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An Ultra-Cheap Ultrabook

Soon, you’ll be able to by an ultra-thin laptop for less than the price of a high-end iPad 2.
November 14, 2011

Best Buy has plans to sell a Toshiba “ultrabook”—an ultrathin, Intel-based laptop—for just $799. We don’t know exactly when it’ll be coming out—“sometime soon,” per Best Buy’s product page—but the news is noteworthy because it represents a new low price point for ultrabooks.

The “Portégé Z835,” as it’s called, has one of Intel’s fancy new “Sandy Bridge” processors (a 1.4GHz Core i3-2367M processor, if we’re going to be precise). It’s got a 13.3” LED-backlit TFT high-definition widescreen display, a 128GB Serial ATA solid state drive, a built-in webcam and mic, a mutliformat media reader, one USB 3.0 port and two USB 2.0 ports, and much more. The whole thing weighs 2.5 pounds and is just over a half-inch thick.

Expect to see an ultrabook battle around this price point in the coming year; we can expect to see a ThinkPad ultrabook from Lenovo around this price in 2012, says The Verge. HP and Dell ultrabooks are also expected in early 2012.

CNet’s Brooke Crothers says, “Apple MacBook Air owners take note: this is $500 below Apple’s least expensive 13-inch MacBook Air.” But the comparison that I find just as intriguing is this: The Toshiba ultrabook is less expensive than Apple’s most expensive iPad 2 ($829 for a 64GB model with 3G service).

I am, for better or worse, an Apple man; I’ve used their products since grade school, and am not of a mind to change now. People often ask me if I intend to buy an iPad, and I often tell them I just don’t see how it would be of use to me, personally. I do want an ultraportable computing device, but the functionality of a MacBook Air so clearly outweighs that of an iPad (at least to a scribbler like me, who can’t stand virtual keyboards and who always has at least a dozen browser tabs open), that I tend to think my next purchase will be an Air. But when I compare the prices of the iPad and MacBook Air, I begin to wonder how badly I need that keyboard and all the traditional laptop apparatus I’ve come to rely on.

The notion, though, of spending more for a tablet than for a more capable ultra-thin laptop just seems pretty silly to me, and reinforces my feeling that a lightweight laptop will be my next purchase. Of course, there are more variables here: there are cheaper models of the iPad 2, and there are cheaper tablets altogether (to wit, the bargain-basement Kindle Fire, at $200; you can even pick up a $35 tablet if you live in India, with the help of government subsidies). Nonetheless, we’ve seen how wildly price influences people’s decision making about buying device. If ultrabook pricing is gently nudging down to around what people are already paying for iPads, will that significantly change the equation?