CES 2012 – Ultrabooks Galore

CES has been in full swing for the last few days and its all about Ultra. As in books that is. Yes everyone is gunning for the spot of “best competitor to the Macbook Air.” For those of you looking for your next PC to be as light as air, to help you cut your next birthday cake, or simply be really thin and have great battery life, here is a list of all the new Ultrabooks showing up at CES and hopefully showing up at retail chains soon:

Samsung

Samsung’s showing off a truck load of goods this year. Not only do they have new TVs and monitors to show off, they also have a ton of ultrabooks at the ready.

13 and 14 inch Series 5

Samsung is updating their Series 5 to be more – well ultra I suppose. As you may know, Sammy’s Series 5 is typically their mainstream notebook line, and it appears that these two are no exception. The 13 inch version start at $899 packing a 300-nit, matte (yay!) LED screen at 1600×900 resolution, aluminum body, Core i5 Processors and either 500GB or 1TB HDDs(13″ and 14″ respectably) or 128GB SSDs. Having a Hard Drive keeps them at the $899 price point but at least Sammy includes a 16GB Express Cache to give some SSD performance. The SSDs jump the price up to $1099.
The 14 inch version is a bit of an odd ball as well because it is a bit thicker than the 13 inch, but also totes an optical drive. With the lower-end configuration starting at $1099 containing an optical drive, 14-inch screen and a Hard Drive, it’s debatable whether this is an ultrabook or just an expensive and slightly thinner laptop. As an interesting twist in this story, I’ve been hearing that Samsung will also allow users to opt for an AMD Radeon HD7550M to be jammed into this case as well, which would make it a great portable mainstream gaming machine.
Samsung continues to stretch the lines of what can be considered an Ultrabook by releasing one with a 15″ screen. So far it looks like it continues from the trend started with their 14-inch model, containing a Core i5 Processor, either a 1TB HDD or SSD, optical drive, and a fantastic looking HD LED Screen. This one will be starting at a rather pocket-ripping $1300-1400 price range, keeping it in the price range of the higher-end Series 9. But with an optical drive, huge HDD, 8GB of RAM, and 15″ screen, there may be a couple people looking at this strange ultra-portable.

Now I know this isn’t an ultrabook, but it’s probably the closest thing we gamers are going to get with this much performance this side of the Razer Blade. And for once, Samsung is giving us a ton of horsepower for our money. For $1799, this guy is packing a Core i7 Processor, 2GB AMD Radeon HD 6970M, a 5900 mAh battery, JBL speakers, a backlit keyboard (with separately colored WASD keys of course), and a 17-inch 300-nit 1080 screen. For only 4 Benjamins more than their Series 5 ultrabook, you get gaming power and a lot of high-end power. Even though it’s a huge, 17-inch gaming machine, Samsung still managed to make it pretty thin, showing that the Razer Blade is actually making companies think about the aesthetics of gaming computers.

Series 9 Second Generation

Previous gen Series 9(left) vs 2012 Series 9(right)

Samsung’s Series 9 was the first notebook to legitimately compete against the Macbook Air and became the staple for what Intel eventually called the Ultrabook. Ever since then, Ultrabooks have become more mainstream (read: cheaper) and so Samsung badly needed to update their proto-ultrabook.

So here we have, the Samsung Series 9 2nd generation. It’s 37% thinner and .4 lbs lighter than it’s predecessor, yet manages to pack the first gen’s 400-nit 1600×900 screen. Also, gone is the fingerprint loving Duraluminum, but it has been replaced by a more minimal aluminum uni-body design. I personally applaud the change. They did keep the clickpad unlike the Series 5 which has separate left and right mouse buttons.

Also gone is the pull-down drawers for your ports. The new series 9 has a much better port selection with two USB 3.0 ports in a typical Macbook Air design (one port on each side), a mini Display Port, and a full SD card slot that is the only thing nestled still in a pull-down drawer.

The Series 9 will come in both 13 and 15-inch configurations, both with Core i5s and 128GB SSDs starting at $1399 and $1499 respectibly.

Lenovo

The other OEM coming out in full swing is Lenovo. The Chinese Legend/IBM combo has gone crazy for ultrabooks in both its Business-minded Thinkpad line-up as well as its Consumer-drive IdeaPad lineup.

ThinkPad T430U

Lenovo is introducing two new Thinkpad Ultrabooks in CES, and these two are both very different. The first entry is a pretty standard Ultrabook fare, coming with Intel Ivy Bridge processors (2nd half of the year), HDD or SSD options, a non-replaceable battery and will be .8 inches thick and 3.9 lbs. This is a bit heavier than your standard ultrabook but does have a bit of a unique Thinkpad flare including their legendary keyboard, a trackpoint mouse, fingerprint reader and a removable back plate allowing easy access for replacing the RAM and the HDD or SSD. Lenovo will also allow thorough customization including the option for Nvidia discrete graphics, something not offered on most Ultrabooks. It’s only downside is that it’s 14-inch screen is only a 1366×768 display, but for an $849 starting price, its certainly a decent value.

