Should you get an Ultrabook or a Macbook Air ?

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The question of whether to get an ultrabook running Windows 8 or a combination of Apple devices running OS X and iOS has lately become a heated one. As ultrabooks continue to enter the market in increasingly attractive form factors and specifications, it's no longer a no-brainer to pick the Apple devices. In this article, we explore expert takes on the issue from PC Mag and Wired magazine and discuss the ultrabook vs. MacBook Air question.


Early contenders

PC Mag ran a comparison of Apple's 13-inch Macbook Air against an ultrabook from each of the major hardware manufacturers. The magazine observed that when the Macbook Air was introduced, it had a clear advantage over the competition: "For a while there, Apple had no one to compete against but itself," the magazine wrote.

By 2012, however, the Macbook Air was facing serious competition from the ultrabook. Even last year, PC Mag notes, the Macbook Air was no longer the clear leader in the category of ultra-portable laptops. The magazine observes that the Apple machine's trackpad is class-leading, that it is sporting upgraded processors, and that it runs on the OS X operating system – all of which are seen as attractive by many users.

However, as PC Mag pointed out, there's an ultrabook from practically every major hardware manufacturer that can put up a stiff challenge to the Macbook Air. Sony's VAIO T13, for example, is seen as a fast, well-designed ultrabook at a value price. HP's Folio 13-1020US is another highly attractive ultra-portable machine that costs just a bit more than the Sony offering. The Asus Zenbook is described as "the clear leader in the nascent ultrabook category", sporting better battery life and performance than the competition. Although the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 ultrabook isn't included in the round-up, reviews from media outlets like Wirecutter suggest that it, too, is a strong contender for the top ultrabook crown.

Apps

When choosing between an ultrabook that runs on Windows 8 or an Apple device, one of the key considerations is the availability and range of apps in the respective app stores. On this count, Apple appears to still have the advantage, according to Wired magazine.

Wired notes that, while the Windows 8 operating system is highly attractive and usable, the number of apps available in the app store is "severely lacking". It should be noted, however, that more apps isn’t always better – you want to make sure that you have the apps and programs to deal with your most important tasks. The Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2, for example, offers the latest version of the Microsoft Office suite, which is crucial for a business user.

Wired observes that the number of apps available on an app store is a crucial factor for a mobile device like a tablet, whereas for an ultrabook or desktop, it may not be as critical a factor. However, when picking between an ultrabook-tablet hybrid that runs Windows 8 and a Macbook Air, the lines can be blurred, with the scales tipping in favour of a more densely populated app store.

Hardware

In a separate review, Wired compared the hardware aspects of a hybrid ultrabook and a combo comprising an 11.6-inch Macbook Air and a first-generation iPad. In terms of portability, the hybrid ultrabook takes the cake, according to Wired. The built-in convertibility means that the user only has to contend with one device with an ultrabook, instead of two devices and their attendant cases and power adaptors, in the case of the Macbook Air and iPad. However, using a tablet with a digitiser pen for quick handwriting input may remove the need for a keyboard. This would put the tablet and pen combination ahead in terms of portability.

When it comes to battery life, the Wired test found that the Macbook Air-iPad combo lasted longer. In Wired's case, its Toshiba ultrabook hybrid lasted for five hours, which is about comparable to the Macbook Air's longevity. However, the iPad, on a separate battery, had another 10 hours of charge on it. Wired declared the two Apple devices the winner over the ultrabook in this test.

In terms of value, Wired found the hybrid ultrabook to be the better offering. It notes that not only is the price of hybrid ultrabook usually cheaper than buying a Macbook Air and a earlier generation iPad, users are also likely to save on apps with an ultrabook because there's no need to purchase two copies of essential applications. This would be the case with a Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2, for example, which is powerful enough to run business apps on the go.

Wired concludes that choosing between a hybrid ultrabook and two Apple devices is a deeply personal decision based on lifestyle choices. The reviewer notes that, since upgrading individual components and battery life are critical factors for him, the combination of two Apple devices works better. However, if users seeking optimum portability, value for money and the ability to quickly switch between a leisure device like a tablet and a work-focused device like an ultrabook, then they may be more in favour of a hybrid ultrabook running Windows 8. 

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