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Ultrabooks to MacBook Air: Step it up!

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Apple's founding contract to be auctioned off


Having reviewed the first four ultrabook laptops to hit stores, and spent some hands-on time with a just-announced HP version, it’s clear Apple’s dominance of the superthin laptop category faces a serious challenge.

Acer, Asus, Toshiba, and Lenovo all have impressive systems, all under 18 millimeters thick, and all with second-generation Intel Core i-series processors and solid-state drives (SSDs). The key is that these 13-inch laptops start at $799, while the 13-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,299.

That said, stack all of these systems together on a table and we’ll still pick the Air for general everyday use, as long as price is no object. To date, no one has matched the multitouch trackpad experience of the MacBook, along with its excellent keyboard, and simple sleep/hibernate quick-start states.

But, if you’re looking for the best value based on system specs, the field is suddenly wide open.

Toshiba’s Portege Z835 has a slower Core i3 processor (which is still fine for everyday use), but includes a full 128GB SSD for only $799 in a Best Buy retail-exclusive configuration. HP and Acer both have $899 ultrabooks–both with a Core i5 processor and either a 128GB SSD (HP) or 20GB/320GB hybrid drive (Acer).

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The Asus Zenbook is the closest in look and feel to the Air, with a similar 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-2557M processor, a 128GB SSD, all-metal unibody construction, and a backlit keyboard, but it starts at only $1,099. Lenovo’s IdeaPad U300s is a bit more, $1,199, but it has a particularly sharp design and the best keyboard of the bunch (although it’s sadly not backlit).

The comparison is easier to make with the 11-inch version of the Asus Zenbook. For $999, you can get the 11-inch MacBook Air, with 2GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD (of which about 49GB is available to users after operating-system files); or you can get a nearly identical Zenbook UX21 with double the RAM, 4GB, and double the SSD capacity, 128GB.

What this says to us is that the MacBook Air, particularly the entry-level $999 11-inch version, is starting to look like it’s in need of another update. Just as Apple recently updated the components in its MacBook Pro line of laptops, offering more power and space at the same prices, ditching that 64GB SSD in the least expensive Air would be an excellent first step.

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