Great Ultrabooks For Uni

Arguably the most important tool in your academic arsenal as a student is your ultrabook. That sexy, thin, power-sipping marvel in your satchel will see you through the next four years of study, provided nobody spills beer on it first. Here are our picks for the best laptop and ultrabook companions to get you straight A's.

MacBook Air 13-Inch

You’ll struggle to find a university lecture hall that doesn’t have one of these bad boys in it. Updated mid-last year, the MacBook Air 13-inch is the cream of the crop when it comes to thin laptops.

All MacBook Airs will now come packing Intel’s kickass new Haswell processors. And that means better battery life, which has become a major issue these days. So instead of six hours of HD video playback, for instance, you can get away with a full nine hours. With just regular use, though, your laptop should supposedly last up to 50 per cent longer, although we’ll soon see if Intel’s claim actually holds up.

Considering that MacBook Airs run almost entirely on Flash, the fact that the drive will be running up to 40 per cent faster is huge.

The 11-inch version comes with a 1.3GHz processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.6GHz, 4GB of memory and 128GB of flash storage starting at $1099, while the 256GB model starts at $1349. The 13-inch version comes with a 1.3GHz processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.6 GHz, 4GB of memory and 128GB of flash storage for $1249, or you can get the 256GB model for $1449.


Sony Vaio Pro

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When the Vaio Pro first hit two months ago, it was a small shock to everyone. It replaced the Vaio Z, Sony’s old lamentable flagship, by switching out some of its predecessor’s very worst parts and decisions for perfectly acceptable, even enjoyable ones. Plus, it was the first ultrabook out the door packing Haswell chips. Compared to what had come out before, it was attractive, crazy-long-lasting, and light as hell. Which is one way of saying, well, sometimes it’s best to hold off judgment until more than one result is in, because the competition is a lot tighter than it used to be.

It’s packing an Intel Core i7 1.8GHz Haswell processor, a 13.3-inch 1080p IPS, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD with USB 3.0 x 2; HDMI and SD card slots.

The display is lovely, the battery life is top notch, and the keyboard and trackpad won’t piss you off every 15 seconds, which is surprisingly hard to find these days.

The Vaio has a lot to like. It’s etherial. It’s basically not there. That’s the last of the four foundational pieces of a successful ultrabook. Display, keyboard, trackpad, lightness. If you’re scoring on a rubric, nail those (as Sony has here) and you’ve got yourself a winner. It also helps that the Vaio Pro comes in at a price — $1399 — that’s a level below some of the truly premium stuff like the Aspire S7 or X1 Carbon.

Keep in mind however that Sony just flogged off its laptop division, which might mean that this is the last real VAIO you can buy.


Samsung ATIV Book 9

Meet the new Samsung ATIV Book 9: it’s a silly name, to be sure, but it’s actually an incredible looking touch-enabled Ultrabook that you’re going to be pining after.

Features to write home about? Oh, only a 13.3-inch qHD panel with a 3200×1800 resolution (275ppi), a width of 13.6mm and a battery life of 12 hours. Samsung has also increased the travel on the keyboard to make typing better and bolted a giant trackpad on the bottom of the device.

More? It weighs just 1.39kg, and under the hood is a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor which can boost up to 2.3GHz, 4GB of RAM, a 13.3-inch touchscreen with 10-points of touch, two USB 3.0 ports, a new slim security slot and an interesting new feature called SideSync.

Samsung SideSync is a nifty little feature that lets you connect your Galaxy S4 and use it almost like a second screen: you can drag-and-drop stuff directly onto and from the S4, and you’ll also be able to copy and paste text from various apps.

The ATIV Book 9 is also capable of some next-level acrobatics. Open it up and it locks back to an 110-degree angle. Give it a gentle push, however, and it will unlock so you can take it back to a full 180-degree angle.

It’s a great tool for university productivity.


Razer Blade 2013

Yes, it’s mostly meant as a gaming laptop, but goddamn, what a machine for all your work, uni and play needs.

It’s a 14-inch gaming laptop that’s small and light enough to be your everyday machine.

