HP's just-announced $999 Envy Spectre XT is the company's new premium ultrabook, but there's a cheaper way to obtain an exceedingly light machine. Remember the Envy 4 and Envy 6 that leaked out a few weeks back? Today, the company's made those 14- and 15.6-inch laptops official as the Envy Ultrabook series and Envy Sleekbook series, and they start at just $699.99.
Why two different names? They don't refer to size: "Sleekbook" is simply HP's name for a ultrabook-like laptop that doesn't match up to Intel's ultrabook spec, either because it doesn't have a solid-state cache, or (starting June 20) if it substitutes an AMD processor for the typical Intel silicon. So, from the outside, these laptops look exactly the same. Both come in 14- and 15.6-inch sizes, start at four pounds light and 19.8mm thick, and, as you'd expect for their price points, both feel a little bit cheap.
We got our hands on the new machines at an HP event in San Francisco, and discovered that rather than the all-metal builds common among recent pricier laptops, these machines have fairly flexible frames with just a thin layer of metal for the palmrest, keyboard tray, and lid, and visibly lower-quality 1366 x 768 resolution screens. On the plus side, the designs truly are sleek and eye-catching, particularly the black model with a deep red beautifully and subtly ringing the tapered edge of the frame, and despite the fact that each will have a wide variety of components inside (we hear today's laptops will ship with Intel's older Sandy Bridge chips, though Ivy Bridge is on the way), each has a nice array of full-size ports including HDMI, USB 3.0, an SD card slot, and Gigabit Ethernet.
HP promises 4GB of DDR3 RAM, 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi, Beats Audio, and up to eight hours of battery life for each laptop (or nine hours on the 15.6-inch models), and while the base $699.99 Sleekbook only has 500GB of mechanical storage, you can add a 32GB mSATA solid state cache which should help improve boot times and responsiveness for $749.99: the 15.6-inch model with the same specs costs $799.99. Perhaps the most interesting model, though, is the 15.6-inch AMD-powered Sleekbook that HP will ship in June: for $599.99, a full $200 less than HP's corresponding Intel-based machine, it will pack an AMD Trinity chip in the exact same chassis. There's also a Pro model on the way, which will add a TPM module and Windows 7 Professional. We'll be looking forward to seeing just how much bang for the buck these laptops pack in the not-so-distant future.