Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Laptops You are Definitely Going to Want in 2012 (As Seen at CES)

The big thing at CES this year was the mass introduction of the ultrabook, otherwise known as the PC version of the MacBook Air. With a 13" MacBook Air starting at $1299 and a near universal agreement that netbooks stink because of the cramped keyboard, I think ultrabooks are definitely worth getting excited about with their thin profiles, ultra-light construction, and more reasonable (i.e. family-friendly) price point.

While working with Microsoft's Windows' Team, I got a chance to see a few of the new ultrabooks up close while I was at the conference and can confirm that a few of them will definitely give the MacBook Air a run for it's money. If Windows 8 continues to improve the user experience the way Windows 7 has, I think Apple is going to have some tough decisions to make about their pricing structures in the next couple years.

My second day at CES, looking at Lenovo's U310 and Hotmail's new features. 
Video from Microsoft Windows Experience Blog.

My favorite ultrabook at CES would have to be Lenovo's clever IdeaPad Yoga. Until I saw the Yoga, I was with everyone else ooh-ing and aah-ing over Asus's Tranformer Prime, a tablet with a nifty clip-on keyboard was getting all the press, but Lenovo's Yoga, for my money and keyboard-craving fingers, looks like a way better solution and quickly won me over. It opens like a laptop, but has a touch screen that rotates and folds over to become a tablet, or it can be set up like an easel to watch the screen—with no special gizmos needed (like an iPad or other traditional tablets). It is, in a word, PERFECT for those of us who think a tablet looks nifty, but still don't think they're worth replacing a laptop for when traveling or are willing to add yet another piece of technology in an already too-heavy bag.

Another standout was the tamer, but still more than edgy enough to stimulate a visceral "I want that!" reaction, Lenovo IdeaPad U310 ultrabook. It's available in four colors, and even though I'm partial to the red one, I have to admit that the metallic light pink with the pearl/white interior was probably the most eye-catching. The U310 claims a battery life of up to eight hours, a super-fast boot up feature which allows the machine to start up within 10 seconds of opening it, a full complement of ports, including USB 3.0and weighs just over three pounds. Nice. Intriguingly, it's supposed to enter the market in May at about $600—making it a steal in the ultrabook market, where most machines are hovering closer to the $800-1100 mark. We'll have to wait and see what the full specs are before deciding if it's really worth the lower price tag, but I am very interested.

Another sexy contender is the ASUS Zenbook, a ravishing little number clad in "Rose Gold" aluminum. It stands out as one of the best looking laptops I've ever seen. It is the same size as a netbook with an 11.6" screen, but weighs just 2.42 pounds. There is a 13" version, as well, and it weighs just over 3 pounds. It is supposed to be lightening quick, one review I saw said it started up and was in Windows 7 in just 20 seconds. And don't get me started on the Bang & Olufson speakers. I actually get a pang of "want" when I think about this laptop for too long. 

Finally, Toshiba unveiled a brand new ultrabook that has a 14" screen, is a little over 3/4" thick, and features all the ports you'd expect in a full-sized laptop (3 USB, one of which is a USB 3.0, HDMI, SD card, Ethernet, and mic/headphone sockets). No word on it's exact specs, but it looks like the MacBook Air's darker, more muscular cousin and is supposed to hit the market in June at $799.

Are there any laptops that you are dying to add to your tech corral this year? And are you peeved that I left the HP Envy Spectre ultrabook off my list? My apologies to HP, but as the mother of three sons, I have a gut reaction against anything expensive that claims to be covered entirely in glass. Even Gorilla Glass. I know it's stupid because the glass is scratch-resistant and super tough, but ... I just can't do it. 

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