Ultrabook Purchase: A Process of Elimination

- 1084 Words

As forecast by my previous article, I’ve purchased a new ultrabook. Or as I’ve heard they say in England, I’ve purchased a new piece of kit.

I spent a lot of time evaluating my options. There is a bunch of cool stuff out there that I didn’t expect to see. I’ve been running on the Windows platform forever, but I didn’t want past history to lock me in. I also didn’t want to purchase something that I would feel like I had to replace in six months…. whatever I purchased needed to have the ability to last, although I might still swap it out soon. Who knows.

At the beginning of the year, I began doing research. I had been watching the various options passively in 2011 and 2012, but really didn’t plan to purchase one. I read some reviews and started making a plan. I think I had about 25 options on the table. There were regular laptops, ultrabooks, and even some tablet options (I figured I could mate a bluetooth keyboard and maybe do some work like that).

Last week, I visited my local Best Buy to see what options they had. Of my 25 items, they had about twelve in stock. I’ve purchased laptops online in the past, but I mainly was trying to meet a specification. Fastest CPU, highest amount of memory, hard drive capacity, etc. I had planned to potentially do that this time also, but within only a few minutes I knew I had a problem. The fastest machine didn’t mean what it used to. Features and functionality mattered more than it had in the past.

I started in the Windows PC section, and weight became a key issue almost immediately. I actually shot myself in the foot… I picked up some of the lightest machines first, in the low three pound range. After doing that, the heavier machines felt like they weighed forty pounds by comparison. And I suddenly found a requirement I hadn’t realized I had wanted: keyboard backlighting. I work in darker locations on a regular basis, so the ability to see the keyboard was going to be important. Also, some of the higher end models had touchscreens… cool to play with, but not really important to me. The ultrabook offerings were really starting to stand out. I went over to the full laptop section, and even to the desk PC section, but kept wandering back to the ultrabooks again and again.

I wandered over to the Apple section next. Both the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air were on my list of possible purchases. My various iPhones have served me well over the past few years, so I thought I might plug into the ecosystem a bit easier. I’ve been anti-Apple for a long time. Decent machines, but just too expensive for what you ended up with. They changed that with the various iOS devices… what they couldn’t solve for me in the desktop world, they nailed in the mobile device world. But, I digress.

Within a minute or two of playing with the Macs, I realized I was missing something big. The touchscreens I had played with on the higher end Windows ultrabook offerings were missing. This shouldn’t have been a problem for me, but it suddenly was. The Pro was nice and responsive, but felt very heavy. The Air looked great too as it has for years. But the interface started looking dated, and I couldn’t use the screen to change things. I wasn’t sure I loved the Windows 8 user interface, but it did feel more modern than those fancy looking Macs did.

With these thoughts, I left the store with plenty of things to consider but still empty handed.

Finally on Monday night, I decided to pull the trigger. Since my visit to the store, I had spent plenty of time working through the remaining options. I had basically narrowed it down to three potential options: the MacBook Air, the Asus Zen Prime Ultrabook, and the Dell XPS 12 convertible ultrabook.

Unfortunately, the Dell was fairly easy to eliminate, although it still makes me a bit sad because it was a simple thing. The shipping date for a purchase made on Monday night, January 21st, wasn’t until February 12th. That’s a long time to wait when there are other options out there. I also wanted to utilize some of the great financing offered by the HSBC Card Services Capital One Best Buy credit card. Dell’s financing offer wasn’t that attractive as it only offered six and twelve month interest-free options with a high minimum spend. I intend to pay it off early, but I like the flexibility in case I need it. The features were cool and I really liked the convertible option (even though I was worried about the durability). And for an ultrabook, it had 8GB of RAM, wuich was pretty impressive when comparing to some of the other ultrabooks that were available.

I ended up passing on the MacBook Air for two main reasons: the interface hurdle and my planned usage. I knew that no matter what, I was going to be dealing with a new interface. I hadn’t used a Mac in forever, and hadn’t even touched the Windows 8 up to that point. But deep down, I knew that Windows 8 could still be adapted to run like my Windows 7 machines, and I knew that the collective knowledge and familiarity would pay off. I would be struggling with the Mac for up to a week. My planned usage was a lot easier to nail down; I utilize Visual Studio and other development tools on a regular basis. Once I realized I was spending most of my time trying to figure out how I was going to rig up a MacBook Air to be able to run Visual Studio, I realized that the Asus Zenbook ultrabook was going to be the best choice for me.

On Tuesday morning I ordered the ultrabook and picked it up within about an hour or so. I’ve captured a number of first impressions on the device and intend to share them as soon as I can get them complied. Short answer is that as a developer, I find this to be a great machine. As long as the hardware keeps up, this should serve me well for quite a while. I’ll be putting it through its paces over the coming weekend and will share anything that I might learn.