Which Ultrabook for 2013?

August 1st, 2013 | Categories: just for fun, walking randomly | Tags:

I am currently in the market for a new thin and light laptop; the things that everyone seems to be calling ultrabooks these days.  Here’s what I’ve considered so far and the major good/bad points from my point of view.

  • 2013 Macbook Air: Good: Fantastic hardware specs including Haswell and Intel HD 5000. I’ll get an educational discount. Bad: No touchscreen, I’m not interested in OS X. No tablet mode.
  • Lenovo Yoga 11sGood: Both a tablet and a laptop but it’s a laptop first and a tablet second.  Bad: Only 3rd generation Intel.  Weird to hold in laptop mode because your fingers are mashing the keyboard.
  • Haswell based Dell XPS 12Good:Haswell. Beautiful mechanism for switching between tablet/laptop. Bad: Only Intel HD 4400 graphics compared to the Air’s Intel HD 5000.  I’ve heard that the connection between computer and screen is unencrypted WiDi. Possibly just FUD but its putting me off right now.
  • Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus Good: Haswell. Amazing display resolution. Bad: Much higher resolution than the Macbook Air but with weaker GPU (Intel HD 4400)–that surely can’t be a good combination? No tablet mode. Win 8 doesn’t handle such high  resolution screens well but should be fixed in 8.1.
  • Samsung Ativ Q: Good: Haswell. Amazing display resolution. Tablet mode.Win 8+Android.  Bad: No trackpad. Looks horrible in laptop mode–seems to be a tablet first and laptop second.  Like the Book 9 plus, it has a relatively weak GPU (Intel HD 4400) to drive all those pixels.

I think that at the moment, what I want is the form factor and weight of the Dell XPS12 with the resolution of the Samsung and the hardware specs of the Air.  I’m open to suggestions though.

  1. Umberto
    August 1st, 2013 at 17:36
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Hi Mike

    we exchanged a few tweets a while ago about your search for the perfect ultrabook. I am in the same situation and market as you. I am basically waiting for a Surface Pro upgraded to Haswell (so you might want to add this to your list).

    One more suggestion that comes to my mind: Samsung Ativ Q (http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/tablets/samsung-ativ-q-1160419/review) not sure if it’s already available: it has a dual OS, Windows + Android (via VM).

    Regarding the XPS12; it’s surely a great machine. But I wonder how long the flipping mechanism will last on the long run. It’s neat but will it become fragile?

  2. coppolajj
    August 1st, 2013 at 19:55
    Reply | Quote | #2

    notebook (http://www.notebookcheck.net/) check has great reviews that are very detailed (including, how hot the machine will run, and how loud it will be). the reviews are all pretty much standard so it is very easy to compare several machines. don’t forget about ASUS.

  3. Scott Stekel
    August 1st, 2013 at 22:11
    Reply | Quote | #3

    I’m also Ultrabook shopping. I’ve been interested in the Asus Zenbook UX31 and have been waiting to see when its new Haswell-equipped update will show up for sale. The Zenbook Infinity sounds good, but is all rumor at this point.
    A friend of mine suggested buying a Macbook Air and installing Windows on it. It’s an intriguing idea, but I’m unclear how well the Windows OS functions with the keyboards/touchpad/etc. of the Macbook Air hardware.
    My requirements: 1) Vertical screen resolution > 1024. These notebooks with only 768 lines are missing the point that people view documents/webpages as well as videos. 2.) SSD, for ruggedness and speed. 3.) 4th Gen Intel CPU for the increased battery life. 4.) Light enough that my son would feel like carrying it around all day on campus. 5.) Decent graphics performance. It doesn’t need to be a gaming machine, but should have some longevity to it.
    When it comes to tablet hybrids like the Yoga, I question the functionality of a device that is tied into neither the Android or iOS ecosystems. Your app selection would be severely limited, would it not?

  4. August 2nd, 2013 at 05:38
    Reply | Quote | #4

    Why do you want a touchscreen? Win8 metro is horrid, everybodybuses classic shell… And for that non feature you pay in weight, battery life, etc… Go with the air, is the only one uncorrupted by touch and silly tablet wannabe heroics, a real usable laptop

  5. Mike Croucher
    August 2nd, 2013 at 09:47
    Reply | Quote | #5

    @Umberto – Thanks for the link to the Samsung Ativ Q — I’ve just added it to the list. I doubt I’d get one as it appears to be a tablet first and laptop second, I want the other way around. I haven’t made up my mind about the Surface yet but I’ll probably not bother with it for the same reason.

