Within the space of a few short weeks, we've seen the first wave of Ultrabook laptops come to life, making good on Intel's promise to create an entirely new laptop category with the unstated, but unmistakable goal of unseating Apple's MacBook Air as the king of ultrathin laptops.
We've taken plenty of shots over the past several months at the entire Ultrabook concept, calling it an Intel marketing push, rather than an organic new product category; joking about the $300 million investment Intel is said to be making with hardware partners to develop systems; and even making fun of the name (why not "superbook" or "skinnytop"?)
But then a funny thing happened. We got our hands on the first three Ultrabooks across the finish line, from Acer, Lenovo, and Asus, and they were all more than pretty good. In fact, we were downright impressed. None was a perfect product, and there needs to be some more-aggressive pricing (the Acer gets it right, coming in at $899, admittedly with some corners cut), but there's a good chance that the next year or two will see a wholesale change in what consumers expect from laptops, with sub-1-inch systems becoming the norm, and anything larger looking terribly old and clunky.
We've rounded up the first wave of Ultrabooks, as well as the MacBook Air, for you to peruse below. As of right now, the general office consensus is that among the Ultrabooks, the Lenovo wins for design, the Acer for price, and the Asus for overall value. But none outclasses the MacBook Air, and our advice to Ultrabook makers is simple. You can't create a laptop that's just about as good as a MacBook Air and just about as expensive. You need to either make something that's significantly better, or significantly less expensive.
The less expensive of two available configurations matches up with the low-end MacBook Air, with a 128GB SSD and Intel Core i5 CPU, but the Lenovo is about $100 less, at $1,195 versus $1,299.
Slim, lightweight, and powerful, it certainly looks and feels a good deal like the other Ultrabooks. The difference is that Acer has decided to sell the Aspire S3 for $899, a steep discount from what you'd pay for a 13-inch MacBook Air.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the MacBook Air should be positively blushing right around now; the Asus Zenbook doesn't shy away from an Apple-like design whatsoever.
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, Summer 2011)
The MacBook Air has finally gone mainstream, with excellent performance, good battery life, and a backlit keyboard. It's the clear template for Ultrabooks.