Ultrabooks – thin is in

“Ultrabook” is a branding term coined by Intel that describes thin laptops with solid battery life and good power.  Intel maintains specifications that manufacturers must meet to be officially branded as an “Ultrabook,” but the term now generally describes any ultraportable laptop with good performance and battery life.

The ultrabook segment was created to combat competition from tablets and smartphones, which people are increasingly turning to as their mobile computing solution.  Realizing that consumers were starting to see most laptops as too bulky, which they can be, compared to tablets, manufacturers designed ultrabooks to be small, but fast and capable.

Most ultrabooks have a screen size under 14” and rarely weigh more than 3 or 4 pounds.  Spurred by Windows 8’s touch-friendly interface, newer ultrabooks are including touchscreens, further blurring the divide between tablet and laptop.

Ultrabooks are good for highly mobile users that need a full operating system experience on a small, quick laptop (or touch screen laptop/tablet hybrid).  Intel’s target price point for ultrabooks is around $1000, though actual prices vary depending on device specs.  This is a higher cost than most of the nicer tablets, but those (outside of those running full Windows) don’t run a full desktop operating system.

Interested?  Here are a few ultrabook-style devices to consider:

Windows 8-centric ultrabooks

Users looking wanting a small device that offers the full Windows 8 experience at a size smaller than a laptop might consider a Windows 8 ultrabook.  The screens on these devices are touch-enabled, which allows them to take full advantage of the new touch-friendly Windows 8 interface.

Though not exactly a looker, one of the best ultrabooks Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch.  A revised version of the original ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the Touch models add new features compatible with Windows 8.  ThinkPads in general are durable, business-oriented devices, but the Carbon Touch provides enough crossover features, like a webcam, to be appealing to “prosumers,” also.  The device’s 14” touchscreen runs at a resolution of 1,600 x 900 pixels and is powered by a Intel Core i5-3427U processor.

Another good option is the Dell XPS 12, an ultrabook with a swivel touchscreen.  An Intel Core i7-3517U processor drives the device and its 12.5” 1080p display, which can rotate and fold back to let the laptop essentially become something of a thicker tablet.

Starting around $1,400 and $1,700, the Carbon Touch and XPS 12 aren’t cheap, but are a great option for power users that want a light, durable ultrabook with current touch capabilities.

For those that need a more price-friendly device, Asus’s VivoBook S400CA packs several key features into a sub-$1000 package.

The VivoBookis thin and light on the whole, but is a little heavier than most competing ultrabooks.  It’s battery life is also on the lower end, but it does contain a nice Intel Core i5-3317U processor under the hood.  The 14” display runs at a resolution of 1366 x 768.  It isn’t amazing, especially compared to devices almost twice its cost, but it does provide a relatively good value for under $1000.

Macbook Air

Users that need an OS X-compatible ultraportable should look at the MacBook Air line.

Available in 11” and 13” flavors, the Air is Apple’s most mobile laptop, sporting an extremely thin form factor and low weight.  The device is also very stylish, for users that are willing to pay a premium for such.

The 11” and 13” MacBook Airs start at $999 and $1,199, respectively, which is a little high on the whole, but somewhat expected for an Apple product.  Windows can be put on these devices through Boot Camp, for users that need access to both platforms.

Microsoft Surface Pro

Not officially an “ultrabook,” the recently-released Surface Pro is a close enough that I feel it’s worth mentioning.  Though it’s a tablet on the outside, the device’s strong internals and screen, coupled with the ability to add a keyboard and mouse, make it essentially an ultrabook.

Since it runs full Windows 8 out of the box, Surface Pro might be the most versatile ultrabook out there.  It does have some problems as a laptop-replacement, like being somewhat inconvenient as a typing device while on a lap, but its ability to switch between casual tablet and prosumer mini-laptop modes is powerful.

At $899, Surface Pro is priced higher than most tablets, but a less than the better ultrabooks.  It’s an interesting option for users that want the tablet form factor, need a full operating system and require ultrabook-level processing power.

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