The hottest laptop of the year so far is HP's new Envy 14 Spectre. This unique-looking system was a breakout star at CES 2012 because of its glass-covered lid and wrist rest, giving it a gleaming slate-like look that was different from anything previously seen. As our recent review shows, it's actually a solid laptop as well, with good performance and battery life, and a few noteworthy features, such as Beats Audio and an NFC antenna for connection to mobile phones.
The Spectre is certainly not the first unique laptop design we've seen, but many of the models that break the mold visually do so at the expense of performance, battery life, or just plain usability. Some of these designs are just too esoteric to ever catch on with a mainstream audience, such as the dual touch screens (and no keyboard) on the Acer Iconia. Other times, a risk-taking new design is highly hyped, and released to much fanfare, only to be quickly dropped by the company responsible for it when it doesn't take off right away. It's always a shame when a product such as the Dell Adamo XPS doesn't get a chance to find its audience (and ironically, the currently hot ultrabook category owes a design debt to the Adamo XPS and the original Adamo model that preceded it).
In this roundup, we've collected some of the most inventive laptop designs of the past few years, along with our impressions of what worked, and what didn't for each one. None of the older systems went on to be major hits, sometimes because of design, but other times, due to performance and price. Time will tell if the new HP Spectre (and the Razer Blade, our other current pick) will beat the unique design curse that has kept most laptops looking fairly similar to each other for many years.
Should laptop designers stick with the basic boxlike look, or is there room for some inventiveness? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.