ThinkPad X1

The other ThinkPad from Lenovo is a bit more unique. On the surface it seems like yet another standard Lenovo ThinkPad X1. It has Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, it’s thin and light (3.73 lbs) with 5 hour battery life. It has a TrackPoint mouse.

But this thing has an Android tablet hiding under its shell. The ThinkPad X1 has a 1.2Ghz Snapdragon AS WELL as up to a Core i7 processor and can run Windows 7 for your heavy-duty tasks, or run a Lenovo skinned version of Android for quick boot internet and app access. The Android part of this laptop will also come with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of Flash storage. When the laptop is running Android, that 5 hour battery life will extend to 10 hours and also comes with a rapid charge feature allowing you to charge it to 80% in under 30 minutes.

Practical or not, its kinda interesting, but for its $1400 starting price, it will certainly make business professionals consider it before pulling the trigger.

IdeaPad U310 and U410

The Mainstream Ultrabook

It makes sense that Lenovo’s entry into the mainstream notebook market also coincided with their meteoric rise in market share. So it makes sense that Lenovo create Ultrabooks in their IdeaPad consumer-based line up as well as their time-test ThinkPad lineup.

The U310 and U410 are revisions of last year’s U300 and U400 ultra portables. Last year they were value priced options with Hard Drives standard and a $899 starting price. Unlike many of the other entries of this year, Lenovo hasn’t done much to change the machine, but perhaps that’s a good thing. They still have the same aluminum shell, glass trackpad, great Lenovo keyboard, RapidDrive (HDD/SSD hybrid) and great battery life. Put that on the scale at 3.79 lbs at .97 inches thick, and you’ve got something Lenovo calls an “Ultra Laptop.” It also comes in an “Ultrabook” configuration including a SSD starting at 64GB and several colors including  Cotton-candy Pink, Crimson Red, Electric Blue, Graphite Grey and Pearl White.

So other than the SSDs and new color options, what’s new? The price. Starting at $699, I would expect this laptop to sell quite nicely because of its great feature, good build quality and bargain price.

Acer

Acer is typically known for their budget notebooks and netbooks, a reputation that informed last years S3 Ultrabook. It was a “bargain” last year at an $899 starting price but suffered from poor build quality, a less-than-stellar keyboard, and average quality screen. This year Acer is trying to turn over a new leaf on its Ultrabook division with two new high-end models.

Aspire S5

Considering everything that’s changed with Acer’s new Aspire Ultrabook compared to last year’s S3, it’s surprising they didn’t name it differently. The hardware under the hood it very similar to most Ultrabooks, coming with Intel Core i processors, SSDs, a thin and light aluminum frame (although it feels a bit higher in build quality),  and a good helping of RAM (upgraded now to 8GB).However, there are a lot of exciting upgrades in the S5 that could make this little guy a bit more unique.

I’m most interested in Acer’s “AlwaysConnect” technology which keeps the Ultrabook in some sort of hybrid sleep mode while still being connected online to receive updates for Outlook, Facebook, Twitter and others so that on resume, the most recent information is right in front of you. This feature will also let you wake the machine from your smartphone so you can grab data from it even if its closed and sitting on your bed at home.

All Ultrabooks have to balance port selection with a thin frame. You can’t have both ports and a sleek frame, until Acer’s MagicFlip. It’s an unfortunate name but its a great way to get two USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, a Thunderbolt port and a full-sized SD card slot in a .59 inch frame. This is how they did it. By the way, this hidden panel should hold up to 50lbs of weight

Finally the S5 comes with a MagSafe like AC Adapter connection, which is something that has been badly needed on notebooks for a long time. With all these small but fairly significant upgrades, its not surprising to hear that this Ultrabook will be priced at “around $1000.” However, with all its small upgrades, this may be one of the more innovative and well priced Ultrabook of the bunch, as long as Acer’s final build quality remains solid.

Timeline Ultra

The Timeline name represents Acer’s high performance line up and this Ultrabook is being touted no differently. It will come in both 14 inch and 15 inch form factors and will be around 20mm thick. That’s not particularly thin but it will pack a Core i processor that has apparently not been announced yet (probably Ivy Bridge) as well as gaming-grade dedicated graphics and an impressive 8 hour battery life.

Also included is an optical drive, USB 3.0 ports, Dolby Home Theater v4 Audio, Acer’s Cloud service and the AlwaysConnect feature listed in the S5 above. Unfortunately there is no pricing yet but it will be available in the Q1 2012.

Hewlett-Packard

With HP’s Folio Ultrabook already announced (although will be sold in consumer divisions too now), that leaves this week’s Ultrabook announcement for the consumer division. But don’t expect this to be a meager Macbook Air-wannabe at a bargain price. This Ultrabook is hoping to the object of Envy for many OEMs

HP ENVY Spectre 14

I have to say, this is probably the most beautiful Ultrabook on the CES floor. HP announced a few months back that they had been experimenting with various new materials other than aluminum for notebook design, but I didn’t expect this. Most of the machine is covered in scratch resistant glass from the lid, to the display and even on the trackpad and palm rest. HP even claims this glass actually improves the durability of the aluminum case underneath.

