Rumours of laptop’s demise are much exaggerated

24 Sep

The Samsung ultrabook computer is noticeably smaller and thinner than the old laptop. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Last year, tech pundits were predicting the demise of the laptop computer. The laptop seemed to be trampled in the stampede of consumers to the iPad and other tablets.

But not so fast. The computer industry has launched a clever counter-offensive, in the form of the ultrabook.

The ultrabook is being offered by Dell, Asus, Lenovo, HP, Toshiba and other leading computer makers. However, this new product category is being driven by Intel, the world’s largest manufacturer of computer chips and microprocessors, who have created the specifications to which ultrabooks must adhere.

That’s right, it takes a computer chip manufacturer to step in and show the computer companies how it should be done. But whatever – at least they’ve risen to the challenge. In fact, Wired magazine has described the ultrabook as the hottest gadget of the year.

The ultrabook does not attempt to copy the tablet – it doesn’t have the touch screen, so it’s really a different kind of animal – but it plays to its PC strengths to compete with the tablet on its own turf.

First, there’s size. The ultrabook has a full-width keyboard and standard-size screens, so the chassis length and width can only be so small – roughly 8” by 12”. However, they are pleasingly thin, with a maximum 18 mm thickness – or .69 inches – for the 13.3 inch screen model (larger displays have a maximum of 21 mm). That’s pretty thin.

The latest iPad is 9.5” long by 7.3” wide and just .37” thick – still substantially smaller and slimmer than the ultrabook. However, the trade-off is a smaller keyboard on the iPad, which can be a difficult adjustment if you switch constantly between computer and tablet. The advantage is that the iPad is, well, an iPad, with its great touch screen, camera, Face Time and other features, plus all those functional and fun applications. If you are in love with an iPad, the ultrabook is not going to turn your head.

However, the ultrabook has other strengths which are difficult to ignore, depending on your computer requirements.

In my case, I was in need of a new laptop with multiple purposes, from writing long text documents on the move to running presentations for clients. I’m aware that peripheral keyboards are available for iPads and you can run presentations through certain projectors, with the right connector cables, but does it make sense to invest in all that.

The ultrabook contains a fast processor that boots up in just 20 seconds and awakens from a deep sleep in just seven. That’s impressive (especially compared to my old laptop, which took more than two minutes to start up).

Memory and storage are also important. The ultrabook offers four GB of RAM and 500 GB on the hard drive, which beats hands down the iPad’s one GB of RAM and maximum of 64 GB of storage. The extra memory is key for me, since I handle a lot of large files.

The ultrabook has one HDMI and two USB ports, whereas the iPad has none (you can buy dedicated cables for this purpose, or run wirelessly).

Because of their slim profile, neither the iPad nor the ultrabook contains an optical drive for reading and burning disks (though some larger screen ultrabooks do offer this drive). However, the USB ports on the ultrabook allow for easy connection to external drives. Based on my limited research, the iPad has major difficulty connecting to external drives.

After weighing these options against my own needs I settled on the ultrabook, purchasing the Samsung Series 5 with the 13.3” screen at Best Buy for $700 (which is roughly $100 more than the 64 GB iPad).

I’ve not been using it very long, and will likely offer a more comprehensive review later. Suffice to say that the computer is as fast as they claim, on start-up and waking from sleep. And its compact size is wonderful for travel or for toting to meetings at the local café.

The ultrabook has made an impressive debut, and is digging in for the long haul. Just last week, HP announced that its Sleekbook will launch later this year, with most of the same dimensions and features as the ultrabook but at a cheaper price.

Even better, a handful of manufacturers have announced an ultrabook/tablet hybrid with a removable screen that doubles as a tablet. This too should be available in time for Christmas.

If you’re in the market for a new device and are leaning toward an ultrabook, it wouldn’t hurt to wait a few more weeks.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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