New notebooks tackle Apple at premium end of PC market
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver August 30-September 5, 2011 issue #1140 High Tech
While Apple’s Macintosh computers remain a minority taste (about 14% in
Canada), the company has a majority market share for personal computers
that sell for more than $1,000.
In June 2009, market research company NPD reported that Mac sales
accounted for 91% of the revenue in this “premium” price segment. Out
of date but probably still the case. There’s a higher profit margin in
selling a premium computer than in selling a low-priced one. As a
result, PC manufacturers are refusing to cede the high-end to Apple.
Here are two recent challengers.
At first glance, HP’s Elitebook 2760p ($1,499 and up)
magnesium/aluminum body makes it look like a takeoff on Apple’s 13-inch
MacBook Pro model. But a solid hinge lets Elitebook’s 12-inch-wide
screen display pivot, allowing it to flip around and close over the
Suddenly it’s a tablet – though a somewhat thick one – running Windows
7. Like earlier Windows tablets, it can be used with a stylus, but it
also responds to finger taps.
Options include various Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, conventional
hard drives or solid-state storage. HP also offers a close cousin, the
Elitebook 2560p, minus the pivoting touchscreen, starting at $1,099.
The company claims that both are built to military standards of
durability and are resistant to dropping, vibration, dust and high
The 2760p weighs in at 1.8 kilograms – just under four pounds. It’s got
both a small touchpad and what HP calls a Pointstick, the small
rubber-nubbin pointing device standard on IBM and Lenovo ThinkPads.
The design and built quality are solid and performance is good, with
video speed benefiting from Intel’s current generation of chips. (Older
Intel video chip sets were somewhat anemic performers.) Nice touch: a
pop-out antenna to extend wireless range. Less nice: no USB 3.
Turn it into a tablet and you get a touch device that can run all those
standard Windows applications. The problem is that Windows really isn’t
designed for big fat clumsy fingertips. The upcoming Windows 8
hopefully will do a better job in this regard.
Samsung has been taking on Apple on a variety of fronts, including
iPhone- and iPad-challenging smartphones and tablets. Its Series 9
laptop ($1,599) targets Apple’s light and slim 13-inch MacBook Air
ultraportable laptop. Unlike HP’s Elitebook, it avoids mimicking
Apple’s metallic silver look, opting for a striking brushed charcoal
Duraluminum case. Samsung claims it’s aircraft-grade aluminum: light
Like Apple’s Air it’s slim and light, with ports hidden away behind
little doors. (In both cases, the ports are a bit hard to access – a
case of style trumping usability.)
More similarities to the Air: a big, glass-coated touchpad with
integrated buttons and a backlit keyboard. Unlike the MacBook Air, the
Series 9 has a wider display with a matte finish, making it more
viewable in bright light. And while both the Series 9 and the MacBook
Air require dongles to connect to a wired network port, Apple’s product
(and HP’s Elitebook) also needs a dongle to plug into an HDMI external
projector or high-def TV; the Series 9 has a mini-HDMI port built in.
The 13-inch Air has a full-sized SD card slot; Samsung’s Series 9
includes a less-useful microSD slot. Like the Air and HP’s Elitebook,
the case lacks room for an internal optical drive. Samsung provides a
three-year warranty standard; Apple makes that an added-cost option.
Its Intel Core i5 processor and 128-gigabyte solid-state drive provide
perky performance: Windows 7 boots up in about 20 seconds.
In the spring, when Samsung released the Series 9, Apple’s MacBook Air
was using Intel’s last-generation Core Duo processor. Since then, Apple
upgraded its Air models to the newer Core i5 generation. And that puts
Samsung in a bit of a bind: a MacBook Air with a similar processor,
same-sized solid-state drive and same amount of memory costs $1,299.