Building the perfect ultrabook – and where PC makers are wrong

Ultraportable, thin and light laptops, ultrabooks, no matter what the name, arguably represent the future of the form factor. Notably, Apple has been tinkering with the concept since the launch of the MacBook Air in 2008, but other manufacturers such as Lenovo and Sony have also contributed heavily to the design and development of lightweight notebooks over the past decade.

It appears as though we are just reaching that sweet spot where less compromise can be made to build faster and wider machines that are budget-friendly at the same time. Intel has recognized this trend and is investing heavily to ensure it becomes the platform of choice for making ‘ultrabooks’ (they own that trademark).

However, it’s easy to miss what a true next-generation ultraportable notebook should be. Manufacturers are short-sighted if they focus on building fast machines that weigh only 3 pounds or less, without putting design and user experience at the core of their future development.

Recent examples of mainstream ultraportables include the Asus ZenBook UX31, Toshiba Portege Z835, Lenovo U300. All of these machines rely on Intel’s CULV Sandy Bridge platform and, for better or worse, they are compared directly to Apple’s MacBook Air, which is widely considered the benchmark to beat in this form factor and price range. Is.

With that in mind, here are some key aspects where I believe PC makers should be focusing and where some are already failing in their first attempt at delivering killer ultrabooks.

battery life
You can thank tablets for the notion that portable computers can last just over 3 hours on battery. That kind of expectation and that kind of expectation has built up with every iteration of new, more efficient notebook platforms over the past decade.

The first ultrabook to hit the market, the Acer Aspire S3 had poor performance, shipping with an attractively priced, but less-than-stellar battery life. Other competing products from Asus, Samsung and Lenovo have fared much better.

(Easy) Bottom line: If the system can’t compete on battery life then don’t ship it. Go back to the drawing board, charge an extra $50, do what you have to do, but it’s an important aspect that can’t be overlooked.

build quality
The main focus should be on the basic hardware that tolerates the most abuse. In other words, a great Ultrabook needs a great keyboard and touchpad, not just a powerful processor and ideas thrown in on top of fast storage. The ThinkPad’s strong and enduring reputation is well deserved after years of offering solid machines that have some of the best keyboards on the market.

Likewise, we’re far past the point where it’s acceptable to ship a sub-par screen with poor viewing angles.

To be fair, PC makers are doing remarkably well today compared to two years ago. Build quality used to be mediocre and netbook-like on systems under $1000, but that’s no longer the case for the most part.

The Asus UX31 and Toshiba Portégé Z835 are prime examples of what a well-thought-out ultrabook should be. Having said that, there is still room for improvement.

user experience
Intel’s requirements for ultrabooks include faster boot and wake-up times than sleep. This usually requires a solid-state drive, which is probably the best addition to any laptop. Samsung did a remarkable job of customizing its Series 9 laptops — some of the best on the market even if they aren’t “ultrabooks” — and other manufacturers are following suit.

In my opinion, boot time, while important, is highly overrated. Personally I would take any system with 2 min boot time and 2 sec ‘wake from sleep’ on a similar machine that can boot in 30 sec but takes more than 5 sec to wake up. The sheer convenience in a modern OS is not having to reboot all the time and instead being able to put your system to sleep and get back to work almost instantly whenever you need it.

Annoying bundled software is yet another element spoiling the users experience. All you need is a Wi-Fi manager on top of Windows built-in tools, trial Office software, and security (when you can get Microsoft’s Security Essentials for free), a dozen of so-called services, shopping desktop shortcuts and wait for it. , nagging browser toolbar (!)

Apple is credited with making great products. Even if this is not always the case, they are successful in creating products people love, recommending them to friends, and eventually buying again. Where do you think PC makers stand when they sell computers full of crapware for no good reason? Let’s put an end to this terrible practice forever.

Branding and Incremental Updates
Some manufacturers do better in this regard than others. For a while, Acer did a great job with its Timeline laptop series.

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