New laptops: Is this the year of the 'ultrabook'?

Looking for new laptops? This year's Consumer Electronics Show is filled with ultrabooks -- new laptops that are thin and light -- and a few models are getting positive press already.

Julie Jacobson/AP
Industry affiliates look over several new laptops called ultrabooks at the 2012 International CES tradeshow, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, in Las Vegas.

Most of the coverage coming out of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show has centered on thin, Web-savvy TVs -- especially super-crisp OLED displays from LG and Samsung. But if the small screen is more your speed, don't worry: we've also gotten glimpses of lots of exciting new laptops and tablets on the floor this year.

Last year's CES was all about tablets, as manufacturers tended to employ the "throw things at the wall and see what sticks" method in offering alternatives to Apple's iPad. Things are a little more muted this year, and that's probably a net positive: while there are fewer tablet models on display, companies like Acer, Lenovo, and Samsung have put more effort into polishing what's available. There's less danger of drowning in a sea of "me-too" Android tablets this year.

Noteworthy tablets from CES 2012 include the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE, a new model in Samsung's venerable Galaxy Tab line with a 7.7-inch screen, running on Verizon's 4G network. Acer also introduced the Iconia Tab A200, a 10.1-inch tablet with widescreen dimensions. If you're interested in portable web surfing and video chatting but need a little more horsepower than what's in lower-end Amazon and Barnes and Noble tablets, the Galaxy Tab line is probably worth checking out. If you're in the market for a screen that's sized for movies and TV shows, the Iconia Tab might be more your speed.

We've also got to shine a spotlight on what's undoubtedly the most innovative tablet design of CES: the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga. Technically, it's a laptop -- but in keeping with the machine's name, the screen actually flips all the way around to lie flat against the chassis, disabling the keyboard and transforming into a touchscreen tablet. The screen is 13.3 inches, and the whole rig weighs only 3.1 pounds, putting the laptop firmly in the ultrabook category.

Ultrabooks -- thin, light, high-powered Windows laptops modeled to a large degree on Apple's MacBook Air -- were everywhere at CES this year, and several machines are getting pretty positive early buzz. In addition to the IdeaPad Yoga, the HP Envy 14 Spectre is turning heads for having high-end Beats Audio built in, as well as a Gorilla Glass-covered lid and palmrest. Cnet editors named it the best computer of the show, saying, "At a CES devoid of many eye-popping laptops, the Spectre could be the most stylish of the bunch."

Samsung also showed off a redesigned 13-inch version of its Series 9 laptop, which sports a high-res 1600x900 display and a black aluminum design. And in the sub-$1,000 range, the Dell XPS 13 offers a solid aluminum construction and backlit keyboard. (All the ultrabooks we've mentioned here are powered by second-gen Intel Core chips, and most have pretty similar internals, although the pricier Samsung and HP models step things up a bit.)

Even if 55-inch displays aren't your thing, there's still plenty to draw your eye at CES this year. Readers, what's your take? Are you smitten with a tablet or ultrabook that we missed in this roundup? Let us know in the comments. In the meantime, for more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut. And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly BizTech newsletter.

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