Img/2012/1/12/pc-small.jpgLas Vegas: Thin, light laptops —known as "ultrabooks"— are a much-hyped category at this year`s International Consumer Electronics Show, an annual showcase for the latest smartphones, tablet computers and other consumer-electronic devices.Deep-pocketed chipmaker Intel Corp. created the term to push PC makers to make laptops that are more like Apple`s Macbook Air, and help them market them. Practically every PC maker is showing off at least one ultrabook at the show. Hewlett-Packard Co. is talking up its own ultrabook, dubbed the HP Envy 14 Spectre, this week. The HP model has a few features that set it apart.
WHY IT`S HOT: HP`s Envy includes a sensor for Near-Field Communications, the radio standard used by security cards and so-called "smart tags," which are small chips with flat, stamp-sized radio antennas. That means that it can read information from NFC tags and upcoming smartphone models when they`re bumped against the laptop. For instance, a promotional flyer might include a tag with a special Web address that appears on-screen when touched to the laptop.
THE UPSIDE: There`s a movement to make NFC the basis for tomorrow`s payment cards, and to build NFC into smartphones. That means someone with an NFC-enabled laptop could, in the future, pay securely for an online purchase by tapping a payment card to the computer. Intel Corp. demonstrated this procedure at a press conference at the show, with a prototype laptop.
THE DOWNSIDE: The Envy`s NFC capability may never progress beyond the ability to grab Web addresses from phones and promotional materials. The business relationships and networks needed to make NFC-enabled payments ubiquitous have been slow to emerge, as many different players are jockeying for position.
IDC analyst Williams Stofega said NFC has a lot of potential as part of the trend of "tangible computing" — getting the things around us to talk to each other intelligently, to make our lives easier. But the lack of standards is a big obstacle.
"If NFC is not integrated with everything else, it`s going to die," Stofega said.
WHAT ELSE MAKES IT HOT: The Envy 14 comes with super-fast "solid state" hard drives. It includes a chip that can communicate wirelessly with some stereo headphones, with an audio quality that`s much better than Bluetooth. The Envy is also covered in scratch-resistant glass.