Experience / Usability is king
This is obviously a hard nut to crack, hence this public solicitation for feedback. I definitely applaud this effort.
For my input, I think some hardware features are less important, so long as the performance is fast enough. I am really enjoying my SSD. I always knew the HD was a performance bottleneck, but didn't really know how much. I've had friends use raided / striped 15,000 rpm drives for fast boot ups, but obviously that was for desktops (and a long time ago).
For laptops, adequate RAM and an SSD seem the most important. I agree that a core i5 processor would probably be ok, because the fast SSD would make up the difference. And if I could press in a new CPU later, that would be ok.
The next suggestion is a decent keyboard. One that has the solid feel of a classic ThinkPad. I also want a decent way to enhance the key definitions. I'm referring to Function keys, and the Ctrl and Alt keys. One interesting downside of a MacBook Pro is if I want to hit F3, then I have to hit a Fn key, and possibly the Option key at the same time. This is not natural. A bold new keyboard design is allowed. Why not ditch the Caps Lock key and reuse it for something valuable? Sorry, I haven't fleshed out this idea very well. But my point is a crimped / cramped keyboard is a real turn off.
I am enjoying multi-gesture touch pads, but still find a mouse is faster for repeated cut/paste tasks. So any setup that I use, will ultimately allow for a mouse, and probably a wireless mouse.
Fan noise. Just count me in the Steve Jobs camp on this one. No fan is best. If I hear fan surging, I'll be disappointed.
Matte screen. Anti-glare is really nice. It allows work in any position, regardless of overhead lighting.
1) For these things I could give up a vast array of ports. One or two modern ports can be split with hubs.
2) I can live without a fixed media drive. If I have to buy a portable drive, then I will. But I already know I won't carry it around with me.
Marketing / Fun:
I also suggest a nod to fun and uniqeness. Much like the lighted Apple logo in the lid of a MacBook, Sputnik should include something cool and eye-catching to signify your unique use. Lighted logo on lid, or inside the lid, or on the keyboard, or maybe the Enter key is back lit with with a colored logo or design. It should be subtle so it won't distract the user, but also visible in case others are curious and want to ask.
Don't be afraid to offer color. I would own a Ferrarri red notebook.
Don't be afraid to offer texture. So it's plastic, big deal. There's a lot a designer can do if given a chance to experiment with the texture of a notebook shell. Aluminum? That's modern. How about black aluminum? and ringed by exposed shiny aluminum.