Tablets are all the rage. And they’re pretty good for browsing the Internet and watching movies in your hotel room. But if you need to get some serious work done, you’re more likely to want a laptop with a built-in keyboard and, yes, a USB port for a mouse. You’re going to want an ultrabook.
There are several things you’ll want to consider in your shopping for one. Does the device have the ports you need? How does the keyboard feel? And consider whether you really want a solid-state hard drive (SSD). They offer higher performance and faster boot times, but they also are more expensive, and most ultrabooks offer only 128-gigabyte SSDs.
You’ll also need to decide whether you want a touch-screen, which can add $200 to $400 to the price of a more conventional ultrabook.
Finally, once you’re settled on the device, don’t cut corners on memory and storage. Unlike with a desktop computer, you can’t add memory or drives to these units.
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I recently tried out four ultrabooks and came away impressed.
Acer Aspire S7:
The svelte Acer Aspire S7 is eye candy for sure, but if you don’t have long fingernails you might struggle to get the thing open, as its sharp edges make it difficult to lift the top.
But when you do get the lid up, you’ll be looking at more elegance. While the outside is a glossy white, the inside is mostly anodized aluminum, including the keyboard. It took me some time to get used to the flatness of the keys and their shallow action. On the plus side, I love the keyboard’s subtle aqua backlighting.
The Gorilla Glass 2 touch-screen offers a clear and vibrant display, though the glossy surface can be distracting in certain lighting conditions. Thanks to the Aspire S7, I discovered the joys of finger-driven navigation in the Web browser, especially when you want to do such things as zoom in or out. Two fingers is all it takes.
What’s more, you can lay the Aspire S7’s screen fully flat for tablet use. And if someone is across the table, you can rotate the display quickly with a key command.
Drawbacks? The Aspire 7 maxes out at 4GB of memory. Also, some users might be disturbed by the fan noise, which is often in evidence. And the battery life — I generally got only a little more than four hours of steady use — leaves much to be desired.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Price aside, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is my personal favorite. That’s primarily because I love the feel of its keyboard and its reassuring, springy feedback.
I also like the matte-black finish, which helps the 14-inch screen stand out. The screen’s viewing angle is somewhat limited, but I actually prefer that because I often work on airplanes and in other public places.
Apart from its very solid feel, the X1 Carbon distinguishes itself by offering an optional 256GB SSD drive.
The X1 Carbon’s physical design is excellent. I like the feel of the clickable touch pad, and it makes me wonder why Lenovo continues to include the ThinkPad’s signature red mouse post in the middle of the keyboard.
The X1 Carbon also offers an intelligent collection of physical buttons for quickly turning sound and the microphone on and off and for adjusting sound. Finally, it offers two USB ports, other ports and a handy toggle switch for putting the device into airplane mode. The only thing I found lacking was an HDMI port.
Sony Vaio SVT1312:
Sony’s device leads this pack when it comes to pricing. The unit I tested — 6GB of memory, a 500GB hybrid hard drive and an Intel i5 1.7GHz processor — is priced at $899. Some configurations have a tag as low as $799. And it’s a touch-screen model.
Not only that, the Vaio SVT1312 comes with more storage than most. In fact, the Vaio’s 500GB hybrid hard drive (with a 32GB SSD) offers twice as much storage as any other device in this roundup.
Why so inexpensive? The main reason is that hybrid hard drive. While most users won’t notice the difference, hybrid drives don’t have quite the performance and quick bootups offered by solid-state drives.
Ultimately, the Vaio SVT1312 is all about trade-offs, and the trade-offs chosen by Sony make the unit a great choice for many users. While it’s a little heavier than many ultrabooks, it offers an excellent array of ports. On the downside, the keyboard’s flat keys have shallow travel and aren’t backlit, but I found them to be relatively comfortable.
The 13.3-inch touch-screen and the touch pad are both quite responsive. The touch-screen is glossy and highly reflective, which can result in glare.
If money is an issue, the Vaio SVT1312 is worth a good, hard look.
Samsung Series 9: The Samsung Series 9 is the definite leader of the pack when it comes to styling. And, at 2.55 pounds, it also is the lightest of the bunch.
What’s more, when you pull the Series 9 out at a meeting or in a coffee shop, you won’t have to worry about your tech cred. It’s light and incredibly thin, and its dark matte aluminum finish is all business.
I was also impressed with the overall solid feel,
and the keyboard is excellent, even though keys have a rather shallow travel. Even better, they offer subtle blue backlighting apparent only when you really need it.
And for those who spend a lot of time on the road, the Series 9 offers the longest battery life I’ve seen in an ultrabook. I experienced about eight hours of steady use before needing to recharge.
The Series 9 is available with a 13.3- or 15-inch display.
The only drawback to the Series 9 — apart from a relatively high price tag for a non-touchscreen model — is the limitation of 4GB of system memory. (The 15-inch model offers 8GB.) Also, if you want to use the HDMI or VGA ports, you’ll need to buy a separate dongle.