The Best New Ultrabooks
The PC is undergoing its most radical makeover since the advent of the IBM PC three decades ago. Ultrabooks and Windows 8 are leading the charge. Slim Ultrabook designs are succeeding where netbooks failed, delivering performance, battery life, and a full-featured computing experience. Today’s Ultrabooks—skinny, light laptops that Intel is pushing PC makers to build—represent the future of the PC. The following slides survey some of the best models of Ultrabooks now available.
Photographs by Robert Cardin
Acer Aspire TimelineUltra M5-581TG-6666
The $829 TimelineUltra M5 is a little bigger and heavier than most Ultrabooks. Though it has excellent specs for its svelte form, its performance and its screen aren’t quite up to those of its predecessor, the TimelineUltra M3. But both the keyboard and the trackpad are comfortable to use, and audio was especially impressive, remaining loud and full-bodied at the highest volume setting. All in all, it’s a very good-looking ultraportable laptop.
Acer Aspire S5
If you’re looking for an Ultrabook with the superslim good looks of a MacBook Air, enough computing oomph to handle multimedia and general business tasks, plus a good-enough battery life, take a long hard look at the Acer Aspire S5. Though a little pricey at $1399, it’s not spectacularly so. And the S5 achieved a stratospheric score of 195 on our WorldBench 7 test suite. It also has dual-band Wi-Fi and did well in our gaming tests. This sleek model poses one of the most credible threats to the MacBook Air we’ve seen to date.
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A
The Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A—costing about $1449—resembles the old UX31E, with a brushed, bronze-tinted, solid aluminum shell that looks slightly dangerous and angular. The weight remains the same, at 3 pounds and an ounce. But our test model came with a gorgeous, 1080p IPS (in-plane switching) display and an Ivy Bridge processor, boosting both performance and screen quality. It also achieved a high WorldBench 7 score of 150, and its battery life is excellent. The UX31A has its quirks, such as an oddly partitioned storage system. But overall, this fabulous-looking Zenbook represents a near-pinnacle in Ultrabook design.
Dell Inspiron 14z
The $900 Dell Inspiron 14z is a tad too big and heavy to be a proper Ultrabook—call it a thin, light, general-purpose laptop with Ultrabook aspirations and an optical drive. It also comes with a discrete graphics card, built-in Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0. The GPU boosts the 14z’s gaming capabilities somewhat, and the laptop can even deliver smooth 3D. The screen generally looks good (high-definition video plays well), and the range of acceptable viewing angles is impressive. Audio quality is solid. Battery life is average for an Ultrabook. The multitouch touchpad may take some practice to get used to, but the keyboard is spillproof.
Dell XPS 14
The XPS 14 excels at multimedia, has great battery life, and performs decently, but it’s heavy and a bit pricey ($1500). It boasts an exceptionally bright, high-res (1600-by-900-pixel) widescreen display (covered by bonded Corning Gorilla Glass) and a discrete graphics chip for games and video. The keyboard and touchpad are both satisfactory. On the whole, its weight makes this model more suited to occasional travelers than to frequent fliers.
Fujitsu Lifebook UH572
The Fujitsu Lifebook UH572 looks good, boasts a nice, high-def webcam, and packs a roomy hard drive, but it disappoints somewhat. A reasonably priced (at $999), 13.3-inch consumer sibling of the business-oriented Lifebook UH772, it delivers subpar performance, and the keyboard isn’t ideal. Still, the unit does have an interesting feature: It supports Intel’s Wi-Di technology for beaming a notebook display to a TV that also supports Wi-Di (if you also have a Wi-Di adapter). If industrial design contributed to our scoring, however, the UH572 would have done better. From its brushed silver magnesium alloy cover to its smooth black interior with blue lighting accents, the UH572 appears a class act.
HP Envy 4-1030us
The HP Envy 4 is aptly named—this Ultrabook’s premium design and subtle pop of color should make it the envy of ultraportables everywhere. But don’t expect too much in graphics performance or gaming (the Envy 4 has no discrete graphics card). It features a flat, plateau-like brushed aluminum cover and a sexy red undercarriage. Plus, it’s a solid performer and has excellent speakers. The keyboard is attractive, but typing accurately can be hard. The touchpad supports multitouch gestures, which are fairly smooth. Other pluses are its good performance scores and excellent speakers. The Envy 4 also features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
Lenovo IdeaPad U310
The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 performs well, as long as you’re not looking to do anything fancy. It has loud, if sometimes thin, speakers and a good-looking but dim screen. It also has decent, but not great, battery life. As with many Ultrabooks, the port selection is modest, but they include two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI-out, and an ethernet connection. At the end of the day, the U310 will most likely appeal to college students and other young, budget-minded shoppers who will like its bright, fun colors.
Sony VAIO SVT13114GXS
This business-oriented Sony Ultrabook is pretty and light. Though it has below-average general performance and a dim screen, it also has an excellent keyboard and touchpad, and a clean-but-quiet headphone jack. It has, as well, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0. This VAIO is smaller, lighter, and thinner than some other Ultrabooks, but it may not match up in performance or usability for business. Unless you’re seeking only aesthetics, you may want to consider alternatives if you're looking for a business ultraportable.
Toshiba Satellite U845-S406
The Toshiba Satellite U845-S406 is decently priced (at $880) and still packs quite a punch. Its stock speed of 1.7GHz can rev up to 2.6GHz with Intel’s maximum Turbo Frequency feature. While that won’t impress power-PC enthusiasts, the Ivy Bridge dual-core CPU will handle most stressful tasks with ease. The pleasantly smooth multitouch touchpad is quick and responsive, but the keyboard’s keys are stiff. The laptop can fit easily in a typical backpack, yet sports a 14-inch LED-backlit display. Like most Ultrabooks, it lacks an optical drive, but it should serve well for business users on the go. The Satellite U845-S406 is a great option if you need just a little extra power for work on business trips, but don’t feel like shelling out for a desktop replacement.
Toshiba Satellite U845W-S410
This elegant-looking Toshiba Satellite model targets movie buffs, but it’s not a good choice for productivity or gaming. Its LCD panel has an unusual 21:9 aspect ratio—perfect for viewing widescreen movies without letterboxes, and the S410’s sound quality is top-notch; battery life is also excellent. In addition, the S410 has a nicely rounded set of connectivity options, lacking only cellular broadband. The keyboard, though, provides little tactile feedback, so it’s not the best for touch-typing. This cool-looking model would be great for casual use (and watching movies). But if you need a laptop to get work done, you can find alternatives.
Vizio’s first entry into PCs, the $1199 C14-A2, makes a bold design statement and gets many things right, though it omits some features such as a built-in flash-memory card reader and an ethernet jack. Its overall performance is close to a dead heat with the highly rated, but pricier, Acer Aspire S5, and its CPU supports hyperthreading. As with many very thin and light systems, tested battery life is a tad short, and the speakers disappoint. While the C14-A2 is a pleasure to use, it’s not perfect. The keyboard and touchpad are quite usable, though pointing behavior could be better. The display is decent, not fabulous, but its size and resolution are welcome. Overall, the C14-A2 feels solid, looks good, handles typing well, and performs like a champ.