Say so long to your aching back. Like Apple’s razor-thin MacBook Air, the new Windows machines called Ultrabooks are ultralight – most weigh in at 4 pounds or less – and many do away with DVD and hard drives. Like tablets and smartphones, they start up instantly and save files and apps on a flash memory chip, also known as a solid-state drive (SSD).
Among the features to look for are at least two USB ports – preferably ones that support the faster USB 3.0 standard – and an HDMI port for connecting to an HDTV. And don’t forget about battery life. Some Ultrabooks promise to run for as long as 11 hours on a charge; others power down after five hours or less.
• Powerful and thin. The Acer Aspire S5 ($1,400) holds its own with a comparably equipped MacBook Air and costs $100 less. It is amazingly thin and has a sharp, 13.3-inch display. At 2.65 pounds, the Aspire weighs just slightly less than the 13-inch Air. Plus, the Aspire S5 has a 256-gigabyte solid-state drive, same as the Air. The S5’s most clever innovation is a motorized door on the back of the system that opens to reveal four ports for connecting peripherals. The Dolby sound system is crisp and clear for a laptop, and the S5 comes with a wireless Bluetooth mouse – handy for those of us who loathe track pads. The Aspire S5 does have a few shortcomings. Its keyboard isn’t backlit, and given the laptop’s high price, I’d have expected better screen resolution.
• Big-screen beauty. The Samsung Series 9 ($1,400 to $1,800, depending on configuration) manages to squeeze a big, 15-inch display into a 14-inch chassis that’s only 0.58 inch thick. The laptop weighs in at a somewhat-heavier 3.6 pounds, but resolution is better than the MacBook Air’s display. (Samsung also offers a 13-inch Series 9 for $1,300 or $1,400.) Among the downsides: the price. Also, most models have a 128GB SSD – half the size of the Aspire and high-end MacBook Air SSDs and a bit skimpy for a high-end Ultrabook.
• Bargain alternative. The Dell Inspiron 14z ($700) skirts the line between a laptop and an Ultrabook. It includes both DVD and hard drives, and it weighs a relatively hefty 4.12 pounds. Still, it is only 0.83 inch thick, has a 14-inch display and includes a 32GB SSD for fast start-ups. The 14z won’t win any design awards, but it’s a solid, affordable laptop for home and school use. And the spillproof keyboard is a nice safety feature when you’re sipping java in the wee hours.Jeff Bertolucci is a freelance writer for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit www.Kiplinger.com.