New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

Summary: Low-cost ultra-thin laptops make a lot of sense, but they've gotten off to a slow start (while netbooks continue to grow). But some sleek new models could jump-start the category.


Ultra-thin laptops make a lot of sense. In contrast to netbooks, these are "real laptops" with sufficient performance to handle all but the most demanding tasks and (in most cases) slightly larger displays. Though they can start at about the same price as many mainstream 15-inch models, ultra-thin laptops are much more portable and the slim designs look great. All of this is why it is puzzling that this new category has gotten off to a slow start (while netbooks continue to grow). Now computer companies are hoping to jump-start things with new models.

Dell has just started taking orders on its distinctive Adamo XPS. Unlike low-cost ultra-thins, Adamo is Dell's bid to establish a luxury brand. The first Adamo, which arrived just as the economy collapsed, fell flat. This time Dell is hoping a more novel design-which has already received intense coverage--will entice shoppers to spend more. The keyboard panel drops down from inside the display when you swipe a finger across the capacitive latch release. This elevates the keyboard, but more important it results in what Dell claims is the world's thinnest laptop--it is 0.4 inches thick and weighs 3.2 pounds. The Adamo XPS starts at $1,799 with a 13.4-inch display, 1.40GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400, 4GB of memory and 128GB solid state. There are very few configuration options: you can add an external hard drive or optical drive, or select a larger (and heavier) battery that Dell claims is good for more than 5 hours.

The Adamo XPS won't ship until December 22, and I haven't seen any full reviews yet, but here are links to some hands-on coverage:

Because of its price, the Adamo XPS competes not with low-cost ultra-thins, but with other premium models that use similar low-voltage processors such as the Apple MacBook Air, HP Envy 13 and Lenovo ThinkPad X301. The HP Envy is bigger and heavier than the Adamo XPS--at 0.8 inches thick and 3.7 pounds--but it is still highly portable by laptop standards. It starts at $100 less with a 13.1-inch display, 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo SL9400, 3GB of memory, ATI Radeon HD 4330 graphics with 512MB and a 250GB hard drive. The SL9400 is a low-voltage processor, not an ultra low-voltage chip (it is rated at 17 watts, rather than 10 watts), but the Envy 13 still posted solid battery scores in most reviews.

HP Envy 13 reviews:

Dell does have a low-cost ultra-thin laptop, though. The Inspiron 11z, an 11.6-inch model that is only about an inch thick and starts at $400 with a 1.30GHz Intel Celeron M 743, a single-core ULV processor. At that price and size, it is competing with netbooks as much as it is with other low-cost ultra-thins and mainstream laptops.

HP's latest low-cost model is the Pavilion dm3 series. Based on a 13.3-inch display, this ultra-thin laptop is available with low-voltage processors from either AMD or Intel. The dm3z starts at $530 with a 1.60GHz AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 dual-core processor, 2GB of memory, ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics and a 160GB hard drive. The dm3t currently starts at $600 with a 1.20GHz Intel Celeron SU2300 dual-core processor, 2GB of memory and a 250GB hard drive.

HP Pavilion dm3 reviews:

Lenovo has two new ultra-thin models that use Intel's ULV chips: the IdeaPad U150 with an 11.6-inch display and the IdeaPad U550 with a 15.4-inch display. The company already sells 13.3-inch (IdeaPad U350) and 14.0-inch (U450) ULV laptops as well, giving it a complete line of ultra-thins like Acer's Aspire Timeline series and MSI's X Series. All of the IdeaPads are an inch thick or less, and starting prices range $550 for the IdeaPad U450 to $680 for the Idea U550. The IdeaPad U150, a competitor to the Dell Inspiron 11z, starts at $649 with a 1.30GHz Intel Pentium SU4100 dual-core processor, 3GB of memory and a 250GB hard drive. The IdeaPad U350, which goes head-to-head with HP's Pavilion dm3 series, starts at $599 with a 1.40GHz Core 2 Solo SU3500 single-core processor, 4GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive. With its larger display, the IdeaPad U550 is more like a mainstream laptop--complete with a built-in DVD drive--but it is thinner and lighter. It competes with larger ULV laptops such as the Acer Aspire 5810 Timeline and MSI X600.

