It was last year that Intel chose Computex, a computer tradeshow in Taiwan, to introduce its Ultrabook concept to the world. Twelve months later, 110-plus models are in the pipeline, which meant the Taipei Convention Center was overrun by skinny, lightweight laptops. Make that skinny, touch-enabled laptops. Between those new Ivy Bridge chips and Microsoft putting the finishing touches on Windows 8, this week's show was nothing if not a five-day-long wedding between two tech giants: almost every device on display here was a vehicle for showing off Microsoft's glossy new OS. At every turn, a celebration of touchscreen notebooks.
With more than 30 hands-on posts this week, we can see where one Core i5 laptop might look like the next, or how you might have failed to keep up with Jonney Shih's rapid-fire product announcements. Now that we're wrapping up here in Taiwan, though, we're ready to take a step back and think about what it is we just saw. Whether you felt overwhelmed by our wall-to-wall coverage or just need to catch up, we suggest you meet us past the break for a quick recap of all the new Ultrabooks. Oh, and if you're in the market for a new laptop, you can check your trigger-happy finger at the door. With few exceptions, we're not expecting these to go on sale until the fall, when Windows 8 is expected to start shipping.
Acer was the first company to ship an Ultrabook, which means it's now showing off its third generation at a time when other companies are just getting around to announcing their first. Still, the Aspire S7 series marks a departure for Acer: these are the outfit's first touchscreen Ultrabooks, for one, and they also happen to be the company's sexiest. Plastic? Try unibody metal. A 1366 x 768 screen? How about a 1080p display that folds back 180 degrees? And while you won't find this on the 11-inch model, the 13-inch version has a slick glass lid, similar to the HP Envy 14 Spectre. For now, Acer isn't ready to reveal pricing or even specs like processors and storage options. In the meantime, we'll say we were impressed with those high-res touchscreens, though we wish Acer reconsidered its shallow keyboard design.
Need a little less touch and a little more graphics oomph? Acer's got you covered there, too. The M5 series joins the similar M3 Ultrabook we reviewed earlier this year, and features the same Kepler-based NVIDIA GeForce GT640M graphics. The difference? The M5s (there are two of them) have a polished, brushed-metal design, along with narrower bezels. Otherwise, the specs are near-identical to what you'll get in the M3, which is to say they offer 1366 x 768 screens, Core i5 / i7 processors and a mix of HDD and solid-state storage options. Interestingly, although the 14- and 15-inch M5 differ in weight, both measure about 20mm (0.8 inches) thick. If you're in the UK you can buy one this month, but our US readers will have to wait a little longer for pricing and availability details.
Easily the most inventive design we saw this week, the TAICHI convertible laptop has dual screens: one facing the keyboard, just like on a normal notebook, and one on the lid. In laptop mode, you can view the 11- or 13-inch screen while using a backlit keyboard. Shut the lid, though, and you've got yourself a big-screen tablet, complete with pen support. Whichever way you use it, ASUS went decidedly all-out on the specs: the TAICHI makes use of a Core i7 processor, solid-state storage and a Super IPS+ display with an optional 1080p resolution. The best part, potentially: ASUS says the final version will be about as thin as the rest of its Ultrabooks, despite the fact that these have twice the screens built in.
Think of it as the love child between an ASUS Transformer tablet and a Zenbook Ultrabook. At first glance, ASUS' Transformer Books are merely a group of 11-, 13- and 14-inch laptops with touchscreens. In fact, though, the displays can be lifted away from their keyboards, leaving you with an oversized slate. What's especially neat about this concept is that even after you detach the screen you've got a full-blown x86-based tablet, not some lower-powered ARM device. At the same time, the display has some of the amenities you'd expect in a regular Transformer -- namely, front- and rear-facing cameras. As with the TAICHI, ASUS chose some top-end specs: up to a Core i7 CPU with an SSD, IPS display and optional discrete graphics.
It was only two weeks ago that ASUS announced a completely refreshed line of Ultrabooks, and yet they already seem outdated. Here at Computex, the company showed off the 11-inch UX21A with a touchscreen, making it easier to interact with Windows 8. (We'll let you decide if that's worth getting fingerprints all over that gorgeous 1080p, IPS display.) With the exception of the screen, the design and internal specs haven't changed, though an ASUS rep confirmed that the touch models will naturally cost more. No word on pricing just yet, but we're told this will eventually go on sale in the US, and it will be available in a 13-inch version too.
With a starting weight of 4.1 pounds and a fairly plain interior, the 14z was hardly the sleekest laptop on Intel's Ultrabook Wall of Fame. Still, a starting price of $700 makes it easily one of the most affordable. For now, the base model comes with a Sandy Bridge Core i3 CPU, unfortunately, but pay a little more and you'll get third-generation Core i5 and i7 processors, as you'd expect on any other Ultrabook. Really, the biggest tradeoff is likely to be storage: the 14z starts with a 320GB hard drive, and tops out with a 500GB HDD, meaning you'll have to step up to the XPS 13 if you want a solid-state drive. The good news: folks who need an Ultrabook before October can scoop one up June 19th. If the 14z's relative heft turns you off, there's also a 13-inch model, which weighs 3.8 pounds.
