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8/14/2012
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Jeff Bertolucci
Jeff Bertolucci
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Tablet Vs. Ultrabook: 10 Ways To Choose

How will you decide between the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, and the new wave of ultrabooks? Consider 10 important tablet vs. ultrabook comparison points.




With Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 going on sale in the U.S. on Thursday, buyers have a new Android-based tablet option, priced much like the iPad. (See our coverage of the full device details that Samsung shared at its Wednesday launch.) The Samsung tablet's main charms may be its stylus and split-screen view. But in addition to the Android vs. Apple tablet battle, another question looms: Can ultrabooks win a special place in mobile users' hearts?

The tablet and ultrabook may have their differences, but in many ways they're quite similar. Both are lightweight and mobile, make good traveling companions, and offer a big-screen alternative to a smartphone--which, despite its popularity, is too simply small for many tasks generally associated with desktop PCs.

A tablet, of course, fills the void between PC and phone. An ultrabook, on the other hand, is a full-fledged PC in a thinner, lighter package. But is one "better" than the other?

Certainly, more than a few tablet-toting business travelers have found themselves mired in tasks their slates can't quite handle--at least not as well as a laptop. The job at hand may involve using a touchscreen keyboard to edit a lengthy Word document. Or perhaps trying to tunnel into the office via a secure virtual private network (VPN) connection, only to find the tablet's VPN app is too complex to use.

No wonder tablet users often relegate their slates to leisure activities. A slate may be great for watching Netflix, checking email, and playing Temple Run. But its skills as a productivity tool are less obvious. Some may run desktop applications (such as Microsoft Office) that you live in every day. Then again, they may run scaled-down versions of these apps that lack the features you need.

Ultrabooks, however, are full-fledged PCs. Most models have done away with legacy peripherals, including the hard disk and increasingly useless optical (e.g., DVD) drive, but they're still x86-based laptops with QWERTY keyboards. They run a desktop version of Windows too, specifically Windows 7 or Windows 8, rather than a mobile OS tweaked for a larger display and faster processor.

Then again, the ultrabook is evolving into something more than just a skinny laptop. Modeled initially after Apple's MacBook Air, it's starting to adopt various shapes and sizes. Ultrabook manufacturers are adding larger and wider displays--and even bringing back DVD and hard drives--to differentiate their products in an increasingly crowded market. And when Windows 8 debuts in October, a new crop of touchscreen-equipped ultrabooks will arrive with it.

In fact, a touchscreen ultrabook may be a significant milestone in the evolution of the laptop, particularly if it's paired with a screen that folds backward. The result: a tablet and laptop in one. Lenovo has already shown such a device, the IdeaPad Yoga, which reportedly will ship later this year.

Dig into our slideshow to see the pros and cons of tablets and ultrabooks.


The lightest ultrabook is still about a pound or so heavier than most tablets. Case in point: The 2.65-pound Acer Aspire S5, a featherweight among 13-inch laptops, is more than a pound heavier than the 1.44-pound 3rd-generation iPad with Wi-Fi. That extra pound matters when you're lugging your hardware through airports, hotels, convention centers, and so on.

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Tablets are storage wimps. The priciest iPad--the $830 Wi-Fi + Cellular version--offers a measly 64 GB of flash memory. And the upcoming Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 Professional will come in 64-GB and 128-GB editions at prices to be announced later. By comparison, many ultrabooks have twice the storage capacity of the 128-GB Surface Pro. Both the $1,400 Acer Aspire S5 and the $1,800 Samsung Series 9 have 256-GB solid state drives (SSDs). And the low-end Dell Inspiron 14z ultrabook ($700) has both a 32-GB SSD and a 500-GB hard drive.

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Some tablet owners prefer using a physical keyboard, while others are perfectly happy tapping virtual keys. Certainly, there are times when a keyboard just gets in the way. Example: You're sitting in coach at 35,000 feet and plan to watch a movie. Sadly, your clamshell ultrabook is simply too large for the meal tray. Or perhaps it won't fit on the tray because the clueless jerk in front of you has reclined his seat all the way back until it brushes your nose.

The vast majority of today's ultrabooks are skinny laptops with permanently affixed keyboards. Granted, the rapidly changing mobile landscape is blurring the boundaries between tablet and laptop. Microsoft's Surface 8 Pro, for instance, is considered a tablet. But given its ability to run Windows 8 desktop apps like Adobe Photoshop, it could be classified as a touchscreen laptop with a detached keyboard.

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An ultrabook is built to run standard Windows apps with little or no modification, but app compatibility is less clear with tablets. ARM-based Windows RT tablets, for instance, will get their own version of Microsoft Office 2013 when they ship this fall. But the RT edition of Office reportedly will lack enterprise-friendly features such as third-party add-ins, macros, and Visual Basic for Application (VBA support). Microsoft is doing this to boost tablet battery life and reliability, The Verge reports. Of course, x86-based tablets will run full Windows apps and won't suffer this shortcoming. An interesting aside: Microsoft's move makes one wonder about the still-unannounced battery life of the Surface Pro and similar Windows 8 tablets.

RECOMMENDED READING

iPad Mini Is Pointless, Survey Says

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10 Great Summer iPad Apps

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8 Things Tablets Still Can't Do

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Microsoft Surface Tablet: 10 Coolest Features

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The tablet and stylus are an ergonomic match made in heaven, some say, a digital upgrade of paper and pen.

Many third-party pens and pen apps are available for the iPad. Microsoft's Surface Pro will not only support digital ink for pen input, it'll also feature a magnetic-charging connector for a stylus. And Samsung's new Galaxy Note 10.1 will come with a stylus for note-taking and other tasks when the pen is mightier than the finger.

