What’s at the heart of HP’s Laptops and Lenovo’s Best Student Tablet

This week begins the real wave of the PC refresh cycle for the non-Mac crowd and it will pick up to a major wave on October 22nd when Windows 7 launches. 

While I’d recommend holding purchases so you can get the new OS on the product you buy  – the upgrade from Vista is easy but why do it if you don’t have to? –  now is a good time to begin looking at the products that stand out.   Most won’t be available until Windows 7 ships anyway.  

HP in its traditional shotgun approach to products has a wide variety of offerings; it appears that even though it has a lot of Apple people it still doesn’t understand the power of keeping things simple.  Then again if it did there would be little for me to do so I shouldn’t complain.  We’ll look at the products that stand out in its new line.   In addition Lenovo has announced what may be the perfect student laptop or close to it in its X200 we’ll close with why that is.  First to HP.

HP has the broadest line of Netbook products two stand out the HP Mini 110 Studio Tord Boontje the HP Mini 311.   The HP Mini 110 Studio Tord Boontje  is basic Netbook using the small HP form factor but with an exclusive designer cover.   This is primarily targeted at women who want something very stylish that will fit in a purse and do basic tasks like document and email creation and web browsing.  This is a basic Netbook with a very stylish 3D cover.  This has the netbook standard 10.1” screen.  Be aware pictures do not do products like this justice and you need to see it in person before you decide if you like it or not.   This will ship with Windows 7 starter edition and cost a hair under $400.  

The HP Mini 311  has the larger 11.6” screen and NVIDIA Ion graphics with HDMI and VGA out.   This is for those that want something very light they can have more of a notebook like experience with and this product is capable of High Definition content and with Windows 7 DirectCompute should showcase a rather impressive jump in performance.

This is small, light, should have very good battery life and still price out a hair under $400.  This product probably won’t even be available until October 22nd.  

For me the Mini 311 is the no brainer but my wife prefers the 110 class showcasing we clearly don’t see eye to eye on some things.  

This is where you’ll begin to see what I call ugly line choices.   Because in many of the mid-range products you won’t see Nvidia or ATI graphics but you will see them in the Netbooks and high end products.  To me this is like offering power steering or an 8 cylinder engine on a low end car and a premium car but not on a mainstream Chevy.   Fortunately with at least one product HP doesn’t have that problem and that one product is the HP Pavilion DM3.

This product with what is currently the ideal 13.3” screen size that balances portability with productivity comes in a beautiful fingerprint resistant brushed metal finish.  It is very thin and can be had with AMD or Intel processors, LED backlit screen, and discrete graphics.   Less than an inch thick and with a 4.2 pound carry weight this isn’t the thinnest or the lightest but it should give you at least 5 hours of battery life with a standard battery (they show 10 but battery ratings tend to be wildly optimistic at the moment).   This will probably be the benchmark for the mid range in terms of performance, appearance, and cost.  Pricing starts at around $550 and you should be able to get one fully configured for under $700.  Be aware for this class of product, a few years ago, you’d be talking close to $3,000.   

High End:  Voodoo Envy
The high end line is the Voodoo Envy and given the target audience I think the 15.6” product is the one that should be the target.  They have a 13.3” offering but if you want something that truly works on planes you’ll probably be better off dropping all the way back to the DM3 above.   The 15.6” is their highest performing laptop and has an optional battery slice that should give it impressive battery life as well.  Generally, in a performance laptop you’re lucky if you get one hour.   

The 15.6” wide screen product has a Core i7 processor, an AMD Radeon 4830 discreet graphics, webcam with night vision, will hold up to 16GB of DDR3 RAM with the recommended (it really doesn’t make much sense without it) extended battery it is just over an inch thick and weighs around 6 pounds with that extended battery.  

The one to lust for, and the Envy is supposed to be about
lust, is the 15.6” top of the line.   Granted it is expensive but this is the
product that clearly makes the MacBook Pro look like a lightweight.  This is
tuned for high end audio and audio creation and was specifically designed to
kick Apple butt with audio professionals by being endorsed and tuned by one of
them.   It’s not cheap but then exclusivity never is and you do get more than
just looks with this high end product. 

Lenovo’s Perfect Student Tablet?
Windows 7 is all about touch, it is the signature feature of this new operating system and kids in particular seem to love this feature.   But what makes the Lenovo X200 tablet  ideal for students is that it combines long battery life, a tablet option, and an outdoor viewable screen into something that is light and portable.   At around $1,900 with the extended battery, outdoor display, 160 GB drive and 2GB memory it isn’t cheap but part of growing up and having fun is being able to go outside and enjoy the air.   So much time is spent inside and almost no notebooks or tablets can be used outside.   

$1,900 is a lot of money but sometimes you have to set a bar and the ThinkPad is considered one of the sturdiest products in the market as well which is important for kids.   Perhaps I’m projecting a lot of my own wants and needs when I was a student into this product but I really enjoyed working outside while I was in college and it just seems we are denying kids who use laptops that same enjoyment.   I’d like to see the industry fix that. 

Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts
are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and
either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic,
on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his
services to most of the major technology and media companies.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.