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 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

  • HP's new Spectre XT

    And HP isn't alone in its seemingly bizarre specification of its ultrabooks versus its standard laptops. Sony has done something similar the recent launch of its T series ultrabooks, at least one of which is heavier and thicker than its existing ultra-thin Z series laptops.

    It's a strange situation: if you have lighter and thinner laptops that, in some cases, cost less than ultrabooks, the term loses any value it had and becomes nothing but branding.

    Used well, 'ultrabook' could have differentiated between classes of laptops, immediately telling a would-be buyer that a product bearing the name has certain characteristics. Instead, as the definition of what an ultrabook is becomes more vague, the term has descended into just another buzz marketing word.

    For the term to be of any quick reference use, Intel needs to define one key element of the ultrabook and keep it constant. Depth, weight, or price are all key contenders: had it stuck to its £650 ceiling, say, then customers would know, without knowing anything else about the device, that it costs less than this amount.

    And it is price that is mostly likely to determine the ultrabooks' future. Last weekend I saw a 48-hour offer on a Toshiba Satellite Z830 13.3-inch ultrabook that brought the cost to £549, a far more middle-of-the-road figure that might tempt me if I were looking to spend around £500 on an everyday laptop. The price has since gone back up to £800, putting it firmly out of the question.

    Until the average price falls, ultrabooks are a bizarre anomaly of not-top-of-the-line specs, crammed into small, but not necessarily that light, chassis. For my £1,200, that's just not good enough.

    Perhaps the next generation of ultrabooks will rectify this imbalance in some way: HP's follow-up to the Spectre, the Spectre XT (pictured), is due to go on sale in the UK at the end of June, but with a price tag starting from £899, I won't be holding my breath.

    Image credit: Ben Woods


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

    Warmest regards...
    bakerdriver
  • ->'However, it occurred to me that, over time, this is exactly how PCs become: slower, less responsive husks of their purchase-day glory'

    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?)

    The new Macbook Pro 15 with Retina Display, has just redefined the word 'Ultra', though the updates to other models, while keeping their unibodys the same, have some good port upgrades like USB 3.0. The Macbook Pro 15 with Retina is slightly narrower and is a far amount thinner (no optical drive) than the the older unibody Macbook Pro 15 without Retina (still sold but upgraded to Ivybridge).

    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.
    SoapyTablet
  • Isn't this all about the demise of DVDs and Blu Rays? How much would Apple and Microsoft want them to die off? A lot is the answer! They would prefer us to buy films and music online from them and them only! Ultrabooks do not have optical drives, just like the new Macbooks.
    ians1