-branded Envys showed up–slick machines that clearly aimed at would-be Apple buyers (and which started at $1699–higher than comparable Apple models.) For 2010, HP is starting over again, which two all-new models and prices that start at a not-so-daunting $999.99.

Last year’s Envys looked a bit–no, make that a lot–like MacBook Pros. The new models are still pretty Apple-sesque, as any laptop in a metal case with a screen framed in black, a black backlit keyboard, and a touchpad with integrated buttons would be. Overall, though, they’ve got a more distinct visual personality–in large part because they now sport cases with a texture to them.

Oh, and the new models have built-in optical drives, which gets away a bit from earlier Envys’ emphasis on thin-and-light design. But HP says prospective Envy customers value power over mobility.

Speaking of power-vs.-mobility, the smallest Envy is going away, and the high end of the line is getting bigger. The 2009 Envys came in 13? and 15? versions. For 2010, Envys are available in 14.5? (starting at $999.99) and 17? (starting at $1399.99) variants. (Last year’s 13? one has been discontinued, but the 15? one is still around in its old form for now.) The 14.5? screen is a new size that looks like a nice compromise if you find 14? a tad small and 15? notebooks too big.

The Envy 14 is available with Intel i3, i5, and i7 CPUs and goes on sale on June 27th; the Envy 17 has i5 and i7 ones and will be available May 19th.

Fancier Pavilions. The Pavilion line remains HP’s meat-and-potatoes mainstream line of consumer laptops, available in a bunch of sizes and designs. The new flagship model is the dm4, a 14? model that starts at $729.99. It feels like a fairly close cousin of the Envys–it has an aluminum case, an i5 CPU, and a one-piece touchpad–in a lighter package (4.4 pounds vs. 5.25 pounds for the 14.5? Envy). The dm4 and other Pavilions include Dolby Advanced Audio, a technology that does a surprisingly effective job of simulating surround sound over the built-in speakers and (especially) headphones.

The dm4 goes on sale May 19th.

More AMD. HP has long offered a broader line of computers with AMD CPUs than most major PC companies, but the 2010 line is especially generous. The Envy line is all-Intel, but HP introduced 14 AMD models, including Pavilions and business-oriented ProBooks.

Netbooks. This round of HP introductions doesn’t involve any major netbook-related developments. Actually, the big news involves Mini netbooks that feel even more like fashion toys, such as a “Preppy Pink” model with a customized Windows interface with butterflies that flutter over your desktop.

I asked an HP executive whether the company was seeing demand for netbooks die down. Nope, he said–sales are still excellent and the company is still committed to its Mini lineup.

Touch. I didn’t ask HP about the status of its slate PC (they wouldn’t have told me anything, and come to think about it, rumors of it being dead before arrival hadn’t yet cropped up when I met with the company). But the company did show one touch-enabled Windows 7 model–the Pavilion dv6 is now available with an optional touchscreen. It remains a traditional laptop with a touch option rather than a new type of device. (Unlike convertible systems, it doesn’t have a screen that flips around into tablet orientation.)

I’ve met with several companies that have released standard laptops with touch displays, but I’ve yet to talk to one that seems actively excited by the idea. Including HP–I spoke with an executive who said the touch dv6 exists mostly because a subset of customers is interested.

One final thought: With all these new models, HP’s emphasis on design, and the overhaul of the Envy line, it’s time for me to get to work on an update to my ongoing series of PC-vs.-Mac comparisons

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