Coming in March: HP Updates in a Big Way

It's fair to say the refreshes HP announced for their consumer computers earlier this month seemed fairly lackluster. While nobody can complain about improved notebook speakers and the triumphant return of dedicated mouse buttons, there wasn't anything else remarkably fresh or exciting about their spring line. When we got a chance to meet with HP representatives in San Francisco to see their new business lineup, however, we saw very nearly the complete opposite.

HP's EliteBook and ProBook lines have undergone a major overhaul since the last time we looked at them, which wasn't very long ago. The last one we saw was fairly attractive but seemed somewhat schizophrenic in its aesthetics, like a hodgepodge of elements from enterprise and consumer lines that didn't blend together. It was the notebook equivalent of the American version of The Ring, appropriating scenes from its predecessor while gracelessly trying to integrate new material.

That's not the case with the new lineup. HP's designers have produced what have to be some of the most stylish notebooks we've seen, marrying some of the better trends in consumer notebooks to thoughtful, modern-looking engineering and design. You could argue they're cribbing from Apple a little bit, but that would do them a disservice.

HP is using aluminum on the lids of all of their new enterprise notebooks along with a single piece of machined aluminum for the interior panel with the ports cut into it. Internally they've employed a magnesium alloy chassis, and together with the aluminum shell these notebooks feel incredibly rigid and durable. In fact, in addition to having a mag-alloy backplane for the screen, HP also uses rubber padding between the bezel and screen to ensure it never compresses against the keyboard the way some cheaper notebooks can.

That keyboard is spill-resistant, with channels built into the frame beneath it, though depending on how you feel about the keyboards HP employs on their consumer line you may be pleased or disappointed to see the same  chiclet-style keys on their enterprise-class kit. They've also gotten rid of touch-based buttons along with pretty much the entire control bar above the keyboard, instead replacing it with a couple of actual quick-access buttons. It's a decision that simplifies the look while improving usability.

What was probably my personal favorite feature had to be the bottom panel mechanism they're using on these new notebooks. Check this out:

The bottom panel of the notebook is a single large piece that can be removed by simply squeezing a latch and sliding it off, allowing for easy access to all of the internals. It's such a smart idea that one wonders why we don't see it more often—we'd love to get such a feature on more consumer laptops! And for the IT people that don't want to worry about employees popping it off and potentially damaging the components, the mechanism can be locked by installing a single screw. Most people probably won't get that much mileage out of something like this, but it does make the notebook easier to service, along with being easier for people like me (and at least a couple of you) to tinker with.

The EliteBook, ProBook b-series, and ProBook s-series
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  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    They got rid of the middle mouse buttons!? It probably sounds silly, but for that reason alone I won't even be considering upgrading my current EliteBook to a new one. I've gotten used to the idea that 16x9 is inevitably in my future, but you can have my middle mouse button when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

    Kudos to them for making the fan easily accessible for cleaning, though; cleaning it is a major PITA in the older models. Also the "p" EliteBooks have always had lousy graphics; the main selling point of the "w" models is the much better GPU.
  • oshogg - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    My first thoughts exactly. No middle mouse buttons!!! How am I supposed to paste when I VNC into a remote X server session?
  • vol7ron - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    For my setup, I think it's a double, double-click (pressing the L/R mouse button synchronously, twice).

    I think people that really rely on this feature might consider getting an actual mouse (corded or bluetooth).
  • quiksilvr - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    See there's this thing, I'm not sure if you heard of it. Called a mouse? It must be difficult, so I will post a link for you:
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    Gosh, I never knew that. How silly of me to expect a premium laptop marketed for business and power users to be fully featured when you can plug in an external device that'll provide the same functionality.

    You can also get external keyboards, hard drives, optical drives, screens, and networking cards. So let's do away with the 'ctrl' and 'alt' keys, more than 8GB HDDs, optical drives (OK, I actually agree with that one,) color screens, and anything faster than 802.11g. All of those deficiencies can be trivially fixed with external accessories, so what's the big deal?
  • ionis - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    Even if it did have a middle mouse button, I don't see why you wouldn't use an external mouse. They are extremely cumbersome to use. The only time you can't use one is if you're using your laptop while standing. Otherwise, plug in any laser mouse and you can use just about anything that isn't glass as a mousepad.
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    I do use external mice; I've actually got 3 (1 fullsize USB, 1 fullsize BT, 1 travel size BT) that I use regularly with my laptop.

    The thing is my laptop spends a lot of its time being used as a laptop, not a portable desktop. If I'm using the laptop away from a convenient desk-like area with lots of room or am just not going to be somewhere for very long, breaking out a mouse can be impractical and annoying. Even when I'm at a desk with a mouse plugged in, I still sometimes use the touchpad simply because it's closer to the keyboard, which means I can select whatever I need to and get back to typing more quickly.

    I understand that many people can't use touchpads effectively, but if you've been forced to use one regularly for years they can be almost as good as real mice. For example, I can play Mass Effect on the hardest difficulty using a touchpad with no issues at all. I'm a little better with a mouse and twitchier (or MP) games widen the touchpad/mouse gulf considerably, but with enough practice touchpads can be very useful.

    That should at least give you some idea why I'd be upset at losing a valuable button on a touchpad, especially when there's absolutely no good reason for it not to be there. HP might be saving a couple of dollars by omitting it, but when I pay a premium for a laptop I expect premium design features, not cost-cutting ones.
  • DanaG - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Here's why I actually 100% prefer touchpad: mice and trackballs give me repetitive strai, and make my hand hurt.

    These new EliteBooks are no longer worthy of being called Elite -- they're fugly, have weaksauce GPUs, and have lost the middle button.
    Apparently their designers must have fingers > 1.5 inches wide.
  • DanaG - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Repetitive strain injury... Carpal tunnel is what you get when that gets too severe.
    God, HP, why do you need (what looks like) 2-inch wide buttons? The 3/4 inch wide buttons on my 8530w are wide enough!
  • MrSpadge - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - link

    I too love the middle mouse button for "open in new tab" and "close tab".


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