Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas 2010 11" to 12.1" Ultraportable Notebook Buyer's Guide

Eleven to twelve inch ultraportables used to be the elite of the laptop community. With their ultra low voltage processors, they were priced at or near six figures. The advent of the netbook gave us a new class of laptops called the CULV (Consumer Ultra Low Voltage), and with it arrived a series of lower cost 11-12.1" ultraportable laptops.

Before making our recommendations, we need to lay down some baseline parameters of what is a good ultraportable today. With screen sizes of 11" to 12.1", the laptop should:
  • Not weigh more than 3.5 pounds;
  • Have at least 4 hours of battery life while web-browsing on WiFi;
  • Have a processor more powerful than the latest dual core Atoms; and
  • Have a full-sized keyboard.
Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T. We won't waste any time. Our favorite ultraportable in this class is the 11.6" Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T. Its price is a major consideration in making the recommendation. While this product is not yet widely released, it is priced in Acer Concept stores at Php32,500 (available at 12 months zero interest). You can get it for as low as Php28,500 if you are willing to pay cash.




Quick Specs:
  • Screen: 11.6" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) high-brightness (200-nit) Acer CineCrysta LED-backlit TFT LCD screen
  • O.S.: Windows 7 Home Basic 64-bit
  • Processor: Intel Core i3-380UM (1.33GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics with 128MB dedicated memory (up to 768 shared memory)
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3 Memory
  • Storage: 250GB SATA Hard Drive and a SD card reader
  • Optical drive: None
  • Connectivity: Wifi b/g/n; Bluetooth; USB (x3); VGA Port; HDMI Port; Ethernet Port
  • Dimensions: 11.2 x 8 x 1-1.1 inches
  • Battery: 6-cell (5800 mAh)
  • Weight: 3 lbs.
Build quality is average, but it is fairly well-designed. The laptop feels solidly built with just a bit of flex on the center of the lid and keyboard. The lid is designed with a pattern pretty much making it impervious to fingerprints. Ergonomically, the keyboard is comfortable to use although the touchpad is a tad too small in our opinion.

Inside, the Intel Core i3-380UM processor has twice the processing power of a dual core Atom. Backed by Intel Graphics with 128MB of dedicated memory and 2GB of RAM, it will do pretty much everything you expect to do in an 11.6" laptop. The combination will even allow for some degree of 3D gaming. In terms of endurance, the high quality six cell 5800 mAh battery is good for almost 6 hours of real world use.

What we really love about the Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T is that it is only 1.1" thick at its thickest point, and weighs in at just 3 pounds. A few years back, these were the dimensions and specifications of units three to four times more expensive. It is my favorite 11-12.1" ultraportable for the year. The fact that it is also the bang for the buck option does not hurt.

Let's look at the other options available.


1. A touch of class -Asus UL20FT. If looks did not matter, we would not even consider this one. But with its brushed aluminum lid and chiclet keyboard, it looks classier than the Acer 1830T. We do not have the pricing of this unit, but we expect it to be somewhere between Php37,000 to Php40,000.

Quick Specs:
  • Screen: 12.1" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) LED-backlit TFT LCD screen
  • O.S.: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • Processor: Intel Core i3-330UM (1.20GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics with 384MB dedicated memory (up to 768 shared memory)
  • Memory: 4GB DDR3 Memory
  • Storage: 500GB SATA Hard Drive and a SD card reader
  • Optical drive: None
  • Connectivity: Wifi b/g/n; Bluetooth; USB (x3); VGA Port; HDMI Port; Ethernet Port
  • Dimensions: 11.8 x 8.4 x 1 inches
  • Battery: 6-cell (4400 mAh)
  • Weight: 3.4 lbs.

While the Asus UL20FT has a slower Intel Core i3-330UM processor than the Acer 1830T, with double the memory and three times the dedicated video graphics, it will perform a bit faster than the Acer. It is also 0.4 pounds heavier but it does have a larger 12.1" screen. Its higher cost can be justified by its 500GB hard drive and that it comes with Windows 7 Home Premium, while the Acer 1830T has a smaller 250GB hard drive and is preloaded with Windows 7 Home Basic.

