7 Ways Ultrabooks Beat the New MacBook Air

7 Ways Ultrabooks Beat the Air

In introducing the latest line of MacBook Airs, Apple CEO Tim Cook took a nasty shot at Ultrabooks, the PC competitor to his company’s lightweight laptops. “Everyone is trying to copy it,” he said of the Air. “They find it’s not so easy.”

Up until recently, Cook was indisputably correct. None of the so-called first-generation Ultrabooks we reviewed between the launch of the original ASUS Zenbook UX31 in October and the Samsung Series 9 we reviewed in March could defeat the Air. However, new Ivy Bridge-powered Ultrabooks arriving in the next few months have advantages that could help them defeat even the refreshed MacBook Airs.

Here are seven ways new Ultrabooks beat the 2012 MacBook Air.

Screen Quality

A few months ago, the MacBook Airs would win hands-down in a screen contest against any Ultrabook, but today their displays seem sadly out-of-date. The 2012 MacBook Airs maintain their resolutions of 1366 x 768 for the 11-inch model and 1440 x 900 for the 13-incher while the best Ultrabooks have leaped ahead to full HD. The just-launched ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A (pictured) has a 1920 x 1080 screen and so does its 11.6-inch brother, the Zenbook Prime UX21A. Do the math and you’ll see that’s a pixel density of  189.91 and 165.63  pixels-per-inch (PPI) on the Zenbooks versus 135.09 and 127.68 PPI for the Airs. 

Even better, the ZenBook UX31A has a super bright IPS display that measured a whopping 423 lux on our light meter as compared to 285 lux on the 2011 13-inch MacBook Air. To be fair, we haven’t been able to measure the brightness yet on the 2012 MacBook Airs, but Apple announced no improvement in screen quality so we expect similar results to last year’s model. 

ASUS isn’t alone in offering more screen real estate than Apple. Acer just announced its Aspire 7 Ultrabooks which also come in 1920 x 1080 resolutions at 11.6 and 13.3-inch sizes when they launch in the fall time frame. The Aspire 7′s screen also supports capacitive touch input, something you can’t find on any Mac. ASUS and Samsung will also support touch on some of their upcoming Windows 8 notebooks, including the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX21A With Touch and the Samsung Series 5 Ultra Touch.

Weight and Thickness

At just 2.38 pounds for the 11.6-inch MacBook Air and 2.96 pounds for the 13-inch version, the MacBook Air is one of the lightest notebooks on the market, but guess what? It’s not the lightest in either form factor. At just 2.14 pounds, the Gigabyte X11 holds the lightweight crown for 11-inch notebooks, thanks to its all-carbon fiber body. The 11.6-inch Aspire S7 weighs about 2.2 pounds itself.

In the 13-inch size, both the upcoming Toshiba Portege Z935 and its predecessor, the Z835, weigh just 2.4 pounds. According to Acer reps, the 13-inch Acer Aspire S7 should weigh around 2.6 pounds, 0.36 pounds less than the Air.

At just 0.68 inches at its thickest point, the 13- and 11-inch Airs are among the market’s thinnest notebooks, but amazingly, they are not alone. The Portege Z935 is just 0.6 inches thick at its thickest point while the ZenBook UX31A tops out at a nearly-identical 0.66 inches. 

Ports

With the new MacBook Air, Apple upgraded the notebook’s two USB 2.0 ports to USB 3.0, a standard we began seeing on many PC notebooks over a year ago. In addition to its USB ports, the Air has a Thunderbolt port which doubles as DisplayPort out and, on the 13-incher, an SD card slot.  Conspicuously absent is an Ethernet port, along with the more common HDMI or VGA options.

Some Ultrabooks have an equally thin selection of ports and others, such as the Dell XPS 13, are even lamer than the 13-inch Air, because they don’t even have an SD card slot. However, choose your Ultrabook wisely, and you’ll get all the ports you need and then some.

The Toshiba Portege Z835 and Z935 have Ethernet, HDMI and VGA ports, along with an SD card slot and three USB slots. The upcoming Acer Aspire S5 solves the port problem by having a fold-out back with HDMI, Ethernet and two USB ports, while the HP Envy Spectre XT (pictured) uses a fold-down Ethernet port.

You still need an Ethernet port, because in many locations, wired Internet is more faster and more reliable than wireless. You need VGA because a lot of external monitors and projectors, even brand new ones, don’t support HDMI or DisplayPort. You need HDMI because most TVs and some projectors and monitors have this high-quality, digital connection. Yes, you can get an adapters to add Ethernet or even HDMI to a Mac, but that’s one more tiny object for you to carry and potentially lose. 

Audio Quality

The music playback on the last MacBook Air we tested was surprisingly good, but Apple doesn’t even market its audio quality as a major selling point. Meanwhile, HP bundles the new Envy Spectre XT with Beats Audio, Dell jazzes up the XPS 13 with Waves Maxx audio (pictured) and ASUS rocks high-fidelity Bang and Olufsen ICEPower speakers that sound fantastic. 

Graphics Performance

Shall we play a game on the new MacBook Air? If it’s anything really demanding, we can forget about it, because the 2012 MacBook Air only comes with Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 4000 solution. However, several Ultrabooks now have speedy Nvidia GT600-series graphics chips available as an option. These systems include the 13-inch ASUS ZenBook Prime UX32 and 14-inch Gigabyte U2442N and Acer M5-481TG.

Like other Nvidia-powered notebooks, these Ultrabooks all feature the company’s Optimus graphics switching technology. So when you need great battery life, the notebooks go into integrated mode, but when you need a graphics boost, they fire up the GeForce.

