Tuesday, November 30, 2010

AMD Athlon Neo II "Netbooks": Acer Aspire One 0721 and Asus Eee PC 1215T

How do we classify the Acer 721 and Asus 1215T? I am a bit hesitant to classify some of the larger netbooks in the market as netbooks. The 11.6" Acer Aspire One and 12.1" Asus Eee PC 1215T notebooks for instance are powered by a lower end single AMD processors. We are a reluctant to classify these laptops as netbooks.

Intel, who set the standards for what is a netbook, classifies a netbook as follows:

Basically, according to Intel's definition a netbook is a mobile computer with a physical keyboard powered by an Atom processor. For use, a netbook is designed to access the internet, play casual online games and play standard definition video. 

Acer Aspire One 721 specifications and performance. The Acer Aspire One 721 has the following specifications:

Quick Specs:
  • Screen: 11.6" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) 
  • Processor: AMD Athlon II Neo K125 1.7GHz single core CPU
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon 4225 Graphics
  • Memory: 2GB DDR2 Memory
  • Storage: 250GB SATA Hard Drive
  • Optical drive: None
  • Dimensions: 11.2 x 8 x 1.0-1.1 inches
  • Battery: 6-cell (4400 mAH)
  • Weight: 3.2 lbs.
  • O.S.: Windows 7 Home Basic (64-bit)
  • Price: Php24,900 

The Acer 721 comes in a variety of colors: black, silver, red and brown. The palm rest has a brushed aluminum finish, while the lid is made of plastic. Using an island style keyboard which is now standard on Acer's, it looks like Acer 10.1" netbooks. The keyboard is full-sized and easy enough to use. If it has one weak point it is the size of the touchpad. However, in order to keep the laptop flat, the battery slides deeper into the case, pushing the keyboard back a bit and hence the smaller touchpad.

It has all the usual connectivity options, but does not have Bluetooth.

Asus Eee PC 1215T specifications and performance. The Asus Eee PC 1215 has the following specifications:

Quick Specs:
  • Screen: 12.1" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) 
  • Processor: AMD Athlon II Neo K125 1.7GHz single core CPU
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon 4225 Graphics
  • Memory: 2GB DDR2 Memory
  • Storage: 320GB SATA Hard Drive + 500GB Asus Webstorage
  • Optical drive: None
  • Dimensions: 11.6 x 8 x 0.9-1.46 inches
  • Battery: 6-cell (5200 mAH)
  • Weight: 3lbs.
  • O.S.: DOS
  • Price: Php23,900

The Asus 1215T comes in two colors, black and silver. The brushed aluminum finish of the silver 1215T and the chiclet keyboard gives the Asus 1215T a very classy appearance and makes it appear more expensive than its Php23,900 price. However, as no operating system is installed, you would have to add another Php1,950 for Windows 7 Starter, or more if you want a higher end version of Windows. That puts the entire package at Php25,850. The Asus Eee PC 1215T has higher specifications than its Acer counterpart with a larger hard drive and Bluetooth connectivity, justifying its higher price.

My only complaints about the fit and finish is the glossy bezel around the screen which is prone to scratches and that the keypad does suffer from some degree of flex. But pretty much so does everything else at this price point.

AMD Athlon II Neo K125 1.7GHz + ATTI 4225 performance. According to the PassMark Softwares CPU Benchmarks, the AMD Athlon II Neo K125 1.7GHz single core CPU is a lot faster than a single core Intel Atom processor,  but a bit short of the performance of a dual core Intel Atom processor:
  • Intel Atom N475 @ 1.83GHz - 324 PassMark CPU Mark score
  • AMD Athlon II Neo K125 - 477 PassMark CPU Mark score
  • Intel Atom N550 @ 1.50GHz - 563 PassMark CPU Mark score
Yugatech Philippines, compared an AMD powered Asus 1215T with an Atom N550 (doal core) powered Asus 1215N using the Windows Experience Index, where the AMD Athlon II Neo K125 1.7GHz single core CPU edged out the Intel Atom N550 by a hair. Liliputing claims the AMD Athlon II Neo K125 1.7GHz blows away even the dual core Atoms. Let's leave this for a minute.

The integrated ATI Radeon 4225 mated with the AMD Athlon II Neo K125 1.7GHz can achieve smooth 1020P playback. With 1366 x 768 resolution screens, the Acer 721 and Asus 1215T can play HD content on their 720P screens. On the gaming side, a test conducted by Liliputing shows that the ATI Radeon 4225 is capable of a fair number of modern games.

With the capability to play HD content and do more than casual online gaming, it is our opinion that the Acer Aspire One 721 and Asus Eee PC 1215T are low end ultraportables and not a netbook.

Compared to my Asus Eee PC 1005HA single core Atom netbook, both the Acer 721 and Asus 1215T are significantly faster. I have no complaints performance-wise. Battery life is a different story. Surfing the net on WiFi, you can expect a battery life of three to four hours, which is rather disappointing by today's standards.  But to put things into perspective, two to three years ago, this would have been above par. 

Basically, the Acer Aspire One 721 and Asus Eee PC 1215T are compromise choices. Significantly more power than your typical  netbook, but with half the battery life. If you are willing to give up endurance for raw power, these may be good choices for you.

Aren't mobile phones supposed to be free? Not anymore.

Earlier this month, Sun Cellular claimed to have breached the 1 million postpaid subscriber base this month, which is more than Globe Telecom's 980,000 postpaid subscribers and Smart Communications has more than 400,000 postpaid subscribers. I took little interest as to who was winning this war. What was shocking is how few postpaid subscribers there are in the Philippines.

The Apple iPhone 4. Probably the most 
desired mobile phone in the Philippine market today.

With a claimed 15 million user base and only 1 million on postpaid plans, this means that only 1 in 15 Sun Cellular subscribers are on postpaid. In the case of Globe Telecom it is actually worse-- of a claimed 25 million user base, only less than 1 in 25 is on a postpaid plan. In the case Smart Communications, of a claimed 44 million users, only about 400,000 are postpaid subscribers. That's about 1 in 110. These number raised only one question in my mind. Aren't cellular phones supposed to be free?

