Even before the release of Windows 8, and especially after it, different names and words for computers have been coming at you hard and fast – notebooks, hybrids, tablets, Ultrabooks, convertibles, and the list goes on and on. The problem is, that for once, there are so many great Windows-touting Ultrabook form-factors and models to choose from, that it’s becoming overwhelming. So while it’s true that the lifespan of a gadget is getting shorter and shorter, making the plunge and purchasing any sort of computing device is a big step. Peeling back the layers of jargon is important. To that end, here’s a crash course in how to navigate the computing market in the Windows 8 era.
First of all, what is an Ultrabook? This class of products popped up in 2011, at the behest of Intel. The Ultrabook concept is entirely Intel’s doing – every year, they set the requirements for what makes a laptop an Ultrabook. The requirements change every year, based on the technology available, but in general, being an Ultrabook requires that the laptop be very thin and lightweight, with an advanced, low power consumption Intel chipset and speedy wake times. There are a few other requirements, but these are the basics that are most relevant to making an Ultrabook recognized as such by the consumer and by Intel.
The next question is why. The answer is simple – Ultrabooks give Windows users more mobility thanks to lighter form factors, without sacrificing functionality. The key is that many ultrabooks are able to pack in powerful processors and graphics chipsets, unlike the smaller netbooks which were ideal for portability, but suffered from a serious lack of hardware. Ultrabooks let people who are often on the go have their cake and eat it, too. The current crop of ultrabooks includes laptops like the Acer Aspire S7, Asus Zenbook Prime, and Dell XPS 14 – all lightweight, razor thin computers. Many lack ethernet ports and CD/DVD drives, so there’s a price to be paid for the convenience of a light, thin, mobile device.
But, all those Ultrabooks offered roughly the same experience – thickness, weight, and functionality varied a little, but not by much. Not so with the new crop of Ultrabooks you’ll be seeing post-Windows 8.
That’s because Windows 8 opens up a new possibility – the convertible. Convertible ultrabooks are ultrabooks that can be turned into tablets and vice versa on the fly, and come with touchscreens. Because Windows 8 can be used in desktop mode (which is just like Windows 7) or with the new Windows 8 apps, Windows 8 is uniquely made to be ideal for laptops and tablets alike. At home, you can use your Ultrabook in desktop mode, then turn it into a tablet and run apps on the go, all while running the same operating system. Convertibles eliminate the need for two separate devices – your laptop is your tablet. These devices don’t make great tablets now, but that’s only because there are relatively few apps available for the fledgling Windows 8 operating system. That’s something that is almost sure to change in the near future. The more Windows 8 apps that get released, the better convertibles will be at providing a tablet experience.
But, unlike the Ultrabooks of this year, convertible ultrabooks will have much more variation. That’s because most ultrabook makers have very different visions about how best to create that convertible experience.
The Samsung Series 5 Touch Convertible’s touchscreen folds back 360 degrees.
While the Acer Aspire S7 (seen above) lays flat, folding back at 180 degrees.
The Asus Taichi does the trick by featuring two screens – one on the front and one on the back of the lid. The one on the back of the lid is the touchscreen – close your laptop, and suddenly you have a tablet. The thinness of these ultrabooks makes using them as tablets viable.
Others have gotten even more creative. The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga has a reinforced hinge, so the screen can be folded back up to 360 degrees, and can hold its shape, even when put on a table in sort of a tent configuration.
The Dell XPS 12 has a touchscreen that rotates within a frame, like one of those old chalkboards that you can spin around. That way, you can close it with the screen face up, to use as a tablet.
Still others have eschewed the clamshell form factor altogether – clamshell referring to the action of closing your screen face down on the keyboard when you’re done using your laptop, which has defined the laptop since day one.
Ultrabooks like the Toshiba Satellite U920t and Sony VAIO Duo 11 are sliders – instead of closing the screen face down on the keyboard, you slide it over the keyboard face-up, kind of like a slider phone – this allows you to use the device as a tablet.
The HP Envy x2 will feature a screen that completely detaches from the keyboard, and can act as a tablet independently.
Other ultrabooks, like the Asus Zenbook Prime, have not gone the convertible route. The new Zenbook Prime will have a touchscreen, but will otherwise function exactly like a standard clamshell laptop, with no way of turning it into a tablet.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!
So, where do you turn for a new Ultrabook? If you like your laptop computing experience just the way it is, the standard clamshell Zenbook Prime looks ideal. But, if you’re on the go a lot and would rather have just one unified device that can be your laptop and your tablet, convertibles are the way to go. Which one you get is up to your own personal preference, although it’s hard not to recommend the Asus Taichi and Dell XPS 12, which solve the problem of 360 degree rotating ultrabooks (the exposed keyboard on the underside in tablet mode) without resorting to becoming sliders (which have smaller, narrower keyboards and lose out on some real estate because of the design).
The beauty of the convertibles is that, for the most part, they do nothing to compromise the standard laptop experience. The touchscreens and the ability to switch to a tablet form factor all constitute icing on the cake – the only problem being that you have to pay a little extra for that icing. If you don’t mind paying a little extra for that flexibility, getting a convertible looks to be the way to go in 2013 if you’re looking to buy into Windows 8.
Want to win an Ultrabook running Windows 8? We’re giving away the slick Acer Aspire S7. So go ahead and enter for a chance to win!
This post has been brought to you by Intel. All thoughts and opinions are 100% our own.