Price

The starting price for the 11-inch MacBook Air remains stuck at $999 while the 13-inch MacBook Air dropped to a still-pricey $1,199. While these prices are pretty reasonable for what you get, they’re about double the price of the average PC notebook.

If you’re willing to settle for a 14-inch Ultrabook with a hard drive instead of an SSD, you can pick up the Dell Inspiron 14z for as little as $599. The super-thin 13-inch Portege Z935 will start at $899, a full $200 less than the comparably sized MacBook Air. You can even find a Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook for just $799 these days.

Form Factors

You can buy any size MacBook Air you want, as long as it’s either 11.6 or 13.3 inches. If you want something bigger that turns Mac OS X, you either have to settle for the bulkiness of the regular 15-inch MacBook Pro or pony up a minimum of $2,199 for the 0.71-inch, 4.46-pound new MacBook Pro.

With Ultrabooks, you can get a lightweight 14-inch system such as the upcoming 3-pound ThinkPad X1 Carbon or the 4-pound, 0.8-inch thick HP Envy Spectre 14. You can even get a 15-inch Ultrabook such as the 3.8-pound, 0.58-inch Samsung Series 9. At just $1,499, that notebook is not only thinner and lighter than the new MacBook Pro, it’s also $700 cheaper. 

If you really want something different, a few upcoming Windows 8 Ultrabooks provide mechanisms for turning themselves into tablets. The 13.3-inch Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga and 14-inch Samsung Series 5 Ultra Convertible both have screens that bend back 360 degrees to turn them into slate mode or bend back just a bit less to put them in tent mode. The ASUS Transformer Book has a screen that pops off to become a standalone Core i7 slate and the 11.6-inch MSI Slider S20 has a keyboard that pops out of a compartment.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that Apple’s 2012 MacBook Air laptops provide a compelling combination of performance and portability, but as with all things Apple, your choices are limited. If you’re satisfied with the screen, ports, size, audio, price and graphics performance offered by the Airs, they are likely to provide a solid user experience for years to come. However, if you want something different, such as an HD screen, high-fidelity audio, discrete graphics or a larger form factor from your portable notebook, you may want to wait and see how some of the new Ivy Bridge-powered Ultrabooks turn out as they hit the market over the weeks and months ahead. 

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Mike Says:

    Why was this article “macbook air vs everyone else”? All it proved was that Apple’s product can’t satisfy all your major decision categories at the same time. I was following you and the Asus ZenBook throughout the whole article. When you got to price, I expected it to be listed and it wasn’t of course because it can be $200 MORE than the MacBook Air!

    Plus, if it costs less than $900, I don’t think we can consider it an ‘ultra’book. It’s just a really think notebook.

  2. Paul Says:

    Oh please….

    If you REALLY need all these extras, then spring the money to get that 15inch MacBook Pro with retina display – now no mention of that then huh?

    Let’s have a balanced view please….Don’t see anyone above offering a 15.4-inch Retina display with 2880×1800 resolution within a 18mm frame – let alone the 16Gb RAM, Ivy Bridge i7, etc……??

  3. Paul ^2 Says:

    @Mike – If you look at the Zenbook UX31A they tested you will see that you are getting a Core i7 and 256 GB SSD. Add those to the base model Macbook Air 13, you will get the price of: $1599 so it is actually $100 more than the Zenbook.

    @Paul – Hey we have the same name! I think the article was quite fair. They’re just pointing out somethings that you should consider when shopping. Nothing wrong with that. No doubt that Apple sets the bar but not all of us can spend that much money on a notebook. Ultrabooks offer a great bang for your buck and some great features to boot. This is Air vs Ultrabook. The new MBP is 2-3 times more expensive, so this is a completely different price range and shouldn’t be compared directly.

  4. Steve M Says:

    I’m Android for Tablets and Phones and Windows for Laptops and Desktops. However I have to disagree with this article. You can’t compare the Macbook Air Spec’s to different systems and based on a single spec decide which one has the most value. It has to be compared on all fronts to a single contender. Of course 7 against one is hardly a fair fight.

  5. Chip Says:

    I will admit I have an anti-Apple bias because of their closed ecosystem but when considering purchasing an ultrabook last year it was obvious the Air was a superior product. It takes a couple of generations to get a product right and the Air had a head start on the ultrabooks (except for Toshiba and Sony who have had “ultrabook-type notebooks for years). Now that the major ultrabooks players are on their 2nd gen, it is clear the Air, with nothing but a processor refresh and a mere $100 savings, is falling behind. Forget the touchscreen options (for now) as they won’t be a proper form factor until Haswell comes out next year but the other points in this article are quite valid.

    I think the Air is still a compelling option if you like the Mac ecosystem and are willing to pay a few hundred dollars extra for it. However, anyone arguing that the ultrabooks are more expensive is ignorant. The Air will still cost the same price this time next year and by then (or more likely for back-to-school or Christmas) the Zenbook and others will have dropped 200-300 dollars, let alone the wealth of options you will have under $1000 immediately.

    As for the Macbook pros w/retina, they are not in the same conversation as ultrabooks. They are definitely the best laptop in the world (for a couple of months anyway) but at what will end up being nearly $3000 dollars (with options) they had better be! For that money I will buy the 15″ series 9 Samsung at $1599 (or cheaper) with Ivy bridge and get a far more portable product (with a matte screen that I can actually use outside!) and spend $1000 on a top of the line small form factor desktop PC that blows the Macbook pro out of the water for gaming and productivity.

    Wait a second, I already have a 2 year old desktop computer that does that! I guess I’ll just save that $1000 because I actually value my hard-earned money.

