Product Reviews

The 5 Best and Most Interesting Ultrabooks From CES

Matt Smith 02-02-2012

best ultrabookCES 2012 focused on the ultrabook. Nearly every major consumer electronics company had one to show – including companies that don’t have much presence in the laptop market, such as LG.


Not every ultrabook was worthy of praise, but there were a few that stood out from the crowd. Some were notable for their build quality – others, for their unique design.

Dell XPS 13

best ultrabook

Of all the ultrabooks that I was able to see and handle at CES, the Dell XPS 13 was my favorite. It is not the lightest, thinnest or quickest, but it’s the one I’d be most likely to buy with my own money.

Why? Build quality and design is one reason. Unlike many ultrabooks, the XPS 13 restricts the use of metal to the lid and some of the chassis. The underside is made of carbon fiber coated in a soft-touch material, while the interior is soft touch plastic. All of this adds up to a laptop that feels rock solid but also pleasing to handle.

Portability is another strong point. Dell’s use of high-strength materials has allowed them to reduce display bezel size and, in turn, reduce overall width and depth. Though it has a 13.3” display, the physical footprint of this laptop is closer to a 12.1” laptop. Battery life How To Benchmark Your Laptop's Battery Life With Battery Eater Read More is estimated at nearly 9 hours by Dell, and while that’s likely a best-case scenario, it’s better than the life quoted by nearly every competitor.


Pricing of the XPS 13 starts at $999. Units start shipping in mid-February, but you can reserve one of the first units today.

Lenovo ThinkPad T430u

ces ultrabook

Lenovo already has an ultrabook available, but it is part of the consumer IdeaPad line. The T430u is the first ThinkPad to fit the specifications, which is news by itself in the eyes of some hardcore enthusiasts. I’m sure that some buyers will prefer the rugged, simple design of this ThinkPad to the flashier but less sturdy construction of consumer ultrabooks.

What I find most interesting, however, is inside the T430u – Nvidia The 3 Best Laptops That Support Nvidia 3D Vision Read More discrete graphics will be optional on this laptop. This is the only ultrabook to promise a discrete graphics option so far. Ironically, the product made for work could provide better 3D gaming performance than any of its peers.


You’ll have to wait for the T430u, however. Lenovo isn’t going to offer it until Intel releases Ivy Bridge, so look for a summer release date.

HP Envy 14 Spectre

best ces ultrabooks

The HP Envy line has hit its stride as of late. The new Envy 15 and 17 laptops are both excellent, even when compared to the MacBook Pro, which usually stands in a class of its own. And at CES a new addition was revealed – the Envy 14 Spectre.

Besides the name, which is awesome, the Spectre offers a unique black glass lid design that sets the laptop apart from the crowd. The interior is also coated in glass, providing a slick surface for your hands to glide across. Specifications are impressive, as well – though it uses the same Core i5/i7 ULV processors as any other ultrabook, the Spectre includes a brilliant 1600×900 display, solid state drives and a battery life of up to 9.5 hours.


All of that kit is standard – but you’ll have to pay at least $1,399 for it. As with the XPS 13, retail availability is expected to be mid-February, but you can reserve one now.

Lenovo Yoga

best ces ultrabooks

Although most of the ultrabooks coming into production over the last year are conventional laptops, Intel and many laptop manufacturers were eager to show concepts that could be the future of the laptop.

One of these concepts is the Lenovo Yoga. At first glance, it’s a normal laptop – but bend back the display and it just keeps going. And going. And doesn’t stop until you’ve made your ultrabook into a 13.3” tablet. The Yoga is designed for Windows 8, so it would utilize the Metro UI Why Microsoft Should Not Be Pushing Their New Metro UI Onto Their Other Products [Opinion] With the introduction of the Windows Phone platform in 2010, Microsoft unveiled the Metro user interface, designed to make accessing information quick and easy. Rather than litter their new mobile platform with endless rows of... Read More when in tablet mode.


Lenovo wasn’t the only company to short a convertible tablet, but the Yoga’s design sets it apart from most convertibles, which usually use a single rotating hinge. The Yoga is also closer to production than many other concepts. Lenovo says it will be available in the second half of 2012.

Intel Nikiski

best ultrabook

One of the most outlandish concepts shown at CES 2012 was made by Intel itself. It’s called Nikiski, and it has a transparent touchpad and palmrest.

