What's an ultrabook?
It's a lot like Apple's MacBook Air, but different. Acer, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, and Toshiba are already selling ultrabooks. There should be something like 60 ultrabook models on the market in 2012.
Ultrabook is an Intel trademark. The ultrabook device specification was introduced by Intel in June 2011 to define hardware that's somewhere between a laptop or notebook and a tablet or a netbook. But in dreaming up its laptop diet--shedding the hard disk drive and optical drive to get Hollywood thin--Intel probably thought a lot about the MacBook Air.
Here's Intel's explanation: "Ultrabook systems marry thin and light with the best in performance, responsiveness, security, and battery life--filling the gap between desktop/laptop and tablet. We are reinventing the PC again. An ultrabook device is ultra-responsive and ultra-sleek."
If you're still wondering about the difference between responsive and ultra-responsive, to say nothing about the difference between sleek and ultra-sleek, let it suffice to say that you should visit your vendor of choice and play around with whatever ultrabook is available to determine whether it meets your needs.
[ Find out what to expect at CES. Read CES 2012 Preview: Ultrabooks Everywhere. ]
If you already have a laptop, chances are you don't need an ultrabook, though you might still enjoy one in a specific set of circumstances. Say you're trying to work on a tiny airplane tray table when the seat of the passenger in the row ahead of you is fully reclined. Sure, you'd prefer to spread out in business class but you're stuck in economy, so perhaps an ultrabook would be preferable to a bulkier laptop. You could also feign illness by coughing repeatedly in the hope that your reclining neighbor might prophylactically raise his seat enough for you to park your encyclopedia-sized notebook. But an ultrabook would probably be a better bet.
Likewise, if you already have a tablet, which is to say an iPad, then you probably don't need an ultrabook either, though you'll be glad to have one if you're planning to type at a sustained speed for more than a few minutes and happen to dislike toting a Bluetooth keyboard, along with some means of screen support.
If you have a netbook, just call it an ultrabook and be happy while ignoring the performance limitations and the typos arising from a cramped keyboard. If you have a Chromebook--Google's portable browser wrapped in a Samsung or Acer case--you're welcome to call it an ultrabook, at least until there's no available wireless or cellular network. Then it becomes a brick, no matter how you flatter it.
Even inside the ultrabook camp there's some confusion about the term. Intel calls the Acer Aspire S3 an "ultrabook" while Acer sometimes uses the term "notebook" to describe its Aspire S Series. It's almost as if "ultrabook" and "notebook" refer to the same thing. What a scandal that would be if it were true. Can you imagine anyone being excited to find that 2012 is the year of the laptop? Thankfully, we have marketers to translate reality.