So what about the Ultrabook and stylus? To be continued.

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10 Great Summer iPad Apps

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Acer Could Leave Windows Camp Over Surface

8 Things Tablets Still Can't Do

10 Ways Kindle Fire 2 Must Top Google Nexus

Microsoft Surface Tablet: 10 Coolest Features

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Tablets don't have optical drives and other spinning contraptions. And ultrabooks don't either ... right? Well, not necessarily. Intel's ultrabook specs don't demand a DVD-free design, and some manufacturers have added optical drives to their thin-and-light laptops. For instance, the Dell Inspiron 14z Ultrabook has a DVD-RW drive, as does the 14-inch Samsung Series 5 Ultra. And that's a good thing. Enterprise users may need to load an optical drive from time to time, possibly to access valuable corporate data archived on DVDs or CDs.

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iPad Mini Is Pointless, Survey Says

Tablet And Phablet Use Rises Steadily

Apple Sold 24 Times More Tablets Than Samsung

10 Great Summer iPad Apps

iPad Mini To Be Priced Competitively

Acer Could Leave Windows Camp Over Surface

8 Things Tablets Still Can't Do

10 Ways Kindle Fire 2 Must Top Google Nexus

Microsoft Surface Tablet: 10 Coolest Features

Nexus 7 Arrival Incites 7-Inch Tablet Brawl


For superior screen resolution, it's hard to top the pixel-packing displays of today's tablets. The 3rd-generation iPad, of course, features the dazzling 2048- by 1536-pixel Retina display, and court documents from the Apple-Samsung dustup show that Samsung is developing an 11.8-inch tablet with 2560-by-1600 resolution.

Most ultrabooks are stuck at 1366-by-768 pixels, but that's changing. Toshiba's Satellite U845W models have 14.4-inch displays with 1792-by-768 resolution. Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 1600-by-900, and Acer's Aspire S7 is 1920-by-1080. So ultrabooks are catching up, but tablets still have the resolution edge.

RECOMMENDED READING

iPad Mini Is Pointless, Survey Says

Tablet And Phablet Use Rises Steadily

Apple Sold 24 Times More Tablets Than Samsung

10 Great Summer iPad Apps

iPad Mini To Be Priced Competitively

Acer Could Leave Windows Camp Over Surface

8 Things Tablets Still Can't Do

10 Ways Kindle Fire 2 Must Top Google Nexus

Microsoft Surface Tablet: 10 Coolest Features

Nexus 7 Arrival Incites 7-Inch Tablet Brawl


An ultrabook--or any clamshell laptop, for that matter--doesn't need a stand, a folding cover, or some other apparatus to prop it up on a table or desk. Obviously, an open laptop isn't in much danger of toppling over. A tablet? Well, a careless table bump by a floor-sweeping barista could send your slate toppling over--particularly when it's perched in portrait mode and your stand is a double mocha latte.

RECOMMENDED READING

iPad Mini Is Pointless, Survey Says

Tablet And Phablet Use Rises Steadily

Apple Sold 24 Times More Tablets Than Samsung

10 Great Summer iPad Apps

iPad Mini To Be Priced Competitively

Acer Could Leave Windows Camp Over Surface

8 Things Tablets Still Can't Do

10 Ways Kindle Fire 2 Must Top Google Nexus

Microsoft Surface Tablet: 10 Coolest Features

Nexus 7 Arrival Incites 7-Inch Tablet Brawl


You can curl up with a tablet--particularly one of the smaller, 7-inch varieties like the Google Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire--and enjoy a good ebook. The ultrabook, of course, lacks the slate's book-like dimensions and isn't a good choice for leisure-time reading. This may change soon, however. The displays on some new ultrabooks, including the Acer Aspire S7 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, can fold all the way back, giving the devices a tablet-like flatness. Then again, it makes them extremely unwieldy to hold too.

RECOMMENDED READING

iPad Mini Is Pointless, Survey Says

Tablet And Phablet Use Rises Steadily

Apple Sold 24 Times More Tablets Than Samsung

10 Great Summer iPad Apps

iPad Mini To Be Priced Competitively

Acer Could Leave Windows Camp Over Surface

8 Things Tablets Still Can't Do

10 Ways Kindle Fire 2 Must Top Google Nexus

Microsoft Surface Tablet: 10 Coolest Features

Nexus 7 Arrival Incites 7-Inch Tablet Brawl




Ultrabooks with touchscreens. Ultrabooks with screens that fold back 180 degrees. Ultrabooks with DVD drives and hard disks, SSDs and hard drives, and SSDs only. In short, the variety of ultrabooks is impressive, and Windows 8 will bring a lot more choices. Tablets cost less than ultrabooks, however. According to IMS Research, the average selling price (ASP) for tablets was just $386 in the first quarter of 2012. By comparison, the ultrabook ASP will hover around $800 by the end of the year, according to research firm IDC. Vive la difference!

RECOMMENDED READING

iPad Mini Is Pointless, Survey Says

Tablet And Phablet Use Rises Steadily

Apple Sold 24 Times More Tablets Than Samsung

10 Great Summer iPad Apps

iPad Mini To Be Priced Competitively

Acer Could Leave Windows Camp Over Surface

8 Things Tablets Still Can't Do

10 Ways Kindle Fire 2 Must Top Google Nexus

Microsoft Surface Tablet: 10 Coolest Features

Nexus 7 Arrival Incites 7-Inch Tablet Brawl

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