My braincase rattles with ultrabooks

If you actually got that reference, then: how is 2.1? I’ve been sort of contemplating giving the game another go, but… I dunno. Anyway.

Ultrabooks! Those sleek, thin, light computers that essentially came into existence because of the MacBook Air, or rather, to create an Air-like experience with a Windows laptop. They’ve been around for long enough now that the concept has matured, as has the hardware going into the machines. And I’m seriously thinking about getting one. In fact, I may pull the trigger on one as early as later today.

I’ve been doing research – lots and LOTS of research. To the point where my head is spinning with specs and images of backlit keyboards. And all of those hours have led to one main conclusion: this is yet another example of what I like to call, “NBV.” Which stands for “No Best Version.” It’s a simple little phrase that refers to a situation where you have multiple choices in a given area – it could mean multiple versions of the exact same entity (i.e. a game is remade later on different platforms; which version is best?), or – as in this case with trying to pick a laptop – multiple options within a general type of entity. And yet, for all those choices, none of them are QUITE perfect. They all have some kind of weakness or significant downside. Now, you may be thinking, well OF COURSE they do; nothing in life is perfect, and every product of any kind has a downside of some sort. This is true, but what makes an NBV situation is this: when you look at the various choices, they all have downsides or weaknesses that are specifically covered by the other choices. It makes you want to just jam them all together to form that elusive perfect option. Going back to games as an example of this phenomenon: Street Fighter Alpha 3 was my favorite fighting game of the 90’s. But, the arcade version could only (obviously) be played IN an arcade; the PlayStation version suffered from compromises such as missing animations and long load times; the Dreamcast version fixed all of that but had some strange new balance issues and for some unearthly reason removed the ability to turn down the music volume (while leaving the voices and FX on) that the PS version had… etc. It was annoying.

NBV comes up far more often in life than I’d like, and seems to simply be part of the experience of buying new tech, be it a laptop, a smartphone, or components for a custom-built desktop.

Anyway, I’m leaning very heavily toward Acer’s Aspire S7-392, despite its somewhat odd keyboard layout (which seems really baffling at first, due to how much empty space there is on the deck, but is kind of justified by the extreme thinness of this laptop. The entire thing is half an inch thick, so it’s sort of understandable that the keyboard isn’t bigger. Everywhere there is a key that must travel down into the body means less space to fit components). I feel that said oddity is something I probably can adjust to pretty well, and quickly relegate it to being, at worst, a minor nuisance. If NOT, well… it can be returned within 30 days! And other than that issue, it is an absolutely beautiful machine, with a striking design, a full HD touchscreen, long battery life (it’s been rated at between 7 and 9 hours for “everyday” use by most reviews I’ve seen), and a ridiculous weight (2.87 pounds!). There are some other quality issues that I’ve seen people report on in Acer’s support forums, but those are a combination of subjective nits and things that may simply be defects and thus might not occur in every unit (and of course, those can happen on any brand/model of laptop).

One of my other top contenders has been the Sony Vaio Pro 13 (or possibly the 11, I suppose… but having 1920×1080 resolution on a screen that’s only 11 inches might be a bit too cramped). But, that’s been pushed pretty far into “not likely” territory by the apparently still ongoing wi-fi problems (that thread is at page 170 as of this writing; it’s been moving steadily since I started heavily researching ultrabook options a couple weeks ago). In true Sony fashion, they’ve been wishy-washy and noncommittal about really acknowledging the problem, let alone providing a solution (a couple of driver updates were put out, but these seemed to not solve the issue for quite a few people). There’s a lot to like about the Vaio Pro on paper (it’s also got a 1080p screen, and at 2.34 lbs, it’s even lighter than the S7), but eh… I’m not sure if I want to wade into the sometimes murky quagmire that high-end Sony electronics can be. It’s a shame, too, because they make some really sweet stuff… again, on paper.

Asus and Samsung both have impressive ultrabooks on tap as well, but they are heavier than either of the above, and boast higher-res screens. Yes, the latest high-end Asus Zenbook and Samsung’s Ativ Book 9 Plus both have screen resolutions of well over 1920×1080, and yes, I consider this a con. You read both of those things right. I just think it’s overkill. These are 13.3″ screens, not 50″ HDTVs. Having the resolution THAT high just makes things hard to see, and by most accounts, Windows 8 isn’t really ready for that anyway; there are a lot of scaling issues. So, with both of those options, I’m paying in part for something I don’t really want and may even be an active irritant (and both are a bit pricier than the S7 for comparable specs, resolution aside).

Speaking of Windows 8: yeah, there is that. I’ve been going back and forth on whether I want to try and track down a Windows 7 laptop that will suit me, or just take the plunge and see for myself just how good, or bad, or plain wonky, Windows 8 really is. I’m leaning toward doing the latter. As long as the computer has a touch screen (and all of the ones I’m looking at do), I’m game to give it a shot. It could be fun in a way, trying out something new. I certainly have some reservations about it, but some of that is simply about how Microsoft has handled things, rather than being about fundamental flaws of the OS itself (which I can’t really speak to with much authority, since I haven’t used it).

And in case one asks why I feel the need to get an ultrabook, rather than something more affordable (there are a number of decent laptops in the $500-$800 range): the thing is, I’ve been carrying around a netbook for the past three years or so. It’s served me well, but it is a netbook. It’s underpowered and was never designed to do much more than surf the web and write things, and it also wasn’t designed to last an exceptionally long time. It’s showing its age a bit in terms of performance and battery life, to say nothing of the fact that Windows XP itself is also very much showing its age (this became especially glaring after I finally built a Windows 7 desktop). So, I’d like to replace it with something that has a bit more oomph, something that will allow me to run CC3 and RPG Maker on the go and just exhibit higher overall performance.

But two things I HAVE gotten really used to with that netbook, and am not willing to give up, are weight and battery life. I really don’t think I can go back to having a laptop that weighs more than 3 pounds at most, nor can I go back to one that will only be good for 3-5 hours on a full charge. So, high (or even moderate) performance + battery life of 7 hours or more + weight of 3 pounds or less = ultrabook. High-end, new ultrabook, too, if you really want that battery life, because of the newer Haswell CPUs that are only present in recent models (and offer greatly improved battery life over Ivy Bridge models). So, unless I’m willing to compromise on one of those points, I’m not going to get away with spending less than 1200-1300. Which I can handle as long as I can finance it and pay it off over a year (which, with Amazon, I can absolutely do).

Gonna try to make a decision and actually ORDER something tomor-err, today. Friday. Damn it’s late, I need to go to sleep.

But yus: Laptop Quest will, hopefully, be concluding soon!

-Saito S

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