Ultrabook vs laptop: Is an ultrabook worth £500 more?

Ultrabook vs laptop: Is an ultrabook worth £500 more?

Summary: Are slim and light ultrabooks slim and light enough to justify their hefty price tags? And what's the real difference between an ultrabook and a skinny laptop? We look at the HP Envy 14 Spectre and the HP DM4 Beats Audio Edition


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  • HP Spectre Beats Audio controls

    Both devices are Beats Audio branded, making for a fair comparison on audio. 

    The Envy 14 Spectre uses a dedicated jog wheel for volume control and hardware buttons for quick access to the Beats Audio software, whereas the DM4 uses keyboard shortcuts accessible via the function (fn) key. There was another small difference between them on audio: DM4 came with a set of over-the-head style Beats Audio headphones included in its price too, the Spectre did not.

    That's where the obvious differences stopped: neither sounded notably better than the other, although both were louder than other similar sized laptops that I've used. 

    Image credit: Ben Woods

  • HP Spectre touchpad/trackpad

    Both also had uniformly terrible touchpads, with the Envy 14 (above) edging out the DM4 in the terribleness stakes by having virtually unusable multitouch gesture controls.

    Overall, the performance of the two machines I tested was broadly comparable, particularly for the everyday tasks that most people walk into a computer shop and ask about. When it comes to looks, even the difference in thickness and weight that the ultrabooks are marketed on wasn't that much to write home about.

    There is one major point of differentiation between them, though: the DM4 Beats Audio Edition has a retail price of around £700 while the Envy Spectre costs £1,200.

    For such a price gap, I really had expected much, much more disparity between the two.

    Image credit: Ben Woods

  • HP DM4 power pack

    In some regards, mainly the battery life and thinner chassis, the Envy would clearly be the preferable choice, but is it £500 better? No way. In fact, in some ways, the cheaper of the two is actually the better specced: it has more RAM, can accommodate even more RAM and comes with discrete AMD graphics, rather than relying on the Intel HD integrated chipset.

    The most compelling reason to choose the ultrabook over its laptop rival was the size of the power pack, as the one that came with the DM4 (pictured) is plain ridiculous for a 14-inch laptop, but how likely is not buying a laptop on the basis that the power pack is a ludicrous size?

    Image credit: Ben Woods

Topics: Mobility, Smartphones

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • "But is it just hype and marketing...?"
    You nailed it right there. Case closed.

    Warmest regards...
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    We're not allowed to blame Microsoft for this, were constantly told that incompetent users are solely to blame for this. (MS, if you stick everthing in the 'spinal' Registry, which has to be updated and constantly scanned by Windows, then users add more applications - it gets bigger, more to scan - what did MS expect to happen?)

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    If the screen is the same screen technology as the new ipad (the retina display is genuinely superb), but scaled up - users will be in for a treat.

    If you can afford one, and you need a powerful laptop all day, every day - the macbook pro with retina seems the laptop to get. (and you don't have issue carrying around £1799 worth of laptop).

    Doesn't come with Mountain Lion to start with, so better off purchasing in July. Doesn't seem to be missing too many future updates, a pretty complete laptop. I personally was waiting for USB 3 + Retina + Mountain Lion + Ivybridge. So its got everything I was wanting, come July with Mountain Lion.
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