I have been a postpaid subscriber in the 14 years that I have owned a mobile phone. For the most part I have been on two year contracts, and at the end of two years, I sign up for another two years and get a new phone. In the early days, before the "retention privilege," I actually held on to an old Globe Telecom Nokia phone for almost five years, and three batteries. Back in 2002 or 2003, when I applied with Globe Telecom at EDSA Shangri-La for retention, my Php1100-Php1,300 usage per month did not qualify me for retention (back then you had to average Php1,800 a month). On my way out of Globe Telecom's center a Smart Communications agent asked me if I wanted a new mobile phone. I was happy with Globe Telecom's service, but agreed to change my cellphone number in exchange for a new free phone. In 30 minutes Smart Communications got me an HTC Smart Amazing Phone on as Addict Plan 1200.

Samsung i9000 Galaxy S 8GB. At a bit over Php30K it is widely considered to 
be the bang for the buck choice among the creme-de-la creme of mobile phones. 

I grew up with this industry expecting that mobile phones should be free. In fairness, when I did break (dropped) my  phone in 2005, I did buy a Nokia 6600. I do not remember how much I paid for it, but by then it was an old model and I remember I got a very good price on it. The only other time I bought a mobile phone was in 2009. My wife's phone started having problems, I gave her the phone I got on retention, a Nokia E75 and kept my Nokia E61i. Later that year, I replaced my Nokia E61i with a Samsung B7320 Omnia Pro, which cost all of Php13,700 and got on a six month zero interest plan. That is the most my wife and I have spent on a mobile phone-- Php13,700 spread over six months. Between me and my wife, of the eleven or so cellular phones, we only bought two, and only because we had to replace damaged units we got under retention plans.

In fairness, we did buy four or five mobile phones, in the past few years  to give to our office staff or as gifts to family members.

At just over Php25K, the HTC Desire is our own personal favorite, even if it 
lost its AMOLED display. It still has the high resolution (480 x 800) display,
 the 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM to run with the big boys. Internal storage
 is only 512MB plus a 4GB Micro SD card, versus the built in 8-16GB that you find in its competitors.
 It costs as much as Samsung i9000 8GB, and the Samsung which does have a better AMOLED display hence is losses out in the bang for the buck category to the Galaxy S.
I guess, the entire point of all this is aren't cellular phones supposed to be free? Apparently, the answer is no. Most people do not avail of the free phones offered by the telecommunication providers and buy their own phones. Out of 84 million subscribers, only 2.4 million are postpaid. If we are to assume that phones given to postpaid subscriber has a useful life of 4 years and wind up in the second hand market (2 years with the original owner and 2 years with the second owner), this means that maybe about 1 in 20 phones in the Philippines was acquired as part of a postpaid plan. That is a lot of phones being bought. 

Smart Communications "answer" to 
Globe's iPhone 4. Getting one will cost you a bit more than
 getting an iPhone 4. This one is going to be a tough sell.

Why buy a phone, when you can buy consumable plans and get a free phone? I have a friend who bought a mobile phone for Php47,000 when his annual cellular phone bill is only about Php6,000 per year. It is simple really, we all have our vices. A mobile phone is a status symbol. I really could not subscribe to this idea before, but today's smartphones are getting so advanced, I myself can see the point.

It is not just a phone anymore. It replaced expensive PDA's of a long time ago, then it saved you the cost of buying a small low cost camera, made an MP3 of MP4 player redundant and now you don't even need to buy a PSP or even a small netbook or tablet to carry around for surfing the web. When you add up all the items that a mobile phone could replace, an Apple Iphone4, Samsung Galaxy i9000 or HTC HD 2 are not really as expensive as they seem. So even if you are not a power user entitled to a free high end phone, there are plenty of reasons you can use to justify purchasing a high end phone.

Windows Phone 7: Too expensive and a little too late?

Windows PocketPC/Mobile OS used to be the most popular smartphone and PocketPC software. The PocketPC died and Symbian took away that smartphone crown almost seven years ago. Symbian based smartphones still accounted for most of the smartphones sales in Quarter 3 of 2010,  two operating dominant smartphone operating systems have emerged: Apple's iOS and Google's Android.  Apple iOS, has a 17% market share, which did not increase or decrease year-on-year. We do not expect it to increase because Apple iPhone's are expensive, hence targeting a small market share. But we are pretty sure Apple is having a premium product with a 17% market. 

A Windows Phone 7 powered HTC HD 7

Android went from 3.5% in Quarter 3, 2009 to 25.5% in Quarter 3 2010. With Android powered phones from major manufacturers like Samsung's Galaxy 5 (i5503) at Php10,980 and slightly higher priced offering from Sony Ericsson and LG, and even lower cost phones from secondary and tertiary manufacturers, as well as offering high end models that target the Apple iPhone, Android is set to become the most widely used mobile phone operating system.

As of Quarter 3 of 2010, Windows Mobile lost 63% of its market share, Linux lost 55% of its market share, RIM lost more than 28% of its market share and Symbian 18% of its market share. All these losses have been due to Android.  

Windows strikes back. Seeking to regain lost ground, in the fourth quarter of this year, Microsoft launched its Windows Phone 7 OS. However, a survey carried out by GfK shows that the launch of the new Windows operating systems has not made a dent on the Androids' march to the top. Android OS phones are outselling Windows  Phone 7 units by 15:1. This figure should be taken with a grain of salt. There are plenty of low cost Android OS phones in the market, while there are still very few Windows Phone 7 phones in the market.

When more and more Windows Phone 7 show up in the market, they won't be able to match the price of the lower cost Androids. Microsoft has set the minimum Windows Phone 7 device requirements to include a capacitative, 4-point multi-touch screen with WVGA (800x480) resolution, 1 GHz ARM v7 "Cortex/Scorpion" or better processor, DirectX9 rendering-capable GPU, 256MB of RAM with at least 8GB of Flash memory, Accelerometer with compass, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor and Assisted GPS, 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash, FM radio tuner and six dedicated hardware buttons (back, Start, search, camera, power/sleep and volume up and down).

The 1GHz processor and 8GB of Flash memory will mean that Windows Phone 7 units will be fighting for space with the iPhone 4 and the mid-level and high end Androids.
This brings another important figure into consideration. Currently, iOS has 300,000 Apps (i.e. programs/software) while Android has 100,000 applications. The number of Apps in the market is a major consideration for selecting a mobile phone operating system.  Apples' iOS is already in a good position. As the number of Android-based smartphones increase, developers will be more likely to write applications for Android.

