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HP unveils mobile menagerie

PC giant parades new lightweight and tablet-style business notebooks, unveils plans for smart phone. Photos: Notebooks at work

Hewlett-Packard wants more businesspeople to travel with its computers.

The computer giant on Wednesday unveiled 10 new mobile PCs, including its first convertible tablet PC, a notebook whose screen rotates 180 degrees and folds flat to create a writing surface. The company also announced alliances with Good Technology and Nokia, and said it plans to deliver a smart phone later this year.

HP says it's using the new products and alliances to better adapt mobile technology to the business world.

"This is really all coming together so that technology can enhance the way we live, work and interact," Ted Clark, HP's general manager of mobile computing, said during a Webcast of the event held in San Jose, Calif.

Notebooks have become increasingly popular among businesses in the past few years, thanks to factors such as wireless networks. Executives who once toted them on trips also now take them down the hall to meetings. The same executives also seek more capable phones, so HP will deliver a new HP-brand smart phone, a device that merges a cellular handset and a traditional handheld organizer, later in the year as well, Clark said.

HP, which recently merged its imaging and printing group with its personal-systems groups to put its cameras, printers and PCs under one roof, is also aiming to use mobility to beef up sales. It seeks to return to the top rank in worldwide notebook shipments, Clark said, while maintaining its momentum in handhelds.

But HP will have its work cut out for it when taking on the likes of Dell and IBM. Dell, the top PC maker and HP's chief rival of late, also updated its business notebook line this week.

IBM's ThinkPad remains a strong brand among businesses as well, though HP is eyeing IBM's customers following Big Blue's December announcement of plans to sell its PC business to Lenovo Group.

"The IBM-Lenovo announcement is a great opportunity for HP," Clark said.

HP's new business notebooks range from the nc4200, which weighs less than 4 pounds, to the convertible tablet PC tc4200 and a 17-inch screen nx9600.

The tc4200 tablet incorporates a 12.1-inch screen and weighs 4.5 pounds. It runs on Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 operating system and can be ordered with a range of Intel Pentium M processors and 802.11 wireless modules. Its most basic configuration includes 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive, according to HP's Web site.

Although tablets haven't sold in huge numbers--Gartner predicts that about 900,000 will ship in 2005--Clark said HP hopes to gain more buyers by offering its new machine with a lower price. Clark said the tc4200's $1,599 price aims to bring in more traditional notebook owners who might want to use a tablet from time to time. It will ship at the end of March, HP said in a statement.

HP's nc4200, which weighs 3.9 pounds and comes with a 12.1-inch screen and an Intel Pentium M processor, will also debut at the end of March. HP did not disclose its price.

HP will also roll out numerous HP Compaq NC and NX notebooks by the end of March.

Besides the nx9600, which starts at $1,699, according to HP's Web site, an 8200 line will offer 15.4-inch screens and graphics from ATI, and a 6200 family will center on a 14.1-inch screen and thus offer more portability to travelers, HP said in a statement. It did not disclose prices for 8200 or 6200 models, but a 6100 model line will start at $799, the HP site shows.

Most lines include both NC models, aimed at large businesses, and NX models, aimed at small- and midsize firms. With the exception of some Celeron M-based 6100 models, the machines offer Intel's latest Pentium M chips along with several 802.11 wireless modules and a range of choices of memory, hard-drive size and CD or DVD drive styles.

Clark also detailed alliances including a deal with Good Technology that will place GoodLink software on future iPaq handhelds, enabling them to tap into Microsoft Exchange e-mail. Future versions of the handhelds will also be made able to print documents on printers besides HP's, he said.

HP will also work with Nokia on a digital-forms product that pairs a Nokia phone and a digital pen with Bluetooth wireless and HP back-end systems to automatically collect and transmit information.