Apple contender: MacBook Air ($999)
Alternative: Google Chromebook ($245)
Apple decided long ago it wasn't going to muck around with netbooks when it could produce perfectly good tablets. Its competitors eventually caught on, but decided to give the somewhat unloved notebook another look.
Google dropped the hammer this month by debuting a Samsung-made laptop that looks a whole lot like the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, but has no fan to crank up the noise and heat. It also gets least 6.5 hours of battery life, weighs only 2.5 pounds and is 0.8 inches thick, all eerily similar to the MacBook Air. Does it have the Air's Retina screen? No. Does it have a USB port? No. Will Apple fanboys bemoan its Android apps and other features they deem inferior to Apple's? Likely.But will any of that really help a nonpartisan consumer justify paying four times more for a MacBook Air when a Chromebook will get the job done? Holiday 2012 should be a decent test.