This past week at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a number of different companies unveiled new lines of laptops called “ultrabooks.” LifeHacker has published a simple, plain-English explanation of what these are and how they differ from traditional computers. Teachers may start hearing about ultrabooks in conversation, TV spots, and Sunday paper story flyers, so here’s a quick run-down.

imageBasically, according to the article, ultrabooks are very thin and lightweight laptop computers that start up very quickly. Generally speaking, most ultrabooks have a full-sized keyboard, a decent-sized display, and some may have a solid-state hard drive (no moving parts). Because they’re so skinny & light – somewhere between a traditional laptop and a tablet – most are using a special processor from Intel, who also coined the term “ultrabook” to describe this new flock of hardware. Their design also limits the number of USB ports, video ports, and peripherals that can be housed within their cases. CD/DVD drives? Forget about it. Think “Mac Book Air”, only in a Windows PC (Or Google Chrome?) version.

The original intent, according to the LifeHacker article, was to provide high-end performance on a manageable budget price. However, by the time they hit the market they are expected to retail for more than comparable laptops or tablets. The article claims the retail prices will start somewhere between $900-$1200 and move upward from there. As ultrabooks catch on, consumers might expect those prices to drop as competition would likely increase.

The LifeHacker article claims that these are “solid performers” with “mid-range specs” that would be “perfectly respectable laptops for most work, entertainment, and multimedia purposes.” The quick startup time and ease of portability would make ultrabooks a great 1:1 computing solution for schools. While tablets like iPad and others have been criticized for being nice tools for consuming Internet content, ultrabooks might offer more flexibility and computing power, too.

In my humble opinion, after reading this and other articles from the CES, most schools will probably have to wait until competition starts to drive those prices down to more tolerable levels, though. Even with comparable education pricing and bulk discounts, schools could but two iPads for to current cost of one ultrabook. Off-brand Android tablets could take that ratio even higher.

Unfortunately, due to their currently-high pricing it will probably be a few years before we read about widespread adoption of ultrabooks in average downstate school districts. I really hope I’m wrong on that, though. They look like great computing tools to support great teaching & learning activities.