Top 10 Ultrabooks for business

Slide_1Apple’s second generation MacBook Air, first released in 2010, re-defined the ultra-portable notebook category. Its success inspired Intel to create a category of similar thin-and-light Windows notebooks, dubbed Ultrabooks. The first generation of Ultrabooks, notebooks that met minimum performance and size requirements set by Intel, have become very popular, but most models are designed specifically for the consumers market. While there have always been ultra-portable business notebooks, it is only recently that vendors have been designing Ultrabooks with the business user specifically in mind. Business users need Windows 7 or 8 Pro, more expansion options, and for larger organizations, Enterprise-level hardware security and management features, such as vPro and Intel’s Trusted Platform Module (TPM). Also, with the release of touch-optimized Windows 8, there is a second generation of Ultrabooks, models with touch-screens, and convertibles that can transform into a tablet, and many of these are business ready. In this slideshow you’ll see ten of the best Ultrabooks for business currently available, and a preview of what’s to come in this category.

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What kind of Business Ultrabook?

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While we are trying to focus on business-specific machines in this article, at this time there aren’t actually ten different Ultrabooks available that can be considered to be pure business-grade devices. One difference between consumer and some business Ultrabooks would be whether there is hardware security and manageability built-in, such as that provided by Intel vPro enabled processors and Intel’s TPM, which enables hardware-based BitLocker Data Encryption. For some smaller business these security features might not be needed, so a consumer model can still be used in this case. However, for business use you’ll still want to be running a Professional version of Windows, for features like BitLocker drive encryption, Remote Desktop Connection (RDP), and being able to connect to a corporate network, so if you do end up buying a consumer model, you’ll need to upgrade Windows 8 to Pro by buying the “$139.99 Windows 8 Pro Pack” from within Windows itself.

Another thing to look out for is the warranty length. Most consumer models only have a 1-year warranty, which usually isn’t enough to cover the longer in-service life of a business device, whereas business models come with 3-years out of the box. Lastly, while they are less used connections, having Ethernet and VGA connectivity (to hook up to older projectors) is an important feature for a business Ultrabook.
Windows 7 Pro vs. Windows 8 Pro.

If you need to run Windows 7 Pro, you’ll definitely need to look at Ultrabooks specifically designed for business, since only those models have downgrade rights to run 7, even though they are licensed for 8. In fact most business-specific models are still shipping with Windows 7 Pro pre-installed. An exception to this are business touch-screen and convertible Ultrabooks, that really only works well with Windows 8 Pro. The consumer models in this round-up cannot be legally downgraded to Windows 7 Pro. However, unless your company’s policy enforces the use of Windows 7, if you are unsure about Windows 8’s new Modern UI interface, there are always third-party utilities that can bring back features like the Start Menu.

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AC Adaptor Sizes

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In all this talk of notebook sizes, one item that rarely gets mentioned is the power-brick. With current Ultrabooks not having the greatest battery life (unless you buy an external battery), you’ll probably find yourself bringing your power adaptor with you. Often you’ll find that even if the Ultrabook is nice and compact, the power adaptor ends up being half as big as the device it’s powering, that kind of defeats the purpose of such a small machine. Here is a picture of the AC adaptors from all the Ultrabooks (apart from the MacBook Air) in this list. As you can, see most of the adaptors are bigger than they really need to be, especially when you take into consideration all the cables. Looking at the diminutive size of the smallest one here, from the ASUS Taichi 21, and knowing the small size of the MacBook Air adaptor, there is definitely room for improvement in the size of many Ultrabooks power-bricks.

Order (from bottom left to top right): Asus Taichi 21, Dell XPS 12, HP 9470m, Toshiba Z930, Sony Duo 11, Acer S7, Samsung Series 9, Lenovo X1 Carbon, Dell XPS 14

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Acer Aspire S7

Slide_4Type: Consumer. Touch-screen: Yes. vPro & TPM: No. OS: Windows 8, needs purchase of Windows 8 Pro Pack.

