Going for impact
At the other end of the scale, Dell will be launching a highly stylized 16-inch notebook called the Latitude Z, which packs an executive set of features into a slim body with the kind of angular clipped design that's designed to make the people who bring out MacBook Airs and Sony Vaios in business meetings wonder if they're behind the times. The company is bandying the term "executive bling" around, and the description isn't far from the mark.
With prices hovering between $US2,000 and $US3,000 (including one or two SSDs and an external optical drive), the Latitude Z line offers touch and fast-start capabilities. Tap the discreet EdgeTouch switch next to the display and a touch menu of shortcuts pops up along the side of your screen.
And for people who don't have time to wait for a machine to boot (even at Windows 7 speeds), Dell's instant-on technology bypasses both Windows and the regular CPU to provide access to Web browsing, e-mail, calendar and contacts: It uses a mini operating system and a secondary ARM processor.
The Latitude Z can be bundled with an extra that's even more impressive than its size, width and design: An inductive charger that lets you recharge the battery by resting the laptop on a special stand without using a plug at all.
Of course, there's another way to make an impact: Get very colorful. The 14-inch widescreens on Sony's Vaio CW series (starting at $US799) are impressive enough by themselves, especially if you try gaming with the built-in Nvidia GeForce graphics subsystem. Add the optional Blu-ray drive and you'll be able to distract yourself with bright colors. But they're nothing compared to the bright colors you see when you close the thing up. The Vaio CW cases come in five different colors -- red, pink, white, black and indigo -- and they're all glossy.
The HP Envy line has gone more for a textured look. The lid and handrest in the reborn Voodoo Envy product line have been etched into a lightly dimpled orange-peel effect -- which looks all the more impressive on a casing made of magnesium and aluminum.
For luxury-styling models, the 13-inch Envy 13 and 15.6-inch Envy 15 start at reasonable prices -- around $US1,700 and $US1,800, respectively -- and have even emulated the stylish packaging of a certain Cupertino-based technology company.
The Envy line has same QuickWeb instant-on ability as the ProBook 5310m, but after that nod towards productivity, it's technolust all the way. Both models are about an inch thick and feature LED backlighting for their screens, which throws out a lot of light and bright color -- 410 nits and 300 nits, respectively, with an 82 per cent color gamut that makes the standard screen's 50 per cent to 60 per cent look like watercolor.
Interestingly (considering the floodlight strength of the screen), the built-in camera has night-vision capability. Presumably this helps you see envious people sneaking up behind you in the dark for a look over your shoulder. And also makes them look the shade of green you'd expect of the envious.
So that's the first breaking wave of Windows 7 portables, and we know that successive waves are coming in fast. When Windows 7 finally ships on October 22, it may not completely change the horizon - you can't expect a sea change with every new product shipment - but it's certainly a departure from the usual Microsoft launch. And that's a wave worth surfing.