As of November 2010 Windows Phone 7 has 1658 Apps. Because of higher hardware cost, we do not expect Window Phone 7 to be in high volumes. This will mean fewer developers developing Apps for Window Phone 7.

Our prediction. This time next year, Apple's IOS will continue to hold its current position with its 17% share of the smartphone market.  We expect Symbian's and RIM's market share to continue to drop to about 20% and 10%, respectively. Google's Android? Well, we expect that it will have 50% of the Smartphone market this time next year.

As for Windows Phone 7, we think it may be the end of the line for Microsoft on the mobile phone. My first Smartphone was a Windows-powered HTC Tanager. My current phone is powered by Windows Mobile 6.1. This time last year, I expected that my next phone would also be powered by Windows Mobile. Now, I think I may go the Android route. But  who knows, I might get one last Windows-based smartphone for old time sake.

Make no mistake about it, Windows Phone 7 looks good. YugaTech was able to get his hands on a new Windows Phone 7 HTC HD7, and it looks like a very nice phone. It is expected to be launched in the Philippines in January 2011, but he expects it will enter the market at a higher price than the Android-powered HTC Desire HD. The leading mobile phone provider in the Philippines, Smart Communications, Inc., is releasing the HTC Mozart 7 but on terms which are less favorable than getting a 16GB iPhone 4 from competitor Globe Telecommunications. In short, Windows Phone 7 is being launched as a premium product and even lower end models will be mid-priced phones.

If it had been launched a year earlier as a premium product, things could be very different today. At this point, we just think it is looking way too expensive and a little too late.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Acer's New TimelineX Laptops - 1830T, 3820T and 4820TG

Best laptop buys for 2010. In the third and fourth quarter this year, Acer rolled out it second generation of Timeline laptops, now called the TimelineX in the Philippines. I think they provide the most interesting choices in the market right now, and are one of the reasons for Acer's climb to the top. 

Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T - Php32,500

Quick Specs:
  • Screen: 11.6" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) high-brightness (200-nit) Acer CineCrystal 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
  • Optical drive: None
  • Dimensions: 11.2 x 8 x 1-1.1 inches
  • Battery: 6-cell (5800 mAh)
  • Weight: 3 lbs.

Acer Aspire TimelineX 3820T - Php34,900

Quick Specs:
  • Screen: 13.3" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) high-brightness (200-nit) Acer CineCrystal LED-backlit TFT LCD screen
  • O.S.: Windows 7 Home Basic 64-bit
  • Processor: Intel HD  Core i3-370M (2.40GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Graphics: Intel 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 (6000 mAh)
  • Weight: 3.9 lbs.

Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG (two versions are available) - Php45,900 and Php46,900

Quick Specs:
  • Screen: 14.1" HD 1366 x 768 (WXGA) high-brightness (200-nit) Acer CineCrystal LED-backlit TFT LCD screen
  • O.S.: Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-460M (2.53GHz with turbo boost of up to 2.80GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Graphics: 1GB ATI Mobility Radeo HD 5650 or 1GB ATI Mobility Radeo HD 5470, with Switchable Graphics technology, up to 3579 MB of HyperMemor
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3 Memory
  • Storage: 500GB or 640GB SATA Hard Drive
  • Optical drive: DVD Writer
  • Dimensions: 13.5 x 9.6 x 0.9-1.0 inches
  • Battery: 6-cell (6000 mAh)
  • Weight: 4.5 lbs.

If not for my acquisition of a Macbook Air, I would have purchased either a 1830T or 3820T. Some may think that comparing Apple's to Acer's is like comparing apples to oranges. In a way it is. Acer's build quality is lower than Apple's, but the Acer's do sell at a lower price. However, in terms of weight, performance and battery life the closest competition to the new Acer TimelineX laptop are the Apple offerings.

Competition. The 11.6" Acer 1830T only has few direct competitors in the local market right now, the Toshiba Portege 210T. Priced at Php39,990, it cost Php7,490 more than the Acer 1830T. It also comes with a lower end processor, an Intel U5400 (1.2GHz) and lower end Intel Graphics (64MB dedicated memory). The Toshiba T210 does come with a larger 320GB hard drive. The 11.6" MacBook Air offers a very different set of benefits from the Acer 1830T. We have a comparison here. Other than that, Asus has a couple of lower cost 12.1" netbooks with ION2 graphics. Dell, Lenovo and HP really have nothing in the Philippine market which fall into the same class as the Acer 1830T or Toshiba T210.

At 13.3" the Acer 3820T, again faces competition from Toshiba, this time in the form of the Php51,990 13.3" T230. The Toshiba T230 is powered by a slower i3-330 (1.2GHz) processor but comes with more memory and a larger hard drive. But at a price premium of Php17,000, the Acer 3820T is a much better choice in our opinion. Dell, Lenovo and HP do have 13.3" offerings but these are heavier machines. A Sony Vaio Y would fall into the same class as the Acer 3820T, but at a higher price point.

See, the Acer 3820T and the Toshiba T230 are true ultraportables, falling in under 4 pounds in weight. The competition can provide you the same specifications, at the same price point as the Acer 3820T, but at a heavier 4.4 to 4.5 pound weight, which does not put them in the category of thin-and-light laptops. I consider the Acer 3820T a poor man's MacBook-- a cheaper (with the benefit of being a lighter) alternative to a MacBook. 

The 3820T is only available at Electroworld at the present time.

At 14.1" the specifications of the the Acer 4820TG are pretty generic. You can find plenty of competitors, until you consider the 4.5 lbs weight and 1 inch thickness. Its competitors are 0.4 to 0.5 inches thicker and 0.5-1.0 pounds heavier. It is about as thin and as light as an Apple MacBook Pro, albeit with more power under the hood. Right now it is the lightest and thinnest hardcore gaming capable laptop in the Philippines, short of considering some of the higher end Sony Vaio's. 

Battery life. One reason for looking at the TimelineX series is battery life. All the AcerTimelineX notebooks will provide about 6 hours of battery life when used for web browsing on WiFi and about 4 hours on DVD playback. The only disappointing thing is that the battery life of the smallest 1830T is only about 5% longer than its bigger brothers despite the slower processor. Battery life, or more accurately, the battery of the Acer TimelineX competitors are their main disadvantage.

