2012 saw the coming of age of the Intel-backed Ultrabook platform, which produced an uncannily large number of laptops that challenge the design majesty of the Apple MacBook family, undeniably the best looking laptops on the market. The launch of Intel's Ivy Bridge-based processors helped boost interest in both Ultrabooks and Apple's MacBook laptops, while the recent launch of Windows 8 will no doubt see the popularity of the former increase further in 2013.
When we reviewed the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon in October, we were so impressed that we gave this “business-class” laptop, a “Best Buy” award with a perfect 10/10 score. The X1 Carbon epitomised what makes the ThinkPad brand such a consistently award winning brand in the world of technology; minimalist design, attention to details, stunning finish and carefully selected components. Oh and, curiously enough for a top of the range laptop, a fairly reasonable price. Lenovo sells the X1 Carbon for as little as £1,090.
The base model comes with an Intel Core i5-3427U Ivy Bridge low power processor (two cores, 1.8GHz clock speed, turbo boosted to 2.8GHz, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 3MB cache and a TDP of only 17W), 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, a 14in LED backlit display and Windows 8. Arguably, there are cheaper Ultrabooks with better specifications but you can be pretty sure that none of them have a carbon fibre chassis, the ability to get a 75 per cent battery charge in 35 minutes or a three-year warranty included as standard.
The Samsung Series 3 Wi-Fi Chromebook has only been out for a few weeks and while it costs a fifth of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (that’s £229 from Currys), we’re convinced that it might have a bigger impact than the latter in the long run. This is because consumers will, sooner or later, come to terms with a world where cloud computing is pervasive with quality, low-cost, commodity hardware that only runs software-as-a service.
As for the Series 3, one could compare it to a high end tablet, without a capacitive display but with a decent keyboard. It is powered by the Samsung Exynos 5250 system-on-chip (which is based on the Cortex-A15 and comes with ARM’s Mali-T604 GPU), the same chip that powers the Google Nexus 10 tablet plus 2GB of DDR3 RAM, 16GB SSD, a card reader, two USB connectors, an HDMI port, an 11.6in 1,366 x 768 display and up to seven hours battery life.
You can even get built-in 3G if you stump up an extra £64. Obviously, Series 3’s two main selling points are the fact that it uses Chrome OS (one which comes with 100GB cloud storage for two years) and weighs only 1.1Kg.
Apple's latest 13in MacBook Pro comes equipped with a “Retina Display” screen. It is the only laptop with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, which translates into a pixel density of 227ppi, higher than some tablets or smartphones in the market (by comparison, the iPhone 5 reaches a pixel density of 326ppi).
The MB212B/A costs £1,449 at John Lewis and the retailer provides with two year warranty (rather than one). The MacBook Pro comes with OS X Mountain Lion, has a fast Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5-3210M CPU, which runs at 2.5GHz, has two cores, has Intel HD Graphics 4000, sports 3MB L3 cache and can turbo boost to 3.1GHz. Other features include 128GB flash storage, an HD camera, 8GB of RAM and two Thunderbolt ports, plus a gorgeous, head-turning design.
One might argue that the Apple MacBook Pro is the best Ultrabook money can buy even though it doesn’t come with Windows. You can always plug in Parallels to run Windows 8 at native resolution. To do the same on a computer would require a £700 monitor, making the price of the MacBook Pro seem far more reasonable.
We were genuinely impressed by the Yoga 11 when we played with it a few weeks ago. The tablet convertible runs on a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 system-on-chip with 2GB of RAM, 64GB onboard storage, a 1,366 x 768 display, HD webcam, Microsoft Office 2013 RT, a card reader, two USB ports, an HDMI output.
We liked the keyboard and the massive touchpad as well as the build quality and the exceptional battery life of up to 13 hours. The battery longevity can be partly attributed to the fact that it runs Windows RT rather than Windows 8. At £700 from PC World, one might consider that it is far more expensive than a comparable Ultrabook, except that this device is unique.
You won’t find something similar on the market, one where you can flip the screen round, use it as a touch-screen tablet or turn it into a stand, either with the keyboard facing the supporting surface or like a tent, with the keyboard facing outward.
Toshiba Satellite Z930
This Satellite Z930 is the follow-up of my faithful laptop, the Z830, and is essentially the same model but with a different operating system and a better processor. The Z930 looks a lot like the Portege Z930 only much cheaper (£800 at Currys versus £1400). Other than being one of the thinnest and lightest Ultrabooks on the market (16mm thick with a weight of 1.1kg), it also boasts some surprising connectivity options; three USB ports (including one USB 3.0), an Ethernet port, HDMI and VGA ports plus a card reader.
The rest of the specification is decent, if not spectacular. It is powered by an Intel Core i5-3317U processor based on Ivy Bridge and clocked at 1.7GHz with 3MB L3 cache, Intel HD 4000 Graphics, 6GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, a 13.3in 1,366 x 768 non-reflective LED backlit display, Bluetooth 4.0, HD webcam, a backlit keyboard, an 8-cell, 8-hour battery plus a slew of applications on top of Windows 8. Note that you can still get the Z830 from PCWorld (albeit refurbished) for a mere £617.50 after a five per cent discount using code PCW2.