  6. Mark Says:

    I’ve seen a lot of hardware comparisons over the past couple of days since Apple announced it’s latest notebook refresh, but I have not seen any that compare operating systems when it comes to features, ease of use, look/feel, reliability, update availability, etc… I used Windows for 16 years (3.1 – Vista) and fixed them for a living for much of that time. I have been an Apple user for the past 4 years fixing them as well, dabbling somewhat in Windows 7 on my family notebook (purchased for the price alone) and I have to say, I feel that OS X is dramatically better in almost every single respect including compatibility with all Microsoft products that I care to use, reliability (have not had to reinstall NEARLY as often as I did with Windows, but it still happens and is infinitely easier), polished look/feel and then there’s the whole inherent resistance (not imperviousness) to malware. In my humble opinion, the OS alone is worth the extra cost and if I REALLY wanted to step out of the Apple ecosystem, I could install Windows on a Mac and go to town. I’m not what I would call an expert, but I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to using and supporting each platform and I overwhelmingly prefer the Macs for the OS X alone. I would love to hear from those that use/support both Windows 7 and OS X and see how they compare.

  7. inprat Says:

    I’ve been working in I.T. all my life, and i notice where people mostly get inaccurate in considering computer performance: they tend to focus on hardware spec and figures. Bear in mind, the real value of a computer involves the whole aspect of it: combination of hardware and software plus its reliability and durability. Some say Apple’s disadvantage is on their closed ecosystem, however it’s also their strong point because that’s why macs have a consistent synergy between the hardware and software, making them last a little longer and less maintenance at some point compared to other brands.

    When it comes to the technical, we would end up with pages and pages long of discussion, but at the end a value of a computer is really depending on the purpose and the intended use of the purchased product. For me mac has more value, because it provides me more useful features that i can utilise at both work and personal use, plus it facilitates me to experience both OSX and windows experiences on the same machine. Bear in mind the capability of running multiple os gives me more options when it comes to data recovery.

  8. inprat Says:

    @Mark – I think this is the main difference between OS X and Windows:

    Windows
    Created with the attitude of: This is how users should do it!
    Experience : with complexity and so much that average users don’t know, hence causing non-stop users’ request for assistance (can be high maintenance).

    OS X
    Created with the attitude of: Let’s see how most users use it, and design it accordingly.
    Experience : intuitive interface that with little adjustment users are just flowing into their productivity. The unknown features causes non-stop curiosity and exploration, hence becoming an addiction at some level. :-)

  9. Wang Newton Says:

    Windows: Designed by the devil, pure evil and all that is wrong with the world.

    OSX and Apple: Created by Angels after being created by the hand of God. Superior in every aspect, lifts humanity by it’s very presence. Defines a new synergy and Zen flow unleashing gobs of happy user goo.

  10. Chip Says:

    Not a fan of Microsoft either but when I tried to go the OSX route a while ago I gut stuck with iTunes that converted all my files, always wanted to upgrade, and couldn’t properly sync anything (even ipods and an iphone) with more than one computer. Also had lots of problems between my Window work laptop and OSX. Made the move based on Apple’s supposed great photo and video editing. Didn’t even get to try it out. Gave up trying to get my video camera files to convert properly and then taking too long. Got rid of my Mac pronto.

    Sure I could have just thrown away everything I own and buy Mac compatible stuff, demand my company to change to OSX, and suck up buying from itunes CD’s I already owned. Closed ecosystem is great if you buy into it fully but it is more of a nightmare if you want something not owned by Apple or want a little flexibility. Seriously, a major company not supporting a widely used website programming tool (Flash), just because the CEO is an egomaniac, is childish and unprofessional. Sure he won in the end but not caring what the user wants goes against everything you say @inprat. You are going to tell me that most Apple users 2 years ago didn’t want to properly see more than half the websites on the net? I can line up a few more examples if you want.

    I certainly won’t pay more again for a Mac just for the privilege of paying more for “consistent synergy” hardware just to stay compatible.

  11. aal5441 Says:

    lots of reviews love the Zenbook Prime (give or take the Window’s driven trackpad), but where are they???? Hope they’re not stuck in patent litigation for the “wedge” lift from apple.

  12. Chuck Says:

    Can’t have a discussion without a troll bringing out the same sad FUD!