Not all 6-cell batteries are created equal. Acer's 6-cell batteries in their Timeline Series are rated at 6000 mAH (5800 mAH for the 1830T). The typical 6-cell battery is rated at only 4400 mAH. The non-Timeline 11.6" and 14.1" Acer's come with this weaker battery, accounting for their shorter battery life.

Asus have several models which should be able to compete against the TimelineX. My favorite is the  12.1" Asus UL20FT, but equipping it with a 6-cell 4400 mAH battery, means that the Acer 1830T kills it in terms of battery life. 

Missing models. The models Acer have not released in the Philippines are the TimelineX 3820TG, 5820T and 5820TG. The 5820 series is a 15.6" laptop that weighs in at only 5.3 pounds, with a very long battery life. The 3820TG and 5820TG variants add ATI graphics.

Comparing Apple's to Acer's. Comparing Apple's to Acer's is like comparing apples to oranges. But if I did not get a Macbook, I would have gotten myself an Acer TimelineX. They come in at the right price point - below 50K. If I was to spend  more than 50K for a laptop these days, I would buying a MacBook, given that what I desire most in a laptop are  lightness in weight and long battery life. At less than 50K, only the Acer TimelineX laptops hold my interest right now.

Where do the e-Book reader and Tablet fit in?

More than decade ago, I would slip a cellular phone into a pouch strapped onto my belt, and place my appointment book, a legal-sized pad, and a sign pen in my briefcase before going to work. When my mobile phone became a smartphone, I used it to keep track of appointments. Later, with smaller and lighter laptops becoming affordable, I carried one around and ditched the pen and paper. Today's laptop, is pretty much the same as what I lugged around ten years ago. It is now just smaller and more powerful. 

The smartphone on the other hand has developed more in the past 7-8 years than any other technological device. First it replaced the pager and PDA. Cameras and video recording capabilities were built in. With a set of headphones, it also became your portable audio player. With a larger screen and faster processor, it now can also replace your PSP and is a viable internet access device. The laptop had its job, and the smartphone was poised to takeover the rest of your life.

The trend has changed lately, with more purpose-driven devices appearing in the market. The personal audio player was resurrected in the Apple iPod. The E-book reader was created, the most popular being Kindle. The "tablet" concept was resurrected in a new form with the Apple iPad.

The new devices do not bring added functionality. You can play music on your phone, read e-Books from  you smartphone or laptop and the tablet is just a laptop without a keyboard isn't it? Do we really need them? The short answer is yes.

The purpose-driven devices are all about ergonomics and comfort. A long time ago, we decided that a pocket book should be of a certain size, which was a balance between portability and readability. In the effort to fit them in existing technology, the pocketbook was shrunk into a mobile phone or converted into a rather clunky laptop. The Kindle prioritizes you, and not forces you to adapt to technology.

With a 6-inch screen it is about the size of a traditional pocket book, much more comfortable than reading a book from a 3.2 inch mobile phone screen. Being small in size it can be read the way you would normally read a pocket book. You can read an e-Book from a small laptop while lying down in bed, with the laptop on your chest. It would just be much more comfortable with a dedicated e-Book reader. The grayscale screen is less stressful on the eyes than the colored screens you find on mobile phones and laptops. Basically, the e-Book reader is designed to do one job, but to do that one job perfectly.

Similarly, a tablet is designed to give you the functionality of a small notebook computer, during occasions and times when carrying a notebook is not so convenient. The laptop replaced the typewriter and my legal-sized yellow pad and pen. The laptop replaces the typewriter perfectly, and does a fair job at replacing the notepad and paper. The smaller and lighter tablet actually best simulates the notepad we used to carry around to take notes and the folders we used to keep our files in. It is not all that easy to flip open a laptop and take notes or read data when doing the rounds in a hospital or a plant.

Some may see the new trend toward purpose driven devices as a ploy to foist more gadgets into the market. But really, it is all about choice. Instead of being forced to do something one way, we now have a choice of doing it the same way we did before technology led us down this "one tool to rule them all" path. So welcome back the pocketbook, notepad and pen, they are here to stay.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Buying a high end touch screen phone? The display is an important consideration - IPS Retina v. Super AMOLED v. S-LCD

I still remember when which phone to buy was dependent on how many phone numbers it could store. Later on Nokia made its name with an easy to understand user interface. When the smartphones started to appear, processor's speed and amount of memory was important (because these things were painfully slow), and later, how much internal storage they had.

It is now more than seven years since I purchased my first smartphone, a Smart Amazing Phone manufactured by HTC. This was followed by a series of Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung smartphones. Today when selecting among the elite in touchscreen smartphones only one thing matters. The screen.

Why? With the top offerings from Apple, HTC and Samsung all offering 1000MHz processors backed up by at least 512MB of RAM, 16 or more GB's of internal storage, high speed wireless internet connectivity via 3G and WiFi, decent cameras and pretty much everything you can put into these hand held computers (which can also be used a mobile phones) they are all fast enough and more than capable to do the required job. There is a point where better becomes pointless, and I feel that the top end touchscreen phones are at that point. In the end, there is only so much you can do on a 3.5 inch  to 4.3 inch or so screen.

If the screen is not important you, or you can't tell the difference from one to another, then one of the mid-level touchscreen smartphones would suffice. But if you are willing to spend Php30K or more on a mobile phone, I suggest you consider display quality seriously.

Apple iPhone 4: Retina Display

The apparent leader of the pack, the Apple iPhone 4G has a 3.5", 640 x 960 resolution IPS Retina TFT LCD screen. The iPhone 4 Retina display is actually made by LG and used a technology called in-plane switching (IPS). The iPhone 4 has many improvements over its predecessor, the iPhone 3GS, but I think most would agree that the jump to a 640 x 960 resolution display from the former 320 x 480 display is the single biggest improvement.

Before the Retina display of the iPhone 4, the undisputed leader was Samsung's AMOLED screen, which in different phones comes in at sizes ranging from 3.3 to 4 inches and with a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels.

Samsung I9000 Galaxy S: Super AMOLED Display

Which of the two screens is better has been subject of much debate: 

Engadget gave the Retina display the nod, by a hair, GSMArena called it a draw, and OLED-display seems to say that the Super AMOLED technology is superior.