A hint to all the marketing types reading this: tech writers are suckers for superlatives. That explains our fascination with the X11, whose carbon fiber build makes this the "world's lightest" Ultrabook, at 2.15 pounds -- or so says Gigabyte, anyway. After seeing it in person at the show, we can say this 11-inch ultraportable does indeed feel light in hand, though that carbon fiber weave isn't immune to greasy fingerprint smudges. What's more, we found the keyboard cramped, especially compared to the more spacious one on the 11-inch ASUS Zenbook Prime UX21A. We'll reserve judgment until we can test its performance and five-hour battery, but for now it's safe to say the X11 faces some formidable competition from similarly priced 11-inch Ultrabooks.
Need proof that Ultrabooks are the new netbooks? Just watch as every company on the face of the planet trots out a super-slim ultraportable with Ivy Bridge inside. LG, not especially well-known for its PCs, announced two X Note Ultrabooks, and we happened to catch the 13-inch Z350 hanging around Intel's booth at CES. Though its internals are fairly standard (Core i7, Wireless Display and an SSD), the port selection is pretty robust for an Ultrabook: not one, not two, but three USB 3.0 sockets. It's just too bad about the design: thanks to that faux-brushed-metal chassis, it doesn't look quite as nice up close as it does in photos.
Rewind a few years to the netbook era and MSI was a huge mover-and-shaker at Computex, with lots of pint-size laptops to choose from. Since then, the company has been largely dormant as far as mobile products are concerned, focusing more on nine-pound gaming rigs. That doesn't mean MSI is willing to sit out the Ultrabook fad, though: the company took the opportunity to show off the Slider S20, an 11-inch ultraportable with a touchscreen that slides back and up -- yes, exactly like that Slider. In our brief hands-on, the sliding mechanism felt smooth, but the cramped, malleable keyboard brought us back to the netbook era, and not in a good way.
What do you do if you're Samsung and you've just refreshed your current Ultrabooks with Ivy Bridge? You trot out brand new models with touchscreens, naturally. Not one to miss out on a trend, the Korean electronics giant spent the week showing off not one, but two touch-enabled versions of its Series 5 Ultrabooks. This included a traditional clamshell laptop, as well as a convertible model whose screen folds all the way back, kind of like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga. After a brief hands-on, we came away skeptical about the convertible, since using it in tablet mode means resting your fingers against an exposed keyboard on the backside. We'd also love to see Sammy improve the screen quality: as is, these panels are supremely reflective.
Better late than never, right? After teasing its first Ultrabook at CES and then announcing it for the European market, Sony said it's bringing the VAIO T series to the US as well. And here's a surprise: if you privately thought Sony has been resting too much on its brand cache, the T13 starts at $800 -- about as low as Ultrabook prices get. For the money, the base specs are pretty typical: a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive, paired with a 32GB SSD for faster boot-ups. As with other budget Ultrabooks, though, you'll find yourself making a compromise between weight and convenience. On the one hand, it weighs 3.5 pounds, which is on the heavy side for a 13-inch Ultrabook. On the other, that 0.7-inch-thick chassis makes room for some valuable ports, including USB 3.0 and 2.0, HDMI, Ethernet, an SD slot and even a VGA socket. For students on the hunt for a new laptop, this is worth considering.
Despite the fact that there are just so many gosh-darn Ultrabooks hitting the market, you shouldn't have a problem remembering the U845W. Its display measures an unusual 14.4 inches (with 1792 x 768 resolution), making it the world's first laptop with a 21:9 screen. Toshiba claims that extra real estate is ideal for multitasking and watching movies, and is even including some software that helps you divide the screen into zones (kind of like Snap in Win7, but with more windows). All told, the Harman Kardon speakers, aluminum chassis, soft-touch accents and backlit keyboard make it feel more premium than the Satellite U845, the other Ultrabook Toshiba announced this week. We're told it will go on sale in the US sometime in the next few months, starting at $999. Hopefully before then we can take a closer look, and weigh in on whether those viewing angles are any good.
Okay, so these weren't on display at Computex, but we'll throw them in the ring anyway, since Toshiba chose this particular week to announce them. The company recently let us get hands-on with a trio of mock-up concept devices built with Windows 8 in mind: a touchscreen laptop, a Transformer-style tablet and a notebook with a sliding touchscreen. Had these been shown at Computex, they would have been in good company: we saw variations on each of these form factors throughout the week. Still, we can't help but be intrigued, especially since Toshiba hasn't said a word about specs and hasn't even shown these devices powered on. Maybe this just means we have something to look forward to at our next big tradeshow, IFA in August.