The 13” Acer S7 is a consumer Ultrabook that would be good choice for SMB, or as a BYOD secondary device. It is unbelievably thin, only 11.9 mm thick, and this is a constant dimension, unlike some of the other models in this list that have a tapered chassis that is much thicker at one end. It is also very light at 1.29 kg (2.86 lbs.). Despite these dimensions Acer has equipped it with an i7 CPU and big 256GB SSD. It is constructed from aluminum and glass, and has a very stylish and attractive white and brushed metal design. The top of the lid is covered in Gorilla Glass 2, so looks sharp, yet is scratch resistant, but a glass lid is still probably more susceptible to damage than the traditional metal or plastic lids of other notebooks – thankfully Acer includes a nice faux-leather sleeve in the box with the S7 to protect it.

The screen itself is a beautiful full HD 1920 x 1080 IPS (for great viewing angles) 10-point touch-screen, and it can tilt back a full 180 degrees – with a hot-key the image can be rotated to show a client a presentation. Along with the above mention sleeve, Acer is also generous enough to include a wireless mouse, VGA dongle and Ethernet dongle (both connections a must for business users) in the box – the dongles being needed since the S7 only has two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, and HDMI out. The S7 has a smooth touchpad, without physical buttons, that supports multi-touch gestures, but it is sometimes a little too sensitive and erratic, not registering taps properly. The keyboard layout is nice, but the keys are a little flat and shallow, though it does have a two-level autosensing backlight.

The biggest issue, though, with the S7 (which restricts its usefulness for business, unless you remember to always bring the AC adaptor with you), is its battery-life. Since the S7 is so slim, Acer could only fit in a 4-cell battery, so it only gets around 4 hours of real-world use, which is poor. There is an optional $150 external battery available to help with this issue, but it of course makes the S7 a lot thicker.

Acer Aspire S7 391-9413 Specs: 13.3? Full HD LCD multi-touch display (1920 x 1080), 1.90 GHz Core i7-3517U CPU (no vPro), Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB DDR3 RAM, 256GB SSD, 323.3 x 223.5 x 11.9 mm, 1.29 kg (2.86 lbs.), Windows 8, 1-year warranty, $1,499.99

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Apple 13-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2012)

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Type: Consumer. Touch-screen: No. vPro & TPM: No. OS: OS X Mountain Lion, Windows 7 or 8 Pro (purchased separately) using Boot Camp software.

The 13” MacBook Air could be considered to be the first Ultrabook, the machine that inspired Intel to create the Ultrabook category for Windows notebooks. While the MacBook Air is primarily aimed at consumers, and runs OS X out of the box, it can also be used for business. If running OS X you can still work on corporate documents with Office for Mac, and access corporate email etc., making the MacBook Air a great choice for a secondary BYOD device. It can also run both Windows 7 Pro and Window 8 Pro using Apple’s included Boot Camp software, but you still need to own or purchase a valid license of Windows to do this, which adds to the cost of the notebook. However, even when running Windows 7 or 8 Pro it doesn’t have any Enterprise-level features, and performance takes a hit when running Windows on Apple hardware, especially battery-life. The other way to run Windows applications on the Air is to use Parallels Desktop on OS X to a run a virtualized copy of Windows. Again you still need to own a license of Windows to do this. The Air only has a 1-year warranty, but can be upgraded to 3-year with an expensive $279.00 Apple Care plan.

The MacBook Air has an aluminium uni-body design in a wedge shape, a design that has inspired many a Windows Ultrabook, and it is a sharp-looking design, that feels solid, but it isn’t as durable as some of the business-class machines in this round-up. It is very thin of course, from 17 mm – 3 mm thick, and light at 1.35 kg (2.96 lbs.). The anti-glare 13.3″ TN screen is better than the average 1440 x 900 resolution, but it is not IPS and there are other Ultrabooks with better, higher resolution screens in this round-up. The well laid out backlit keyboard is excellent, with good, springy, decent-sized keys. Unfortunately it is not spill-proof. The precise glass touchpad is one of the best of any laptop, with a smooth surface that supports multi-touch gestures.

The MacBook Air has a limited number of ports, just two USB 3.0, a SD card reader and Thunderbolt. For business use, if you want to hook up the Air to an external display with VGA, HDMI or DisplayPort you have to buy $30 adaptors separately. Similarly, if you need Ethernet you need to buy a dongle. Also, everything is sealed inside, battery, RAM etc. but this is no different than most other Ultrabooks. Battery-life is exceptional when running OS X, in the real world you’ll get approximately 6 hours of use, which is good for a 13″ Ultrabook. Unfortunately, when running Windows, the battery-life drops to an unspectacular 4.5 hours.

