16 Jul 2009
With hundreds of laptop computer models ranging from ‘desktop replacements’ to super ultra-lights – choosing a laptop today can be a daunting task. Often, more choice comes with increased confusion. In order to simplify the process Andrian Adams puts himself in the shoes of a busy travelling executive; and establishes which features are the most important.
1) Weight – You travel frequently and do not want to lug around heavy gear.
2) Power – You need processing muscle that works quickly and can multi-task with ease.
3) Screen size – You need a laptop with a bit of real estate to comfortably read and compose documents and surf the internet, all without making you squint.
The laptop options listed here fulfil all three of these requirements, albeit in each case a little differently. We have looked at the lightest weight computers sporting 13-inch screens (except for the Samsung X460, which comes with a 14.1-inch screen and a little more weight because it is one of the best and lightest 14-inches around). All these models have fast duel core processors and all of them (save for the MacBook Air) are equipped with read/write DVD drives – an important feature if you want to watch movies, load software from discs or back up to CD/DVD.
Lenovo ThinkPad X301
Upsides: Extremely thin and light (at just 0.7-inches thick and 1.5kg in weight) but with a very sold feel; extra sharp 1,440 x 900 display resolution; 1.3 megapixel webcam and noise-cancelling digital microphone for web conferencing; built-in DVD burner; lots of connection ports; excellent keyboard (the same size as those found on Lenovo’s 14 and 15-inch models) with nice glowing light.
Downsides: Costly, and the touch pad’s location makes it easy to accidentally graze while typing.
Analysis: The Lenovo ThinkPad line is legendary for it solid construction; the 13.3-inch ThinkPad X301 is equipped with Intel’s latest Centrino 2 platform also offering strong performance. The X301 is expensive, but well worth the outlay for highly mobile users seeking extensive features in a sleek lightweight case.
Sony Vaio Z Series
Price £1,500 (Carbon Fibre Model starting at £3,000)
Upsides: Simple, elegant design; very lightweight thanks to its sturdy carbon fibre case, which also helps protect against shocks; a clever switch that allows users to choose between ‘Stamina’ (improved batter life) and ‘Speed’ (improved computer power); the most extensive overall feature set of the four laptops reviewed here.
Analysis: A top-of-the-line laptop that does it all. The Sony Vaio Z Series combines ultra-portability with a very impressive level of computing power, and is available in many different configurations (so there are possibilities to lower the prices – e.g. by choosing a smaller hard drive, slightly slower processor, or staying away from the carbon fibre model).
Upsides: Very slim and lightweight (measuring respectively 1.3-inches and 1.9 kg) given its 14.1-inch screen; 1.3 megapixel webcam; fingerprint reader for extra security; distinctive and sturdy solid brushed-metal construction; excellent battery life; lots of connections ports; comfortable keyboard; surprising big speaker sound; built-in read/write DVD drive.
Downsides: Expensive, compared with similarly featured 14-inch laptops, but they won’t be as slim or light for such a big screen.
Analysis: For those who like a really big work space and don’t mind carrying just a little extra weight, then the Samsung X460 is the ticket. Solid performance is provided by a fast Intel Core 2 duo processor with 3GB of RAM which means you’ll have plenty of memory to open several different programmes at once while not excelling at any one specific task. The X460 is an all-purpose machine, and still comes close to qualifying as an ultra portable. The amazingly bright 14.1-inch screen does not blast out saturation and is therefore extremely easy on the eyes; in fact, you can see the display in just about any lighting condition, outdoors or in.
Upsides: Incredibly thin (it is, after all, billed as ‘world’s thinnest notebook’), yet surprising sturdy; new track pad controls are very useful.
Downsides: The absence of an Ethernet port means limited connectively (you’ll have to access the internet via Wi-Fi unless you buy an adapter); less powerful than other MacBooks, with capacity limited to 80GB though on a super-speedy drive; just one USB port; no DVD drive.
Analysis: The design may be revolutionary, but Apple’s MacBook Air generally appeals to a more specialised audience than the standard MacBook, thanks to a stripped-down set of connections and features. Deciding whether this computer is worth having poses just one major question: How much are you willing to compromise? Admittedly, the darn thing is gorgeous, and for many the Mac platform is non-negotiable because it’s simply not as fiddly as Windows (although the MacBook Air can also run Windows programmes by allowing you to boot up in that platform if you have windows installed); on the other hand, the MacBook Air is also the slowest laptop in Apple’s current product line. Nonetheless, for those who factor size, weight, and – yes, I’ll admit it – style into the equation, the MacBook Air begins to make much more sense, and it will still take care of most tasks you would need to handle on your travels.
Images courtesy of Apple