There's a whole new wave of gadgets right around the corner that you might not have even known you needed — until now, of course. Meet the ultrabook, a class of super-slim, considerably powerful notebook computers that are cut from the same cloth as Apple's MacBook Air. "Ultrabook" might not be a word you've heard before, but the idea is meant to inspire a category of laptop that is nearly as mobile as a tablet, but that doesn't sacrifice power for portability — the ultimate pitfall of the netbook.
Ultrabooks are on the way, but choosing between them won't be easy. Assuming you don't take the Mac route and opt for Apple's own offering, the members of this tidal wave of featherweight computers running Windows will share most of their features in common by definition. In fact, the term "ultrabook" is a trademarked term, owned by Intel. To qualify as an ultrabook, a notebook computer should hover around the $1,000 mark, be no more than .8" thick, weigh less than 3.1 lb., and boast a respectable battery life and an efficient solid-state drive (SSD) rather than a traditional mechanical harddrive.
As you'll see, these rules were meant to be broken, but even some of the notebooks that stray a little from the mold are interesting enough to keep an eye out for. Here are five favorite ultrabooks, some available now and some on the way soon, and what sets them each apart from the pack.
Samsung Series 9 is a handsome, high-end choice
The new Samsung Series 9 is a shoo-in. Last year's Series 9 ultralight was already ahead of the curve — in fact, it made a point of asserting itself as the lightest notebook on the market. Samsung has had a year to refine its ultra-portable model, and the new Series 9 is as polished and good-looking as it is powerful.
The Series 9 offers a surprisingly sharp, matte 1600 x 900 13" display, an SD card slot, Core i5 processor, and a 7-hour battery life. Of course, you'll pay $1,399 for the feature set, which is considerably more than the $1,000 target price point. If you have the cash and are taken (like we were) with the notebook's striking black alumninum, watch for the Series 9 from Samsung in February.
Dell's value-minded XPS 13 balances features with a friendly price tag
As Dell's budget-minded follow-up to its head-turning notebook the Adamo, the XPS 13 is no slouch. The XPS doesn't reinvent the wheel, but starting at $999, it really doesn't need to. The XPS 13 is comfortably rounded off (unlike the razor-sharp design of the Asus Zenbook), with a solid build, and a comfortable backlit keyboard. Notably, the XPS 13 crams more screen real estate into dimensions usually reserved for its 11" peers, thanks to a super-slim bezel around the Gorilla Glass screen and a thoughtful design.
At 3 lb. even, this light 13.3" laptop can clock in 8 hours of battery life, and it predictably packs a Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB harddrive in its starting configuration, much like its peers. The XPS 13 will be available in February, and offers a very nice blend of features for its reasonable price.
The HP Envy 14 Spectre may be a bit thick, but we loved its stylish glass exterior
The HP Envy 14 Spectre has a design, feature set, and price that put it in line with premium ultrabooks like the Samsung Series 9. The Envy 14 Spectre sports a mirror-like black Gorrila Glass lid, integrated support for NFC, and a 1600 x 900, ultra-sharp 14" Gorilla Glass screen. At .78" and 3.79 lb., the flashy notebook might not be as "ultra-portable" as many of its peers, but you're getting some seriously tough (and seriously good-looking) glass in the trade-off, not to mention Beats audio, and a reported 9-hour battery life. Like the majority of notebooks in its class, the ultrabook includes a mini-HDMI port, dual USB ports, and an SD card slot. HP's Envy 14 Spectre goes on sale February 8, and starts at $1,399 for a basic configuration with a Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD, and 4GB of RAM.
Asus Zenbook UX31 features an eye-catching, razor-sharp design
We found Asus's ultrabook somewhat ironically named. With its combo brushed/polished aluminum frame and jagged edges, the 13" Zenbook was striking for the severity of its design. While the Zenbook's angular look will boil down to a matter of preference, its insides stack up with the competition: the notebook packs a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, one USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.0 port in the mix as well. Though the Zenbook has been knocked for its less-than-stellar trackpad, it does sport Bang & Olufsen speakers, which could set it apart from the pack if you like to rock out on the go via your ultraportable computer. The 13" Asus Zenbook is available now for $1,099.
Lenovo's U300s ultrabook offers a comfy keyboard paired with solid value
At under 3 lb. and just .58" thick across the board, the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s is in many ways a prototype of the ultrabook class. Lenovo put plenty of thought into the design of the little notebook's keyboard, and the pleasantly rounded keys don't have the same uncomfortably shallow feel to them as many of its peers that cut corners to shave off inches.
Beyond its thoughtful design, the IdeaPad U300s felt solid, and it offers the standard i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, all in a sub 3 lb. shell. While it doesn't sport an SD card slot, Lenovo's ultrabook is a solid choice in an 13" ultraportable, and it's available now for $1,199. Did we mention that it comes in orange?
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