Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thin-and-Light Laptops: A misnomer?

Thin-and-light laptops are those which weigh in at between 4 to 6 pounds (1.81-2.7 kilograms). Ultraportables are those under 4 pounds in weight. Those heavier than 6 pounds are classified as desktop replacements.

Traditionally, thin-and-light laptops with 14.1 to 15.0 inch screens were the most common choice for those persons looking for a balance between portability, ergonomics and processing power. My first personal laptop was an IBM 14.1" R50e which weighed in at 5.5 pounds. This was followed by several other thin-and-lights, a 15.0" HP NC6120 (6 lbs.), 12.1" Acer Travelmate (4.5 lbs) and a 14.1" HP NC6510B (5.7 lbs). Despite its name, I do not find carrying a 4-6 pound laptop all day comfortable and all these years of dragging a laptop around resulted in shoulder pain caused by carrying a heavy load in a bag with a shoulder strap. Getting an ultraportable notebook, something that weighs less than 4 pounds, means spending large amounts of money.

Netbooks provided a nice solution. Instead of getting an expensive ultraportable, I would combine my thin-and-light laptop with a netbook which I carried around most of the time. This gave me a less than 3 pound carry-around personal computer. It also provided me with all day 8-hour computing. Still, when I was sure I would have to do a lot of work on the laptop, I would carry around my 14.1" unit in a backpack. I can only spend so many hours looking at a 10.1" screen and typing on a 92% sized keyboard.

Last year we saw several under 4 pound 13" laptops powered by Consumer Ultra Low Voltage (CULV) processors. This provided you a nice and light package to carry around, with a screen large enough to be your main unit at the price of processing power.

This year, when I was looking for something a bit faster than a netbook but weighing in at a light weight, I was surprised how many 13" options powered by standard laptop processors were available in the market which could make my two laptop system obsolete. These 13" laptops weighing in at less than 4 pounds are light enough to carry around all day, and powerful enough to be your main personal computer.

The thin-and-light category is not looking so thin and light anymore and the label is starting to feel like a misnomer. Maybe it is time to change standards. Given the options available today, I would say an ultraportable should be those which weigh 3 pounds or less, and a thin-and light laptop should be those weighing in at more than 3 pounds but not more 4.5 pounds. It is really hard to think of a 5-6 pound laptop these days as a thin-and-light.
Acer Aspire TimelineX 3820T. The Acer Aspire TimelineX 3820T is a 13.3" laptop weighing in at 3.9 lbs. The version sold in the Philippines is currently powered by an Intel Core i3-370M processor, which runs at 2.4GHz. The 3820T's 6-cell (6000 mAH battery) is good for 5-6 hours of real world computing, though Acer promises 8 hours of battery life. The price is a very reasonable Php34,990. Right now this model is available exclusively at Electroworld.

Toshiba Portege T230. Going up to food chain, another interesting option is the 13.3" Toshiba Portege T230 which is available locally with an Intel i3-330UM ultra-low voltage chip which runs at 1.2GHz. With a 6-cell battery, this 3.8 lb ultraportable will give you a bit more than 6-hours of battery life. This cost a fair amount more than the Acer 3820T, at Php51,990 and actually gives you less power. Despite the additional cost, you may still want to give this Toshiba T230 a look because of its ergonomics and because it is bundled with Windows 7 Home Premium (instead of the Windows 7 Home Basic bundled with the Acer 3820T), and overall feels a little bit more solidly built than the Acer.

Apple MacBook Air. Further up the food chain, is the 13.3" Apple MacBook Air which weighs in at 2.9 lbs. Powered by an Intel Core2 Duo 1.86GHz processor and coupled with a 128GB SSD drive, this amazingly thin (0.68 inches at the thickest point) and light laptop is priced at Php67,990. With a 256GB SSD drive, the price goes up to Php83,990. Battery life is rated at seven hours, and from my own use of this unit, I can confirm that Apple's estimates are pretty accurate.

Sony Vaio Z. After this comes the 13.1" Sony Vaio Z's, which are the ultimate in the series of 13.3" ultraportables. With their Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, Nvidia GT330M graphics and running 2-4 SSD drives on RAID-0, they are the ultimate mobile business machines. But starting at Php149,999, these are prohibitively expensive.  The Vaio Z is the only one of these 13" ultraportables which comes with an optical drive.

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