HP tries to beat ultrabook pricing with 'Sleekbooks'

HP's new thin-and-light Sleekbooks start at at $599, while ultrabooks start at $749

Hewlett-Packard announced new Envy Ultrabooks on Wednesday, but also a new aggressively priced thin-and-light brand of laptops called Envy Sleekbooks, which boast starting prices that are US$150 lower than ultrabooks.

The Envy Sleekbook laptops, which have the latest chips from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, come with 14- and 15.6-inch screens and start at US$599. HP's Envy Ultrabooks have the latest Intel third-generation Core chips, come with screens of the same size as the Sleekbooks, and start at $749.

The Envy Ultrabooks and Sleekbooks are no thicker than 19.8 millimeters, and weigh from 1.8 kilograms. The thin-and-light laptops' batteries last between seven and nine hours.

HP could not put AMD chips into its ultrabooks as the designs are exclusive to Intel, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. So HP built a separate laptop in Envy Sleekbooks for AMD chips.

Ultrabooks -- a new class of thin and light laptops backed by Intel -- come exclusively with Intel's processors and have been praised for design but criticized for high prices that can run over $800. AMD has said users don't need to pay a premium for ultrathin laptops, and that it wants to enable similar designs to ultrabooks with prices starting at $500.

HP's thin laptops come as Intel and AMD release faster chips that provide longer battery life. Intel has started shipping third-generation Core processors, aka Ivy Bridge, while AMD will soon announce new laptop and desktop chips code-named Trinity.

The aggressive pricing of Envy Sleekbooks could be AMD's way to lure buyers away from the more expensive Ultrabooks, McCarron said.

"The price is a continuation of what we've seen in the past: AMD tends to price laptops aggressively," McCarron said. "What all of this is underscoring is the evolution of laptops. Guess what, they are getting thinner."

There are size and weight distinctions between HP's Envy Ultrabooks and Sleekbooks. The Ultrabooks feel lighter than the Sleekbook laptops, though both are extremely thin and lightweight.

The Ultrabooks are also slightly thinner as HP tried to stick to specifications set by Intel, said David Conrad, director of product marketing at HP. Ultrabooks cannot be more than 21 millimeters thick, according to design criteria set by Intel.

But Sleekbooks are comparable to the Ultrabooks on battery life, which is between eight to nine hours.

The Ultrabooks also have some additional features that the Sleekbooks don't, Conrad said. The Ultrabooks boot more quickly, have antitheft features typically baked into Intel's latest Core processors, and can also resume from standby more quickly.

Intel in the past has said Ivy Bridge ultrabooks will also blend in tablet-like features such as touchscreens, but HP officials declined comment on when such models would be introduced.

The Envy Sleekbooks come in screen sizes of 14 inches ($699.99) and 15.6 inches ($599.99), and will ship worldwide starting on May 9. The Envy Ultrabooks come in screen sizes of 14 inches ($749.99, available on May 9) and 15.6 inches ($799.99, available on June 20).

HP also announced additional ultrabooks for consumers and enterprises with screen sizes between 11.6 inches and 14 inches.

HP's new Envy Spectre XT is a 13.3-inch ultrabook that is only 14.5 mm thick and weighs only 1.4 kilos. The laptop has 128GB of storage and a choice of Intel's third-generation Core processors. The ultrabook will offer seven hours of battery life, and will become available in the U.S. on June 3 starting at $999. HP declined to comment on worldwide availability.

The Spectre XT is a thinner and lighter cousin of the Spectre 14, which was introduced earlier this year. The Spectre 14 has features including wireless audio and NFC (near-field communication).

There is also a healthy demand for ultrabooks in enterprises and HP is building up the product portfolio, said Scott McCammon, worldwide product manager at HP. The company currently offers the Folio 13 ultrabook, which started shipping last year.

HP on Wednesday also announced the top-of-the-line EliteBook Folio 9470M ultrabook, which has a 14-inch screen and offers nine hours of battery life. The ultrabook is priced starting at $1,149, and will ship in October. The ultrabook is 1.6 kilos, 19 mm thick and can offer nine hours of battery life. An optional slice battery gives the laptop 20 hours of battery life.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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