  13. TJ Says:

    This is a really narrow minded comparison. If you mind, for screen quality, pixel isn’t everything. I am surprised you didn’t even mentioned color gamut, the one most important factor influencing a picture. If you do mind, having a good color gamut drastically drives up the price of the display , especially for a mobile device and to date, few actually do offer decent color gamut for graphic editting. Like what inprat have stated, hardware specification is not all that counts. You can have state of the art hardware but if your software is total crap, the whole machine is equal 0. People buy Mac because it is “cool” and “it just works”. For you knowledge, any processing power equal to or above Core 2 duo is actually too much for the average consumer who doesn’t thinker around much with their computer and to those who just do typing. Unless you are a data cruncher, you won’t need that much computing power. Just saying. And if you do mind, Apple provide both the operating system and the ecosystem for you. It includes iLife and a lot of stuff such as a graph drawing application etc and it provides a totally integrated system where software works seamlessly with hardware. Notice that how expose in MAC just works and how multitouch gestures just registers smoothly as if it is your second nature? And if you look back , the creator of windows, Bill Gates doubted the engineer who successfully programmed a fully usable mouse interface without hardware acceleration. Bill Gates insisted that there was a hardware acceleration used to do it. To put it short, mac tend to try to accomplish something with little processing power whereas windows just ride on the hardware power most of the time. Notice how long did windows and the manufacturers tried to implement multi touch? It isn’t even smooth today with all those boasted processing in hands. Apple gives people the sense of class and status quo, that is the one thing windows have yet to give us because it is already a every aunty and uncle software for us. It is too normal and the design isn’t even elegant to compare to the mac although they have so much computing power, right? Manufacturers of window stress so much on their spec sheets, but they fail to notice that the core of their product, the windows is really just an average OS that all people use and is not really written for their hardware *specifically. This is why you have so much “add on” software from sony , hp and etc that most of the time FAIL. WHY? they are not a integrated piece of add ons that works with other software, they dont even integrate in nature with the machine they are using and most important of all, the design tend to suck or totall out of sync with windows’s design.
    And about ports, do you know that ports are the main power sucker in a machine? If you add that much port, you will certainly need a certain amount of battery space for maintaining the same battery life as your competitor and it just add thickness to the design. And the reason why USB 3 wasn’t on 2010′s macbook air is because they require a totally different addon hardware for it, meaning more space to cramp in the additional hardware or more time and money in engineering it to fit it in the Air. Why waste money when the integrated all in one USB interface is just around the corner, like a year later? And material is also one of the reason for the weight and thickness. You have a lot to take into consideration if you really want to compare something, especially computers. And if you mind, on the business side, Apple is earning bucks while the others have to cut margin just to compete with Apple. and they too are Apple fans in a way, they dont set the trend, they chase it. See “Ultrabook”. Apple came out 1st with it despite people’s doubt of it success… it did turn out successful, which other $$ priority manufacturers in turn copy. See how Windows copy Mac. And if you do say ” be gone apple” you will mean be gone Windows and all the good things around you. Why you ask? Because most of them are copied from apple. Apple is the trend setter and it will remain for quite sometime until someone like Steve Jobs appear again in the industry. This is a fact.

  14. Fab Says:

    @Chip Says:
    June 13th, 2012 at 4:23 am
    “For that money I will buy the 15″ series 9 Samsung at $1599 (or cheaper) with Ivy bridge and get a far more portable product (with a matte screen that I can actually use outside!) and spend $1000 on a top of the line small form factor desktop PC that blows the Macbook pro out of the water for gaming and productivity.

    Wait a second, I already have a 2 year old desktop computer that does that! I guess I’ll just save that $1000 because I actually value my hard-earned money.”

    Dude, you might be my hero. Exactly. I mean I completely believe in using the right tools for the job (which is still a subjective decision) but Apple’s pricing is for the shareholders and dividends. It is NO secret about Cook’s margin squeeze on suppliers (that was all him and was never Jobs). So yah, if you stop and take a breath and do some research, the new wave of Ultrabooks are really offering bang for the buck. I don’t hate on Apple. I use its products (well my wife owns them and I tinker). I just think the pricing is out of touch (your comment about the processor refresh is spot on).

    It’s kind of a testament to Apple’s user base; almost as if the company relies on people NOT to check up on what the “updates” and pricing really equate to. Still so many consumers who want Apple just because it is Apple. Glad they don’t have access to my wallet.

  15. JD Says:

    @TJ: Sony designed the first ultrabook in 2004 (VGN-X505VP) then Apple copied it.

  16. MotorMouth Says:

    @ Mike – there is no way any Zenbook is more expensive than an equivalent Air. They might sport similar recommended prices but the reality is no-one who buys a PC pays the recommended retail price, whereas the vast majority of Apple customers are lucky to get more than a token few bucks off. My Zenbook, an 11.6″ with Core i7, was $550 cheaper than a similarly specced Air, even though there was only a $100 difference in the ticketed price at the store where I bought it.

    @ Paul – the new MacBook Pros price themselves out of this discussion.

    @ Chip – it would depend when you looked. I first considered a Samsung Series 9 early last year, before proper ultrabooks first hit the market. Back then, the Series 9 had Sandy Bridge CPUs and the just refreshed Air still relied on Core2Duo. At that time I didn’t think either machine stacked up so I bought a more expensive (and larger) Vaio. When they finally updated to Sandy Bridge, there was a period of a few months when they held the crown, until the first gen Zenbook hit the shelves. It’s Sandforce SSDs absolutely smoke anything else out there. Yes, the keyboard may not be the best ever but it is no worse than the stupid Apple keyboard on my MacPro at work and the new Ivy Bridge model has sorted all that out anyway.

    @ Mark – I am a graphic artist and I’ve probably spent half my career on Macs and it has affected me the opposite way entirely. Hardly any of my preferred applications run on MacOS at all and those that do perform much worse than they do on Windows, mostly because companies like nVidia can write much better drivers for their hardware than Apple can. i.e. One of the things that sheeple have long touted as an advantage of buying a Mac – hardware and software from the same vendor – is actually a far more compelling reason to buy a PC. On top of that, MacOS has the worst window management of any OS in history. I’ll give you a typical example. I spend all day in front of Photoshop, with my Layers palette running down the right side of the main screen. Unfortunately, Outlook notifications pop up right where the tools are at the bottom of the menu but if I try to close the tiny notification window, Photoshop completely disappears on me. It is so annoying and resizing the palette would just mean more scrolling than I have to do already. Apple can’t even get it right on Windows – just look at how stupidly Quicktime performs, opening a new window for everything.
    As for reliability, I have not had a Windows crash since 2003, shortly after upgrading to XP, whereas I’ve experienced the spinning colour wheel of death half-a-dozen times this year alone. Last year the whole thing went down completely when Photoshop crashed. Win7 would never allow that, it is excellent at isolating crashing applications and keeping the system up. I’ve not had to reinstall Windows in that entire timeframe (since I started using XP). And I think it is very likely I use my computer for far more demanding things than you do.