Apple 13-inch MacBook Air Specs: 13.3″ 1440 x 900 TN LED backlit screen, 1.8 GHz Core i5-3427U CPU to 2.0 GHz Core i7-3667U CPU, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB – 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 128GB to 512GB SSD, 325 x 227 x 17 mm, 1.35 kg (2.96 lbs.), OS X Mountain Lion, 1-year warranty (upgradable to 3-years), models from $1,199.99 – $1,899.99

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ASUS Taichi 21

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Type: Consumer. Touch-screen: Yes, convertible. vPro & TPM: No. OS: Windows 8, needs purchase of Windows 8 Pro Pack.

The 11” ASUS Taichi 21 is a consumer convertible Ultrabook, and if upgraded to Windows 8 Pro makes a good SMB Business notebook, but it does not have any Enterprise-level features, and only has a 1-year warranty. Its unique form-factor, though, makes it a great machine for presentations in a small environment without the need for a projector. ASUS’ solution to creating a small Windows 8 convertible is quite unique – instead of having one screen that somehow rotates, or flips over, ASUS simply added a second screen to the top of the Ultrabook so the Taichi becomes a tablet when the lid is closed. The 11.6″ inner 1920 x 1080 IPS screen is anti-glare and non-touch, and the outside is the same resolution with 10-point multi-touch, and covered in glossy scratch-resistant glass. It is strange that the inner screen isn’t touch also, but an extra touchscreen layer would have probably made the screen part of the notebook just too thick and bulky

With the two screens the Taichi supports four display modes – notebook mode with just the internal display, tablet mode with the lid closed and using only the outside display, “mirror-mode” with the same content duplicated on each screen, great for collaboration, and dual-screen mode, where different windows can be on each screen, so you can have a presentation on the outside screen, and presentation notes on the inner screen. There is a dedicated keyboard button to bring up an app to quickly switch between the modes. The outer touch-screen also has an active digitizer, so it has pressure-sensitive pen support, using N-Trig technology. Unfortunately there is no slot for the pen on the Ultrabook itself, but there is one in the case that ASUS includes with the Taichi. One thing of note is that N-Trig pen pressure sensitivity technology doesn’t work in Adobe apps due to a driver issue, but it works fine in many other Windows 8 applications like OneNote.

The Taichi is a small Ultrabook with a premium look – its dark grey brushed aluminium chassis looks very sharp, and it is very thin despite the two screens, with a tapered design like the MacBook Air – thickness ranges from 17.4 mm to 3 mm at the front. It is also fairly light at 1.25 kg (2.75 lbs.), but not as light as some other 11″ notebooks due to the dual screens. The spill-resistant backlit island-style keyboard is pretty good, with satisfactory key travel, but is more cramped than some of the other Ultrabooks here, simply because it is an 11″ notebook. The button-less multi-touch touchpad is a good size, has a nice finish, and works well when the Taichi is in notebook mode.

The Taichi does have a limited amount of ports, as to be expected from such a small notebook – just two USB 3.0 ports, & micro HDMI, but no SD card slot. Thankfully, ASUS is nice enough to include VGA & Ethernet dongles in the box, and even a small carrying case for them. It can be configured with up to a Core i7 CPU and 256GB SSD, but there isn’t an option for more than 4GB of RAM, and you can’t upgrade it. In the slide that showed all the power-bricks for the Ultrabooks in this list, the Taichi’s was the smallest, that that’s a very good thing, since you’ll always need to have it with you – the small battery combined with the dual-screens means that with real-world use, the Taichi only gets around 4 hours of use in notebook mode, and an even worse 3.5 hours in tablet mode.

ASUS Taichi 21 Specs: TWO 11.6″ FHD 1080p (1920 x 1080) IPS screens, one with multi-touch, 1.7 GHz Core i5-3317U CPU to 1.90 GHz Core i7-3517U CPU, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, 128GB to 256GB SSD, 306.6 x 199.3 x 17.4 mm, 1.25 kg (2.75 lbs.), Windows 8, 1-year warranty, models from $1,299.99 – $1,599.99

Dell XPS 12

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Type: SMB Business. Touch-screen: Yes, convertible. vPro & TPM: TPM only. OS: Windows 8 Pro.

