Head to Head: Windows 8 Convertible Ultrabook vs. MacBook Air + iPad

Geek Culture

Can one Windows convertible Ultrabook replace these two Apple devices?Can one Windows convertible Ultrabook replace these two Apple devices?

On the left: Toshiba’s Satellite U925t Windows 8 convertible Ultrabook. On the right, Apple MacBook Air (11.6-inch) and iPad (first generation). Photo by Brad Moon.

It’s no real secret that I’m a Mac guy, although I try not to be biased. I use just about everything and move back and forth between Macs and PCs with little fuss. I only switched over to the iPhone a few years ago and was the last person in my house to cave in on an iPad. But my personal preference is toward Macs, so when I invest in equipment, I tend to stick with Apple. So when I was sent a Toshiba Satellite U925t convertible Ultrabook to play with a few weeks ago, I made the most of the experience to compare what it would be like to move from my Apple equivalent — a MacBook Air plus an iPad — to the Windows 8 side.

If you’re looking for a detailed review of Windows 8, Curtis already posted everything you need to know. I’m also not getting into the “who has more apps” or “who has better games” arguments. I’m more interested in the usability and comparative advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches when it comes to daily use of the respective devices.

The convertible Ultrabook has the advantage here. Although its display is bigger than the iPad’s (12.5-inches compared to 9.7-inches) and it’s bulky compared to the MacBook Air, at the end of the day you’re carting around just one device instead of two. The smallest MacBook Air and iPad 2 combo tips the scales at 3.7 pounds, while the Toshiba is 3.35 pounds. That’s not a huge difference, but when you’re lugging two devices, that means two protective cases and their added bulk, not to mention two power adapters.

Winner: UltraBook

Switching Between Tablet and Laptop
Windows RT hasn’t really won me over and I’m still ambivalent about Android tablets, but I do like using Windows 8 on a tablet. While my preference is Apple’s OSX over Windows 8 for my computer, when it comes to working on a tablet, I really like working with actual files that I can dig up and move around (I’m kinda old school that way). Working on an iPad is easy enough if you have iCloud set up, but it’s restrictive if you’re used to rooting through years of research, notes and assorted files. I really liked sliding the tablet screen on the Toshiba, switching to tablet mode and having the full-blown desktop OS, with its file hierarchy and full suite of software. I’m not saying Apple should offer OSX on a tablet, but I can really see the appeal of running Windows 8 on a tablet.

Winner: UltraBook

Let’s face it, without protection, any of these devices is pretty much toast if you knock it off a table. That being said, the Toshiba, with its exposed tablet display (it’s a slider, not a twist display), largely plastic construction and elaborate display mechanism terrified me. I’m on the go a lot and my gear comes with me to conferences, camping and on vacations. I have three kids running around, two dogs and a pair of cats — each of them a threat to anything fragile. In the past few years, we’ve had one iPad suffer a fatal fall, but overall, my Apple gear has survived remarkably well in a harsh user environment. The Toshiba had way more flex than I’m used to in a device of this size and I’d give the Ultrabook maybe a month or two before the slider mechanism got wrecked. The display may have Gorilla Glass, but it’s exposed when the Toshiba is closed, making it vulnerable even when shut down and on a desk.

Winner: MacBook Air/iPad Combo

Battery Life
The Toshiba was good for around five hours of battery life. The 11-inch MacBook Air I compared it against would usually go for between four and five hours, so pretty much a wash. Except there’s still 10 hours or so of iPad battery life once the laptops die. Battery life is a big one for me, especially when camping off the grid and a big reason I broke down for an iPad was its stellar battery life combared to any of my MacBooks.

Winner: MacBook Air/iPad Combo

Bang for the Buck
I have to hand it to the Toshiba Ultrabook here, and that’s one of Intel’s key strategies in requiring new Ultrabooks to support a touchscreen interface; if you can’t dislodge the iPad or Android tablets head to head, then try to slow tablet cannibalization of laptop sales by making the laptops themselves a tablet. The Toshiba starts at about $1,150 which is a bargain compared to the $1,400 for the cheapest MacBook Air and an iPad 2 (the cheapest full-sized iPad). With the combined device, there’s also no need to invest in separate productivity apps for the tablet, which can also add up — even if apps are cheaper than computer software.

Winner: UltraBook

Overall Winner
This comes down to personal preference and how you use your tablet and laptop. I’m happy to stick with the Apple solution, but that’s a combination of my personal preference along with a feeling that the relatively fragile Ultrabook wouldn’t last long around my house. Between kids and being jammed in a backpack or thrown in the car, I suspect the machine would quickly suffer a mechanical failure, while the Apple gear is pretty solid and has few moving parts to break. I also like the idea of being able to upgrade components individually — if I upgrade my mobile gear more frequently than my computer, when using a convertible I’d either have to hold off on one or upgrade faster on the other.

Winner: Up to you.

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