The idea is that when the laptop is closed, some of the display (the portion that shows through the transparent touchpad) will still be visible. This part of the display can be used to show notifications. Like the Yoga, it’s designed with the Windows 8 Metro UI in mind.

Of course, Intel doesn’t make laptops, so this particular concept may never see the light of day. But like any good concept, the Nikiski drops a few clues about the future. It shows that touchpad surfaces using alternative technologies are possible, that ultrabooks may be squeezed into very small physical dimensions, and that Windows 8’s Metro UI is easily able to handle a display area with an unusual size.


Although I covered several popular ultrabooks in this article, I also left some out. The Samsung Series 5 and Series 9 did not impress me, at least not in the short time I had to play with them. I also wasn’t taken by the new Lenovo U310 or the lineup from companies like Toshiba and LG.

Do you disagree? Did you see or hear of an ultrabook that could be the best thing since sliced bread? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credit : PC Perspective

Related topics: Ultrabook, User Review.

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  1. Pili
    July 2, 2012 at 9:42 am

    I want a lightweight book with Linux.
    I don't want to see windos not even in a photo and MacAss sucks every day more and I don't want to live in a crystal prison.

    • Tina
      July 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      You can certainly install Linux on your Ultrabook. Let us know what flavor you go with.

  2. asusfanboi
    February 3, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    asus zenbook is still a solid choice, too.

    • Tina
      February 3, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      Do you have one? I hear it's rather loud.

      • M.S. Smith
        February 4, 2012 at 3:00 am

        I'm testing one now and I don't find it loud at all. The build quality, however, is not that great. 

  3. Chris Hoffman
    February 3, 2012 at 7:03 am

    The XPS looks beautiful. The only downside to these is the lack of graphics power.

    Apparently Sony has a (super-expensive) external graphics card for one of their (super-expensive) laptops. It would be great seeing this sort of tech become more common -- just buy a lightweight ultrabook and plug in the peripheral when you want to game.

    No sign of external graphics cards around CES, was there? Probably not.

    • M.S. Smith
      February 4, 2012 at 3:03 am

      The Sony Vaio Z is the one with the super expensive external graphics card. Well, it's not really super expensive because it comes standard with the $1849 desktop.

      It's not even a very fast GPU - but the Sony Vaio Z is something like .66 inches, so there's just no room.

      There were no signs of external graphics cards at CES. Some people are hoping that Thunderbolt will make them viable due to its high bandwidth. But I remain skeptical for now. First we need to get a lot of Thunderbolt devices out there before there is a potential market for them.

      • Chris Hoffman
        February 4, 2012 at 7:48 am

        Right. Thunderbolt has to become more common.

        Thanks for that. I don't really follow hardware too closely.

  4. Elric_ed57
    February 3, 2012 at 12:06 am

    I had an HP Pavillion dv4 before and I like its overall performance but when its graphic chip burned out, it was there and then that I discovered that HP has design flaws, the pavillion dv4 had its graphic chip placed too near the processor... and now I am having second thoughts of buying  an HP laptop or ultrabook unless of course they make one with a dedicated graphic card so that if it ever conks out I could easily replace it...  

  5. Tina
    February 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Matt, did you get a chance to play with the Dell and/or the HP? I would be interested to hear how good their cooling is, how fast the fans start up, and how loud they are. Both sound awesome.

    • M.S. Smith
      February 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm

      I did have hands-on time with the XPS 13 and HP Envy Spectre but due to the ever-present noise of the convention I can't comment on fan noise. My guess both will be fairly quiet and will create an average amount of heat, given that they're using the same low-voltage processors. Heat generation so far hasn't been a issue with ultrabooks. 

      • Smayonak
        February 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm

        Great article Matt.

        It's a shame Intel's Ultrabook specification omitted reliability. Historically, the smaller a computer, the less reliable it is. For example, netbooks, despite low heat production, don't last very long versus full sized notebooks.

        The second generation Core i5 and i7 notebooks received a large drop in wattage consumption and heat generation. When Intel releases Ivy Bridge, there's going to be huge drops in wattage and heat production - but will it also translate into greater reliability?
        Probably not. Manufacturers are still going to be cutting corners, meaning cheap internal parts and cramped interiors. In the past this translated into short lived laptops.

  6. Luxury Accommodations Blog
    February 2, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Definitely Dell XPS

  7. Dave Parrack
    February 2, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    I want a Dell XPS. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

    • M.S. Smith
      February 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm

      I want one.