The biggest weakness of this package is the battery. It is comes with a 6 cell 4400 mAh battery, and this results in a battery life of about 4.5 hours. This is roughly around 75% of what you can expect from the Acer. Ergonomically, the touch-pad buttons are terribly stiff.



2. Core i5 power - Gateway EC19C10i. At about the same price as the Asus UL20FT, you have the Gateway EC19C10i. The Gateway EC19C10i is actually an Acer 1830T sold under the Gateway brand, Acer having bought Gateway. The Gateway EC19C10i is priced at Php37,990.

Is the price premium over its sibling justified? It has a larger 320GB hard drive, but the real additional cost item is the Intel Core i3-430UM (1.20GHz with turbo boost up to 1.73GHz, 3MB cache).

Quick Specs:
    • Screen: 11.6" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGAbacklit TFT LCD screen
    • O.S.: Windows 7 Home Basic 64-bit
    • Processor: Intel Core i3-430UM (1.20GHz with turbo boost up to 1.73GHz, 3MB cache)
    • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics with 128MB dedicated memory (up to 768 shared memory)
    • Memory: 2GB DDR3 Memory
    • Storage: 320GB SATA Hard Drive and a SD card reader
    • Optical drive: None
    • Connectivity: Wifi b/g/n; Bluetooth; USB (x3); VGA Port; HDMI Port; Ethernet Port
    • Dimensions: 11.2 x 8 x 1-1.1 inches
    • Battery: 6-cell (4400 mAh)
    • Weight: 3 lbs.
    The more powerful Intel Core i3-430UM (1.20GHz with turbo boost up to 1.73GHz, 3MB cache) is as power efficient as Intel Core i3-380UM, but the lower capacity battery will only give you 4 hours of battery life. The question is whether the additional processing power and shorter battery life is worth the additional Php10K.


    3. Sliver thin featherweight - Apple 11.6" MacBook Air. It's an Apple so do not expect it to be cheap, but at only Php51,990, the price is surprisingly reasonable. 

    Quick Specs:
        • Screen: 11.6" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) LED-backlit TFT LCD screen
        • O.S.: Mac OS 10.6
        • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.4GHz
        • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 320M (share memory)
        • Memory: 2GB DDR3 Memory
        • Storage: 64GD Solid State Drive
        • Optical drive: None
        • Connectivity: Wifi b/g/n; Bluetooth; USB (x2); Apple Mini Display Port
        • Dimensions: 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.68 inches
        • Battery: 5 hour battery
        • Weight: 2.3 lbs.
        At 0.68 inches at the thickest and 2.3 pounds in weight, nothing else can touch it right now in terms of portability. With its aluminum unibody it is the best looking among the bunch. So should you shell out your Php51K right away? Yes and no. There are some drawbacks to consider.

        The 11.6" MacBook Air 1.40 GHz core 2 Duo is actually modified for Apple Intel SU9400 which makes it the slowest among the options available here in sheer processing power by about 20%. It does have the best graphics in the bunch with its Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics card. The 64GD Solid State Drive, will launch applications fast, making the system appear to be faster than it is. We love SSD's. On the other hand, the 64GB storage only leaves you with about 40GB after installing an Office Suite. Upgrading to a 128GB SSD is an option, but will cost another Php10K. We recommend that if you decide on this one, you should simply get an external USB hard drive for this model.

        Battery life is the advertised 5 hours. All the others here, claim 8 hours battery life, but deliver less. But that is provided that you do not enable flash in the browser. Flash enables hardware acceleration and cuts battery life down to four hours.

        In the end, the 11.6" MacBook Air is the slowest in the models we looked at, offers the least storage and battery life is on the lower end of the scale.

        Final words. Bottom line, the Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T is the best choice in our opinion. It is good enough and is the cheapest viable option. All the 11.6" MacBook Air has is its 0.68" thickness and 2.3 pound weight, but for Php51K you really cannot buy anything else that exudes that much class, and it does have an Apple on the lid. You could go with our bang for the buck choice, the Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T or the one of the kind 11.6" MacBook Air, or one of the two in between. They are all good choices in my opinion and one of these four should meet your needs depending on your sense of priorities.

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