    @ inprat – if you had any insight at all into what goes into making any computer, you would realise how stupid that belief is. e.g. How many applications are Apple’s graphics drivers certified for? Because the nVidia QuadroFX on my PC are certified for dozens. I did a stint as a demo guy for Autodesk and they work very, very closely with a lot of hardware vendors, from Intel and nVidia to HP and SGI. Whenever they have tried to get any help from Apple, they get nothing, even though you’d think it was in Apple’s best interest to have software run as well on a Mac as it does on a PC.
    Your assessment of how each company treats its users is demonstrably wrong. Just spend an hour at the MSDN blogs and you’ll see just how responsive to customer input MS are. Compare that to Apple, who make every decision as to how you will use their computer for you. e.g. Graphics drivers. Apple decided that everyone wants great dual monitor performance so that’s what they give you. Well, I don’t like using dual monitors, I prefer to concentrate my graphics performance so that I can get my work done, which is why I use certified drivers with optimised settings (presets) for the applications I use (3DS Max, Combustion, etc.). Then compare the customisation options available for OSX – choice of two – as opposed to Win7, which allows you to do almost anything you can think of, even go back to looking like Win95 if you want.

    TJ – I agree that “pixel isn’t everything”, assuming you meant “pixel density”, but that is an argument Apple started so they just have to wear it now. In fact, I’d go as far to say that Retina display is a con because it gives you lots more pixels but not one extra bit of screen real estate. As for Expose – I’ve looked at it a couple of times but I have o idea how it works at all. It seems to be an attempt to cover up the holes in OS X’s window management but it is a dismal failure. There is a reason that every successful Linux window manager uses a taskbar like Windows – it is the best way to do it. OS X window management is a complete joke.
    On multi-touch, Microsoft’s Surface (the original one, not the new tablet), is pretty much the king and does it in Vista. I think the original version in 2008 was capable of 100 point multi-touch and it could even read your credit card details if you placed it face-down on the glass. You know that scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is doing the air-touch thing? Well, guess who Spielberg consulted with on that? It was inspired by Microsoft Surface.
    The rest of your post is just making excuses for Apple but the reality is that if other vendors can do it, Apple should be able to.

    Anyway, every time I go through the process to buy a new computer, I always make a point of speccing out a Mac. I used to do it seriously but they have always been so far adrift of the best PCs that now I just do it for a laugh. That said, I was seriously tempted by the Sandy Bridge MacBook Air until the Asus Zenbooks arrived and blew them into the weeds. And when the new MS Surface is released and Windows 8 facilitates things like the new Asus Taichi, Apple are going to have to work overtime to keep their tiny marketshare. That they have been underspending on R&D for the last few years makes me believe they are not going to be able to keep up.

  17. Nicholas Setaccioli Says:

    It seems to me that the person that wrote this article is comparing a single computer(MacBook Air) to an entire line of computers, which I don’t see to be fair. It seemed as though you would degrade the MacBook Air by comparing an individual specification to any Ultrabook that could beat it. It really isn’t a fair comparison. There are going to be trade-offs in any computer purchase; that’s just how the world works. I think specs are important to glance at when shopping online, but doing this is like judging a book by its cover. Just because a computer has a good spec sheet doesn’t mean the user experience will reflect those specifications. Example: HP could make an Ultrabook with better specs, but you turn it on and are faced with more bloatware than should be legal, having to use something like PC-Decrapifier, which is a waste of my time. Compared to another company, whether it be Samsung, Asus or even Apple that has a brilliant user experience right out of the box. Specifications, now-a-days, are over-used by MOST companies, as though its going to be better just because of them. I respect what this article was trying to do, but I believe its flawed.

  18. DadaGuerilla Says:

    “Ethernet is more faster….” Great grammarians, Peabody!

    – I didn’t buy an 11″ MacBook Air yesterday for the fastest network connectivity.
    – Any OEM that licenses Beats is frobbing for customers, since Beats sucks and no one of any consequence cares about it.
    – If I want HD-category resolution I’ll buy a 17″ machine (whoops, already have a late 2011 17″ MacBook Pro)

    Sour grapes.

  19. evelyn Says:

    i really need a laptop,but i’m stuck on the choice btw macbook air and Hp,considering the huge amount of money dat will be put jst 2 get a single mac air.i need some advice becos am not too conversant on things like this

  20. Leighton Says:

    Well, it’s basically saying there’s only 7 ways that the MBA falls short, but with the rest, MBA dominates everything about an ultrabook.

    Need I say OSX? Ultrabooks are stuck with Windows, the very reason I shifted to Mac.

  21. Leo Says:

    One of the things that people tend to leave out when considering ultrabook vs mba is storage. No, not stated storage, but actual storage out of the box. Every ultrabook I’ve seen with 128 never com out of the box with more than 75 free for use due to Windows partitioning the drive up its bottom. A macbook air with Lion of M Lion would come out of the box with around 120 free space, that is a big difference especially when space is an issue for full ssd computers.

    The author is absolutely right concerning screen quality thou, the 1080p screen is great, I just can’t help thinking that OSX would make much better use of that resolution with it’s gestures

    as for ports, thunderbolt. It gets a dongle to every port imaginable.

    With audio quality, who cares seriously? No one sane would buy a mba or ultrabook for audio quality, if they did they would invest in external speakers.

