By Harry McCracken | Monday, January 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm
Earlier today, Samsung proved that an Ultrabook can have all sorts of standard laptop features, such as a hard disk and an optical drive, and still be an Ultrabook. Now HP has announced its second Ultrabook–after last year’s Folio–and it too is trying carving off a unique niche. The new Envy 14 Spectre, which was just announced here at CES, is an Ultrabook for well-heeled enthusiast types who like lots of features and aren’t obsessive about their thin-and-light notebook being all that thin or all that light.
The Folio aimed for businesslike practicality rather than sizzle, but the Spectre carries over the luxe, fully-loaded feel of existing models in the Envy line. It’s got Beats audio (with a thumbwheel to adjust it). It has a light-up keyboard with individual LEDs for each key and a proximity sensor that illuminates them only when you’re there. It has up to 256GB of solid-state storage.
Speaking of luxe, the Spectre also comes with Adobe Photoshop. No, not Photoshop Elements–the full version of Photoshop. The one that sells for $699. (It also includes Premiere Elements.)
Like earier Envys, the Spectre bears an eerie resemblance to a MacBook Pro. However, its case boasts one feature I haven’t seen in any laptop before: It uses Corning’s Gorilla Glass, the same stuff that so many smartphone screens are made from. That gives it a unique glossy look and–HP says–makes it highly scratch-resistant. (I was worried that the glass might be prone to shattering if the system suffers a severe drop, but HP representatives told me that the system shouldn’t be any more fragile than any other notebook.)
One thing the Folio and the Spectre have in common is that both opt out of the quest for whisper-thinness. In fact, while the Spectre isn’t the least bit chunky, it doesn’t really look like an ultra-thin notebook at all. That’s because HP erred on the side of providing plenty of ports, including full-sized Ethernet and HDMI, plus Mini DisplayPort and USB 3.0. You should be able to hit the road with the Spectre without having to remember to tote a collection of dongles, as you might with a thinner notebook with less standard connections.
This Ultrabook may not be all that thin, but it’s other dimensions are interesting. That’s because HP crammed a 14″ screen into a case that you’ve expect to pack a 13″ display. It did so by tightening up the bezel, and the design makes for an uncommonly portable 14″ laptop.
The Spectre starts at $1399.99, which makes it a direct competitor of Samsung’s identically-priced new 13.3″ Series 9. Yet HP is calling the Spectre an Ultrabook, and Samsung doesn’t call the Series 9 an Ultrabook, even though it’s thinner and lighter than the HP. (The Spectre is “under four pounds.”)
As CES ramps up, we’re going to see Intel and hardware makers push the Ultrabook concept really hard. But really, an Ultrabook seems to be almost anything a manufacturer wants it to be, as long as it isn’t too thick and doesn’t have an AMD processor. If the Ultrabook concept doesn’t catch on with real people, maybe we can ditch the term and simply call machines such as the Envy 14 Spectre what they are: really nice-looking laptops.