HTC Desire HD: S-LCD Display

The third player in the field are the SLCD screens. This one is an accidental entry into this fight. Due to the shortage of AMOLED screens, HTC made the jump to S-LCD screens with the same 480 x 800 pixel resolution. Engadget has a comparison here: Spot the difference: HTC Desire's SLCD versus AMOLED. From this comparison, Super AMOLED has the clear advantage of being more power efficient. 

Which one is the best? Best take a look for yourself and decide. For this kind of money, you should really compare the actual units themselves.

December 1, 2010 Update - We have an update to this article here: Mobile phone display mega shootout

The ultimate business ultraportable for 2010: The Sony Vaio Z (VPCZ128GG)

The king of the hill

The MacBook Air is probably the most chic laptop to own right now. Lenovo's Thinkpad X201, with its Thinkpad label will attract many corporate buyers. By far, the best business laptop available in the Philippines is the 13.1 inch Sony Vaio Z (VPCZ128GG). Whether it is worth its Php179,999 retail price is questionable, but if price is not a consideration, it is unquestionably at the top of the heap.

  • i7 and GeForce Power. Sony's Vaio Z VPCZ128GG mates a Intel Core i7 i620M which runs a 2.66 GHz with turbo boost of up to 3.33 GHz into a small frame 12.4 x 8.3 x 0.93-1.3 inch 3 pound frame. While not as thin as 0.68 inch MacBook Air, it is almost as light (2.9 lbs. for the Air and 3.0 lbs. for the Viao Z) and just as easy to carry around. The Sony Vaio Z's Core i7 processor smokes the MacBook Air with its 1.86 and 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo Processor. Graphically, the Sony Vaio Z has a very decent Nvidia GeForce GT330M graphics card with 1GB of DDR3 SDRAM, which is superior to the MacBook Air's Nvidia GeForce GT320M graphics card with 256MB of shared memory. I am not dissing the MacBook Air, a 13.3" model being my present carry-around unit. At half the price of the Sony Vaio Z, it is a much better value for money proposition, but cost considerations aside, the Vaio Z simply has more power under the hood. The Lenovo Thinkpad X201, can also be ordered with a Core i7 620M processor, but this powerful processor is mated to Intel HD Graphics. Despite its smaller 12.1" screen, the X201 and smaller 11.6 x 9.2 x 1.4 inch frame but weighing in at 3.4 pounds it is substantially heavier than the MacBook Air or the Vaio Z. The X201 will cost you less than the Vaio Z but weighs more and is substantially weaker in the graphics department. 
  • SSD's on RAID 0. SSD hard drives were extolled for being less prone to damage when used while moving and consuming less battery life. After getting my first laptop with an SSD drive, the only thing I can say is that they are lightning fast. These days with fast processors and blazing graphics even in mid-level laptops, the bottleneck in system performance is the hard drive. An SSD-equipped laptop will transfer files 2.5 to 3 times faster than the typical 5400RPM notebook hard drive.  The X201 still uses a conventional hard drive. The MacBook Air has 128MB to 256MB of SSD storage, but the Sony Vaio Z VPCZ128GG has four 64GB SSD drives (for a total of 256MB) running on RAID 0, giving it even faster performance. A RAID 0 splits data evenly across two or more disks to increase performance by allowing faster read speeds since when data is fetched from the disk, data is obtained from 2 or more channels simultaneously. A word of warning, running RAID 0 results in a higher failure rate, as the failure on one drive means the loss of DATA in all.
  • Resolution. The 13.3 inch MacBook Air has a fine high 12.1 inch 1440 x 900 pixel resolution screen. The X201 has a 12.1 inch screen with the same 1440 x 900 pixel resolution, providing an even finer image. The Sony Vaio Z VPCZ128GG, well, it has a full HD (1920 x 1020) 13.1" screen.
  • Built-in optical drive. Going with an ultraportable laptop often means having no built-in optical drive. The Sony Vaio Z manages to squeeze in a DVD±RW/±R DL/RAM Drive into its small 3 pound frame.
  • Where the Vaio Z losses. With a 6-cell battery, both the Vaio Z and X201 can provide a decent 5 hours of real world battery life. The Macbook Air can provide a good 6.5 hours of battery life under the same conditions.
Whether it is worth Php179,999 of your money, only you can decide. But if it's a question of which is the ultimate business ultraportable available in the Philippines for 2010, the Sony Vaio Z (VPCZ128GG) is it.

Apple MacBook or Apple MacBook Pro

One question often asked is whether the MacBook Pro is worth the additional price premium over the MacBook. The MacBook, priced at Php51,990, is Apple's entry level laptop (now a distinction shared with the 11.6" MacBook Air). The 13.3" MacBook Pro is priced at Php61,990. The MacBook has the following specifications:
  • 13.3" LED backlit 1280 x 800 screen
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 2GB DDR3 memory
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics
  • 250GB hard drive
  • Slot loading 8x double-layer SuperDrive
  • Built-in 10-hour battery
  • Polycarbonate unibody enclosure

What does your additional Php10K buy you if you get a MacBook Pro? The most obvious is the change in the case. The MacBook has a classic white Apple plastic case, although in a unibody design. The MacBook Pro comes in an aluminum unibody case which is smaller and lighter than the MacBook case. 

MacBook dimensions and weight:
  • 13 x 9.2 x 1.08 inches
  • 4.7 pounds
MacBook Pro dimensions and weight:
  • 12.78 x 8.94 x 0.95 inches
  • 4.5 pounds

Another physical change is that MacBook Pro's screen is covered edge to edge by a glass cover. The MacBook Pro also comes with a still not too common feature, an illuminated keyboard with an ambient light sensor.

Inside, the only difference really is that the MacBook Pro comes with 4GB of RAM instead of 2GB's. All other specifications are the same between MacBook and the entry level 13.3" MacBook Pro. Upgrading a MacBook's memory from 2GB to 4G will cost you Php5,400 if done at the Apple store and Php4K if done outside. Unless you plan to use your MacBook to play games you won't really need the 2GB, and if you wanted a gaming laptop, I would look elsewhere. As good as the Nvidia GeForce 320M graphic cards are, for this money you can get a much better gaming system.

