Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas 2010 13.3" Ultraportable Notebook Buyers Guide

The most powerful ultraportable laptops in the market today are the 13.3-inch models which offer a good portability weighing in a 4 pounds or and coming with full power laptop processors. In September 2010, Laptop Magazine name the Toshiba Satellite T235 as the best ultraportable laptop in the market.

Toshiba Portege T230. The Toshiba Satellite T235 is sold in the Philippines as the Portege T230. It is a very solidly built laptop with the following specifications:
  • Screen: 13.3" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) LED-backlit TFT LCD screen
  • O.S.: Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Processor: Intel Core i3-330UM (1.20GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics with 128MB 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 (x2); USB/eSATA (x1); HDMI Port; Ethernet Port
  • Dimensions: 12.7 x 8.8 x 1.0 inches
  • Battery: 6-cell 
  • Weight: 3.8 lbs.
Build quality is better than the average. The 6-cell battery is good for 6 hours of real world use. The price of Php51,990 is a bit on the high side. The specifications of the locally available Portege T230 is a bit better than the Laptop Magazine's ultraportable of the year: the Satellite T235. However, the Satellite T235 tested by Laptop Magazine had a price of US$699, which would translate to about Php40,000 pesos. Is it still a good option at Php51,990?

Lets look at the other options available.

1. Acer Aspire TimelineX 3820T. A lower cost alternative to the Portege T230 is the Acer Aspire TimelineX 3820T which comes in at a much lower price of Php34,900. The lower price comes at the cost of less storage and less memory, but the Acer 3820T does come with a much faster processor than the Portege T230. The Acer 3820T's specifications are as follows:
  • Screen: 13.3" 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 i3-370M (2.40GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics with 128MB dedicated memory (up to 768 shared memory)
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3 Memory
  • Storage: 320GB SATA Hard Drive
  • Optical drive: None
  • Dimensions: 12.8 x 9.3 x 0.9-1.0 inches
  • Battery: 6-cell 
  • Weight: 3.9 lbs.
Build quality is a bit below the level of the Portege T230 but is not bad. Battery life falls while surfing the web is also about 6 hours. The two laptops have very different personalities which might affect your buy decision. The T230 comes with a black or red lid with a polished silver body. The Acer 3820T comes with a more business like a black brushed aluminum finish. Even with less memory and the smaller hard drive the Acer 3820T is the value for money choice.

2. 13.3" Apple MacBook Air. Going up the line in price, another alternative to the Portege T230 is the Apple MacBook Air. The entry level 13.3-inch MacBook Air is priced at Php67,990 and has the following specifications:
  • Screen: 13.3" HD 1440 x 900 LED-backlit TFT LCD screen
  • O.S.: Mac OS 10.6
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz processor 6MB cache
  • Graphics: Nvidia 320M (256MB shared memory)
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3 Memory
  • Storage: 128MB SSD Hard Drive
  • Optical drive: None
  • Dimensions: 12.8 x 8.94 x 0.11-0.68 inches
  • Battery: 7 hour battery 
  • Weight: 2.9 lbs.
The MacBook Air is significantly more expensive than either the Portege T230 and cost almost twice as much as the Acer 3820T. Internal storage is a low 128MB, but the SSD drive launches applications quickly making it seem faster than its 1.86GHz processor and 2GB of RAM. On the side of the MacBook it does have the highest resolution screen, the longest battery life and the fastest graphics with a GPU three time stronger than the Portege T230 or Acer 3820T. It is also the lightest by far among the three.

Our 4 pound limit really reduces competition and Asus, Lenovo and Sony have not released their newer 13.3" models in the Philippines. We should revisit this category soon. Also, I am not too inclined to recommend anything that cost more than our already expensive MacBook Air, though you may want to give the Sony Vaio Z a look.

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