HP also included Beats Audio(big surprise) and HP Wireless Audio to stream audio to KleerNet devices. I can’t wait to lay my eyes on the 14-inch 1600×900 Radiance Display, which is HP’s highest end display with better color quality, within the shell of a 13.3″ laptop. The result is a beautiful piece of equipment.

The rest of the hardware is fairly standard fare, with Core i5 processors, a fairly paltry 4GB of RAM, but a huge 256GB SSD, 9 hour battery life and a surprising NFC card for connecting from your NFC equipped smartphone (or your HP Touchpad of course), all packed into a 20mm frame. It’s priced at a high end $1399 but HP is hoping you won’t mind considering they also preloaded Photoshop Elements 10, Premier Elements 10, and 2 years of Norton.

Dell

Seeing Dell show up at the CES Ultrabook-o-thon was rather surprising considering its definitive refusal to build Ultrabooks earlier this year (or at least sub-$1000 ultrabooks). apparently Intel’s subsidies eventually convinced Dell otherwise, because we now have a Dell Ultrabook for a dollar under 1000 called the
Dell’s entry into this highly competitive market comes with yet another type of material, Carbon Fiber. It’s one of the thinnest ultrabooks at a paltry .24 inches at its thinnest, but expands to .71 inches at highest point of the wedge. The use of aluminum and carbon fiber in the same case makes me wonder how sturdy the two materials will fit together,but it’s interesting to see carbon fiber within a notebook case.
The keyboard is also Dell’s standard backlit XPS keyboard, which is fantastic.
Other than that’s the XPS is a pretty standard Ultrabook. It sports an Intel Core i5, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, 8 hour battery life and a 13.3″ laptop screen at 1366×768 resolution within a 12″ shell. The gorilla glass on the screen makes no sense to me, since that will only make the screen scratch resistant and to my knowledge, its not a touchscreen.
*updated* Hybrid Ultrabooks
This is all I can use to describe a couple Windows 8 ultrabooks debuted near the end of CES 2012. Both of these take inspiration from the hybrid Tablet/Laptop form of Windows 8’s software and decided to bring that hybridization to the hardware. We’ve seen attempts to create Windows 7 (and even Android) Laptops that convert into tablets and we’ve seen Tablet PCs from the pre-ARM days. But with Windows 8 on the horizon, now we may finally see a revitalization of the Tablet PC.
Imagine a thin and light 13″ Ultrabook at 17mm thick. Now add Windows 8. Of course with Windows 8, you need a touchscreen. But reaching over to tap and flick around the internet is too annoying, so what do you do? Well of course you bend the laptop in half! Any other Ultrabook would break, but not this guy. The aptly-named yoga has a hinge that lets you rotate the screen a full 180 degrees vertically so that the screen lies flush with the back panel. It might be a bit thicker than your standard tablet, but at 17mm thick, it’s not that much thicker. When rotated a full 180 degrees, the keyboard will shut off, allowing you to hold it and interact like any tablet.
When it’s released (sometime after Windows 8 is) it will come with Ivy Bridge Processors, a Samsung SSD, 13.3″ IPS Touchscreen, and 8 hour battery life. With it’s robust specs and fairly innovative hinge design, this will certainly be the Ultrabook to fear near the latter half of the year.
Inspiron Duo flashback anyone? Yes we’ve seen this hinge design before, but it never fails to impress. It’s just simply cool to impress your friends by moving it from Tablet to Laptop mode so easily and quickly. I feel that luster is going to fade when you try to use that gawd awful touch sensor and buttons that they decided to replace a traditional trackpad with. As per Toshiba’s typical design, you’ve also got a cramped and uncomfortable keyboard to work with as well.
The specs are your average mediocre Ultrabook specs, including CULV Core i5 processors, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD (which will mean it will probably be in the higher price range) and an average looking 13.3″ screen running at a slightly better than bargain 1280×800 resolution. Also included are 2 USB ports, an Ethernet Jack, SD card slot, HDMI and separate headphone and mic jacks. At 4.2lbs, it’s also fairly heavy for an Ultrabook.
It’s still in early development, so let’s hope Toshiba puts some spit and polish on this guy before they try to sell it.
That’s it…for now
I’m kind of disappointed by the showing of Hybrid laptops at CES. I’m sure there will be more introduced as Windows 8 comes more into development, but this is certainly the most exciting form factor to see coming back to Windows.
I guess that’s it for the Ultrabooks for CES. Some are kinda cool, many are flops, and generally I’m not very impressed. I feel that these machines are way too expensive to gain any traction whatsoever. While they are impressive in just how thin and light they are, impressive in performance and battery life, they simply do not offer value (good bang for buck) right now and I feel that Intel will have a hard time selling Ultrabooks until they get to or under the $699 price range. Much of CES also seems to be waiting until next year when Windows 8 arrives, so I feel like 2012 is a bit of a limbo year.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: