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 hard drive.
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.
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.
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.
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.