Toshiba has been pumping out ultra-thins laptops such as the Portege R series for years, but these are higher-priced executive notebooks along the lines of the ThinkPad X301. The Satellite T100 series, by contrast, fits squarely in the low-cost ultra-thin camp. There are two models. The Satellite T115 in an 11.6-inch laptop starting at $450 with the 1.30GHz Intel Celeron M 743 single-core processor, 2GB of memory and a 250GB hard drive. That puts it somewhere between the Inspiron 11z, which is $50 less but has a smaller hard drive, and the IdeaPad U150, which costs more but has a faster processor and more memory. The Satellite T135 is a 13.3-inch models that competes with the Pavilion dm3 series, IdeaPad U330 and others. It starts at $600 with a 1.30GHz Pentium SU2700 single-core processor, 3GB of memory and a 250GB hard drive.

Toshiba Satellite T135 reviews:

Setting aside the Adamo XPS and HP Envy 13, which carry relatively high price tags, these new ultra-thin models should appeal to anyone looking for a laptop at a mainstream price but in a much more portable package. Low cost ultra-thins could finally be ready to catch on.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Hardware, Intel, Laptops, Mobility, Processors

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  • New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

    They still seem a bit over priced for what they do. I feel the same way about the netbooks too.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Loverock has got it right ..... does that mean we'll have to pay

      more attention to what he says on every subject ...... we'll have to think long and hard about that one ;-)
      Over and Out
  • RE: New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

    Maybe they aren't catching on because they look too dang
  • They will NEVER take off like Netbooks because

    They violate the netbook Trinity. These are the three contributing factors which are required for the extreme mass market appeal of a netbook. Cheap, small, and long battery life. Ultra-thins don't address all three as well as good netbooks.
    1. Cheap? Debatable...
    2. Small? Thin is small in only one of three dimensions.
    3. Long battery life? Not from what I've seen so far.

    Lesser contributing factors include keyboard and track pad usability, plus screen quality. Performance is a minor consideration for these machines because most only want them for email, browsing, blogging, and similar tasks. People who don't understand why netbooks are more appealing for many than laptops should consider the Trinity. These ultra-thins are targeted more at people who need a laptop than those of us who use netbooks.
    • The "Trinity".

      I think as many, or more, moved to the netbooks purely out of lower cost. Especially among people with a more limited financial means then probably yourself.
      The size and battery life are not even considered by most in this group since they don't travel.

      Once many realize they can get more laptop, which to me means a usable keyboard and screen built in, for roughly the same money, will see these take off.

      The problem now is so many have already bought into the netbook thing (don't forget the 7% or more who just couldn't resist buying a small cute device since they were running out of toys after buying their iPhone, itouch, ipod, macbook, highend PC, 52" LCD TV etc) and they can't afford to do a refresh now.
      It will take some time before a refresh occurs in big numbers like the netbook.
      But I think at least 50% of users would opt for bigger next time around.
      • No one wants to carry extra luggage

        I own 2 netbooks. One is an ASUS Eee PC 701. I had to special order it because no one had any stock of these when they first came out.

        Given a choice now between a UT and a NetBook, I'd still choose the NetBook. And the whys of it may explain why the UT is not catching on.

        Prior to the EeePC, I had a Dell Latitude C640 and a PDA in addition to my desktop machines.

        The PDA had an adapter which allowed a PCMCIA card to be plugged into it, while leaving the unit larger but still quite portable. This PCMCIA card was either a WiFi card, an ethernet card, or a modem card. Ever tried to surf the web on a 200x320 screen? It sucks! The screen was simply too small for what I was doing. I needed something bigger.

        The Latitude was a fine machine, with a 2.4GHz P4 and 1GB of RAM. It was great. With the C-Dock, I didn't need my desktop computer. But it was too big for what I needed, and not just in weight. I couldn't balance it one 1 knee. I couldn't slip it into my purse when I was done. No. I needed to do a lot more to get it ready to move. I needed to carry an extra piece of luggage with me where ever I went. No one wants to carry extra luggage.

        The problem with the UT laptop is that it's still extra luggage.
        • UT's have evolved, Netbooks aren't the best ultra portable anymore


          I really disagree. I am an on the go student
          type who takes my laptop everywhere with me. I
          usually have about 40 pounds of books with me
          and as stuffed as my back pack gets, my UT still
          fits in. At 3.7lbs, it's barely noticeable even
          when my backpack is empty. I bike and walk
          everywhere. The power adapter is so small it can
          fit in my pocket, not that I usually need it in
          a work day.

