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Ultrabook laptops take the stage

NEED TO KNOW
  • Consumer Electronics Show to introduce new laptop craze
  • 30 to 50 new ultrabooks make their debut next week
Ultrabook laptops take the stage

If you’ve been thinking about buying a new laptop, things are about to get even more confusing. Taking even a brief break from the rapidly-evolving world of technology most often means you’ll be left behind, sometimes far behind. Although it seems like just yesterday that consumers were overwhelmed by the idea of the tablet, the experience of mobile computing is once again being revolutionized, this time in the form of the ultrabook.

The way people think about computing has changed drastically over the past few years with the introduction of each new smaller device, and when it comes to size and shape, a regular old laptop just isn’t good enough anymore. So, in an effort to reach the most recent demand for a more tablet-like experience, several manufacturers are developing their own version of what is basically a super-thin, super-fast laptop.

So what exactly is an ultrabook? The term was coined and trademarked by Intel to describe a high-performance, ultra-portable, Intel-based notebook that gives you a better mobile computing experience than your average notebook or tablet. According to Intel, to qualify as an ultrabook, a notebook must weigh no more than 3.1 lbs, be no more than .71 inches thick, provide five-plus hours of battery life, include flash-based storage, and incorporate Intel’s Rapid Start Technology, which equips the device with an ultra-fast start-up time.

Consumers can expect to see about 30 to 50 new models of ultrabooks debut at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place next week in Las Vegas. The international event is often a “make it or break it” moment for new devices emerging into the U.S. consumer electronics market, but some skeptics say the ultrabook’s price point may prevent it from becoming the latest and greatest mainstream product. Most ultrabooks will be in the $1,000 to $1,200 price range when first introduced, but analysts say they need to be priced around $699 to appeal to mainstream consumers. The prices of some ultrabooks are expected to drop to between $500 and $800 next year, which will definitely make them more appealing, but that doesn’t help much if you’re looking for something now.

The challenge is making a premium product mainstream, according to industry analysts, which then takes away the idea that makes the product premium in the first place. So the ultrabook is basically the PC world’s way of competing with Apple’s Macbook Air and making ultrabooks more widespread. Thin and light, with a full-size keyboard, the Air paved the way for this new wave of mobile computing and its success has proven that people will pay for this type of premium model.

What it really comes down to is paying for the convenience of having a super-thin computing device, versus a bulkier laptop with more capabilities or a smaller tablet with fewer capabilities. Experts say ultrabooks aren’t necessarily faster than what you’d get with a laptop, and if the thickness of the device really doesn’t matter to you, a high-end laptop for the same price will give you more bells and whistles and all the speed you want.

So here we go again: Whether it’s an mp3 player, tablet or laptop, it’s Apple versus the world. When it comes to electronics, HLN Money Expert Clark Howard says as a smart consumer, do your research and make sure you’re getting the device and capabilities you need for the best price. If a sleek and sexy ultrabook doesn’t fit your needs, then don’t waste your hard-earned money -- and make sure to always be cautious when jumping into a new-wave technology.

Be sure to tune in to HLN next week for reports from the Consumer Electronics Show.

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