The Dell XPS 12 is a 12” convertible Ultrabook, and while it isn’t an Enterprise-level machine, it is still a sound choice for business use since it has TPM, comes with Windows 8 Pro and can have its 1-year standard warranty easily upgraded to 3-years at a minimal cost. All three convertible Ultrabooks in this list approach the challenge of transforming from a notebook to a tablet in different ways, and the XPS 12 uses a unique design, where the 12.5” screen flips over and clicks into place magnetically within the frame of the lid to change into a tablet. While this design may seem fragile, Dell addresses this by making the frame around the screen from rigid and durable aluminium. However, this design does make the notebook a little top-heavy.

The screen is a gorgeous 12.5″ Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS touch-screen panel with superb viewing angles. It is covered by scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, and naturally is glossy. Windows 8’s Modern UI looks amazing in Full HD, making everything super crisp. The downside to this high-resolution is that, when in desktop mode, text, menus & icons are very small, and hard to touch on the 12.5″ screen. However, since you’ll probably be using desktop mode to run applications like Office 2013 when the XPS 12 is in notebook mode, you can use to touchpad to better navigate. When it is in tablet mode it is just as capable as some of the best Windows 8 tablets (like the Surface Pro), but the XPS 12 does not have an active digitizer, so it does not support pressure-sensitive pen input, and it is, of course, thicker and heavier than most stand-alone tablets at 20 mm & 1.54 kg (3.39 lbs.). For a 12″ Ultrabook, these measurements are acceptable, though there are bigger Ultrabooks in this round-up that are thinner and lighter.

The build quality is top-notch – it has a carbon-fibre top and bottom that not only look cool, but are very durable too. The rest of XPS 12 is built from a combo of machined aluminium and magnesium, and there is a pleasing soft-touch finish over everything, including the black palm rest inside. The spill-resistant backlit keyboard is nice, with a good layout, and the island-style keys satisfactory feedback. The button-less glass touchpad has a pleasingly smooth feel, is accurate, supports multi-touch gestures, and is a good size for a smaller Ultrabook. The XPS 12 does have only a very limited amount of ports – only two USB 3.0 ports and a mini DisplayPort. There is bizarrely no SD card reader. The lack of ports is somewhat understandable with the XPS 12’s size and convertible form-factor, but Dell should have included dongles for VGA and Ethernet instead of selling them separately. You can expect about 5 hours of real-world use from the sealed 6-cell battery, which isn’t the greatest, but comparable or better than the other touch-screen Ultrabooks in this list

Dell XPS 12 Specs: 12.5″ FHD 1080p (1920 x 1080) IPS multi-touch screen with Gorilla Glass, 1.80 GHz Core i5-3337U CPU to 2.0 GHz i7-3537U CPU, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB to 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 128GB to 256GB SSD, 317 x 214 x 20 mm, 1.54 kg (3.39 lbs.), Windows 8 Pro, 1-year warranty (upgradable to 3-year), models from $1,299.99 – $1,799.99

Dell XPS 14

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Type: SMB Business. Touch-screen: No. vPro & TPM: TPM only. OS: Windows 8 Pro, can be downgraded to Windows 7 Pro.

While not an Enterprise-level Ultrabook, the Dell XPS 14 is still a solid choice for business users. It is available with Windows 8 Pro out-of-the box, and can be upgraded to a 3 year warranty for a reasonable $82. Window 8 Pro is the only pre-installed option, and unfortunately Dell doesn’t include any media to downgrade to Windows 7 Pro in the box, but Dell can send it to you if needed. The 14” 1600 x 900 TN screen, while glossy, is bright and covered by protective Gorilla Glass, though it is not a touch-screen.

The XPS 14’s premium-looking, well-built chassis is very attractive with its sharp lines. It has a matte brushed aluminium lid and sides, a soft-touch black finish on the palm rest, and the rubberized finish on the bottom means it won’t slide off your lap. For a 14” Ultrabook it has a reasonable amount of ports – a full-sized Ethernet port, Mini DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 ports, and a SD card reader. Though, for its size, a few more USB ports and VGA-out would have been nice.

While it still falls within Intel’s Ultrabook specs for larger machines, the XPS 14 isn’t exactly thin or light – it’s 20.7mm thick (almost double the Acer S7!) and weighs 2.1 kg (4.6 lbs.), making it the heaviest machine in this round up! It is available with up to a Core i7 CPU and is one of the few Ultrabooks available with discreet graphics, an Nvidia GT 630M GPU that will help accelerate programs that can take advantage of it, like graphic design software.