Effectively, the aluminum case and back-lit keyboard make up the half of the 10K additional cost. The MacBook is a slightly better value for money proposition if you ask me, and it also has the classic "Mac look." But MacBook is the sleeker looking one of the two, and we can imagine many would easily pony up the 10K price premium just for the look alone.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Best Budget Android Phones

We have an updated budget Android smartphone guide at this link.

When I asked my phone savvy friends what touchscreen Smartphone to get, the advice given is Apple's iPhone 4. When I tell them I want something less expensive, they direct me to the bada-powered Samsung Wave 8500 and the Android-powered HTC Wildfire. Given that I belong to the dwindling number of Windows Mobile holdouts, I have no preference for iOS, bada or Android with reference to familiarity. Between the bada and Android, I prefer Android.

1. HTC Wildfire 

Taking a look at the HTC Wildfire, I am happy with the look and feel of the product. I like that it has a nice compact design with excellent hardware specifications. The suggested retail price of Php17,000 is about how much I am willing to pay for a mobile phone, but it now sells at Php15,000 with an HTC warranty.

It has a 3.2 inch TFT capacitive touchscreen display with a 240 x 320 pixel screen resolution. At first glance, it looks fine as previous mobile phones have the same resolution. But comparing it to some Samsung phones especially with the higher resolution AMOLED screen of the Samsung S8500 Wave, it does not match up well to the best of today's mid-level touchscreen mobile phones (the Wave runs on bada and not Android). A higher resolution screen would also be much nicer for web browsing, but given we are talking budget Android phones, accommodations will have to be made. 

The Wildfire runs on Android 2.1 (Eclair) with the HTC Sense UI. It is powered by a 528 MHz Qualcomm processor and has 384 MB of RAM. Internal storage is 512MB. Internal storage can be increased via a MicroSD slot. It has all the standard connectivity I would need: GPRS, EDGE,  HSDPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, a microUSB port and as well as a built in GPS transceiver with A-GPS support. It seems to have a decent camera-- a 5 MP autofocus camera with a LED flash.

2. Samsung Galaxy Spica i5700 

The Samsung Galaxy Spica i5700 has a faster 800 MHz processor than the HTC Wildfire, but only with 128 MB of RAM and only 180MB of internal storage. Internal storage can be increased via a MicroSD slot.  Like the Wildfire, it also has a 3.2 inch TFT capacitive touchscreen display but with a higher resolution 320 x 480 pixel screen. The model I saw was running on Android 1.5 (Cupcake) with TouchWiz UI, but I was told it could be upgraded to Android 2.1 (Eclair). It comes with a 3.2 MP camera with autofocus, but with no flash. Connectivity options are as expected: GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP as well as a built-in GPS transceiver with A-GPS support. It does support multi-touch. 

I like the higher resolution screen, and the one I saw was priced at Php13,700, which a fair amount less expensive than the HTC Wildfire.

3. Sony Ericsson Xperia X8.

The Sony Ericsson Xperia X8 runs on a Qualcomm 600MHz processor with 168MB of RAM and 128MB of internal storage. The screen is a 3.0 inch TFT capacitive touchscreen display with 320 x 480 pixel resolution. It has a 3.15MP camera, but it is only a fixed focus camera. Connectivity options are as expected: GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP as well as a built-in GPS transceiver with A-GPS support.

For a newly released phone, the biggest disappointment is that it runs on Android 1.6 (Donut), with no word on updates. The phone does not support multi-touch but has a decent web browser.  For this alone I would have dumped this from consideration, except for one factor. It has a really attractive suggested retail price of only Php11,600.

4. Samsung Galaxy 5 i5503

I am a big fan of Samsung phones, having owned two, but this one I am not too fond of. The i5503 has adequate specifications running on Android 2.1 (Cupcake) backed by a 600 MHz processor and 170MB of internal storage, which can be expanded through a MicroSD slot. It has all the standard connectivity I would need: GPRS, EDGE,  HSDPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, a microUSB port and as well as a built-in GPS transceiver with A-GPS support. As a minus, it has a relatively small 2.8 inch TFT capacitive touchscreen display with 240 x 320 pixel resolution. It does support multi-touch. 

The smaller screen really would seem to be too small for a touchscreen phone. My other dislikes are more subjective.  The chrome finish around the case and the textured caseback, all gives it a really budget look. With a retail price of Php10,980 it is the cheapest of the options here though.

5. LG Optimus One P500

This has to be the most controversial phone in the market, after a rather controversial 50% off launching day sale. But never mind that. The phone itself is fairly impressive even at its full Php12,990 retail price. First and foremost, the phone runs the latest Android 2.2 (Froyo). The other phones we looked at run Android 2.1 (Eclair) or 1.6 Android (Donut). It comes with a 3.2 inch TFT capacitive touchscreen display with 320 x 480 pixel resolution, which is as good as you get in a budget Android. It has a 600MHz processor, 512MB of RAM and 170MB of internal storage. For the camera, it has a 3.2MP autofocus camera. Connectivity options are as expected: GPRS, EDGE,  HSDPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, a microUSB port and as well as a built in GPS transceiver with A-GPS support. All-in-all not a bad package.

The look and feel of the LG Optimus One P500, is hard to explain. It won't offend anyone and won't impress.


The Sony Ericsson and Samsung Galaxy 5 are the cheapest options, but they do give up a lot against the LG Optimus One P500. The LG Optimus One P500 has the best features set and is priced mid pack. My other favorite is the HTC Wildfire. I really like the HTC Sense interface and is well built, with its biggest weakness being its 240 x 320 pixel resolution screen. This could be a deal breaker for many. Overall, I like the Wildfire, but LG Optimus One P500 with the higher resolution screen and lower price seems like the best deal. 

QWERTY or Touchscreen?

I have been using a QWERTY messenger phone for the past four years, since my telecom service provider, Smart Communications, had been offering QWERTY messenger phones for the consumer market. Ironically enough, none has been the world's most popular QWERTY messenger phone, Blackberry. When I applied for a Blackberry and a BIS plan a few years back, I was declined since they were offered only to corporate clients. Later, when they were offered to non-corporate clients, I found the price too high and at my monthly plan, I could avail of Nokia or Samsung QWERTY messenger phones for free so I opted for those instead which allowed me email access.

