When Ultrabooks first arrived, there was more than a little confusion about the hardware. How thin are they? How are the processors different? Do any provide decent integrated graphics?
These answers were cleared up in an earlier article, so if you’re still a bit confused about the technical details, we suggest you check it out first. Here we’re going to help you deal with a slightly different issue – look and feel.
We’ve had a number of Ultrabooks in for review, and this has taught us about certain strengths and weaknesses shared by many of them. Like any laptop, the Ultrabooks aren’t perfect – but if you know what to look for you’ll be able to take home an extremely satisfactory laptop.
The laptop named Gumby
Rigidity isn’t often aced by Ultrabooks. When we reviewed the Toshiba Z835 we said “it’s as thin as a piece of cardboard, and feels just slightly stronger.”
We also had complaints about the ASUS UX31, which showed chassis flex when pressured at specific points, and the Acer Aspire S3, which suffered from loose hinges that allowed the display to wobble a bit while typing.
These are problems that you should pay attention to when you are considering a new Ultrabook. If you have any chance to give your prospective purchase an in-person once-over, do it.
Your chances to do so are probably better than you think. Ultrabooks are considered a hot item, so stores like Best Buy, Fry’s and Micro Center tend to stock many popular models.
A brief frisking
Lift the Ultrabook from its edge and open and close the display several times. Pay close attention to any vibration or any surfaces that seem to re-align themselves as your hands place pressure on the exterior. Also, note the quality of the materials used and the way they feel.
Most Ultrabooks use metal in their chassis, but some offer more exotic materials such as carbon fiber coated in soft-touch paint.
Once you’re done manhandling it, put the Ultrabook back down and open notepad (the Windows program, not a pad of paper). If the computer is locked, well, just imagine that you have.
Type in a few sentences and see how the Ultrabook reacts. Does the display wobble as you type, or is it solid? Do you like the way the keys feel? Is there enough space below the keyboard for your palms? These may seem like minor points, but they can add up to frustration over time.
Finally, consider the touchpad. Move your fingers across the surface to see if you like the texture and also make sure to depress the integrated buttons.
There probably won’t be individual left and right buttons – that’s because most manufacturers have integrated them into the touchpad surface. Instead of touching a button, you now just depress the lower left or right hand side of the touchpad. Some touchpads require almost no effort to activate, while others require quite a bit, and everyone has a personal preference.
Because of their price, many buyers expect Ultrabooks to offer high-resolution displays. Many don’t. Of the Ultrabooks we’ve reviewed only the ASUS UX31 had a resolution beyond the typical 1366 x 768, but many new and upcoming Ultrabooks are offering 1600 x 900 or 1080p panels.
You’re not wrong to expect a higher display resolution than 1366 x 768, but you should also be reasonable about making that a make-or-break feature. Some displays with that resolution are able to make up for a lack of sharpness with dark black levels and good overall image quality.
Despite what you may think, you’re more likely to enjoy a high resolution if you use your Ultrabook for work rather than play. More pixels means more usable space, which is great for multi-tasking. Higher pixel density helps render fine text, as well.
Games and movies benefit only marginally from the increased sharpness. In fact, games take a bit of a hit if the underlying hardware isn’t powerful enough.
Ultrabooks aren’t known for their gaming prowess and increasing the native resolution only further taxes their meager resources. You can decrease the game resolution to improve performance, but then you’re simply not using the display you paid for.
Keep it down, hot stuff!
Heat and noise are constant enemies of laptops. Their small size can make cooling components difficult, and since Ultrabooks are the smallest laptops of all, they have the greatest challenge to overcome. It’s no surprise that some are a bit noisy or a bit hot.
This is one trait you can’t judge on your own. You may be able to find an Ultrabook in a store but you probably won’t be able to install a stress-testing program on it and run it long enough to generate results. And we doubt you just carry around an IR thermometer, though hey, we don’t judge.
Fortunately, we’ve started to record external temperatures in laptop reviews and we also comment on noise levels. Temperatures are reported in degrees Fahrenheit.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for what people find tolerable, but temperatures over 100 degrees should be considered quite uncomfortable and temperatures over 90 degrees stands a real good chance of giving you sweaty palm syndrome, a terrible condition that occurs when you type on a laptop that’s too warm.
Don’t forget the warranty
An inexpensive mainstream laptop almost always has a one-year hardware warranty – and that’s about it. If you’re used to buying those sorts of laptops you might assume the same is true of Ultrabooks. It’s not.
The ASUS UX31, for example, comes with a one-year hardware warranty, a one-year accidental protection warranty and a 30-day flawless display guarantee (which protects against dead pixels).
The HP Folio 13 also comes with a one-year hardware warranty, but it doesn’t come with accidental protection and it doesn’t come with the same display guarantee. We’re actually not sure what the warranty covers because HP goes to no effort to explain that on the product page.
Don’t neglect looking into the warranty before you buy. This is true for every laptop. The terms of it may just be what swings your choice between two different products that you’re having trouble deciding between.