Not too long ago, laptops used to be big briefcases. Then they became truly portable, with long-lasting batteries. And today, the laptop is on the verge of becoming passé — the so-called ultrabooks are the latest rage, workhorses despite their athletic frame and Size Zero form, with companies vying with each other to cash in on the demand leaving us spoilt for choice. But are all these machines the same? What should we keep in mind while shopping for an ultrabook? And do we really NEED an ultrabook, in the first place, or would a simple laptop do? Let us take a look.
Cost vs form
Ultrabooks start at around Rs. 45,000 and go up beyond Rs. 1 lakh. Primary factors involved are: whether you have the Generation 2 or Generation 3 processor, style factor, weight and size, and so on. At present, the most expensive option is the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook, which weighs a cool 1.16 kg and is 12.9 mm thin — and costs Rs. 1,02,990. There are even costlier machines, but this is in the top league in performance. If you don’t want to compromise on build quality but your budget is limited, the HP Spectre XT, which starts at Rs. 69,990, is a great buy. It is slightly heavier than the Samsung Series 9 at 1.39 kg, and is 17.7 mm ‘thick’, but the pricing is the top factor here.
(Screen) Size matters
Ultrabooks are available in various screen sizes, from 11” to 15”, though personally speaking, I don’t really think 14” and 15” machines are ultra-sleek and ultra-portable. If you really need a larger model, you should do a detailed survey. Not all manufacturers have all models with different screen sizes. Dell does have an XPS 13 and an XPS 14, which demonstrates how an additional inch on the screen can make a difference (positively or negatively, depending on what you want: screen size or portability). I would recommend a 11” or a 13” — they fit in the smallest of cases and are a sufficient size to get work done on the road, and even meet basic photo-editing needs.
Storage: SSD or HDD?
Should you buy a machine with solid state drives (SSDs) or traditional hard disk drives (HDDs)? An SSD offers high speed in both reading and writing data, and faster boot-up. But all this comes at a cost.
If this is going to be your primary machine, you might need to take a rethink on SSDs (which range from 64GB to about 256GB in memory) depending on what kind of storage space you need. It is always possible to use an external storage device (such as hard disk or pen drive) to meet extra storage needs. I store music and photos on separate pen drives, and have never run short of space on my 64-GB SSD machine. But machines that have SSD+HDD option give best of both worlds, though it makes them somewhat bulkier. The Lenovo Idea Pad U Series are a good choice.
Ports: USB, HDD, ethernet...
You need great clarity here. Some machines offer an ethernet port, and some have only a wireless port. I am fond of the ethernet, but have not really missed it. For Internet access, I use a portable router from Edimax that helps me go WiFi with wired connectionss. At least two USB ports, an SD card slot, an HDMI output slot… these are to me minimum requirements. I like to click pictures and share them with family and friends, so an SD slot is imperative. HDMI is helpful for making presentations on the road. Some ultrabooks may require you to buy convertors to turn the USB into an ethernet port. Some have mini or micro HDMI ports. Do buy the converters along with the machine. The HP Spectre comes with a full HDMI port — very useful.
Dedicated graphics card
Most ultrabooks run and work around the Intel Graphics system, but there are options with dedicated graphics cards as well. These machines are not designed as high-end gaming machines, so if you are into games such as Need for Speed, you may want to go for a full-fledged notebook with a high powered graphics card. But online Scrabble or Pac Man that are your thing, the built-in cards work nicely. Not many ultrabooks come with dedicated graphics cards, though, and there is a cost factor involved, so you will have to make a compromise.
Companies claim battery-life ranging from five hours to eight. Personally I look for about 7 hours so that I can get through a day without carrying a charger. You need to shop according to your lifestyle. If you are a road warrior, look for at least 5+ hours of uninterrupted battery time. If you use your machine mostly with the charger plugged in, this factor is not so important for you. For me, the more the battery time on the machine, the happier I am. Remember, unlike old laptops, in ultrabooks, the battery is sealed.
Colour, style, looks
Some machines come in fancy colours like the ultrabooks from Fujitsu and Asus. Others such as the Dell XPS series come with interesting patterns. Some sport very naked and clean styling, such as the HP Spectre XT. Colours and looks are very personal, so this is entirely your domain. What is nice to see is that manufacturers have almost abandoned the old boxy design to make sure their machines look cool — but you can still finds machines with the old classic look, if that is your preference.