HP's New Notebooks Deserve Better than an OfficeS

When last we met the HP laptop posse, I was bemused by the design ingenuity sunk into the bargain bin models, with the consumer fleet left chintzy. HP's business-minded EliteBook refresh is similarly confounding. Why do suits get the beauty?

Guts-wise, the new EliteBooks are good, but nothing jarring—Sandy Bridge processors, integrated Intel graphics, and a dubious claim of 30 hours in battery life. But it's not the specs that have been given the special treatment here—not the benchmarks the EliteBook can crank, but the body it's cranking them out of. The EliteBook p-series is—and it startles me that I'm saying this about an HP business laptop—a very attractive machine.

Business doesn't connote beautiful. It connotes drab, rational, efficient. Yuck. The term is almost a pejorative—a business computer is one you're assigned, one you're stuck with, and one that's probably hidden under a desk for a reason. It's boring. They're the librarians of the tech world—quiet, frumpy, confined to the indoors. We don't care about business computers. And why? For the reasons mentioned—because most of the time, the people making them don't give much of a shit either. Businesses need computers, and one spreadsheet generator isn't going to stand out much from its neighbor—so why bother putting thought into it?

This is almost always the case—but not here.

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HP here diverges from a lineage of notebooks that have been, in terms of industrial design at best unremarkable—and usually something more offensive than that. Their business laptops have often been grotesque—ugly ports sticking out without regard, underbellies that look vomited out, a mess of bays and hinges and confusing labels—all wrapped in cheap, bloated, dinky materials.

The new EliteBook is kind of like a purge. It's definitely not some paragon of mechanical beauty out of Cupertino, but the consideration put into its form is appreciable. Gone are the jutting ports and woozy chassis—the entire machine is enclosed in sharply angled metal—a case stamped from single sheets of magnesium (Hello there, MacBook!), an aluminum keyboard, and a glass touchpad. These are elegant materials. Strong materials. Light materials. Clean materials. They don't gum up with thumbprints. They feel nice to rest your hands on. They don't buckle or snap like plastic. They're recyclable.

Human tinkering is visible throughout the model—the small, minimalist, pale indicator lights on the front. The pared down keyboard, eschewing obnoxious "media controls." The inverted motherboard, easily accessible by turning the laptop on its head and opening what few panels there are. The single aluminum rod, reinforcing the entire hinge mechanism, as opposed to two flimsy elbows. Neat filters over the intake grates to block dust and debris from the machine's innards. Good design now pervades the EliteBook.

But why the EliteBook? HP told me that they wanted to give office workers a laptop—an assigned laptop—that they would take pride in owning. Which, hey, is great! I'm sure they'll sell a few.

But what about those of us who aren't assigned computers? Those of us in the—blech!consumer laptop market, stuck in the price range purgatory between econo-models that look like they were dispensed from gum ball machines, and something you're handed at work sans smile. The consumer PC laptop is still an aesthetic wasteland. Its face, dictated by focus groups and some strange (and horribly wrong) "intuition" for what consumers want. Which, if you take a stroll through Best Buy, is gross textures, gaudy lights, and conspicuousness. Maximalism wins the day in the consumer aisle. Bigger is better, brighter is better, fast is all that matters. The notion of putting reinforced ribbing across the motherboard to prevent bending doesn't matter, as it does in the EliteBook. Which is a shame.

HP's computers for office drones prove that they have the thoughtfulness, talent, and resources for good design. So please, take these same design brains and point them away from the realm of fluorescent lights, and make a dashing, functional computer for everyone. That goes for your competitors, too, if they're not too busy sticking ugly blue LEDs behind a USB port or something.