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The Types and Differences of Ultraportable Laptops

Posted in Computer Advice
at 2011.09.16
Types of Ultraportable Computers

From Top to Bottom: Toshiba’s Portege Z830, Apple's MacBook Air, Google's Chromebook

As we talked about in our introduction to ultraportable laptops, ultraportables come in many different sizes, shapes, and configurations.

We looked briefly at the difference between ultraportable laptops, netbooks, and tablets: netbooks are outdated compact laptops which were built with all the features of a laptop but in a smaller form and with processing power limiting functions to 1-2 tasks at a time.  Tablets, on the other hand, were built with the same hardware and components as ultraportable laptops but are designed to be a balance between a laptop and a smartphone with appearance and design as defining factors.

Today we look at the different types of ultraportable laptops and what sets each apart from one another.  Everyone is a player in this emerging market with PC makers, Apple, and even Google all laying a stake with ultraportables.  As we’ll see the characteristics of weight, battery life, and hardware configuration set ultraportables apart but function and form also play a big role.  Additionally, each type is defined by their small contributions and enhancements to the laptop, such as wireless syncing and cloud based offerings.

Read on to learn about the different types of PC, Apple, and Google ultraportable laptops and how the MacBook Air from Apple and Google’s Chromebook add unique twists that set themselves apart from the others.

Ultraportable laptops can typically be categorized into three different categories, typically based off of the manufacturer, hardware/software specifications, and other key factors.

PC Ultraportable Laptops

Acer, Toshiba, and Lenovo lead the pack in the still young ultraportable PC market offering most standard features of normal laptops though Sony, Dell, and Asus all have great ultraportable offerings. Growing with the help of Intel’s Ultrabook standard, the options may be small at the moment but look for this market to explode in the coming months.

PC ultraportable laptops or ultrabooks as they’re often referred to are starting to pop up more frequently as PC makers adopt Intel’s new ultrabook standard for mobility and portability.  The laptops being introduced today that can be defined as ultraportable are foregoing optical (DVD/CD) drives, user lighter weight material, and focusing heavily on battery life and power consumption.  However, it is still possible to find ultraportable laptops which have optical drives and adhere to the more traditional concept of a laptop.

Some great examples of PC ultraportable/Ultrabook laptops include Acer’s Aspire S3 which is similar looking to the MacBook Air and Toshiba’s Portege Z830 laptop which has a 13.3 inch screen and weighs 2.5 pounds, in addition to the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S.

The MacBook Air

One of the first laptops to spark the ultraportable generation of laptops, the MacBook Air is Apple’s signature ultraportable laptop that originally differentiated itself from PCs by letting go of optical drives and switching to solid state drives (SSD) relying on cloud based hardware components and external devices to pick up the slack.

The MacBook Air, available since 2008, was recently updated in July of 2011 with an updated Intel chipset and is available in 13.3inch and 11.6 display configurations.  The MacBook Air has claimed the “world’s thinnest laptop” title (at 0.76 inches) since its inception but is being challenged on all corners by PC makers for this prestigious distinction.  One other prominent characteristic of Apple’s solo ultraportable laptop is its 5-7 hour battery life which is rather good for ultraportable laptops.

The MacBook Air is being tightly integrated into Apple’s family of products, and is a cornerstone of its new cloud based storage system, iCloud.  Apple enables Air users to stream content over WiFi networks.  The ability to stream and share content between the MacBook Air and other macs offers a great solution to the storage problems all ultraportable laptops have for high maintenance users.  One other integrated feature, within the Mac family, that makes the MacBook Air unique is its ability to leverage Apple’s Time Capsule device for wireless storage as well as increased ability to stream and backup files over a network seamlessly.

The Google Chromebook

The Google Chromebook, which launched this year, is considered an ultraportable with a twist. As we’ve discussed, the Chromebook adopts traditional PC hardware but reduces other components, including memory and unnecessary hardware, to create a perfect device for running applications in the cloud with little need for a local hardware to back up the users’ needs.  Google has spearheaded the development of this new cloud based laptop with its Chrome Operating System which puts the operating system and the user’s functions in the hands of independent websites which now function as a generation of new web apps.

Although not billed as an ultraportable laptop, the Chromebook meets all of the necessary requirements of portability and mobility and is unique in its use of web-based software.

The Chromebook, with models available by Samsung and Acer, are simplistic in nature but very versatile in nature.  The versatility and portability of a Chromebook is achieved through its wi-fi availability and the almost non-existentence of internal memory and storage space.

Stay tuned to our series for a more indepth look at how to make the right purchase decision with ultraportable laptops, how you can use ultraportable laptops in different situations, and more in our continuing series.

Do you own an ultraportable laptop or looking to buy one?  What stands out to you as the best options?  What questions do you have as you’re looking to buy one?