    As far as form factor and weight goes, yes the mba isn’t the lightest buy a few grams, nor can you get it in a 15, tho it is the most sturdy (carved aluminium rather than stamped) build with the best trackpad and keyboard. besides who wants a 15′ ultrabook anyways

    And graphics performance? you mean the few ultrabooks that are much thicker, heavier, less battery life (btw not all ultrabooks has a li-po battery like the mba), and equipped with a 610 or 620m gpu that isn’t as good as a HD 4000? good for you.

    Lastly, there is no ultrabook with all of these features so this article is pretty much pointless.

  22. Jon Says:

    This is a great article. It has actually solidified the MacBook Air as probably the top Ultrabook.

    The weight is what got me to buy a MacBook Air – and the one that is lighter, come on, carbon fiber? Please. Drop that once and its done. Check out the youtube torture test for the MacBook Air. By far the most durable ultraboook. only thing youve gotta watch out for is water.

    As for graphics, my MBA runs StarCraft 2 on High texture and terrain without a sweat. It only heats up a little bit (note that this is without shaders) and runs without a lag.

    Like Leo said, worried about ports? Whoop dee do. Thunderbolt has about 7 different adaptors you can get to go with it – including VGA, HDMI, and Ethernet (I would know, as I have these ones). Any laptop with USB 3.0 can run a USB hub no sweat – then you get 4 more ports per 1 built in one.

    Argument about sound – why would you get any laptop for sound quality? Everyone knows that the best sound you can get is with a pair of external speakers.

    Screen quality – barely noticeable. Even if you have a computer with HD or Retina display, its hard to tell the difference without close examination. As for brightness, why would I want a computer that blinds me when I turn it on in the dark? MBA comes with an automatic brightness adaptor – works perfectly.

    Of course, there is another big factor that hasn’t been brought up in this article – durability. Mac computers tend to run as fast as when they were fresh out of the box as they do 10 years down the road. (I would know – I have a 2003 iBook, runs quick as ever). Any computer running windows (as all of the other Ultrabooks do) tend to slow down after 6 months – 2years. Pretty pathetic.

    Also, there is the problem to consider of junkware. Useless programs that Microsoft adds in to get a bit richer. Slows down the computer, eats up storage… Need I go on? Macs are clean and efficient – I won’t even go into how virus prone Macs AREN’T.

    So all in all, I’d say that My MacBook Air 2012 is the best computer I’ve ever used – clean, fast, and a beautiful machine. All I can say is that this article is totally Anti-Apple. Extremely biased toward Microsoft Windows. Shame on you. If you are going to criticize something, please, use it first. Play with the computers and decide which one you are more satisfied with.

  23. Igor Says:

    Context here: an average 15-yearlong Windows user who switched to Apple a year ago.

    Taking a single laptop and facing it off with a dozen, providing “evidence” that it can be beaten in any single category, is not only unfair (one against seven or ten or twenty) but also absurd: you could do the same with just about anything in the universe – simply because there is no such thing as perfection.

    Yes, the Envy beats the Air in this, the Zenbook in that, the X1, the Porteges in that etc. But show me the gadget that has the “winning” characteristics of the Zenbook, the Envy, the X1 and the Porteges in a SINGLE unit? Thought so. Meanwhile, the Air IS a single laptop. This methodology reminds me of the “this car has cooler-looking wheels than my car, therefore it must be better than my car” line of argument… would anyone seriously make such an argument? I think not.

    The only thing I can agree with is that the 13-inch Air’s screen resolution is a bit obsolete – it’s been on for three generations now, if I am not mistaken. That particular detail could use some refreshing, no doubt about it. The rest? Unnecessary. Yes, with Apple you do not have a gazillion models/options/extras to choose from as you do with the gazillion Ultrabook manufacturers/models now, but you do not need them either: every Mac is more or less made for a rather specific purpose, and from what I know, it serves that purpose very well, simply because it is not manufactured as “anything that can take Mac OS”, but as a polished, optimized product for that very purpose – to the extent possible, of course: for example, as an average everyday user I sometimes miss the Toshiba R700′s optical drive on my 13-inch Air; but that is just a personal preference – it would never make me claim that it makes the R700 beat the Mac.

    As for the “closed ecosystem”, I shall only say this: OS X Mountain Lion + iWorks ’99 = $19.99 + $59.97 (the “minimum average user pack” IMHO); anybody care/dare to compare this to the cheapestest Win 7 + MS Office combination?

    Interestingly enough, I have never heard of any newly-launched Apple product specifically trying to emulate (or being compared to) a specific single product by another company. But new Ultrabooks, tablets, smartphones… is it just me who keeps hearing “this one is inferior to / close to / better than the iPhone / iPad / Macbook Air” etc. all the time? Does that not speak for itself somewhat?

    And just by the way, the Air has been on the market for three years now… where were all these “superior” Ultrabooks just a year ago?

    ‘Nuff said.

  24. Dan Says:

    MBP Retina IS in fact an Ultrabook.

    Until an OEM creates a different Ultrabook with a powerful Discrete GFX like the 650m and not underclock it on battery, then the MBP Retina will remain the MOST POWERFUL ultrabook on the market. I honestly don’t see any OEM making an Ultrabook that can even compare to an MBP Retina.

