HP Sleekbook muddies the Ultrabook waters

Once upon a time you could have a regular laptop or you could pay a whole lot more and get an ultraportable one. Now, Intel is pushing ultrabooks, HP has just thrown down the "Sleekbook" and only Apple is really making any headway, not even bothering to class the MacBook Air as anything other than a notebook. HP is pushing the Sleekbook name – featuring for the first time on 14- and 15.6-inch ENVY models unveiled today – as, it seems, a counter-branding attempt that gives the firm more flexibility in its hardware decisions.

Intel is pumping big money into the ultrabook segment, trying to help broaden the market appeal of Windows-based, Intel-powered ultraportable notebooks and challenge Apple's Air in the process. However, the label comes with certain qualifications: an ultrabook must be under a particular thickness and weight, it must use key Intel components such as the processor, and it must tick potentially expensive boxes for solid-state storage.

HP's Sleekbook name, meanwhile, encompasses both Intel and AMD chips but without any of the awkward Intel rules. HP is free to push the envelope in sizes – 15.6-inches is at the extreme end for what most would consider an true ultrabook – and, if it has to compromise on weight or thickness, isn't beholden to Intel to put its notebooks on a diet in order to preserve the all-important branding.

Ultrabook sales have, according to persistent industry rumblings, not been anywhere as successful as Intel and its manufacturer partners were hoping. Part of that has been pricing, with the $699-799 tags initially vaunted being replaced by $800-1,000 machines instead. Intel is hoping to revive interest with Ivy Bridge third-generation Core processors, but the ultrabook versions won't arrive for a while yet.

HP's decision to generate its own brand, then, is understandable, but it means new degrees of confusion for the consumer. Not all Sleekbooks will be ultrabooks, after all. The PC manufacturer may sell some more, cheaper models this way – pricing kicks off at $599.99, versus HP's new ultrabooks at $749.99 and up – but it's a clumsy way to revive the industry.