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Scott's Column
Series 9 vs. UX31 vs. Z835 -- and iPad vs. Fire vs. Nook

January 1, 2012
By Scott Lewis

This month I get some hands on time with three Ultrabooks. I also think about what tablet I would get... if no one gave me one for Christmas (Psst... nobody did).

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More Ultrabook Laptop Information

Samsung Series 9, Asus UX31 & Toshiba Z835.

I took a trip to Best Buy to get a better look at the Samsung Series 9. I thought it was of mostly metal construction, but someone told me that it had a significant amount of plastic. It just so happened that Best Buy has the Series 9 sitting right next to the Asus UX31 and Toshiba Z835.

The Series 9 is not a true Ultrabook as Intel as designated. It does not use the latest version of the Core i-Series CPUs that Intel specifies for the Ultrabook classification. That being said... it is inevitable that the Series 9 should be compared to the first generation of Ultrabooks because of the weight and components, including a 128 GB SSD.

So... sitting side by side how do they compare. First off, the Series 9 is definitely a very plastic based machine. The lid flexes significantly, and it does have a certain cheapness to the construction. This becomes much more evident when you put the Asus in your hands immediately after putting the Series 9 down. The Asus has a very solid feel, no doubt due to its aluminum construction. Finally... the Toshiba feels like the flimsiest thing I have ever felt. However, the Toshiba is also the lightest laptop I have ever felt. Side by side compared to the UX31 from Asus... the Z835 feels like a tablet. In its closed position, it looks like it is a solid device. But as soon as you touch it it is quite clear that this is a plastic affair. But it is so light you can actually forgive it.

I then took a walk over the the MacBook Air... the clear benchmark in this category. It is incredibly sturdy, and pretty light. But compared to the Toshiba... it actually feels a bit on the heavy side. It is amazing how it just takes feeling how light one laptop is to make you think everything else is in another class.

At this point the most important thing for me is the keyboard and the touchpad. How do all four machines compare? For starters... I am half tempted to get the MacBook Air and run my Windows software on VMWare Fusion or Parallel's Desktop. The touchpad is so incredibly smooth nothing even comes close. I was disappointed in all the Windows laptops in this regard, but I would need to spend more time with them.

As they were setup two of the Windows laptops didn't even do two finger scrolling. The Asus tried... poorly. I would see the little icon like symbol that shows when you are trying to scroll, but it kept changing the view. Granted, I brought up Explorer and was looking at a folder full of files. When I tried to scroll it would show the scrolling icon, but it would switch from detail view to icon view. So maybe the scrolling was acting on the wrong item. But no matter how hard I tried I could net get the scrolling to work as I expected it.

The Samsung and Toshiba did not even try to scroll with two fingers. I also could not find the settings for the touchpad in the control panel to see if this was just something that needed to be turned on. The MacBook Air not only scrolled beautifully it would pinch and spread for zooming with complete ease.

Next up was the actual typing experience. I tried bringing up Notepad on each of the Windows laptops and type a couple of sentences on them. The Asus was the worst. Its keys seem too larger and with very poor feedback. Plus they have a very shallow travel yet require a fair amount of pressure. It think the touchpad was also interfering with my typing. As I would type a sentence the cursor jumped around and made part of the sentence continue from the middle. It is hard to put into words, but it was the worst typing experience I have had in a long time.

The Samsung was better, but still did not inspire confidence. The Toshiba was literally a joy to type on. The keys seemed perfectly spaced and sized for my fingers. I typed without error for a couple of sentences. Even with the small spacebar it was easy to use. I really like the tactile feedback from the keys. Just to be fair... I would put the MacBook Air below the Samsung Series 9. The actual typing experience was about even, but the MacBook Air does not have Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys. I assume there might be a key combination for this... such as Option Up Arrow for Page Up, but I could not figure that out in the store.

Ultimately, the MacBook Air came in third place because of a lack of Windows keys (Command & Option instead of Ctrl & Alt, etc) as well as the afore mentioned lack of Home, End, etc. keys. I don't think I could live with it. The Asus was terrible in my hands. The Samsung was acceptable, and the Toshiba was about as good as it gets.

So... it is weird... but I like the Toshiba. I am having a really hard time considering it though, because of the super flimsy plastic construction. When you close it and pick it up it weighs practically nothing. Noticeably lighter that anything else.... period. This would be a true joy to travel with.

I will want to do a little research on the touch pads. I need to be able to judge the scrolling and pinching of these before I could spend my money. I will look up how to turn those features on... and then head back to Best Buy for another try at it.

HP is coming out with the HP Folio 13. This is their foray into the Ultrabook scene. I'll have to see how this stacks up. And where is Dell? They charged way too much for there Adamo line, but I can't imagine they will let this category go buy without trying.

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iPad vs. Fire vs. Nook

If you did not receive a tablet for Christmas... and are thinking about buying one for yourself... which should you buy?

Apple iPad - This is the preferred tablet. Although I think it is pricey at $500 to start... it has the best ecosystem of the lot. Multimedia content, apps & books are plentiful. The size provides the best web browsing experience. And email will be better on the large screen as well. You can also easily "side load" your own content if you already have a large collection of media (videos & music). However, if you are mostly interested in reading books then read on.

Amazon Kindle Fire - If you read a lot of books, and your main reason to get a table is to read books... then the Kindle Fire should be at the top of your list. The size is almost perfect for reading books. Amazon has Apple beat in the book selection department as well. It also has a formidable video and music library as well. In fact, from a video rentable standpoint, the Fire has the iPad beat. Apps for the Fire will be a little lacking initially, but I am sure that will pan out in the long run. I would not let the lack of apps specific to this tablet hold you back. They have built it... and the apps will come. However, the Kindle Fire has the least amount of memory... and is very tighly bound to Amaron's "cloud" based services. Side loading your own content will not be very useful. So, if you already have a sizable collection of media files... then...

Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet - This is the geek's tablet. It comes with more memory than the Fire, and has a microSD card slot to add even more memory. However, it has the weakest ecosystem for content. Oh sure, books are plentiful. But other media is lacking. I doubt B&N will ever catch up to Apple and Amazon in this department. However, if you are a techie... you won't mind "side loading" your media onto the Nook. Side loading means you will manually copy your exiting media files to it while it is synced to your computer. Not a big deal actually. So, if you are a techie... and have have not bought into Apple's or Amazon's ecosystems for content or services... the Nook is for you! Just keep in mind the size difference between it and the iPad, because the web browsing on the iPad is significantly more pleasant.

So all you guys out there that did not get the tablet of your dreams for Christmas... now you have a simple way of deciding which tablet is right for you.

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Conclusion

Happy New Year!

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