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HP takes on Apple with Envy

HP EnvyHewlett Packard must have looked upon the success of Apple's MacBook range with envious eyes. Its unashamed copycat tactics have resulted in two notebooks pitched squarely against the Apple MacBook Pro 13in and MacBook Pro 15in. Only this time, the sauce company has decided it should out-Apple the fruit PC vendor, by making its new notebooks more expensive.

It's not the first time a rival has invoked deadly sins in order to try emulating Apple's prestige. Remember the Adamo from Dell, supposed to arouse the lust of 'falling in love' with a designer laptop?

We've got nothing against charging a high price for a commensurately high-quality product. But my first look at the two sizes of HP notebook yesterday - ironically named Envy 13 and Envy 15 - suggest that a would-be customer may well be getting a lower specification product at a higher price than is already available from the current leader in high-class laptops.

HP Envy

The HP Envy 13 takes a chassis crafted from lightweight metal, in this case aluminium and magnesium. It has a 13in LED-backlit screen, obscured by a shiny glass panel that does splendid duty - just like Apple's standard item - as a desk mirror. There's also a large button-less trackpad that can understand multi-touch gestures.

Rather than compare the entry-level MacBook Pro 13in at £899, let's look at the ‘best' 13in Apple model at £1149.

The HP Envy 13 takes an Intel 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo, against the MBP's 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo, so it will already be appreciably slower. For ports, the HP includes two USB and HDMI, while the Mac has two USB, Mini DisplayPort, FireWire 800, an SD card slot and gigabit ethernet. And the MacBook Pro has a built-in slot-load DVD±RW drive while HP asks you to pack a separate USB-connected optical drive.

Inside, the HP includes a 250GB hard drive and 3GB of DDR3 RAM. Apple's has 250GB plus 4GB of DDR3 RAM. Both notebooks claim a 7-hour lifespan from the internal battery, although the Envy range benefits from an optional strap-on battery pack that will extend total uptime to a claimed - and exceedingly impressive - 16 hours.

The HP Envy 13 can boast a lighter weight too, of around 1.7kg, compared to the 13in MBP's 2.04kg.

The price of the smallest HP Envy 13in when it launches in the UK will be £1499.

HP Envy

And the screen on the HP Envy 13 promises to be the brightest available on any current laptop, even if the sample I saw seemed to be lacking the Windows drivers to activate the 'brightness-up' button. Which is why, I was told, it looked no different to the regular-screened HP Envy 15 it sat next to at the launch event.

HP Envy 15

But things do get more interesting when we move to the HP Envy 15. This popular size of laptop comes in at a starting price of £1199 (Cf. MacBook Pro 15in, from £1299) and even at this entry price is promised to pack a version of an Intel Core i7 processor, although specific details of this CPU have not been revealed yet.

Still, if HP can squeeze in a mobile version of Intel's fast quad-core chip, and one that seriously undercuts the horrific 130W TDP of the usual desktop Core i7 component, this promises to be one swift laptop. Let's just hope it doesn't run so hot that cooling fans can be heard roaring at thirty paces.

Both 13in and 15in versions of the HP Envy are scheduled for launch on 'Windows 7 Day', October 22nd 2009.

One thing HP has learnt from Apple, based on a quick look around the notebooks yesterday, is how to design a sleek and understated notebook computer with superb engineering finish. These HP Envy laptops should provide some interesting competition to the world's current leading notebook range.

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