The backlit spill-resistant keyboard is good – the island-style keys are a nice size, well spaced-out, slightly curved, and have acceptable travel. The big button-less glass touchpad also has a pleasing feel and supports multi-touch gestures in Windows 8. Unfortunately the XPS 14 doesn’t have user upgradeable RAM, and it has a sealed battery. However, it is a big a 8-cell, that in real-world tests give you approximately 7.5 hours of use, which is very good.

Dell XPS 14 Specs: 14? 1600 x 900 TN LED backlit display, 1.70 GHz Core i5-3317U CPU – 1.9 GHz i7-3517U CPU (no vPro), Intel HD Graphics 4000 or NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M with 1GB GDDR5 VRAM , 4GB – 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 500GB HD, 500GB HD + 32GB mSATA SSD Hybrid drive, or 512GB SSD, 335.8 x 233 x 20.7 mm, 2.1 kg (4.6 lbs.), Windows 8 Pro, 1-year warranty (upgradable to 3-year), models from $1,260.99 – $2,160.99

HP EliteBook Folio 9470m

Slide_9Type: Enterprise Business. Touch-screen: No. vPro & TPM: Yes. OS: Windows 7 Pro with Windows 8 Pro media.

The 14” EliteBook 9470m is HP’s first true business-class Ultrabook, with Enterprise-grade security, and a 3-year warranty. It has a lot of business-grade features not found in other Ultrabooks on this list, such as a user-replaceable battery and docking capabilities (with HP’s UltraSlim Docking Station). The 9470m has an attractive, professional looking aluminium finish, like other EliteBooks, and is made from lightweight magnesium, aluminum and plastic. Also, like other EliteBooks, it is very durable, having passed seven MIL-SPEC tests, including those for dust, vibrations, shock, and extreme temperatures. It is 18.95 mm thick, and weighs 1.61 kg (3.56 lbs.), more than many of the other Ultrabooks on this list, but to be expected for a bigger 14” model. It is available with up to a Core i7 CPU and 8GB of RAM, and unlike other Ultrabooks, the RAM is upgradable via two user-accessible DIMM slots.

There are two anti-glare TN screen options, a 1366 x 768 screen, or a 1600 x 900 screen, which is the recommended choice, but only available on higher-end versions of the 9470m. Neither option is a touch-screen, which is better for Windows 8, but the 9470m is really more designed with Windows 7 Pro users in mind, which, to be honest, is what most businesses will be running for the foreseeable future. There is a wide variety of storage options available, including a 500GB HD/32GB mSATA hybrid-drive for more capacity with similar performance than an SSD alone. The two-level backlit spill-proof keyboard has nice, island-style keys with good amount of travel. The big touchpad is glass, and works very well, and there are still physical buttons below it. There is also HP’s version of the Lenovo track-point pointing stick, giving business users a lot of input choices when using the 9470m. It also has a fingerprint reader and SmartCard reader.

There are lots of ports onboard, VGA-out, full-sized DisplayPort, Ethernet, and three USB 3.0 ports, and more can be added when the Folio is docked. The removable battery in real-world testing lasted about 7 hours, which is good for an Ultrabook, and there is also an optional 6-cell external battery slice that can add up to another 10 hours of life, for almost all-day use without having to plug in.

HP EliteBook Folio 9470m Specs: 14? anti-glare TN LED backlit display, either 1366 x 768 or 1600 x 900, 1.70 GHz Core i5-3317U CPU (no vPro) – 2.1 GHz i7-3687U CPU, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB or 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 500GB HD, 128GB – 256GB SSD, or 500GB HD + 32GB mSATA SSD hybrid-drive, 338 x 231 x 18.9 mm, 1.61 kg (3.56 lbs.), Windows 7 Pro w/Windows 8 Pro upgrade disc, 1-year or 3-year warranty (depending on model), models from $999.99 – $2,299.99

Lenovo X1 Carbon (pictured) & X1 Carbon Touch

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Type: Enterprise Business. Touch-screen: No/Yes. vPro & TPM: Yes. OS: Windows 7 Pro with Windows 8 Pro media (Non-touch version) or Windows 8 Pro (Touch version).