  25. Snake Says:

    Wow,
    7 against one and apple still wins BY FAR, you just can’t compare windows to apple, its like comparing a house cat to a Lion, apple have been winning since 1988 and still are, if you don’t want what’s worth your money then don’t buy a MacBook air, buy some cheap Samsung shit that’ll catch a virus the following week, nothing is better than apple, and if you like having a 7-1 comparison, check out a mac pro, iMac, iPad, MacBook pro w/ retina, there are 12-core severs for £3,000 do you think you can even try to beat that even in you dreams? 12 core intel xenon at 2.0 ghz each – how that for burying Microsoft into the dirt

  26. Everett Vinzant Says:

    I love comparisons where we take the “best” part of 8 or 10 different products (a product class), and compare them to one product. The reason you had to use 8 or 10 different products, is because there is no one product that hands down beats the MBA. Period. You MAY be able to find more memory in one, greater pixel density in another, or a better graphics card. If all these things exist and could beat a MBA, why doesn’t someone assemble them into the greatest Ultrabook ever? COST! The damn thing would cost twice as much as a MBA, and manufacturers are well aware that people would just buy a 15″ Retina…

    Comparing Window’s (plural) to an Apple (singular) you still didn’t win.

    Screen Quality: Higher pixel density isn’t really that impressive without an as good or better color profile. This has already been pointed out.

    Weight and Thickness: The ONLY way to compare this is to have a system with as good or better hardware in it. You sacrifice to achieve a “lower” weight or “thinner” system.

    Ports: Who in the hell uses a VGA port anymore? I mean really, welcome to 2 decades ago. And a “popout” ethernet port? This is just a way to break an ethernet port. When I was a Windows guy I didn’t buy them, and I hate them still.

    Graphics performance: This is a cute comparison. I have to hand it to you. You’re right about the Asus Prime ZenBook UX32 (couldn’t they come up with a longer nomenclature for this)? Any way, all that money ($1350) you spend on it MUST be going to the graphics processor, because according to Laptop Magazine “Touchpad can be erratic; Relatively slow SSD; Webcam struggles in low light.” You know people that would buy this thing don’t need BASIC functionality like a reliable touchpad right?

    Price: You’re going to compare Dells core i3 with a hard drive to a MBA core i5 and an SSD call that a fair comparison? What do you think $300 difference is getting you exactly chummer?

    Form Factor: Please show me the sales numbers that indicate a 14″ form factor is worth getting into. Just because a few people buy it, does NOT mean that it’s worth devoting a full production line to.

    You can continue to believe in Unicorns or, I guess you could purchase something based on one better feature than a MBA. Just be prepared to pay with all the rest of them.

  27. Quezz Says:

    I think that this article proves the superiority of a MacBook Air compared to its competition. I came to this article hoping to see viable alternatives to the Air, and all I got was “If you ALL OF THESE OTHER ULTRABOOKS, then you might get close.” I followed through ASUS and sighed — it’s not a good buy compared to the MacBook Air.

    If you are going to do a comparison that is useful to shoppers, it’s gotta be one-to-one. When I did that against all of these PCs…I still wanted a MacBook Air.

  28. McGruff Says:

    This is what I have gathered. In this article there are 15 products that are compared against the MacBook Air. Each of these products had one or two faculties that were better.
    pop quiz
    1) How many parts are there in a computer?

  29. Miki Says:

    So.. while we’re into reasons on whether to prefer the air or any of the competing products, I’d like to chip my two cents in.
    Disclaimer:
    [a] My rig is expensive – it’s a fully-decked-out macbook air 11” from 2012, not the 999$ model. The accessories I’ll mention here are not acheap either.
    [b] I recognize that what I do with it requires a professional/enthusiast (attitude, skills and time).

    I’ve always been into very powerful machines in a small form factor (traditionally, thinkpad X-series), and into consolidating many computers that existed for many purposes into less and less machines. Today I have something I call a 2-finger test: Can you lift the machine off your bedside table using two fingers at 6AM? If you can’t, it’s not an ultrabook. An rMBP (both 13” and 15”) still fail this test.

    My current rig does the following:
    [a] It’s a work machine. I’m a Linux professional, and I need a bit of room to run VMs. Most ultrabooks don’t shoot as high as 8GB of RAM of half a terabyte of disk. I also don’t subscribe to this whole OSX vs Windows war. It’s not the 1990′s anymore. You can run both at the same time. A dual-core i7 can run a VM in parralels or VMWare fusion so snappy you wouldn’t tell it from the OS running native. And Parallels (which I use) makes all the windows windows become OSX windows if you ask it nicely. So none of that office for mac crap. Office for Windows, Visio, all while using native OSX stuff. It just works ™.

    [b] It’s a bedside machine. It passes the 2-finger test with flying colors.

    [c] It’s a game box.
    Say again.
    My macbook air is a GAME BOX. As in, 2560×1600 resolution on a 30” monitor, enable all the bells and whistles, or, running Far Cry 2, SKYRIM, Borderlands 2 and Black Ops II.
    It is one of only two of the current crop of ultraportables that can do this, and the only one you can buy -whichever- GPU in your PC shop and just drop in.
    Why?
    Well, because of that thing you haven’t really gone into mentioning, which is I/O. See, a macbook has more. Not just a little more, but more more. Different planet more. An otherwise new ultraportable laptop would have the pinnacle of its I/O in that shiny 5Gigabit USB3 port on its side. A macbook air has 50Gigabit (two USB3 ports plus two channels each pumping 10Gbit per direction). That’s order of magnitude more. The 2012 packs a dual-channel thunderbolt controller that carries four PCIe 2.0 lanes (or eight PCIe 1.0 lanes).
    Connect it to a Sonnet Echo Express Pro, slap a full-blown desktop-grade Geforce 660 GTX 3GB in there, dual-boot into native windows, and you have an ass-kicking grown-up game machine.
    Here:
    http://forum.notebookreview.com/e-gpu-external-graphics-discussion/418851-diy-egpu-experiences-1135.html#post8914122

    With the caveat that you need a heavy dongle and an external screen, an MBA can give a mid-range desktop gaming PC a run for its money. (It can’t compete with high-end though, you’d struggle to push the 6 megapixels of three HDTV-res monitors with it, and it’s expensive as all hell).

