Tag Archives | Notebooks

Coming Soon to a Laptop Near You: Microsoft Kinect?

OK, now this sounds nifty: Microsoft is experimenting with building its Kinect gesture-input system into notebook computers running Windows 8, says The Daily’s Matt Hickey:


A source at Microsoft has confirmed that the devices are indeed official prototypes of laptops featuring a Kinect sensor. In terms of functionality, there are hundreds of different ways that motion control could be leveraged in a portable. Gaming has the most obvious applications, but a Kinect-enabled laptop could also toggle between programs with the wave of a hand, or media controls could be tweaked with the wag of a finger. What’s more, motion-controlled portables could offer a new way for disabled individuals to interact with their devices.

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Dell’s Little Big Ultrabook Looks Like a Winner

The more Ultrabooks that get unveiled here at CES, the more convinced I am that it’s silly to discuss them as if they were a coherent new class of portable computer. No two manufacturers seem to agree on what an Ultrabook should be. That’s neat, since it means they’re experimenting. And on Tuesday, Dell introduced my favorite answer so far to the question “What is an Ultrabook?” in the form of its new XPS 13.

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Samsung Stretches the Definition of Ultrabook

When Intel started talking about the concept of Ultrabooks last year, I thought the definition was pretty simple: Ultrabooks were MacBook Air knockoffs that had Intel processors and ran Windows 7.

It turned out to be more complicated than that. Ultrabooks do use Intel CPUs–they’re Intel’s idea, after all–and they do run Windows. But not all of them bear much resemblance at all to the Air. Really, as long as PC makers design Ultrabooks to be fairly thin, they have lots of latitude to build different sorts of portable computers at different price points.

Case in point: Samsung’s Series 5 Ultra systems, the company’s first official Ultrabooks, which it’s announcing here at CES. There’s a Series 5 Ultra with a 14″ display. (Most Ultrabooks to date have been 13-inchers.) There are ones with 500GB hard disks. (Most Ultrabooks use pricey flash storage and max out at 256GB.) There’s even an optical drive option. (I’d assumed that every Ultrabook would ditch the drive in order to achieve the maximum possible razor-thinness.) And while there’s certainly a dash of Air-like look-and-feel to the industrial design, they’re not clones.

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Yet Another Take on the Ultrabook: HP’s Spectre 14 Envy

Earlier today, Samsung proved that an Ultrabook can have all sorts of standard laptop features, such as a hard disk and an optical drive, and still be an Ultrabook. Now HP has announced its second Ultrabook–after last year’s Folio–and it too is trying carving off a unique niche. The new Envy 14 Spectre, which was just announced here at CES, is an Ultrabook for well-heeled enthusiast types who like lots of features and aren’t obsessive about their thin-and-light notebook being all that thin or all that light.

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Air Apparents! Ultrabooks and Other Slimmed-Down Windows PCs

For the longest time, Apple laptops lived in their own world of stylish design, while PC makers remained steadfast in their focus on beefier specs for lower prices. I remember looking two years ago for a Windows PC that aped Apple’s style–awesome keyboard, smooth trackpad, sturdy aluminum build, decent specs–and being disappointed that such a computer simply didn’t exist.

How things have changed. Apple’s revamped MacBook Air became a runaway hit while the rest of the PC market stagnated, and suddenly every computer maker wants to make thinner, lighter and prettier products. Intel calls these creations “Ultrabooks,” and provided PC makers with strict criteria for weight, thickness, battery life, processor power and pricing to qualify for the marketing jargon. This new wave of notebooks run the latest Intel Core processors, cost around $1,000, and go toe-to-toe with the MacBook Air in physical measurements.

Over the next few months, a bevy of these machines will strut their stuff for laptop shoppers. Here’s what we know about every Ultrabook or similar product that’s on the market or on the way.

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The Ultrabook Challenge

Ars Technica’s Peter Bright has a good piece on “Ultrabooks”–Intel’s planned MacBook Air rivals–and why it’s surprisingly hard for any company that’s not Apple to do thin and light right. I especially like his extended rant about how freakin’ hard it is to find the computer you want on “helpful” sites such as Dell.com:

Let’s start with Dell; I go to dell.com and search for a laptop. I want something like a 13″ MacBook Air, so I tick “11 to 14 inches” and “< 5 lbs,” Dell’s ultralight category. I get back three largely indistinguishable machines, ranging from $999 to $1359. What’s the difference between them all? I don’t know, they all look like variants of the “Alienware M11x.” It’s confusing and overwhelming, not helpful.