The Lenovo ThinkPad name is synonymous with business-grade quality and performance, and the X1 Carbon is the first notebook from Lenovo to apply those ideals to an Ultrabook. The X1 is available as both a non-touch and touch-screen model, and is a full Enterprise-level machine with a 3-year warranty. However, being an Ultrabook, there is no docking solution, and unfortunately the RAM and battery are not user-replaceable, unlike the HP EliteBook 9470m. The X1 Carbon looks like a classic ThinkPad, with a professional looking matte soft-touch black finish. It is very compact, a 14″ notebook in 13″ notebook footprint and the TN screen is 1600 x 900 – the non-touch model and ten-point touch model both have an anti-glare finish.

The Carbon is very thin and light for a 14″ notebook, at 18.9mm thick, 1.36 kg (2.99 lbs.), yet still ThinkPad-durable, due to its carbon-fibre and magnesium construction. The touch-screen model is slightly thicker and a little heavier. Despite its slim design and lightweight construction, the X1 Carbon still passes eight MIL-SPEC tests for humidity, low temperature, high temperature, extreme temperatures, sand, altitude, vibration and mechanical shock, making it a very durable Ultrabook. I can attested to that when I dropped my open X1 4 feet onto hardware floor and it was undamaged.

It has a fingerprint reader, which can be configured to turn on the machine and boot into Windows with one swipe. The X1 Carbon’s backlit spill-proof keyboard is the best of all the Ultrabooks on this list – it has an almost perfect layout with large, subtly curved island style keys with excellent feedback – truly a joy to type on. The glass touchpad is also very good, with a superb smooth surface and support for multi-touch Windows 8 gestures. And of course the X1 still has the classic Lenovo track-point red nub with physical buttons above the track-pad for those who prefer the classic ThinkPad cursor control experience.

Not surprisingly, like most Ultrabooks, there are a limited number of expansion ports, but the X1 Carbon is especially barren, with just one USB 3.0, one always-on USB 2.0, a mini DisplayPort and an SD card reader. There are no VGA or Ethernet ports, and not even any dongles included to add them if needed. Battery-life is average for an Ultrabook of this size, with real-world use of approximately 6 hours on the non-touch Core i5 model (and 5 hours on the touch-screen model). Impressively though, the X1 supports “Lenovo RapidCharge” which can charge the battery to 80% in 35 minutes for about 5 hours of use.

Lenovo X1 Carbon & X1 Carbon Touch Specs: 14? anti-glare 1600 x 900 TN LED backlit display or 14? 1600 x 900 anti-glare LED backlit 10-point touch-screen, 1.80 GHz Core i5-3337U CPU (no vPro) – 2.0 GHz i7-3667U CPU, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB – 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 128GB – 256GB SSD, X1: 331.0 x 226.0 x 18.9 mm, 1.36 kg (2.99 lbs.). X1 TOUCH: 331 x 226 x 20.85 mm, 1.55kg (3.40 lbs.), Windows 7 Pro with Windows 8 Pro media / Windows 8 Pro, 3-year warranty, models from $1,349 – $2,129

Samsung Series 9 15″

Slide_11Type: Consumer. Touch-screen: No. vPro & TPM: No OS: Windows 8, needs purchase of Windows 8 Pro Pack.

Like the Acer S7, the Samsung Series 9 is not suitable for Enterprise business use, but running Windows 8 Pro can still be a compelling choice for SMB users. It is the only 15″ Ultrabook on this list, and while that still makes it a big notebook, is has a minimal bezel around the screen, so it is actually only a little bigger than the 14″ models on this list, and it is still very thin at 14.9 mm thick. There are two models of the Series 9, a Core i5 and Core i7, which both have uni-body metal chassis, but the i5 model (pictured) has a lighter (but less durable) 1.58 kg (3.48 lbs.) silver magnesium-alloy chassis. The i7 model has a 1.65 kg (3.6 lbs.) 100% aluminium body with a premium matte “Ash Black” finish.

The 15″ anti-glare screen has a nice 1600 x 900 resolution, and is really bright at 400 nits, but is still a TN panel, so viewing angles aren’t too great, and it isn’t a touch screen. The keyboard is nicely laid out (it should be considering this is a 15″ notebook), with backlit island style keys, but the key travel is very shallow, and the keys are too flat. The spacious button-less glass touchpad has a satisfyingly smooth finish, is very accurate, not too sensitive, and supports Windows 8 multi-touch gestures. It is one of the best touchpads of all the Ultrabooks on this list.