    On specs, I haven’t seen any of the others offer ANYTHING NEAR half a terabyte of disk, 8 gigs of RAM and a ULV CPU part (the 3667U) clocked to 2GHz/3.2GHz turbo’d that lives off a mere 9Watts as ULV parts go. I do realize this is the top-end model we’re comparing, but NO other vendor shoehorned this much grunt into something effectively the size of an iPad with change.

    And last, it’s rugged and built like a bloody tank. You can’t break aluminium.

    All in all, I much rather buy a machine that gets at least 99% on ALL -benefit- metrics (that’s not how many gigahertz or USB ports you have, but what you can actually DO with the machine) to a machine that gets 100% on some specific feature (weighs 0.001 gram less), but flops a whole bunch of others.

    Oh, and ethernet and SD cards are no more absent than a floppy drive is. If you’re one of the few who still need it, just use a 10$ dongle. That’s what USB is for. I don’t understand why everyone needs to carry around specialist ports (I/O that can only do storage like SD, or that can only do ethernet) that stacks of people don’t need, plus dead weight in their laptop because a laggard subset of the users are still stuck using old technology. The macbook air offers one way to do things – wireless and USB storage. It still offers all the other older ways, but its up to you to source adapters.
    Dragging your feet? That’s fine, then YOU use the dongles ;)

    All in all, the MBA is a heavy-hitting powerhouse of a machine cleverly disguised as an ultraportable. Its up-version is light years ahead of everyone else, on virtually ALL fronts (basically, other than screen res and cost). I’d be surprised if Apple don’t drop a retina in 8 months time, and VERY surprised if they haven’t done so in 20 months.

    Cost… well, you get what you pay for.

  30. Micheal Moore Says:

    The MacBook Air is pricy yes, but it will last you a lot longer than any pc on the market today. The battery life is 7 hours now tell me how many other computers can have this same battery life and have the same great performance the MacBook Air has. I’ve had plenty of pc’s and non of them can live up to my Mac. not on battery, on life, speed, or performance.

    Thanks

  31. cnewtonne Says:

    One more thing and an important one. I bought the Asus ux31A for many of the reasons mentioned here, on top of which, was the high resolution 1650×1080. To my utmost disappointment, once you turn it on, there is NOTHING you can read without a magnifier. I went to the metro app called ‘mail’. Once I downloaded my email, I COULD NOT READ ANY MESSAGE. Worst yet, there was no way to adjust font size within mail. Almost every app had same problem. The driver update was a nightmare. The Asus live update kept telling me that all drivers are up-to-date, but it lied. Five of the 7 drivers I eventually downloaded were AL newer on the support site than the computer.
    My point is DO NOT LISTEN to these reviews, they have their own agenda to hide issues. The Asus machine looks great on specs & paper, but the user experience is terrible.
    One more downside of this Asus machine. It has 55 GB of free space out of the 128 out of the box. The sales people at Micro Center will offer you immediately to upgrade your SSD and use this to prompt you to do so. What a rip-off scheme.
    So I got myself a MabookPro 3 days ago. Once turned on, it alerted me there are driver and an OS update queued up. In 10 minutes it was done and the machine was such a joy to work with. What a pleasure. Everything JUST WORKS. It is a SET & FORGET. I have to worry not about the machine & focus on what I need done from it. This is the first Apple machine I owned after using Windows rubbish for 20 years. I have not decided yet to convert, but things are headed this way.

  32. Bill Gates Says:

    Thanks for comparing the Air, a great all around machine that people swear by, to a phantom opponent. What’s next, a comparo to a desktop?

  33. Free Macbook Says:

    It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the longer term and it’s time to be happy. I have learn this submit and if I may I want to suggest you few attention-grabbing things or suggestions. Perhaps you can write subsequent articles regarding this article. I desire to read more issues about it!

  34. TruCompute Says:

    @MotorMouth
    All of your arguments fell perfectly in line with my experiences from osx and i would like to add that the osx finder never really worked for me. But maybe i just did something wrong. But i am looking at cheap laptops right now and any input would be helpful

  35. TheGooch Says:

    I am torn between the Zenbook and the MBA for a development machine. The MBA hardware is enticing, along with the capability to run both Windows and MacOS so that I can develop applications for the iPhone along with C# applications.

    Another option, if I decide I don’t want to develop for the iPhone, is the Dell Inspiron 14z, which would be the budget way to go.

    Good points on all sides, and not too much fanboi’ing in this thread, either.

  36. Seb Says:

    Macbook Air – “Conspicuously absent is an Ethernet port, along with the more common HDMI or VGA options.”

    Would it even be physically possible to fit an Ethernet or VGA port on a MacBook air considering it’s thickness?

  37. GPDeveloper Says:

    So, in each comparison where the is better than the MBA , you have listed many things that are ‘better’ than the MBA. However, is there any ONE laptop that is better… nope. While various vendors have ‘a better’ attribute in one item, NONE can beat it hands down…

    So, while the individual gold medal goes to A, B, or C, the all around champion is … (you can fill in the blank here).

  38. Malcolm Rest Says:

    Nice comparison, thanks.

    I’m still for the MacBook BTW, here is are my reasons.

    Who really cares if your ASUS machine uses B&O ICEPower for audio? If you care about Audio – you’ll most probably connect the thing to external speakers, want you? Even 10 USD speakers will give you better sound than the machine itself, right?

    It seems that Apple offer customers what is important to customers (ease of use, stability) without going into “label and name” territory (like DELL and ASUS adding un-needed features in this example).

    Malcolm

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