The QWERTY messenger phone changed the way I used a mobile phone. I never learned how to multi-tap so sending SMS had always been a chore. Before I had a QWERTY messenger phone, I would not even consume my allocation of free SMS and my phone was really mainly for voice calls. These days I do not know whether I spend more on voice calls or SMS. When I saw the bevy of touchscreen phones hitting the market two years ago, I swore I would never abandon the QWERTY messenger format.

What I have been using for the past year, a Samsung OMNIAPro B7320. 
While there is the OMNIAPro 7330 with a larger screen, I like the balance
of the B7320 in my hand better. 

As a messaging platform I think the QWERTY messenger is still the best choice.  Phones with a QWERTY keypad were once the trademark of a "business" phone. Today, the number of low cost QWERTY phones in the market now like the Nokia C3 which has suggested retail price of Php7,295 and even more humble offering like the My Phone Q19 with a retail price of Php1,990 is proof of utility of the QWERTY phone.

With the advent of 3G technology, mobile phones are able to access regular internet at high speeds. When I got a 3G capable QWERTY smartphone, I started to use my mobile phone for internet access on a regular basis. But after a month or so, I stopped. The small 2.6 inch screen and having to navigate and zoom into webpages with the D-PAD worked well enough, but I guess I did not find the experience sufficiently comfortable to use it for extended periods. Soon, it became a novelty that wore off, I really only rarely access the internet to browse using my mobile phone. Mainly just for things like checking movie schedules. My main use for mobile internet is, downloading email.

Now there are the touchscreen phones, and these once expensive phones are getting more and more affordable every year. Touchscreen phones allow for the use of larger screens and the touchscreen is undoubtedly the most comfortable way to navigate websites on a mobile phone. Most touchscreen phones also have a virtual QWERTY keypad. I have tried a virtual QWERTY keypad and the lack of the tactile feel of a physical QWERTY keypad hampers my typing speed. That is really only an issue while firing away long SMS or typing emails. If it is just taking short notes and making entries into your calendar, the virtual QWERTY keypad is more than sufficient. In every other respect, searching through your contacts to make a phone call, reading documents and of course handheld web-browsing, the touchscreen is superior.

The wide availability of mid to low cost touchscreen smartphones are really tempting. 
When I ask my friends which one to get... this is the one they recommend: the HTC Wildfire
 and on the higher end of the scale, Apple's iPhone.  

It is kind of funny, a QWERTY messenger actually fits all my needs, and I do carry a less-than-3-pound laptop with me most of the time so I really won't be doing much internet surfing on a mobile phone. But something about getting a touchscreen phone is really appealing to me right now. Maybe it is because I like technology and these are currently at the cutting edge, or maybe because a touchscreen phone makes every other phone look archaic. Build it, and they will come. Sigh.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The MacBook Advantage - It's all in the battery

People buy MacBooks for many reasons. The prices have significantly gone down the past few years, making them much better deals. Build quality of the recent models is exemplary. The MacBooks have a nice clean intake and exhaust system avoiding the usual design on the bottom of a laptop case which is filled with vents. Oh, and the battery life of the MacBook and MacBook Pro are both at 10 hours. Okay, in the real world it is more like 7:48 minutes according to Laptop Magazine's review of the 13.3" MacBook Pro. The MacBook's battery advantage extends beyond the ability to provide all day computing, it also goes into its durability. The typical lithium ion battery can last 300-500 discharge cycles and is good for 2-3 years. Newer lithium ion batteries can last longer. Apple designs its batteries to last a full 1,000 discharges and to last 4-5 years. If you plan to replace your laptop every year or two, this might not be that big a deal. Also, the newer Intel i3/i5/i7 laptops with a decent-sized six-cell battery (6000 mAH) provide more or less 5-6 hours battery life. 

If you decide the premium price for having an Apple on your lid is worth it, it is good to know that there is a lot of substance under the hood too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Which Ultraportable - 11.6" or 13.3"?

Five years ago, the traditional urltraportable was a 12.1" laptop with a 10.6" x .6" x 1.1 inch chassis and weighing in at 3.2 pounds with a four cell battery. The 1024 x 768 resolution screen resulted in an almost square-shaped chassis with a keyboard which was 92% of the size of a full-sized keyboard. In order to allow for a small chassis, these laptops were powered to be expensive low voltage or super low voltage processors.

The one 12.1" standard ultraportable has pretty much disappeared from the market, to be replaced by a new breed of ultraportables with 11.6" to 13.3" screen sizes. A frequently asked question is whether a person should buy an 11.6" ultraportable or a 13.3" model.

Sony Vaio Y series - mid-priced 13.3" ultraportable. The newer i3's
 are not here yet, but when they do arrive, they should be priced at around 55K.

The typical 13.3" ultraportable weighs in at just under 4 pounds. Some of the lightest ones, like the 2010 MacBook Air or Sony Vaio Z, weigh in at 3 pounds or just a bit less. These laptops are powered by lower speed low and ultra low voltage i3, i5 and i7 processors, Intel Core processors (1.06~1.4Ghz), and full powered i3, i5 and i7 processors running at twice the speed of the low voltage counterparts. With a 13.3" screen, it is big enough and powerful enough to be your only laptop. Some even come with built-in-optical drives.

11.6" MacBook Air - Starts at Php51,900

The typical 11.6" ultraportable weighs in at about 3 pounds. Some of the lightest ones, like the 2010 MacBook Air, are 2.3 pounds. These laptops are powered by lower speed low and ultra low voltage i3, i5 and i7 processors and Intel Core processors (1.06~1.4Ghz). The smaller laptop case usually limits the processor choices because of the ability of the smaller case to dissipate heat. The 11.6" screen is in our opinion a bit small for daily use, but the small 11.6" screens are widescreen laptops with a length of 11.2" or more. This allows for a full-sized keyboard, but the wider but shallower design usually results in smaller touchpads.

Previously, the lower voltage processors allowed for longer battery life, but with the new i3, i5 and i7 design, the full-powered laptop processors and their low voltage sibling provide about the same battery life.

Which is best for you? If you intend to use it on an airplane or even in the small tables you find in Starbucks, the 11.6" model is a better choice. Carried under your arm, the 11.6" notebook is handier to carry. If you carry it more than you use it, the 0.5-1 pound weight advantage is another factor to consider. The main drawback is that this will most likely be a back-up system.

