Ultrabooks – I’ll have a skinny laptop please

by , Senior Money Researcher Technology 27 January 2012
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If you haven’t heard of ‘ultrabooks’ yet, you won’t be able to avoid them for much longer. The word wasn’t far from the lips of most tech journalists at CES this year. But are ultrabooks more than just clever marketing?

Ultrabook at CES 2012

It’s not every day you get a whole ‘new’ category of laptops. It’s not like ultra portable thin and light models haven’t existed before – they just haven’t been grouped under this umbrella phrase. So how are they different?

The term ‘ultrabook’ is given to laptops that comply to certain criteria set out by Intel. For example, they need to measure less than 18mm thick and run on Intel’s latest Core I processors.

Trading in for a slimmer model

In some ways ultrabooks could be seen as taking over from the dying netbook market. However, the only real similarity between the two is portability.

The specifications are entirely different – ultrabooks tend to offer premium features, such as solid state drives (SSD) that give you faster data transfer speeds than traditional hard drives. Netbooks generally offer the bare minimum. Ultrabooks certainly don’t share the cheap price point of netbooks either, with many models costing over £1,000.

If my finances allow it, I’m in the market for a new laptop myself sometime this year; my old Acer (though much loved) is starting to give up the ghost. And an ultrabook does offer many of the elements I’d be looking for in a new model.

The lack of a disc drive – left out due to the slimness – wouldn’t bother me. I could probably count on one hand the times I’ve actually put a disc into my current laptop. The premium specs sound good; I want something fast, and I definitely want something portable. In fact, the only thing really holding me back from an ultrabook is the price.

Just a skinny laptop gimmick?

Looks are important for ultrabooks too. I know that if I was spending this much on a premium laptop I’d expect a certain standard of design. So far manufacturers seem to be coming up with the goods with sleek designs using high quality materials.

However, on first impression, it looks suspiciously like most manufacturers are leaning towards rather Apple-inspired designs. The only manufacturer I saw at the Consumer Electronics Show that had stepped out of Apple’s design shadow was Dell, with its own distinctive take on things.

The first ultrabook models hit the shops in the last half of 2011 but, according to Intel, more than 60 are in the pipeline for this year. Most of the main laptop manufacturers are already in on the act – even LG, not exactly known for its computing products, has a couple of models planned to launch in the spring.

Are ultrabooks the perfect combination of power and portability that they claim to be? Or do you think we’re paying over the odds for style over substance?

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Ultrabooks are usually great devices but the branding is nothing more than a marketing ploy – especially as it’s so exacting. A more powerful laptop measuring 18.5mm thick wouldn’t make the grade, but it could be a fantastic machine.

It’s a masterstroke of marketing by Intel, and I’m sure it’ll work. However consumers should be aware that while all Ultrabooks are likely to perform pretty well, laptops don’t need to fall into this category to be any good. What’s more, there may well be some Ultrabooks worth avoiding too, as the label’s only awarded to devices that meet certain specifications – how well they actually perform is another matter altogether.

I’d make my purchase based on a Best Buy award rather than the Ulrabook stamp.

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wavechange

Not for me, thanks. Depending on what I am planning to do when I am out and about, I take either my MacBook Pro or iPad. One offers power and the other is more portable. A compromise machine has never appealed to me.

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David Ramsay

Agree with you entirely, I have an 8GB MacBook Pro with a 7200rpm 500GB drive, I can run most OS’s without a problem.

iPad – as well, use for e-mail mostly and out and about.

LogMeIn is also a good stand-in if you haven’t got your main machine with you.

This may be a slightly off-topic question but…

I’ve got a Best Buy laptop that’s still going strong and does the job. However, it’s really heavy and a real pain to carry when I go away for weekends. I’m looking to buy a second, more portable machine. Should I go for a netbook, a tablet or an ultrabook?

I don’t need a DVD drive or any fancy add-ons – I just want to be able to surf the net, watch downloaded films, access MS Office and sync it with my HTC phone. No particular budget in mind, but not more than £500. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Oooo a difficult decision but I would probably say….. tablet! Netbooks have very basic specifications, and although you aren’t looking for any fancy-add ons, it’s probably going to be quite slow compared to what you’re used to. Screen quality doesn’t tend to be great either which might be annoying if you’re planning to watch lots of films. An ultrabook on the other hand, might be a bit too advanced for what you are looking for, and will likely take you over budget.

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wavechange

Martyn

A tablet is the only way of really cutting down on weight and you might not to need to pack a charger for a weekend away unless you watch a lot of video.

If you only need to view MS Office files, an iPad works very well with Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. It’s not much use if you want to edit the files. An iPad will not sync with anything that is not made by Apple, unfortunately.

It looks as if ultrabooks will be quite expensive, even if not as much as a MacBook Air.

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