Are Ultrabooks a Smart Buy?

Category: Laptops

Who would have thought that Apple would inspire competition? But that’s definitely the case in the ultra-portable notebook computer market. Thanks to the success of Apple’s MacBook Air, we now have dozens of Intel-based Ultrabooks from many manufacturers. But how do they compete on price and features? Here's the scoop...

Is the Ultrabook Ready for Prime Time?

Competition is always a good thing when it comes to technology. Without it, I'm positive that today's computers would be slower, more cumbersome and less functional. The evolving lineup of Ultrabooks is a case in point. They're thinner, lighter, and less power-hungry than the previous generation of laptop or notebook computers. The result is a cornucopia of choices for consumers, but not much (yet) in the way of lower prices.

In order to qualify as an Ultrabook, a laptop must be less than 21 mm (0.8 inches) thick, have 5 to 8 hour battery life, and fast resume from hibernation, on the order of 2-7 seconds. Oh, and an Intel CPU, of course. So how do the currently available Ultrabooks compare to the MacBook Air? Let's take a look at screen resolution, total weight, connectivity and configuration options.

If you want a display that’s better than the Macbook Air’s, you can get it in an Ultrabook. The Air’s resolutions are 1366 x 768 for the 11-inch model and 1440 x 900 for the 13-incher. The 13-inch ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A ($1100) and 11.6-inch UX21a ($900) have a 1920 x 1080. Acer’s Aspire 7 Ultrabooks will feature 1920 x 1080 resolutions and capacitive touch input, something you won’t find on a Macbook Air.
Ultrabooks 2012

At just 2.38 pounds for the 11.6-inch MacBook Air and 2.96 pounds for the 13-inch version, the Air set the standard for light weight. But even lighter Ultrabooks are available, such as the Gigabyte X11 ($999) which weighs only 2.2 pounds. The 13-inch Air weighs 2.96 pounds, while the upcoming Acer Aspire S7 weighs 2.6 pounds.

Conspicuously absent from the Macbook Air are Ethernet and HDMI ports. Why does that matter? Without an Ethernet port, your only option for Internet connectivity is wifi. Lacking an HDMI port, you can't connect the Air to a big-screen TV. The Toshiba Portege Z835 and Z935 Ultrabooks have them, along with an SD card slot and three USB slots. Yes, you can get adapters for the Air that add Ethernet or HDMI, but then you have more parts and weight to carry around.

Is a 13-inch notebook too small for your big hands? Tough, that’s the maximum size Macbook Air you can get. But Ultrabooks come in a variety of sizes, from little 11-inchers to the 3.8 pound, 15-inch Samsung Series 9 ($1399).

Windows 8 Ultrabooks will have a number of innovative touchscreen designs. The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga and Samsung Series 5 Ultra Convertible will have screens that fold back 360 degrees to form a tablet or bend a bit less for the “tent” form. The ASUS Transformer Book has a screen that pops off to become a tablet and the MSI Slider S20 has a keyboard that pops out of a compartment.

Maybe none of these features is a compelling reason to buy an Ultrabook, especially at today’s high prices. Although a few Ultrabooks are cracking the sub-$1000 barrier, the best bet may be to wait until next year, after the release of Windows 8 and a slew of Ultrabooks designed for it. Prices will come down, inevitably. And of course there are other options to consider. Check out my related article Should I Buy a Netbook, Ultrabook or a Tablet?

If you own an Ultrabook, tell me about it! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Are Ultrabooks a Smart Buy?"

Posted by:

Digital Artist
20 Sep 2012

"If you own an ultrabook...." Of course, most Ask Bob readers own two or three of them, along with a horse for dressage competitions. And we all agree, cheap is good, but free is best. (Well, I gotta get going to dinner -- fifteen thousand a plate fundraiser, you know.) LOL

EDITOR'S NOTE: You got a source for those free laptops? I'm sure we'd all like to get some of that. Seriously, though... we're not really talking about a high-end product here. Some Ultrabooks are cracking the $800 barrier, and as Windows 8 rolls out, price pressure should only increase.

Posted by:

22 Sep 2012

Where can I find an LG laptop or ultra book to buy in the US? I have read great reviews on them, but can't seem to find any store or website in the US that carries them. Thanks.

Posted by:

25 Nov 2012

I'm dipping a cautious toe into investigating the ultras. These reviews and comments are particularly helpful so even though Digital Artist was only having a bit of fun I believe many users of Bob's reviews would return months/years later for up-to-date comments. I'm posting this in November 2012 and will follow Bob's advice to wait a few months until the price drops and (hopefully) there are a few more comments from users to help guide my choice.

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