Mobile // Mobile Devices
Commentary
6/3/2013
10:34 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
Commentary
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Ultrabooks Game Just Changed

Debuting at Computex this week, ultrabooks with instant-on capability and all-day battery life will be more competitive with smartphones and tablets.

In Tapei Monday at the Computex show, PC makers unveiled the next generation of ultrabook PCs. These systems are more than just another turn of the screw. They are game-changers with the potential to disrupt the way we interact with our personal electronics.

I've written plenty about how Microsoft's missteps with Windows 8 have hampered OEMs' ability to sell new PCs for the past year. And about how the timing of the Windows 8.1 release is going to clip the sales potential of this new crop of systems. That's all still true. The PC OEMs are facing yet another daunting selling season.

Let's be clear, though: the challenging market climate in no way undermines what this new spate of ultrabooks brings to the table. They sport a host of improvements over the last wave of ultrabooks, impressive as they were from a pure hardware perspective. Instant on, for example, is now becoming a reality. As well, the fourth-generation Intel Core processors inside afford OEMs the opportunity to build sleek, sexy systems that boast up to twice the battery life of last year's models -- without sacrificing performance. If you are in the market for a new laptop, it means you should be able to find an ultrabook that lasts all day on a single charge.

[ Overwhelmed by tablet options and features? Here's how to narrow the field. Tablet Buying Demystified: 10 Tips. ]

That's the game-changing part. Buy yourself an ultrabook with instant-on capability and all-day battery life, and you'll find yourself reaching for your PC instead of your smartphone or tablet more often than you do today.

That said, these cool new systems aren't going to convince any of us to toss our tablets. Most of us will continue to maintain three devices in our personal electronics arsenal for the foreseeable future. What these new ultrabooks have a chance to do, however, is help the PC vendors reclaim some of the mindshare they've lost to the other devices during the past few years.

We may not do it consciously, but every time we turn to one device over the others, we make our choice by sifting through a complex matrix of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the three. The choice really comes down to how easy it is to get what we want or need, and the cost of getting it.

I like to refer to smartphones as our first responders. They serve as our phones, after all, so they're never far away from us. As a result, we're far more likely to deploy them when a need arises. Just the other day at lunch, for example, I fired up the browser on my cell phone to settle a bet with a friend. (Answer: it was the Incas, not the Mayans.) But I wouldn't dream of researching a trip to Machu Picchu on my phone -- I'd wait until I could spend some time in front of my laptop, with its larger display, no-compromise keyboard and other superior research tools.

Historically, the big knocks against laptops had been that they had poor battery life, and that they took forever to wake up and hop to attention. So we thought twice before we opened up our laptops. Did we want to wait that long before we looked up the ancients? Could we afford to expend scarce battery life on such a non-essential activity?

Such shortcomings were what gave tablet vendors the opening they needed to pry their way into the market in the first place.

Now, finally, PC vendors have closed the gaping holes that gave rise to the tablet market. Of course, that's not going to shove tablets back into their hole. But this will be an interesting period to watch. The smartphone and tablet markets are maturing, which means new gains will be harder to come by. Meantime, the renaissance in PC design is coming into full swing.

It will be fun to watch as the ultrabook initiative tries to change the momentum. But there will be plenty of time for that. This summer, I'm going computer shopping.

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MadeOfDirt
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MadeOfDirt,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/15/2014 | 11:10:58 AM
Re: Ultrabooks Game Just Changed
For me the promise of an Ultrabook has been realized for the last five years. I have had all day battery, adequate computing power and fast startup (under 30 sec), all on a 3 lb package with a 13.3" screen.

When I started searching for this combination several years ago, I was commuting by bus for 3 hrs each day so I needed to be productive. (the Busses here have wifi). I selected and have been using for the last five years an ASUS UL30A X5 with an 8 cell LION battery that realistically provided 10 hours per day computing. It has a Dual Core SU7300 and 4 GB RAM. Pretty weak by todays standards, but it has performed the function of an ultrabook admirably over the last 5 years.