The Series 9 has a limited number of expansion ports, despite being a 15” Ultrabook – it has two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, a SD card reader, micro HDMI, and ports for the included proprietary Ethernet dongle and optional VGA dongle. It has an 8 cell battery, and with real-world use you get about 7.5 hours of battery-life, which is good for an Ultrabook.

Samsung Series 9 15″ Specs: 15? anti-glare 1600 x 900 TN LED backlit display, 1.70 GHz Core i5-3317U CPU – 1.9 GHz i7-3517U CPU, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB – 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 128GB or 256GB SSD, 356.9 x 237.0 x 14.9 mm, 1.58 kg (3.48 lbs.) – 1.65 kg (3.6 lbs.), Windows 8, 1-year warranty, models from $1,099.99 – $1,599.99

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Sony VAIO Duo 11

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Type: Enterprise Business. vPro & TPM: Yes Touch-screen: Yes, convertible. OS: Windows 8 Pro

While the Duo 11 is available as a consumer model with Window 8, it can also be customized with Windows 8 Pro, vPro CPU’s and it has a TPM chip, and even a built in Ethernet port, so it can be configured to be an Enterprise-level device, something that Sony doesn’t really promote. It does, however, only have a 1-year warranty, but this can be upgraded to a maximum of 2 years, and can include accidental damage protections (but that upgrade costs a pricey $390!).

The Duo 11 is another convertible and changes to a tablet in yet another way different to the ASUS Taichi and Dell XPS 12 – on the Duo 11 the screen slides up to reveal the keyboard, what Sony calls the “Surf Slider” design. Opening up the Duo 11 takes getting used to the first time you open it – you have to lift up from the top in the middle of the screen to slide the keyboard out. The mechanism seems well designed and solid once opened, but it is complex, so there is more room for something to go wrong, and I am sure it’s not very durable in the case of an accidental fall. While it is reasonably thin for a convertible – 18 mm when closed, and weighs 1.30 kg (2.87 lbs.) it is still heavy for a Windows 8 tablet. The Duo 11 is mostly made from magnesium-alloy and is attractive with its metallic black finish.

The Duo 11 has a gorgeous Gorilla Glass covered 11.6″ Full HD 1080p (1920 x 1080) ten point multi-touch IPS screen. Like the ASUS Taichi it also has an active digitizer to support an N-Trig pressure-sensitive pen. Sadly, also like the Taichi, there is no slot for the pen on the Duo (unless you buy the option external battery slice). If you are planning on using this for graphics work, Sony does include the excellent Art Rage Studio Pro drawing app, but do note that the N-Trig pen’s pressure sensitivity doesn’t work in Adobe apps due to a driver issue.

The slide-out keyboard, while novel, is the Duo 11’s worst feature, and it is the weakest of all the Ultrabooks in this line-up. Because of the slider design it is short – there is no palm rest so it’s uncomfortable to type on for extended periods, and the island style keys are small and shallow. There is no touchpad, just a small optical sensor between the G & H keys. While it works okay, it is no substitute for a proper touchpad, or even the included stylus. Using a small wireless mouse with the Duo 11 would the best option to address this shortcoming.

It is available with up to a very powerful Core 2.1 GHz Core i7, one of the few Ultrabooks on this list to offer a 512GB SSD drive option, but when configured with all the options maxed out, the Duo 11 can get really expensive. For an 11″ convertible Ultrabook Sony has been very generous with the ports – it has two USB 3.0, HDMI-out, VGA-out, a SD card reader and an Ethernet port. Along with the standard front-facing camera for web conferencing, the Duo 11 is also the only Ultrabook in this list with a rear-facing camera – Both are only 2.4MP, but the HD video quality is good enough for video conferencing. The Duo 11 also has NFC, a rarity on Windows 8 devices, allows quick and easy pairing with other NFC-enabled wireless accessories. The battery-life isn’t the greatest, in real-world testing it gets about 4 hours with average use, but this is not surprising considering it is a convertible Ultrabook with not much room for a big battery. The optional $70 battery slice adds another five hours to the battery and a slot for the pen – but it would have been better if Sony made the Duo 11 slightly thicker to include a bigger battery and slot for the pen in the first place.

