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The gamer's Ultrabook

For many people, gaming, high-end multimedia, and ultrabooks are totally different things, never destined to coexist. After all, the first two require good graphics cards and stacks of RAM, while ultrabooks are known more for their sleek form factors and brilliant turns of speed, something which often leaves no space for decent graphics, which remain the preserve of the trusty desktop or desktop-replacement notebook.

It is this belief that Acer has sought to challenge with its Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 ultrabook. While it does pack in the usual ultrabook specifications — an Intel Core i5 1.6 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD with a 20GB SSD cache drive, and a 1366 x 768 display, packed into a less than one-inch thick frame — it turns the ultrabook concept on its head by including a 15.6-inch display, an NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M graphics card with 1 GB RAM, and even an optical drive — you can play and write DVDs on this baby. And of course, it has no shortage of connectivity options — three USB ports, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and HDMI are all available.

The result is a device that looks a lot like an ultrabook, but performs with a lot more muscle than most counterparts, especially in the graphics department. We were able to play games like Max Payne 3 and Crysis 2 on it with no stutter, and at relatively taxing settings, something we could not really have thought of doing on most ultrabooks. The extra-large screen is terrific for image editing and document composing as well as watching videos, although its 1366 x 768 resolution is a tad disappointing — a higher resolution could have been accommodated on such a large display. On the plus side, the larger display results in a more spacious keyboard below it and a big enough touchpad, which makes typing a real pleasure. Top that off with a battery that lasts close to six and a half hours, and you have a device that is every inch a performer.

The one place where the Ultra M3 takes a bit of a hammering is one in which most ultrabooks traditionally score — the looks department. No, it does not look bad with its matte black finish, but when compared to the uber sleek and compact Dell XPS 13 and HP Envy 4, it cuts a distinctly less premium figure.

And in what we consider to be a decidedly eccentric design decision, all the ports have been placed on the rear portion of the notebook, just behind the display. Now, that means that every time you need to attach a USB device or cable, you have to reach over and above that display to plug it in. Not very convenient. The bigger display and optical drive also add to the notebook’s weight — at a little over 2 kg, this is one of the heftier members of ultrabook nation. And as it uses a conventional hard disk rather than flash memory for most of its functions, it does not quite match the blazingly fast performances that we have seen in some higher-end ultrabooks, even though it does perform briskly most of the time.

But all these quirks fade into near-nothingness when you consider the price of the device. At Rs 51,990, we must confess that the Ultra M3 is the best combination of style, substance and value for money that we have seen. It is slim, portable and in terms of processing power and graphics,W pretty much batters every other ultrabook in its price category and quite a few in those above it. Its looks won’t turn heads, but its performance will make your jaw drop, and its price will not dent your bank balance as much as some other ultrabooks would.

Gamers and graphic designers finally have an ultrabook to play around with. And it does not cost the earth.  

Product Launches

iBall goes the phablet route
Samsung’s Galaxy Note proved that there was room for hybrid devices that blended the large screen of a tablet with the convenience of a phone, and now iBall has joined what is being called the “phablet” brigade. The curiously-named Andi 5C comes with a large 5-inch display as well as phone functions. Ensuring everything works swimmingly is a 1 GHz processor, lots of connectivity options (GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G), dual SIM facility, 5.0-megapixel camera and a stack of sensors. It is powered by Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and best of all, costs a mere R12,990. No, we could see no sign of a stylus bundled with it, but if you are looking for a large screened handheld device and are on a tight budget, this is a very decent option.

A 10.1 inch budget tablet?
For most people, a budget tablet has generally meant a device with a relatively low-resolution seven-inch display. Well, WishTel have thrown a spin on that definition with their Ira Comet HD tablet , which sports a 10.1-inch display which is not only capable of handling high quality videos but also displays content in 3D. Other specs are respectable — a 1.2 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, dual cameras (2.0 MP rear, VGA front), 8GB storage which can be expanded using both a memory card and a USB storage stick, and 3G connectivity using a USB data card. It runs on Android Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) and just like its predecessors, this Ira tablet too comes with a lot of educational content on board. And all for R9,999. The battery life could have been better, but this is a very impressive addition to the budget tablet segment.

More Asha from Nokia
The word literally means “hope” and Nokia is clearly betting big on its value - for money Asha handsets. The latest addition to the series is the Asha 311, which combines a touchscreen with a 1 GHz processor, stacks of connectivity options (3G, GPS, Bluetooth, the works), and a 3.2-megapixel camera. Also on board are 40 free games from EA, Nokia Maps (with voice navigation), social networking apps and a browser that claims to consume 85 per cent less than data than others. The 400 x 240m resolution display is not the greatest we have seen but is decent enough for most browsing tasks, and e-mail works a charm. Top that off with a sensitive, scratch-resistant display and the Asha 311 is an excellent option for those looking for a powerful handset without spending a bomb. It costs Rs 7,139.

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