It’s packing a super fast Intel Core i7 2.2GHz Haswell processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M (2GB GDDR5 VRAM; Optimus); Intel HD 4600, 8GB RAM, a 14-inch 1600×900 matte LED backlit, a 256GB SSD, 3x USB 3.0, HDMI Out and 3.5mm audio.

When you first sit down with the Blade, you don’t really want to change a thing. It feels impossibly thin for something you expect to squeeze good game graphics out of, and as solid as anything that’s ever come out of Apple. The most impressive part, maybe, is all the little things it gets right that old-school laptop makers consistently get so wrong. The hinge on the lid is perfect — no wobble but not too stiff to move. The body itself is clean, clear of any excess ornamentation (beyond that hideous logo). The speakers are a bit of an eyesore, but Razer’s been over-conscious about sound since a few reviewers killed them about the first Blade’s anemic speakers. (The left speaker on our model did have one edge that wasn’t flush with the chassis, which was a bit distracting and the only manufacturing imperfection we saw). Even the keyboard and trackpad are wonderful. The keyboard is properly spaced for typing, with good travel distance to type full speed on, but also with enough distance to WASD with precision.

The Blade is gorgeously well built. There is zero flex anywhere. It runs current games on high graphics settings at good-to-acceptable framerates. The trackpad is more responsive than the majority of trackpads on Windows laptops, and the keyboard is just about perfect. While the body gets hot during gaming, the fans do a good job of not letting it affect performance without sounding like a wind tunnel.


Acer Aspire S7

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A few things about the S7 are something close to perfect. The keyboard, for one, is lovely. The original S7 had keys that were sort of mushy, and didn’t have quite enough travel distance — that’s fixed this year. Importantly, there’s zero flex to the keyboard’s chassis. This is a crucial detail a lot of laptops screw up while trying to get thinner or lighter, and they end up feeling like junk. Not so here.

Acer’s also stuck with the condensed keyboard layout that has a few keys in unexpected places. Function keys are gone, meaning you hold the function button for stuff like volume up or adjusting your brightness. It’s an efficient and extremely usable layout, even if the function symbols on the keys ugly them up some.

The screen is wonderful. It’s got better colour performance and contrast than just about anything that’s not the Chromebook Pixel. That said, it still suffers from Windows’s poor scaling (yes, even in 8.1). That’s not Acer’s fault, but it’s a reality you’ll have to live with. At 1080p on a 13-inch screen though, you won’t notice it as badly as you do on, say, the Toshiba Kirabook and its super hi-res screen. There is some light leakage around the S7′s edges — the bottom especially on our unit — but after watching a bunch of movies it wasn’t visible unless you’re looking at a pure black screen. In actual use, it’s gorgeous. Just something to keep an eye on over long-term use.

Trackpad performance is top notch. The Synaptics trackpad on ours doesn’t have quite the same heavy-car-door feel of the Pixel, but it’s damn close. It’s definitely on the top tier of trackpads, and its performance for basic gestures (two-finger scrolling being the main one) is as good as you’ll see on a Windows rig.

Battery life, as with everything else running on Intel’s new Haswell chips, is impressive. I got through entire 9+ hour workdays on a single charge a few times, typically running at just under 50 per cent brightness, but pumping it up when adjusting images. More commonly, I’d run dry toward the end of the day if I’d been playing a lot of videos or had a zillion tabs open, but it scored 5 hours 19 minutes on our fairly punishing battery test (20 tabs, half of which self-refresh, 10-hour Nyancat video streaming, 50 per cent brightness, run until first shutoff around 5 per cent, not final 0 per cent), which is a massive improvement over last year’s ultrabooks, and just a bit short of the high marks for this year.

The full allotment of ports (mini-DisplayPort, HDMI, two USB 3.0 and an SD card slot) is also a surprisingly nice feeling. The S7 doesn’t have an Ethernet port (the body is literally too thin for that), but it can handle pretty much anything else you’d throw at it. It’s perfect in its versatility, and will set you back around $1899.


What’s your favourite laptop or ultrabook? Tell us in the comments!

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