I run MS Office, Adobe Creative Suite, and numerous other software without a hitch. As it aged, I replaced the 500 GB hard drive with a Samsung 120GB SSD and it boots in under 30 seconds to Win 7. If It supported SATAIII, it would boot in under 15 seconds. I also updated the Wi-Fi to a dual band card. That gave the performance a kick in the pants too. I have used this notebook heavily for the last 4.8 years. I did have to replace the keyboard ($18) and the Charger ($20), but I am still running on the original battery. It has been a great computer and I always feel a little sorry for the other folks that I see at the coffee shop searching for an electrical outlet. I usualy leave the charger at home, making it even more portable. It is so light the I hardly notice it in my backpack.

Now, sadly, my beloved UL30A is getting old and various parts are starting to fail due to heavy use. Also I really do need newer features such as Gig E-net, newer USB standards and wireless AC. The problem that I have is: what do I replace it with?

I am completely spoiled by having all day computing on a 3 lb patform and can never really go back to a 6 hour battery. Hopefully the new 4th Gen processors will make it possible to replaced my UL30A with a noteboook that has great battery life and also a powerful processor. Any suggestions?

 

 

 
HaroldCallahan
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HaroldCallahan,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/6/2013 | 3:10:15 PM
re: Ultrabooks Game Just Changed
I am also in favor of functional devices. However, I see no reason why a functional device has to be over 3 pounds. As much as I dislike Apple for other reasons (patent lawsuits), the Macbook Air shows that such a thing is possible. Why, oh why is there no decent 2.3 pound PC ultrabook?
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
6/6/2013 | 2:32:09 PM
re: Ultrabooks Game Just Changed
If you can't hang it on your belt or stick it in your pocket, you're still carrying an extra 'thing' around. If I've got to carry an extra 'thing,' I'd rather it be more functional. Of course, once I get onto a device bigger than a phone, I'm primarily an information creator, not a consumer. If your a taker instead of a maker, that might change things.
HaroldCallahan
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HaroldCallahan,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/6/2013 | 1:59:56 PM
re: Ultrabooks Game Just Changed
Unfortunately, ultrabooks fall far short of the promise of only a "little" extra weight. The vast majority of ultrabooks are well over 3 pounds, with some imposters even weighing in at 4 or 5 pounds. That amount of bulk is just not attractive compared to an iPad, not to mention 7-inch tablets.
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/4/2013 | 10:11:19 AM
re: Ultrabooks Game Just Changed
Intel statements about battery life improvement are quite bold at each iterations of products since Centrino times!
If they were accurate as bold, now we would have not less than a month battery life, just multiply the 3-4h of Banias models to 1,5X or 2X EACH time Intel announced a new generation... but unfortunately we are stuck on 3-4h for entry level to (optimistic) 6-8h for ultrabooks with new batteries and moderate usage.
Nowhere near the full weekend or full daily work of always on, media intensive freedom I enjoy on my iPad and on my Galaxy.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
6/3/2013 | 6:00:19 PM
re: Ultrabooks Game Just Changed
Instant boot eliminates much of the 'cost' of firing up a laptop, and I expect sharp price reductions in the monetary cost of touchscreen ultrabooks over the next couple of years, despite the Microsoft tax.

Tablets are already too big to carry conveniently (not pocketable), so for many of us, a thin, light laptop will be a huge win over a tablet. A real keyboard, a powerful OS, and a useful array of ports more than make up for a little extra weight as long as there's no extra wait.
xenophonkc
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xenophonkc,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/3/2013 | 5:05:27 PM
re: Ultrabooks Game Just Changed
Hybrid is the natural next step of high end devices. Touchscreen ultrabook with detachable or twistable tablet/keyboard. Tablet mode for consumption, laptop mode for productivity - instant on either way. It's out there in some clunky forms today but not yet as ubiquitous as it will be as the tech and design improves.

Better yet for techies - multiboot to Windows, Android, Linux, etc. Apparently Intel CloverTrail+ will do this and may allow Intel to get back in the mobile game with WinDroid tablet hybrids.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2013 | 4:33:18 PM
re: Ultrabooks Game Just Changed
Tablets may not lose ground, but it does seem like they'll get squeezed as smartphones get larger and faster and ultrabooks get more affordable and gain the advantages you've noted here.
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