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UltraBooks : Instant Expert Guide

Ultrabooks are grabbing all the headlines at the moment, but are they worth the hype? Let's tells you what you need to know !

Question : What are They ?

Answer : An Ultrabooks are a new range of incredibly slim, stylish and lightweight fast-booting laptops that contain an Intel Core processor (www.intel.co.uk/ultrabook) and use solid-state drive memory. They have a longer battery life than existing laptops (about five hours is average) and are being made by companies including Acer, HP and Asus. Many industry experts see them as PC equivalents of Apple's MacBook Air (www.apple.com/uk/macbookair).

There are other laptops that are as slim and long-lasting as Intel's Ultrabooks, but aren't part of Intel's official range. These include the latest Samsung Series 9 Notebooks (http://bit.ly/samsung284) and the versatile Lenovo ldeaPad Yoga (www.lenovo.com/uk), which can be used as a laptop or tablet. They are Ultrabooks in all but name.

Question : How Much Do They Cost ?

Answer : The average price is around £800, but Amazon is selling the Acer Aspire S3 13.3in Ultrabook for £679.97 (http://amzn.to/acer284).

Question : Isn't That More Expensive Than Most Laptops ?

Answer : Yes, The last laptop you bought probably cost around £500, although netbooks are much cheaper, costing around £250.

Question : So Is 'Ultrabook' Just a Marketing Poly To Sell Very Expensive Computers ?

Answer : The term Ultrabook was indeed created by Intel to make this new laptop range sound exciting and groundbreaking.

As a rule, PC manufacturers worldwide are moving away from producing cheap computers, which don't make them enough money, to more advanced machines that they can charge more for.

But it's not just an empty marketing campaign. These are the lightest non Apple laptops ever made, and they have new features that are genuinely impressive. They boot in seconds, have a much-improved battery life and look great. If you normally spend less than £500 on your laptop, Intel is hoping to persuade you that these new features are worth spending more money on.

Question : What are the Best Ones Avaible to buy Now ?

Answer : In a recent test of Ultra books, our sister title Computer Shopper was most impressed by the £999 Asus ZenBook UX31E (http://bit.ly/asus284), and the Dell XPS 13 (http://dell.to/xps284), both of which got a 5/5 rating. However, only the ZenBook is available to buy now. The Dell Ultrabook should arrive in March, and it will be worth the wait because Computer Shopper said it is "one of the best looking Ultrabooks we've seen so far".

Priced £999, the Asus ZenBook is one of the best Ultrabooks you can currently buy

But before buying one, you may want to wait until the full range of new Ultrabooks is released in the UK. In early January, more than 20 models of Ultrabook were on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Question : Which Ones Caused The Most Excitement at CES ?

Answer : Several hogged the spotlight, including the 13in Samsung Series 9, which weighs just 1.16kg and is only 12.9mm thick. Overall, it's 28 per cent smaller than Samsung's previous models. It impressed Expert Reviews (www.expertreviews.co.uk), which described it as "a remarkable piece of engineering and one that sets the standard for other laptops in this area".

However, all this quality comes at a price: the Samsung Series 9 costs $1,399 in the US (around £910). UK prices haven't been announced yet. More affordable are the lap tops in Samsung's Series 5 Ultra range (http://bit.ly/series5284), which start from $899 (about £584).

The Samsung Series 9 has been described as "a remarkable piece of engineering and one that sets the standard"

Cheaper still are Lenovo's ldeaPad Ultrabooks, the 13.3in U310 and 14in U410, which will cost $699 (about £455) when they hit US shelves in May. However, prices won't be this low when the machines arrive in the UK.

The HP Envy 14 Spectre (http://bit.ly/envy284), which is 20mm thick and weighs 1.8kgs, was generally considered to be the most attractive Ultrabook unveiled at CES. PC Pro was smitten by it, saying that it's "one of the most immediately impressive Windows laptops we've ever smeared fingerprints over", with an "exceptional" attention to detail. It'll be pricey, though, probably costing more than £1,000 when available in the UK.

The HP Envy Spectre was hailed as the most attractive Ultrabooks unveiled at CES this year

Question : Do I Actually Need an Ultrabook ?

Answer : Intel certainly thinks you do. Just watch its 'Life with Ultrabook' videos (http://bit.ly/intel284) to see how the company is promoting the core benefits of portability and power.

Of course, the key question is whether you think an Ultrabook's features are worth paying £800 (and more) for. If you've always envied the style of Apple's MacBook Air, then Ultrabooks are the closest PC equivalent. They’re super-light to carry around and you'll certainly be thankful for the extra battery life.

Question : Just How Light Are They ?

Answer : Very, Acer, for example, says its S5 Ultrabook is "the world's thinnest ", measuring just 15mm, and weighing a mere 1.36kg (although this makes it bigger and heavier than Samsung's unofficial Ultrabook, the Series 9).

Even lighter is the Asus ZenBook, weighing a mere 1.3kg. The Dell XPS 13 weighs 2.22kg. However, to put this into perspective, the 11in and 13in versions of the MacBook Air weigh only 1.08 and 1.35kg respectively.

Question : How Can They Weigh So Little ?

Answer : Because they have fewer ports and peripherals than many other larger laptops, and have been designed to taper at the front.

The Future of Ultrabooks

Intel has got big plans for Ultrabooks. Here are five ways they could be used in the future

Translucent Touchpads

At CES, Intel presented its NiKiSki concept, which looks like a traditional laptop, but has a large translucent touchpad below the keyboard that takes up the width of the machine. Placing your palms on it disables the touchpad so you can type easily. What’s really clever is, if you close the NiKiSki laptop, you can still operate the touchscreen Windows 8-style interface (see photo, right) at the top of the laptop.

The Nikiski's See-Through Touchpad with a Translucent Screen Allows Users to See Status Updates, News Feeds, Messages and Calendar Items without Opening the Lid

Touchscreen Ultra books

Ultrabooks might not seem as touchscreen-friendly as tablets, but Intel showed at CES that they can be used to 'swipe' pages. Many users will find it odd to reach over a keyboard to touch a screen, but Intel hopes that Windows 8's touchscreen tools will encourage people to use it this way.

Motion-sensing Ultra books

You'll soon be able to play games on Ultrabooks using a motion-sensing camera similar to the Xbox's Kinect. Future machines could also come with a gyroscope, letting you play games by tilting the laptop.

Voice-controlled Ultrabooks

Software company Nuance (www.nuance.com) is developing an application for Ultrabooks that will let you launch apps, play videos, open websites and much more, using your voice.

One-tap payment

Also at CES, Intel showed off a prototype Ultrabook that used near field communication (NFC) to make one-tap purchases using a credit card, taking your address and card details in one go. As long as it's proven to be safe, this should be a great way to speed up your online shopping.