As Intel’s Ultrabook kick into full throttle as partners gear up for the release of a new wave of Ivy Bridge based devices TechEye took the time to have a look at how some of the initial wave of ultraportables have fared.
Intel set itself a mammoth task in attempting to keep up as the PC market moves at breakneck speed towards a greater emphasis on mobile devices.
With tablets knocking the established order of desktop and laptop dominance, traditional notebooks ran the risk of looking almost archaic in the face of shiny new mobile devices. Vendors had largely tried and failed with the lightweight but underpowered netbooks, and there had been little to rival the rise of the mobile device.
The reaction from Intel to the various threats of ARM chip designs (and Apple's iPad and Macbook Air) was to offer up its own take, the Ultrabook.
$300 million dollars, a raft of specifications, and some dodgy handbags later and the initial influx of devices from a range of manufacturers have now properly arrived.
Most of the major PC vendors have released their own take on the Ultrabook, and although Intel is likely a good way off the 40 percent penetration target that it set itself for the PC market in 2012, the Ultrabooks appear to have been largely well received and expectations remain high.
Price has been one of the main quibbles among consumers, though these are now dropping for the first wave of Sandy Bridge devices.
Thanks to endeavours with hybrid SDDs, as well as potentially replacing metal casings with tough plastics and even roping in airplane designers, Ultrabooks are approaching more mainstream price points to meet Intel’s desired mainstream appeal.
As AMD’s own ultrathings hit shops later this year with a mission to beat Intel on price, there are plenty of challenges ahead. Apple’s own MacBook Air, generally accepted as the blue-print for Ultrabooks, though a razor thin Sony Vaio laptop did appear some time before, still presents a threat in the ultrapotable market.
The battle to gain dominance with mainstream adoption is still ongoing.
To find out what the fuss is about, TechEye got to grips with HP’s Folio 13 and Lenovo U300s.
HP Folio 13
The Folio 13 looks to us like it is aimed squarely at the business market but HP has delivered in a visually appealing, if somewhat heavy, device. Ultimately we think HP nailed it: considering it is part of the first wave, expectations were high, and considering the pressure to keep the price point low while delivering an ultra-thin, instant-on machine, we came away impressed. £649, we think, is not a bad price and the machine felt like, to us, bang for our buck.
Lenovo IdeaPad U300s
This machine has an eye catching design and is a pleasure to look at. Lenovo got it right with its vital statistics, keeping the machine thin and light: this is a very portable machine. However, it does feel a little flimsy at times. We missed an SD card which can prove very useful depending on the profession. Wireless connectivity and the advent of a world with its head in the cloud does offer an alternative down the line but we are not quite there yet. Lenovo's IdeaPad U300s costs a little more, at £749, but is still a good, media laptop that offers instant-on working productivity with attractive looks to boot.
Overall both laptops were mighty impressive and go a long way to achieving Intel's goal of turning the consumer's head away from tablets.
Both are lightweight, highly portable, powerful and, perhaps crucially, both score highly in the looks department.
They might not quite be as easy to brandish on the bus as a tablet, but they are not too far off, and more than make up for this is in productivity and versatility, and, well, all round usefulness.
As Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks crop up they will offer even better battery life and power than these devices.
Already, though, Intel and its vendor partners appear to have gone some way to cracking the Ultrabook standard in the first wave of Sandy Bridge based devices, and we would certainly recommend either device.
The real question for Intel and the big PC brands is whether or not they can continue to replicate the high quality level of products that has been set by the initial flock of Ultrabooks.
As device types proliferate and form factors begin to differ more substantially to accommodate Windows 8 touch features, The challenge in keeping the standard high is at least as tricky as ensuring a good standard in the first place. There will be more device types - as Microsoft'sSurface has shown us - and there will be more form factors on the way.
But, we reckon, Lenovo and HP have both managed to bring out very good devices at reasonable price points with the U300s and Folio 13 both representing good value.
However, the Folio 13 is marginally the victor. It was a close call, but we'd give it the advantage thanks to its battery life, strong build and versatility. Our winner? It'd be HP's Folio 13.