Last year HP was the number one maker of laptops in the world, according to shipment numbers from research firms IDC and Gartner. But it’s safe to say HP laptops don’t always get the same amount of attention enjoyed by the unibody aluminum or ultra-lightweight models made by its competitors.
Here’s one way to get attention: Make a leather laptop.
That’s what HP did with its new HP Spectre Folio, a high-end laptop that’s bonded with leather, and that HP is marketing with the cringeworthy term manucrafturing. It’s a convertible, which means it can be propped up, turned into a tablet, tented, or just used like a regular laptop. That part of the Spectre Folio’s design is slightly different from other laptops too. Rather than folding the display backwards, you’re supposed pull it forward, directly over the keyboard, where magnets latch the display into place either at the base of the key tray (if you’re tenting the display) or at the edge of the laptop’s bottom half (if you’re laying it flat).
HP is using 100 percent genuine, chrome-tanned leather for this new machine, and is shipping it in two tones, warm brown and a deeper bordeaux. HP says it’s the world’s first leather laptop, and I have no reason to doubt this: WIRED has evaluated plenty of leather accessories for consumer electronics, but never a leather-bonded laptop. The structural support for the computer’s components is made of metal, but its exterior clamshell is all cow.
Josephine Tan, HP’s head of product management for consumer notebook, said the company went with leather for its “durability, its feel, and the premium quality of it.” She cited internal market research that showed that younger audiences, like millennials, were most drawn to the idea, especially to its “authenticity,” since it’s genuine leather. (Add metal laptops to the list of things millennials are killing.)
The leather construction is undoubtedly the most interesting part of this Windows 10 laptop, but it’s also, you know, a laptop. So, its internals are worth mentioning. The Spectre Folio ships with three different options for its 13.3-inch touchscreen display: a 1-watt, full HD panel, a regular full HD panel, and a 4K display. The 1-watt display is a new technology from Intel that’s supposed to significantly reduce power consumption over standard display panels. The notebook also has Intel’s new low-power processor, Amber Lake-Y, which is still part of the 8th-generation chip family from Intel. More notably, HP claims this laptop has the world’s smallest motherboard, which it co-developed with Intel.
Its keyboard is plushy, noisy, and backlit. Like previous Spectre laptops, it has front-facing Bang and Olufsen speakers. It has a fanless design, relying instead on a metal heat spreader to push heat out from laptop’s hinge area and into the empty space that exists between the hinge and the curve of the leather.
The Spectre Folio comes with three ports—two USB-C ports and one Thunderbolt—and a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack. There’s no fingerprint sensor built into the chassis, but the front camera supports Windows Hello authentication. It works with a stylus, the same pen that shipped with last year’s Spectre x360 laptop.
There’s a nano-SIM card slot wedged into the top cover of the laptop, which, based on my brief hands-on time with the machine, seems to be an awkward place for it. Fortunately, there’s also a digital eSIM embedded in the laptop. HP estimates it will get up to a whopping 18 hours of battery life.
The Spectre Folio is available for pre-order today and ships at the end of October. The Core i5 configuration starts at $1,300, while the model with a Core i7 processor and LTE starts at $1,500. That puts it right in line with the starting price of last year’s HP Spectre laptop—although the Spectre Folio is something of a special edition, and not a direct successor to last year’s Spectre.
The addition of leather adds a fair amount of weight to the machine, despite the fact that the top of it was built with magnesium alloy to offset the weight (the bottom half is aluminum). Last year’s Spectre weighs 2.45 pounds; the Spectre Folio weighs 3.2 pounds. It begs the question again: Why leather?
Tan insisted that leather, despite its weight, was still “appealing to the sensory experiences … leather is warm to the touch. It doesn’t get hot like metal.”
It’s not exactly clear how more or less sustainable laptop leather is compared with the metals PCs are usually constructed with, especially since we don’t know how many of these hide-wrapped machines HP plans to make. Genuine leather processing requires significant amounts of water and energy; according to a 2017 report from The Boston Consulting Group and Global Fashion Agenda, cow leather, by far, has the most environmental impact from “cradle to gate.” But that’s compared to materials like nylon, silk, cotton, and acrylic; not aluminum, magnesium alloy, and liquid crystal displays.
Tan says HP considered using a synthetic or vegan leather, but decided to go with genuine leather despite the added cost. She pointed out that the cowhide HP is using is a byproduct, since the company is sourcing it from a manufacturer that also uses cows for meat. And, she said, the laptop is deconstructible, so that the leather can actually be re-used when a customer has decided to move on from the laptop.
“People still like leather,” Tan said. “There are customers who want innovation in the PC category, so we’re doing something new.”
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