    @Scott – A Macbook air with windows on it is something I’ve been considering. Would have to be win 7 though because win 8 without touch is probably more painful than win 8 with touch. At least I’d get all the nice hardware that way. Really would prefer touch though.

    @Angelo – Part of what I do for a living is to support software on whatever hardware people want to use. I haven’t had much experience with win 8 machines other than within VMS. I’d really like to get some decent, hands on experience with win 8 on the type of device is was designed for.

  6. Daniel Jones
    August 2nd, 2013 at 16:14
    Reply | Quote | #6

    Have you used Windows 8 much? I have it on my desktop at home and find that it works fine without touch. I don’t use it for work other than as a terminal for linux boxes, but don’t really find the metro interface too cumbersome. I think if I were after a new ultrabook I’d go for the MacBook Air.

    Out of interest, why are you not interested in OS X?

  7. Mike Croucher
    August 2nd, 2013 at 16:47
    Reply | Quote | #7

    @Daniel No, not used Win 8 much–partly why I want a win 8 box. As for why I’m not interested in OS X…not sure to be honest. I’m just not. I use Linux, I use Windows, I use Android, I use iOS. I think that maybe I’ve just had my fill of operating systems.

    I can see the attraction of OS X. I’m just not all that bothered by it.

  8. ARB
    August 2nd, 2013 at 22:54
    Reply | Quote | #8

    If you’re open to non-ultrabook ultraportables, I’d suggest the Lenovo X230, which is where my search for an ultrabook ended up. It’s not as thin as an ultrabook, but it is very sturdy, and is weight-competitive with most ultrabooks at about 3 lbs.

    The primary “Pros” that made me decide on it over any of the ultrabook options I was looking at were:
    1) The ability to upgrade the HDD, RAM, etc., a vast selection of ports, and other advantages most ultrabooks lack.
    2) Amazing keyboard.
    3) Trackpoint.
    4) Generally good Linux compatibility.
    5) Price. It was ~$630 refurbished at the Lenovo Outlet for a laptop that would have, at that time, sold for over $1000 new given the options the laptop had.
    6) More (my) style than anything else on the market. (Possibly excluding the X1 mentioned below.)

    The cons I’ve identified with it:
    1) I’ve never liked any touchpad, but the X230 has a touchpad that is as awful as its trackpoint is awesome. In other words, it’s a REALLY bad touchpad.
    2) No HDMI port; just a mini display port and VGA. Also can only drive two displays at once.
    3) I had a few minor Linux issues with Debian, not existing in Ubuntu — namely, wifi drivers needed to be installed manually after connecting via ethernet.
    4) Not applicable to me, but not many tablet-y features; no touchscreen, etc. No other issues with Windows 8, though.
    5) For you: maybe you want something newer? I imagine Lenovo will be updating the line with a new model sometime soon.

    Other than that, I had also been drooling over the Lenovo X1 Carbon, which actually is an ultrabook and offers tablet-y features like a touch screen if you wish, but it was far out of my price range.

  9. Ormont
    August 8th, 2013 at 01:38
    Reply | Quote | #9

    I’m also debating the same thing. I’ve also added the Sony Vaio Pro and Toshiba Portege WT310 – both of which are Haswell based units.

  10. Gordon
    August 11th, 2013 at 15:11

    Since u state at beginning that u are after an ultrabook not sure why a con with Air and one other is because no secondary purpose of tablet. Any good laptop or ultrabook isn’t going to be a good tablet, too many compromises.

    You say u don’t like OSX but it is just a GUI over Unix, just like Linux & Android. Already mentioned Windoze on an Air what about Linux on an Air that would be a good alternative.

    Just my 5 cents worth.

  11. Mike Croucher
    August 12th, 2013 at 09:22

    @Gordon You got me. I’m not really after a laptop-only ultrabook. I’m after a convertible that’s a laptop first and a tablet second.

  12. August 18th, 2013 at 20:59

    Laptop first and tablet second: Thinkpad Helix. I love mine. Touchpad is MUCH better than previous Thinkpads. Battery life is awesome, despite being an Ivy Bridge CPU. Biggest con: if awesome pen-input is key, you’ll notice some issues with positional accuracy near the perimeter. But the grayscale resolution of the digitizer is great.

  13. Umberto
    September 7th, 2013 at 12:30