The trend toward very thin, very lightweight, aesthetically pleasing notebook PCs has been sudden, partially due to the demand by users for a powerful new generation of portable computers, and partially from the need for more profitable, stylish devices to appeal to a market that’s battling with tablets and smartphones for mobile users.
One of the main questions is about whether or not the term “ultrabook” is simply marketing hype. Anything with “ultra” in front of it is certainly that. But it’s the punched up hardware, high-resolution screens and long battery life that have people saying that the latest generation of ultrabooks is exactly what laptops should have been all along. And that’s where shoppers should look to determine real value for these types of devices.
Determining Value for Ultrabooks
With prices ranging anywhere from $600-$3000 and higher, savvy shoppers are looking to sift through the cheap knock-off laptops with brushed-metal cases from the powerhouse ultrabooks that deliver what their price-point promises.
Thinness isn’t merely an aesthetic affectation; it’s an appeal to portability over the clunky, oversized laptops that seemed to be where laptop design was trending three years ago. Many models are foregoing the disc drive and opting for vibration-free SSDs in order to achieve the super-thin form factor that everyone is craving. Ultrabooks also often offer features such as touchscreens and reversible displays that most everyday laptops just don’t have. Touchsceen models has led to the increase in Ultrabook convertibles who have both tablet and laptop modes.
Related to portability is the drive for energy-efficient mobile devices that can function for long stretches without forcing their owners to go outlet-hunting. Battery technology has improved, but it’s mostly the power-sipping Sandy Bridge processors from Intel that are pushing battery-life up into all-day territory. Of course, everyone has to scale their expectations to their power demands, but longer life is something ultrabooks do have to brag about.
Performance Is Often Hard to Measure
We’ve seen such leaps and bounds in memory capacity, processing power and just general performance in laptops over the last decade; it’s easy to dismiss this new trend as merely the expected next step in portable PC evolution. But that would be a mistake, given that ultrabooks represent a really big step forward.
Heat performance is one area where you have to pay careful attention to ultrabook reviews because it varies depending on the manufacturer to a great degree. Energy-efficient processors and integrated graphics aim to reduce heat as well as battery-consumption, but with varying results depending on the model.
The truth is, that for the same price, bulkier laptop models can deliver similar performance, albeit in a less attractive package and less portability.
Besides the higher price, you do end up sacrificing on some comparison points with an ultrabook compared to traditional notebook models. A slimmer profile means less room for connector ports. And the disc drive certainly has been pushed out to push profiles even slimmer in some devices. You’re losing versatility there, depending on the design and whether or not manufacturers find novel design alternatives that replace lost functionality with something else.
Simultaneous with this evolution in laptop design has been the dramatic rise of tablets cannibalizing sales for traditional notebooks if not high-end ultrabooks. As the novelty of tablet PCs has worn thin, many users have been left wondering whether they can really rely on them as a full laptop replacement. So far, it seems as though the answer to that question is no. That is a point in favor of the ultrabook.
As more and more manufacturers get into the ultrabook game, the real question will be whether quality is maintained. Nobody wants glorified low-performance laptop components with a brushed aluminum shell to look flashy. Power users really do want the performance to match the attractive exterior.
Is It Right for You?
The ultimate question is not whether an ultrabook is a smart investment for you. Are you intrigued by the slim form factor and the extra features, or are you put off by the downsides?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Jared Jacobs has worked professionally in the technology industry for most of his life. He loves both enterprise and consumer technology. When not working he enjoys working on his media room and watching his favorite sports teams.