CES: HP bets more on touch computing

Launches touch-enabled netbook, the Mini 5102

Hewlett-Packard Co. today launched its first touch-enabled netbook and a successor to its first-generation TouchSmart convertible tablet/laptop.

The big news may be coming later, though. HP and Microsoft Corp. are co-developing Microsoft's Courier tablet PC, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources. The newspaper said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will unveil the tablet during his keynote speech at CES this evening, beating Apple Inc.'s much-rumored tablet to a full public unveiling.

HP's new netbook, the Mini 5102, is designed for businesspeople and is the first HP netbook to include a touch screen with two-finger capacitive touch technology. That's the same technology as other laptops running the touch-enabled Windows 7 operating system. Asustek Computer Inc. was the first company to launch a touch-enabled netbook, unveiling its Eee T91 in June.

The Mini 5102 comes with Intel Corp.'s latest Atom N450 or N470 processors. It weighs 2.64 lbs. and is 0.91 in. thick. Its keyboard is 95% the size of a standard laptop keyboard and has flat, wide-spaced keys (i.e. an "island-style" keyboard).

Replacing the six-month-old Mini 5101, the Mini 5102 also comes with the following:

  • A 2-megapixel webcam with face recognition technology for fast log-ins.
  • An aluminum/magnesium case in a choice of three colors.
  • A 10-in. LED screen with 1024-by-600 or 1366-by-768 resolution.
  • An optional Broadcom HD video accelerator that's roughly equivalent to Nvidia's ION graphics chip.
  • Up to 2GB of RAM.
  • A choice of one of these operating systems: Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit, Windows 7 Starter, Windows XP Home, SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 or FreeDOS (for users who plan to install another operating system).
  • A free full copy of Corel Home Office.
  • A choice of up to 320GB in Serial ATA hard disks or up to 128GB in solid-state disk drives.

The Mini 5102 starts at $399, though options will boost prices into the $600 range, or the same as bigger, higher-powered laptops.

Hewlett-Packard's Mini 5102 netbook
Hewlett-Packard's Mini 5102 netbook

HP's TouchSmart tm2 tablet/laptop

Meanwhile, HP's updated TouchSmart tm2 tablet/laptop also comes with a finger-friendly capacitive touch screen. It weighs 4.8 lbs., has the same brushed aluminum finish as HP's Envy line of notebooks and offers up to 9.5 hours of battery life.

It starts at $949 and comes with low-voltage Intel Core 2 Duo processors and optional ATI Mobility Radeon discrete graphics. New touch apps bundled with the TouchSmart include a photo library app called BumpTop, an interactive 3-D screensaver, and a painting app called Corel Paint It! Touch. The TouchSmart tm2 also includes touch-enabled versions of Hulu, Netflix and Twitter that HP introduced in October.

HP's TouchSmart tm2 tablet PC
HP's TouchSmart tm2 tablet PC

Some analysts have argued that netbooks are on the way out, to be replaced in 2010 by a wave of re-invented tablet computers.

However, independent analyst Jack Gold doubts that netbooks are dying out.

He said HP's approach -- offering a keyboard and a touch screen together in the same package -- makes more sense.

"What does a tablet really buy me if I'm going to be on the keyboard most of the time?" he said.

In addition to the 5102, HP announced two other netbooks, neither of which offers touch functionality. The Mini 2102 starts at $329 and comes with a choice of Intel's N450 or N470 chips, the latter of which runs at up to 1.83 GHz. It lacks the 5102's choice of colors, SSD drives and options for sharper-resolution screen or Broadcom-enabled video. And in terms of Microsoft operating systems, it comes with only Windows 7 Starter or Windows XP Home (but it can be equipped with SUSE Linux or FreeDOS).

HP's lowest-end offering is the Compaq Mini 102. For $299, it comes with Intel's N270 1.6-GHz processor (which was popular on netbooks in 2007 and 2008), up to 1GB of RAM, a 160GB Serial ATA drive or a 16GB SSD drive, a 1024-by-600 10-in. LED screen and a slightly smaller keyboard. It comes in four colors and weighs as little as 2.35 lbs.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai, send e-mail to elai@computerworld.com or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed .

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