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Ultimate guide to Windows 8 ultrabooks

Testing of eight Windows 8 ultrabooks reveals that users looking for the slimmest, lightest devices will have to accept tradeoffs

By Wayne Rash, Network World
June 24, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Network World - While finding a touchscreen for a desktop computer is nearly impossible, and finding a touchscreen notebook computer takes some searching, touchscreen ultrabooks are readily available. These thin, light and relatively compact computers are intended to be portable and to be used at a moment’s notice. Adding touch seems a natural thing to do.

Nearly every maker of an ultrabook offers a touchscreen, and nearly all of them offer Windows 8 as the default OS. While most Windows users aren’t accustomed to a touchscreen on their computers, the rise of smartphones and tablets has introduced most users to the idea. In fact, by the time I was finished with this review, my non-touchscreen Windows 7 laptop had become frustrating because I kept touching the screen and expecting something to happen.

Intel created and defined the ultrabook market, but we didn’t exclude products simply because they didn’t meet all of Intel’s specs.  If the vendor called their product an ultrabook, we reviewed it. (Watch the slideshow version of this story.)

We tested eight products, all with touchscreens and all running Windows 8 Professional. They are: the astonishingly thin Acer Aspire S7 and Asus Zenbook UX31A, the flip-screen Dell XPS 12, HP’s Envy 400t-12, Lenovo’s business oriented ThinkPad Carbon X1 and the flexible Yoga 13, the Samsung ATIV Tab 7 that transforms into a tablet, and the Sony Vaio T-15.

(Tablet Wars: iPad vs. Surface) 

(Ultrabooks flopped in 2012)

My favorite, because it was the easiest to type on and the easiest to use overall was the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1. This ultrabook has three different ways to control the pointer, had the best keyboard by far, yet it was still thin and light.

With ultrabooks, there are always compromises forced by their size, so which one is best depends on your specific needs. If you need your ultrabook to convert to a tablet, then you might like the Samsung ATIV Tab 7, or the Yoga or Dell, which fold or flip to become tablets.

Style is also a factor. Acer and Asus win points for being sexy, thin and stylish, so if you want to impress in the conference room, these might be for you. But being thin has a price in terms of usability, so make sure you’re happy with the compromises including keyboards that can be tough for typing.

Setting the Baseline

While there are many touchscreen ultrabooks in the marketplace, I wanted to set some limits. I worked under the assumption that these devices would be used for work, at least part of the time. That meant they had to have Windows 8 Professional installed. These computers also had to be capable of content creation, since there’s not a lot of point in having a keyboard just to watch videos and surf the Web. Microsoft provided copies of Office 2013, either as the Professional release or as Office 365 for this test.

I also felt that a professional level security suite was necessary, and while some of these ultrabooks come with an antivirus package, I requested Norton Internet Security so that they’d all be the same. The reason for this uniformity is because I wanted to see how the ultrabooks and Windows 8 worked together.

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