Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

There are things I associate HP with: printers, hyper-expensive ink for printers that threatened to ruin me that one time in college, and inexpensive enterprise computers. Oh, and very interesting laptop design? I know, it’s weird.

Over the last few years, HP’s been crafting some of the most exciting laptops on the market. It’s taking risks its competitors won’t take. Specifically, it’s just doing fun things with materials. While everyone else clings to aluminum and plastic and is just now dipping their toes into magnesium and carbon fiber, HP has gone berzerk.

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Take, for example, this light refresh to the Envy series introduced back in March (including the Envy 13, 15, and 17). HP’s Envy series, which starts at well under $1,000, were already perfectly thin and potentially nice, but now you can get the laptops with a wooden trackpad and palm rest (with an option for a darker walnut or a lighter birch).

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HP couldn’t go into details on what kind of finish the wood uses or how durable it will be in the long run—and it’s just a very thin layer of wood, so it has a little bit of a laminate feel to it. But the attractive design sets them apart from competitors like Lenovo’s 700 series and Dell’s Inspiron 7000 series.

HP’s also addressing its long-standing trackpad issues. The Windows trackpad experience has traditionally been absolutely terrible versus the macOS experience. Microsoft tried to resolve that with Microsoft Precision trackpad drivers that let the trackpad better communicate with Windows. HP has used the drivers in a few commercial laptops over the years but has stuck with the much less impressive Synaptics drivers in its consumer-oriented laptops like the Envy and Spectre line.

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Which is a bummer when you consider you’re spending $700 or more on these devices. The new wood Envy laptops will be some of the first consumer-oriented HP laptops to use the Precision drivers. I didn’t get to spend much time with the laptops, but even with a wood trackpad, the Precision driver was a noticeable and welcome improvement over HP’s other laptops like the Spectre.

But it’s not just putting wood on the Envys that have me feeling like HP is doing some of the weirdest stuff with materials in laptop design. It’s the company’s new found obsession with leather. We saw it last year in the Spectre Folio, a very cool, if underpowered and expensive, convertible laptop with an ingenious hinge.

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Besides the hinge, the other notable element of the Folio was its body which was constructed primarily from magnesium and leather. Not leather glued onto magnesium, but leather incorporated and fundamental to the build of the product.

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That hinge and the leather are coming back. Instead of being part of an entire computer, HP is releasing a leather keyboard case for the new HP Elite x2 G4. That’s HP’s Surface-like detachable focused on business. It’s always been a little dorky, with a clunky keyboard case and a thick body that feels lame next to the Surface Pro.

I’m not sure the latest Elite x2 G4 will change all that—though the claims of 24 hour battery life, mechanical switches for the webcam, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and optional super bright 1,000 nit screen certainly make it appealing in contrast to the latest Surface Pro 6 (which has none of those things). Still, it’s the case that gets me excited.

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It’s all leather, so clever it feels like it’s how they’ve always worked and should have worked for a decade, and it’s another example of HP taking some risks. Could an all leather, magnesium, and wood laptop be in the cards?
Probably not, but if anyone attempts it, it will probably be HP.

The new wood Envy laptops are expected to ship this fall and will have the option of either 10th-Gen Intel Core or 2nd-gen AMD Ryzen CPUs. HP says it will announce prices closer to launch, but expect them to cost more than the current Envy laptops, which start at $730. The new HP Xlite x2 G4 and optional Leather Folio will ship in August starting at $1,500 with up to an i7-8665U vPro processor and 16GB of RAM. It will be available with either a 12.3-inch 1080p display, 13-inch 3,000 by 2,000 display, or 13-inch 1080p display with a max brightness of 1,000 nits.

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