When Ultrabooks debuted last year, one thing went through the Windows minded public – “How much, and where?”. Since then, we’ve grown accustomed to their higher prices and widespread (though not as much as we’d like) availability, but a good number of us, including these here authors, held back from a purchase until the awkward first generation got out of the way, letting manafacturers find their feet in design. Well, those days have been and gone and we’re safely in the second generation of Ultrabooks, code named Chief River after the updated processor line that exists in each second gen model, so what models should you be looking at? We look at some of the best models available from this gen, and a couple of Ultrabooks set to arrive in the near future.
Samsung Series 9 13″ & 15″
The beautiful series 9 has won fans across the planet with it’s Air rivaling rigidity, solid battery life and mercifully matte screen coating. It’s powered by a 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5-2467M processor backed by 4GB of RAM and Intel’s HD 3000 graphics chip, or a Core-i7 chip with 6GB of RAM, meaning that alongside its super fast 128GB, it’s no slouch in the performance department. It’s not all perfect though, Samsung’s stellar history with keyboards (this is being written on the deck of a Q3330) falters slightly with the Series 9, which due to obvious size limitations (the Series 9 is 0.62″ thick) means the keys are rather shallow. On top of that, the speakers are somewhat tinny and unsubstantial , if you can deal with these admittedly minor problems, the Series 9 is a superb laptop.
Asus Zenbook UX32VD/UX31A 11″ & 13″
Our favourite first gen Ultrabook, the Zenbook recently got bumped up to the latest generation of processors, but the improvements didn’t stop there. Now available with a stunning (and we mean stunning) 1080p IPS display, dedicated graphics in the slightly thicker UX32VD and a much improved keyboard and track pad experience, the second generation Zenbook is a formidable performer in the Ultrabook world and absolutely one you should investigate before putting down money.
Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon
The Thinkpad name carries a heavy weight along with it, it’s a name which in the community means excellent battery life, unbeatable keyboards, dual track pad and pointing nub navigation and near indestructibility. It’s also known for blocky, thick designs. I’m sure you can guess which trait the Carbon X1 takes from it’s ancestors, because the X1 is thin, beautiful, well built and comes equipped with one of the finest track pad and keyboard combinations available on any laptop – period. Alongside Intel’s HD4000 graphics chipset and a standard i5-3317U processor, the X1 is adept for every day computing but ill suited for gaming, that said, if you aren’t interested in running games on your thin and light, the X1 is a superb yet pricey choice for the prospective Ultrabook buyer.
Dell XPS 14
Dell’s surprisingly excellent (forgive us, years of disappointing Dell experiences) XPS 14 does lots of things very right, with world beating battery life, a well constructed build with Gorilla Glass coated screen, 1GB graphics card and a lovely keyboard to boot. Sadly, it’s not perfect, the screen could be better (see the Zenbook for proof) and the track pad is a disappointingly inconsistent affair, plus with prices starting at “ouch” and going all the way to “are you having a crisis?”, it’s for big spenders only.
As always, the grass always seems greener on the other side, and the soon to be released round of Ultrabooks (likely arriving to celebrate the release of Windows 8) offer some pretty wild functionality. Take the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga, pictured above, for example, with it’s screen which bends into a whole number of painful looking positions to transform the Ultrabook into a tablet, all in one PC or simply for use as a touch enabled Ultrabook. Speaking of touch enabled functionality, manufacturers have quickly caught on to the increased productivity it can bring with Samsung set to release their Series 5 Ultra Touch and other companies rumored to be prepping a multitude of touch based Ultrabooks, the back of 2012 looks to be an excellent place to get in on the second generation action.