Hewlett-Packard is launching a new laptop today with a soft rubber surface that gives it some extra protection and a cooler style.

The new HP Pavilion dm1 is an “ultraportable PC,” or a light laptop with an 11.6-inch screen. It’s a middle of the road laptop that won’t sink Apple when it ships later this fall. But it does have an innovative rubberized surface that HP hasn’t used before. This feature in the laptop shows it is possible to innovate with design, rather than technology. Of course, as far as designs go, it’s not earthshattering and it won’t shake up the PC world. But it looks better.

The HP Soft-touch Imprint surface (pictured right) is soft to the touch. It is a rubber skin that can be inlaid with graphics that are imprinted into the rubber itself. It comes in a charcoal gloss finish or a soft-touch ash black finish with a stylized pattern. It’s kind of velvety to the touch, and it collects fewer fingerprints than gloss surfaces.

“It’s like printing rubber on a film,” said Kevin Wentzel, technical marketing manager at HP, in an interview.

The laptop comes with Beats Audio and the “HP Premier Experience,” which is a set of innovations that improve the Windows user interface (pictured at the bottom).

The laptop has a battery life up to 11.5 hours. It has a six-cell battery and is about an inch thick at its widest. The back part of the laptop near the hinge is wider to accommodate the battery, and it has a sports car style look where the edge swoops upward, Wentzel said. It also has a full-size keyboard and a touchpad with discrete buttons. It has a built-in HP TrueVision HD webcam that catches high-quality images even in low light.

The machine comes with either an AMD E-series accelerated processing unit or an Intel second-generation Core microprocessor. It weighs 3.52 pounds.

The HP Premier Experience includes an HP Launch Box that allows applications to be better organized by grouping them for quick access on the Windows 7 taskbar. A simple mouse-over and click can launch an application directly from the taskbar. That frees up screen real estate on the PC’s desktop. The Windows Start Menu is also simplified so users can find applications faster, with nested menus that group similar applications together. The machine is 29 percent faster at shutting down and 25 percent faster at resuming from sleep mode.

The HP Pavilion dm1 with AMD processors and the charcoal color will ship on Sept. 21 for $399. The soft-touch ash black model will be available later.

The version with Intel processors will be available on Oct. 30 with an external optical drive included for $599.