Ultrabooks are Here... Yay?

Category: Laptops

Should I buy an Ultrabook? I've been holding back on the purchase of a new laptop, anticipating the arrival of a thin, light-weight Ultrabook for under $1000. But so far, I'm not that impressed with what I see. Should I give up and buy a MacBook Air, or is there reason to hold out?

Should I Buy an UltraBook?

The first wave of Ultrabooks is hitting retail shelves in time for the holiday season. As I explained in my earlier article, What Is an UltraBook? the Ultrabook concept is an Intel reference design for a super-thin, super-light, power-conserving laptop intended to compete with Apple's Macbook Air line. Several top-tier computer makers have released Ultrabooks now, but the concept faces an uphill battle in the marketplace.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300s is a 13.3 inch, $1,199 Ultrabook. It offers a choice of Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, and sports 256 GB of SSD for fast boot and data retrieval times. The U300s measures 12.8 x 8.5 x 0.58 inches and weighs just 2.9 pounds. Its port selection leaves a bit to be desired. Sure, it comes with USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and an HDMI socket. But there is no SD card slot (for loading photos from your digital camera) or Ethernet option (so you must connect to the Internet via wifi). For reference, a similar MacBook Air with 13-inch screen and 256GB storage goes for $1599.

The Asus Zenbook UX31E and UX21E models are Asus' second Ultrabook releases. With prices between $1,000 and $1,200, they're a bit cheaper than the original Aspire S3 Ultrabook. A total of five configurations are available between the two model lines. The UX31E offers more storage and connectivity options, including a microSD card slot. The 11.6 inch UX21E weighs a svelte 2.4 pounds while the 13.3 inch UX31E weighs 2.86 pounds.
UltraBook Laptops

Toshiba's Portege Z835 is the most affordable Ultrabook to date; Best Buy offers it for $899. It features a 13.3 inch display, 1.4 GHz i3 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 128 GB SSD. It's also the lightest 13.3 inch Ultrabook at only 2.5 pounds. More powerful business versions will be available for $1,199 and $1,429. The 13-inch MacBook Air with 128GB storage goes for $1299.

With the exception of the Toshiba Z835, Ultrabook makers seem to be having difficulty bringing sub-$1,000 products to the market. Intel has issued an imaginary bill of materials that says an Ultrabook should be possible in the $500 range, but no OEM has yet come near that price. The Ultrabook concept aims to reclaim some of the market share that laptops have lost to tablets recently. The price of an Ultrabook will have to come down to that of an iPad before that happens. But even with current pricing, most of the current Ultrabook models come in about $400 cheaper than similarly equipped MacBook Air models.

Setting price aside and focusing on features, none of the Ultrabooks released thus far show any particular advantage over the Apple product. Of course the Ultrabooks run Windows 7, and the MacBooks run Mac OS. I won't engage in a holy war over the operating system. But there's no "wow" factor to make a Mac user want to switch. If the UltraBook could read your mind, or charge itself by converting ambient heat into lithium-ion juice, then maybe. But for now, you'll have to settle for a MacBook Air look-a-like that runs Windows and costs a few hundred dollars less.

This dynamic may change in 2012 when Windows 8 debuts, with a snazzy new interface that's aimed at mobile users. But until then, sales of Ultrabooks will probably not meet expectations. Indeed, Asus and Acer have scaled back their orders of Ultrabook platforms by about 40 per cent after disappointing first month sales.

It's entirely possible that I'm missing the point by insisting on comparing the Ultrabooks to the MacBook Air. Maybe you just want a thin, lightweight laptop that runs Windows and has great battery life. I'm willing to be convinced.

Your thoughts are welcome on this topic. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Ultrabooks are Here... Yay?"

Posted by:

17 Nov 2011

Yay? I say... Nah! Way over the top and over priced for me to even consider. I have a netbook (bought this year) if I need ultra portable, and my regular laptop (from 2010) is still portable enough to take around house, no problem. Having two devices is still much easier on the pocketbook. If I could trade both for an ultrabook and keep the same disc space/memory/etc and walk away without much of a loss I'd say... Yay! But looking at the prices you have listed nobody in there right mind would make such a trade. So, looks like I'm stuck with.. Nah! Even if I was in the market for a new computer I'd probably still say Nah, because of cost.

Posted by:

17 Nov 2011

Speaking of battery life - do you have any specs on that for the reviewed models?

My work machine is an older Dell, and the original battery lasted less than 2 hours when it was new. Three + years later, and the machine is nearly useless unplugged. As we will soon be replacing this laptop, it may well be worth the additional cost for an ultrabook if the gains in battery life are impressive enough. (Cost of cheaper replacement laptop + cost of long-life battery vs. cost of just an ultrabook.)

Posted by:

17 Nov 2011

Why was the area ignored when Fujitsu had an ultrathin "notebook" that was in retail channels some 8 years ago? It looks to me tha Apple copied some of the best from Win hardware from the past to make that Airy thing.

Posted by:

JR "Bob" Dobbs
17 Nov 2011

On top of Win8 being out next year, the Ivy Bridge line of processors should hopefully be making their way onto the market, with marked improvements in efficiency & onboard GPU function.
Ivy Bridge _should_ (hopefully) be the dream chip for an ultrabook. Coupled with the right OS, we might have "ultrabooks" that don't feel so anemic.
But as with everything in tech, if you need the an "ultrabook" now, you need it now. If you just want it (even a MacBook air), it would be prudent to wait for IvyBridge CPU's. Even if they don't turn out to be the leap we've been hoping for, they'll still drive down the prices of machines using older chips. Waiting is win-win, unless there's an urgent need.

Posted by:

Bob McMaster
17 Nov 2011

Go with an Ultrabook & pass on the Mac Book Air which I found expensive for what I got. My biggest gripe with the Mac Book Air is it looses one half hour of battery power when shut down.

Posted by:

18 Nov 2011

Hi Bob,

You haven't mentioned the LG P210. I recently bought one and am in love with it for many of the reasons you referenced above re Ultrabooks. To me it has all the sexiness of a MacBook Air at a lower price. Granted the one thing it's missing is a solid state drive. But with a super slim size, really light - 2.9 lbs, large beautiful screen for it's 12.5" size, i5 dual core processor, 320G hardrive (the largest hard drive in the MacBook Air being only 256G), and 4GB memory I think it's really worth the $899 Canadian (roughly $888 US today)I paid for it. Does it qualify as an UltraBook? I don't know, but for me it meets the need of doing everything I want a computer to do, easily and quickly, in a size that's small enough to pop into my bag and carry with me but large enough to make movie watching pleasurable. Perfect!

Posted by:

Kit Kimes
18 Nov 2011

An Ultrabook would be nice but what I really want is an Ultrabook with a touch screen. In other words, a tablet with a real operating system. An Android tablet is ok for reading email and surfing the web, but not for doing real work.

Posted by:

Moonlight Gambler
18 Nov 2011

My vote for Ultrabooks, and talblets, is NAY!!!
My preference for a small, light, versatile second computer is an Asus netbook, running Linux, with a Belkin cooling pad.
Up to 1/3 the cost, 10 hours battery, more storage, can do everything the others can do, no malware problems.

Posted by:

DJ Rosen
20 Nov 2011

Mr Leary was talking about getting rid of the keyboard ages ago. We should be able to create glasses that create a virtual keyboard in your line of sight. Wear the motherboard as a walkie talkie sized belt device. Also alternate keyboards for special programs that you create on the fly. The entire physical screen and keyboard become completely fluid with infinite variations. Combined with cloud access, you would have a nonphysical computer with infinite storage. If it breaks, everything is elsewhere and never lost.

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