Netbooks offered cheap and affordable computing for the masses, which is why they were wildly popular just a few years ago. However, one of the recurring complaints about netbooks was their sub-par performance in multimedia tasks and the small screen which wasn’t really apt for being productive on the go. Apple’s MacBook Air changed this, but again, came at a premium and not many Windows loyalists were willing to make the transition to OSX. Intel saw an opportunity here to meet the increasing demand for a Windows-based notebook that offered the portability and performance of a MacBook Air, but with a more familiar working environment.
Enter the Ultrabook – a notebook with enough power to run resource-hungry multimedia applications, yet slim enough to easily slip into your briefcase.
The first wave of Ultrabooks that started hitting retail outlets towards the tail end of 2011 were simply too expensive for most consumers to afford. The reasons behind this were the aluminium chassis and SSDs used by OEMs; it wasn’t really their fault since they had to stick to strict guidelines set by Intel for a notebook to be classified as an Ultrabook.
After the launch of Ivy Bridge CPUs and witnessing the dwindling sales of its brainchild, Intel decided to relax some of its guidelines so that OEMs could make a few compromises to bring the prices down. This led to some chunky notebooks being passed off as Ultrabooks, even though that went against the whole concept; the new Dell XPS 14 is a perfect example of just that.
With SSD prices stabilising, we’ve seen larger storage capacities in the second wave of Ultrabooks, and even some that use a combination of a standard hard drive and a small SSD for caching. This allows OEMs to lower the price of an Ultrabook while offering more storage to the user, so everyone wins.
We also have some Ultrabooks with higher resolution screens to stand out from the competition. Nevertheless, since all the major OEMs have their offerings in the market, we decided to put together a little roundup of some of the hottest Ultrabooks trending right now. These fall into various price brackets, feature sets and configurations. Read on to find out which one trumped our benchmark charts and which one offers the best value for your money.
Dell XPS 13 – Rs. 90,467
There’s no getting away from the fact that Dell has created an incredible-looking notebook. It doesn’t matter which angle you look at it from, the XPS 13 is definitely a headturner. This is mainly due to the choice of materials used to build the chassis. The lid and most of the base is crafted from machined aluminium, and the rest of the base is carbon fibre. This makes it extremely sturdy and durable while maintaining a very slim profile. The notebook measures about 18 mm at its thickest and weighs around 1.36 kg. The fit and finish is impeccable and Dell has paid a lot of attention to detail.
The XPS 13 gives you great, fast performance topped with a killer design
Connectivity isn’t the best when it comes to Ultrabooks. While it’s nice to see USB 3.0, there are just two ports where we normally have three. DisplayPort is a nice addition, but it would have been better if we had HDMI, as the cables are easier to find and are cheaper. Other ports include a headphone jack and a battery status indicator. The XPS 13 has a 13.3-inch display with Corning’s Gorilla Glass for protection. This ensures your display remains free of unwanted scratches over time. The edge-to-edge glass gives the screen a seamless look and also allows Dell to fit a larger screen into a smaller chassis. Along with the 1.3 megapixel webcam, there’s an ambient light sensor that automatically dims and brightens the display based on the amount of light in the room. The keyboard area has a very nice rubber finish to it and the rubber finish extends to the trackpad as well. Overall, the build and finish of the notebook is very good and amongst the best you’ll find in the market today.
With a Core i7 CPU and a super-fast SSD under the hood, the XPS 13 is super quick at any task you throw at it. The XPS 13 managed to clock in some of the highest scores we've seen among the Ultrabooks. Typing is relatively stress-free and the keys offer good tactile response, so it doesn’t cause fatigue even after long hours of typing. At Rs. 90,467, it’s quite expensive, but you do get best-in-class performance. So, if it’s speed you’re looking for, the Dell XPS 13 is one of the best Ultrabooks money can buy.
Sony Vaio T – Rs. 49,990
Sony always comes up with designs very different from the rest. The Vaio T is Sony's attempt to offer a stylish Ultrabook at a competitive price. The SVT11113FGS is an 11.6-inch variant of the Vaio T series. Weighing just 1.4 kg, it’s more convenient to carry than Ultrabooks with larger screens. With the lid closed, the brushed aluminium finish, a chrome coloured Vaio logo at the centre and a chrome strip across the rear looks great.
Sony has paid attention to the finer details: you have two tiny rubber stubs on either side of the keyboard and a long rubber strip above the screen frame to protect the screen from rubbing against the keyboard. What we liked most were the two plastic bits at the back of the laptop which slightly elevate the keyboard when you open the lid. The USB, VGA, HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet ports, card reader and an audio jack are placed on the sides. The Vaio T SVT11113FGS has an Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, HD 3000 GPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk.
The Sony Vaio T has a sleek design and a great feature set for a very good price.
The suffix ‘U’ in the processor model number suggests it’s an ultra-low voltage (ULV) processor. It’s skewed towards good battery life with minimal compromise on performance. The hard disk is complemented by a 32GB SSD. It caches frequently-used data for speedily booting the OS and launching applications. The 11.6-inch LED-backlit display looks crisper than most of its larger counterparts because it has the same resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, resulting in a higher pixel density. The keyboard is chiclet type and the keys are flat, not beveled. The touchpad is nice and wide. In terms of performance, the Vaio T SVT11113FGS is almost at par with the Dell XPS 14, HP Envy 4 and Toshiba Satellite U840-X4310, all of which use the same combination of CPU, memory and hard drive.
The scores indicate the configuration is as capable as an entry level desktop PC—very good considering you’re also getting good battery life. Under medium to light load, the battery should easily last between four to seven hours. The Sony Vaio T SVT11113FGS is one of the most affordable Ultrabooks in the market. It’s great bang for your buck, hands down!
Here’s the full list of devices we tested for your perusal. It includes all the specifications and scores.
Scores out of 5 and prices are indicative and are subject to change, taxes extra
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