It’s even worse if I just browse without searching. The options I get are just… meaningless. Yes, I want “Everyday Computing,” so I want an Inspiron. But hang on, I also want “Design & Performance,” so I want an XPS. Wait a second, I want “Thin & Powerful,” too. So maybe I want a Z Series? But the only line that apparently matches my broad search criteria—lightweight, 11-14″—I wouldn’t even consider because I don’t want a “gaming” laptop, and so I’m never going to click Alienware!

Is this the best way to sell laptops? Create a bunch of categories with arbitrary, overlapping labels, and just hope that buyers manage to fight through the system to find something that isn’t wretched?



I Tried to Love Samsung’s Chromebook. I Failed

Last Thursday morning, as I packed for a three-day trip to San Diego for Comic-Con, I couldn’t decide whether to take my trusty first-generation MacBook Air, or use the trip as an excuse to review Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook, which I’d just received. So I didn’t decide–I took both.

And then, once I’d arrived at the airport, I realized that I’d forgotten to bring the Air’s AC adapter. The Blogging Gods clearly wanted me to try the Series 5, one of the first commercially-available devices that runs Google’s Chrome OS.

The notion of using a laptop purely as a window to the Web–which is the Chrome OS proposition–isn’t inherently unappealing to me. (In fact, I tried to do just that back in 2008, in a project I called Operation Foxbook, long before Google announced Chrome OS.) Using Google’s first Chromebook, last year’s experimental CR-48, had left me more skeptical about Chrome OS rather than less so. But I still want to be impressed with a truly Web-centric computing device. Sadly, my time with the Series 5 at Comic-Con was frustrating in multiple ways. Google and its hardware partners are selling Chromebooks to the public at prices which aren’t lower than those for similar Windows laptops, but the Series 5, like the CR-48,still feels like an experiment.

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New MacBook Airs: Thin, Light, and Utterly Mainstream

When Steve Jobs unveiled the first MacBook Air at Macworld Expo back in January of 2008, he induced lots of oohs and aahs over its astoundingly thin case. I don’t, however, remember many people declaring that it was Apple’s first pass at building the garden-variety Mac of the future. I sure didn’t–in part because I was too busy bemoaning the things that it lacked, such as built-in Ethernet.

Super-thin laptops similar in concept to the Air have been around since at least Digital’s 1994 HiNote Ultra. People have usually assumed that they were aimed at well-heeled businesspeople with decidedly undemanding computing needs–or at least at folks whose real computer is something brawnier and more feature rich.

Today, Apple is releasing two new Airs, the successors to the much-improved ones it rolled out last October. It isn’t pitching the new models as specialty machines. Even more than with their predecessors from last year, it’s treating them as well-rounded, versatile computers that happen to be really thin and really light. In fact, a tagline it’s using–“The ultimate everyday notebook”–doesn’t even mention their lack of bulk. And just to clarify things, it’s discontinuing the last machine in its lineup that was simply called a MacBook. From now on, if you want a Mac portable, you’ll choose between a MacBook Air and  a MacBook Pro.

For the past few days, I’ve been reviewing a 13″ model loaned to me by Apple, but I didn’t need any arm-twisting to accept the notion of it as a mainstream notebook. I’ve already been using its predecessor as my primary system since last fall, dual-booting it between OS X and Windows 7. (And spending a fair amount of time explaining to curious passers-by that it really is the computer I spend most of my time on.)

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Chromebooks: Not Flops!

It’s been exactly one month since the first Chromebooks–netbooks powered by Google’s Chrome OS–became available for purchase, and so far, sales seem to be holding up.

Over at CNet, Brooke Crothers checked Amazon’s list of best-selling laptops, and found the number four spot occupied by Acer’s 11.6-inch, $349 Chromebook. (It’s in fifth place as I type). Only Apple’s MacBook Pro and a pair of Toshiba laptops ranked higher. Samsung’s Series 5, a 12.1-inch Chromebook with built-in 3G service for $499, is ranked 10th.

Amazon’s sales charts don’t necessarily signify that Chromebooks are a hit. There are lots of other places to buy laptops, and PC makers tend to sell many different models, reducing the chances that any particular one will dominate. But the chart does at least prove that Chromebooks aren’t a failure. People are actually buying them.

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