Sony Duo 11 Specs: 11.6″ FHD 1080p (1920 x 1080) IPS multi-touch screen, 1.8 GHz Core i5-3337U CPU (no vPro) to 2.10 GHz Core i7-3687U CPU, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB – 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 128GB to 512GB SSD, 320 x 199.1 x 18 mm, 1.30 kg (2.87 lbs.), Windows 8, 1-year warranty (upgradable to 2-years), models from $1,269.99 – $2,499.99

Toshiba Portégé Z930

Slide_13Type: Enterprise Business. Touch-screen: No. vPro & TPM: Yes. OS: Windows 7 Pro with Windows 8 Pro media.

The Portégé is a 13” Enterprise-level Ultrabook with a full 3-year warranty out of the box. It comes with Windows 7 Professional pre-installed, and upgrade media if you wish to use Windows 8 Pro. It is one of the lightest Ultrabooks in this list, weighing in at only 1.12 kg (2.47 lbs.), due to its magnesium-alloy chassis. It is also quite thin, at 14.9 mm, allowing Toshiba to claim that it’s the “thinnest and lightest 13” laptop”. The trade-off to this lightweight construction is that the Z930 doesn’t feel as durable as other business-class Ultrabooks, though Toshiba says the materials are designed to flex without snapping in case of a tumble. It is available with up to an i7 CPU, and this, combined with a speedy SSD drive, gives the Z930 excellent performance for business tasks.

The anti-glare screen is unfortunately only a low resolution 1366 x 768, and has poor viewing angles by being a TN panel, instead of IPS. The backlit spill-resistant keyboard is well laid out, and the keys are nice and springy, but the keys are a little small and flat, a common issue with many Ultrabooks. The touchpad is pretty good – it supports multi-touch, and has physical buttons and a fingerprint reader. The Z930 has an impressive amount of ports for a 13″ Ultrabook – there is a full-sized SD card reader and a USB 3.0 port on one side, two USB 2.0 ports on the other, HDMI-out, VGA-out, and an Ethernet port on the back. It has a non-removable 8-cell battery that gives about 5.5 hours of real-world use, which is on par for similarly-sized Ultrabooks.

Toshiba Portégé Z930 Specs: 13.3? anti-glare 1366 x 768 TN LED backlit display, 1.70 GHz Core i5-3317U (no vPro) CPU – 2.0 GHz i7-3367U CPU, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB – 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 128GB – 256GB SSD, 316 x 227 x 14.9 mm, 1.12 kg (2.47 lbs.), Windows 7 Pro w/Windows 8 Pro upgrade disc, 3-year warranty, models from $1,199.99 – $1,849.99.

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Upcoming Business Ultrabooks

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Lenovo’s new Ultrabook, the T431s, was just announced, and it is a total re-think of the most popular T-series ThinkPads. It takes elements from the X1 Carbon, like the magnesium and carbon fibre construction, backlit keyboard, and applies it to the T-series. It will have a 14″ 1600 x 900 screen, and a new glass multi-touch track-pad (don’t worry the red track-point is still there – it wouldn’t be a ThinkPad without it). When it comes in late April or May, it will be the lightest T-series ThinkPad at 3.6 lbs. It will be an Enterprise-class business Ultrabook very much in the vein of the HP EliteBook 9470m, with MIL-SPEC durability, a full complement of ports (Ethernet, VGA, mini DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 port, an SD card reader and an optional Smart Card reader.) and will support Lenovo’s standard business docking stations. Unfortunately the battery is not removable, but Lenovo is claiming up to 9 hours of use, which if lived up to, will be stellar for an Ultrabook.

HP also has a new Ultrabook coming out soon (it should be available mid-April), the HP EliteBook Revolve 810 G1 Tablet. The Revolve is a convertible Windows Ultrabook with an 11.6” 1366 x 768 rotating screen that changes it into a tablet. Being an EliteBook it is full Enterprise-grade Ultrabook with docking capabilities, TPM and vPro CPU’s. It will be thin, at 22.2mm and weight only 1.4 kg (3.08 lbs.), and made from magnesium-alloy with a Gorilla Glass 2 screen, and it will also meet MIL-SPEC standards of durability. While it is optimized for Windows 8, it will also be available with Windows 7 Pro. It will come with two USB 3.0 ports, DisplayPort-out, an Ethernet port, and HP is claiming it will have a battery-life of about 8 hours.

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Alex Davies
IT professional & freelance tech writer. Founder of The Art of the Gadget. PC gamer, indie comics fan & cinephile. Sometimes curmudgeon.