          Meanwhile, the screen is about 13" and it has a
          full size qwerty. But it's really only a tiny
          bit wider than your average netbook. I've
          watched HD content on this thing, listened to
          thousands of songs, researched several projects,
          and written about 6 or 7 term papers--much of
          the time cordless. I have literally sat 15 or so
          hours in front of the thing and gotten some damn
          good work done without my eyes and hands
          beginning to hurt from the strain of a small
          screen/keys. Most netbooks could not even
          perform half as well in either form factor or

          The potential of the UT has been realized and
          the netbook has nothing on it.

          ASUS UL30A
    • Thin and Lights show a lot more promise than netbooks as portables...

      Honestly, thin and lights are pulling through.

      My ASUS UL30A is a great example. It is thin,
      light, affordable, and the battery life
      routinely lasts 9 hours with office tasks,
      music, and web browsing. On top of that, it can
      run High Definition movies with minimal or no
      frame skips. It's a beast compared to a netbook
      and just as portable.

      Those Acer's look pretty solid in terms of form
      factor/performance. To boot, some of that come
      at a price tag that is only marginally more
      expensive than the top tier netbooks.
  • Within reason......

    it is NOT about thin (except for a niche market). It is about portability, usability, durability, price, battery life etc.

    This is just another attempt by the "Brands" and MS to get more money out of our pockets. Nice try, but NO.
  • Pzzzzst!

    I have a 4 pound 12.1" with multiple port types and a BUILT-IN DVD+/-DL burner. Most manufacturers have abandoned this form factor except at extreme pricing (I paid $700 and have put in another $300 for 4GB RAM and a 250GB hard drive). While technically getting long in the tooth, it is now happily running Win7 Pro 64bit.

    I don't want an external optical drive because the sum weighs more than mine with a built-in drive. 10" is too small to reliably type and read. And as someone else pointed out, thin is only one dimension. 12.1 is a great compromise for this frequent traveller.
    Jim Johnson
    • Re: Pzzzzst!

      Yep, Dell 700m.
  • RE: New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

    Cost isn't even debatable IMO. Regular notebooks start around $400 also- there's certainly no inherent cost savings in an ultra-thin notebook.

    Across manufacturers, starting prices seem to be about:
    netbooks - $200-$800
    notebooks- $400-$1600

    Which means notebooks are still 2x as expensive, even if there is some overlap in the $400-$800 range. Coincidental.
  • RE: New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

    Form factor is the most important point for me. A 10" factor is as big as I want. If I wanted anything bigger I would just use my laptop. Portability is not just weight but the space it takes up.
  • RE: New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

    "Ultra-thin laptops make a lot of sense. In contrast to
    netbooks, these are ?real laptops? with sufficient
    performance to handle all but the most demanding tasks
    and (in most cases) slightly larger displays. Though they
    can start at about the same price as many mainstream 15-
    inch models, ultra-thin laptops are much more portable
    and the slim designs look great. All of this is why it is
    puzzling that this new category has gotten off to a slow
    start (while netbooks continue to grow)."

    John, you're a smart fellow, but there is an important
    way you don't quite understand what you are supposed to
    be doing as an analyist. You are looking at netbooks and
    laptops in terms of your own needs. But in order to
    understand what is selling and why, and predict how
    things will go in the future, you need to look at the
    needs and situations of other people who may be quite
    different from you, and as a consequence make choices
    that from your own perspective don't make much sense.

  • RE: New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

    it would be great to be see the hardware inside..
  • RE: New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

    I have always been looking for the combination of usability, weight and size. In the nineties I used to carry an Apple Mac Duo with me. A docked system at the office a light laptop when on the road. That system has set my standard.

    Over the past years it became a more and more difficult search to find systems that met my criteria with the tendency to make laptops bigger and bigger.

    I welcome the new trend of smaller and lighter.
  • RE: New ultra-thin laptops ready to catch on?

    Why has netbooks outsold UT laptops????
    PRICE thats all
    the majority of people in this world are not geeks
    and they also arent rich.
    They buy what they can afford.
    Bottom line.
    Wanna sell ultrathisn???/ Make them 199.00 and they will sell like hotcakes!!!!!!!!!!