Much ado was made at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show over Intel’s so-called “ultrabooks.” Still not sure what those are? They’re a line of portable laptops that mimic a tablet’s anorexic dimensions without sacrificing PC performance and full-size keyboards.

But they do invite questions. For example, is the ultrabook simply a rebranding of an existing computer category? Maybe. But they’re powerful and portable, so the real question is, should you invest in them?

Priced between $900-1500 on average and offered in myriad shapes and sizes—including Gorilla Glass-encased units, hybrids, and clamshell models—the current ultrabook options are designed to target every flavor of enterprise and working professional. Notable choices include:

HP Envy 14 Spectre — A striking—and strikingly expensive ($1399)—14-inch beauty packing nine hours of battery life that offers a hefty Core i5 or i7 processor, multi-touch capability, and rapid-start performance for enhanced productivity.

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga — This Windows 8 machine doubles as both laptop and tablet courtesy of a swiveling/folding display. It’s a great example of just one of many possible ultrabook form factors to come.

Dell XPS 13 — Splits the difference between eye-catching design and everyday performance, marrying an aluminum body and attractive 13.3-inch monitor with enterprise-level service and TPM security for IT professionals. A 128-256 GB solid state drive for dependable data backup is an added bonus.

Samsung Series 9 — Crams a beefy quad-core i7 processor, bright 15-inch screen, and multitude of ports (USB, HDMI, micro-SD memory card, etc.) into a half-inch thick frame that weighs only 2.5 pounds. Just one catch: The not-so-bargain $1499 price tag.

Note that while suggested retail prices may initially seem prohibitive, they should fall considerably in coming months. Both overall selection and potential business applications will also improve considerably, as manufacturers and software makers alike increasingly exploit flexible designs to deliver new and noteworthy hardware uses.

If you're weighing an ultrabook vs. a tablet for your mobile workforce, here are some things to consider:

The pros:

  • Physical Keyboards — Unlike tablets, whose virtual typepads are ill-suited to penning lengthy business plans, pitches, and sales reports, ultrabooks offer traditional, full-size keypads.
  • Larger Screens — Ultrabooks offer larger displays better suited for desktop sharing, product demos, and presentations. The greater visual real estate also makes multitasking in several windows and teleconferencing easier.
  • Faster CPUs and GPUs — Packing Intel’s celebrated processors for speedy number-crunching and enhanced visual performance, ultrabooks (most notably upcoming Ivy Bridge models) can power more robust and feature-laden software programs than tablets.
  • Greater Compatibility — Despite the massive selection of apps provided for smartphones and tablets, as true Windows PCs, ultrabooks offer compatibility with the widest range of cloud and Web apps, online services, and desktop utilities available.

Now the cons:

  • If portability and price are most important, a tablet may be all you need. Have you seen the Tegra 3 chip-powered Asus Eee Pad MeMO 370T? Coming shortly, the 7-inch tablet will offer everyday utility (Web surfing, email, etc.), performance computing, and slick multimedia playback for $249. Consider it indicative of where the market’s headed.
  • Existing choices neither greatly push the computing envelope nor do they generally come with nifty extras like high-end video cards or Blu-ray drives.
  • Provided you don’t mind packing around a few extra pounds and cramming chunkier models into a carry-on, standard-issue laptops can be had for hundreds less.

Who they’re best for

Ultrabooks are a solid fit for road warriors, social media mavens, and staffs with serious multimedia needs. They offer employees portability, versatility, and access to sleek, powerful systems. And they don’t force you to compromise on productivity due to program incompatibilities. Or fat fingers.