If you are looking for a one-size fits all solution, the 13.3" is a better choice.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How iPhone vs. Android vs. BlackBerry see each

This caricature of how iPhone vs. Android vs. BlackBerry see each other by C-Section comics  users is probably the funniest thing I have seen all year.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Android: Set to Rule

The biggest battle in the world of personal computers, is not Intel v. AMD or Windows v. Mac OS. Those battles were decided a long time ago, with the next round nowhere in sight. We expect a new mobile processor from AMD to be out early next year, which will give it a bigger market share in the notebook and low end laptop segment. Apple's laptops having dropped in price the past few years have improved Apple's share in the mass market. But as far as laptops are concerned, Intel and Microsoft have their places secured for the foreseeable future. 

The big fight now, is who will win the battle of the hand held PC's. The share of smartphones in the mobile phone market will continue to grow. Thanks to Apple's iPad, tablets will soon be offered by most every computer manufacturer. In this arena, the peaceful world of Symbian, RIM and Windows was rocked by Apple's iOS. Then came Google's Android OS. It looks like Android is winning this one.

Gartners' report on worldwide sales of smartphones to end users shows that Android has made the leap from sixth place last year, to second place this year. Android is eating up everyone's market share.

Year-on-year, only the Android OS has shown to be the only smartphone operating system to have increased its market share, and it did so by a factor of 7.

This battle will carry over to the tablet market. While Apple rocked the smartphone world with its iOS and changed the landscape of mobile computing with its iPad, unless Apple offers lower cost versions of its iPhone and iPad soon, Android will rule this segment. Android has low cost Php12,000-Php14,000 offerings like the Samsung i5700 Galaxy Spica and LG Optimus One P500. Moreover, there is the lower cost Archos and other sub-20K 7 to 10-inch tablets we expect to see after the new year.

LG Optimus One P500 - Android 2.2 (Froyo) at Php12,990 

Archos 7 - A 7" Android Tablet at Php11,500

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.

Battle at 11.6": Apple MacBook Air versus Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T

If you are in the market for an 11.6" ultraportable notebook, there are two models which we think you should consider: the 11.6" Apple MacBook Air and Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T. While the Acer was released internationally earlier, both the Acer and the Apple became available in the Philippines only last month.

Size and weight. An 11.6" ultraportable notebook is selected because size and weight are the primary consideration without sacrificing the size of the keyboard. An 11.6" laptop will have a 100% sized keyboard. The MacBook Air's dimensions are 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.11-0.68 inches and it weighs in at an amazingly light 2.3 pounds. It is trimmer and lighter than any 11.6" laptop that we can recall. The Acer's dimensions are at 11.2 x 8 x 1-1.1" and weighs in at 3 pounds. The Acer is thicker and heavier, but either is easy enough to slip into the suitcase and neither is a burden to carry around. The Acer is  still a small and light notebook, it simply cannot match the MacBook Air in this category. We give Round 1 to the Apple.

Battery life.  The MacBook Air has the equivalent of a 4-cell battery while the Acer TimelineX has a larger 6-cell battery. The MacBook Air promises 5 hours of battery life and will give you over 4 hours of battery life when used for web browsing on WiFi. The Acer promises 8 hours of battery life and will give you more than 6 hours. Both are a bit short of all-day computing. With 1.5-2 hours longer battery life, the Acer fights back and takes Round 2.

Performance. The Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T currently being sold in the Philippines is powered by a Intel Core i3-380um processor running at 1.33GHz with a 3GB cache. The Apple MacBook Air 11.6" has a slower Core2 Duo 1.40GHz with a 3MB cache. The improved architecture of the Arrandale processor gives that Acer a more than 20% advantage on processing power. The MacBook Air has the advantage in graphics with an Nvidia GeForce 320M with 256MB of shared memory. While the Acer has a  decent Intel video card, Intel HD  Graphics  with 128MB of dedicated memory, this can only provide a third of the power of the Nvidia GeForce 320M. Aiding the Apple in the speed category is that it uses an SSD drive which results in faster hard driver access. This round ends in a tie.

Neither the Intel Core i3 powered Acer or the Apple is fast in current standards but both are sufficiently capable for what a person would normally do with an 11.6" computer. 

Storage. The Acer TimelineX has a conventional 250GB hard disk drive. The MacBook Air has a more modern but much smaller 64MB SSD drive. After installing the operating system, this leaves you with a bit more than 40GB. This is plenty of space for your productivity software, documents and spreadsheets. It will get filled up pretty fast if you install games and use it to store picture, videos and music. A 128GB SSD drive is available for the 11.6" MacBook Air, but this costs Php10K more. That is a lot to pay for 64GB more hard drive space.

The SSD also has the advantage of being less prone to failure in case you use the notebook in a moving vehicle. While we love SSD technology, we do think that people will find 64GB on the small side, and give this round to Acer.

Ergonomics. Both the MacBook Air and the Acer TimelineX have fine keyboards, the Apple keyboard being a bit more comfortable to use in our opinion. Where the two vary widely is that the Acer has a rather small 2.5 x 1.5" touchpad while  the MacBook Air has a generously sized 4.2 x2.6" touchpad. Both touchpads support scroll and zoom functions, but this feature is more useful in the Acer TimelineX. We give, this round to Apple. 

Fit and finish. Apples are well built, and the 11.6" MacBook Air is no exception. It has sleek sliver like aluminum chassis. It is not adorned by intakes and vents, the exhaust being hidden discretely behind the lid. All this makes it the most attractive ultraportable we have ever seen. Go out and see one for yourself, pictures do not do it justice. 

Unfortunately, the same thing can be said about the Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T. While the palm rest has a brushed aluminum finish, the lid is made of plastic.  Basically, it looks a netbook. The rest of Acer's TimelineX series have brushed aluminum lids. It would have been nice if the 1830T was outfitted with an aluminum lid. Thankfully the plastic lid is well-designed, in that its textured finish is resistant to finger prints. The bezel surrounding the display is glossy black, and this does pick-up fingerprints and scratches quickly. Pressing on the lid with a moderate amount of pressure results in some distortion in the display. A slightly thicker lid would have been more desirable. 

The Acer is built well enough if you buy one of the lower end Core i3 models. If you buy one of the more expensive i5 or i7 models, the build quality becomes more of an issue. The Apple is just excellent. This round goes to Apple.

Other differences. Both laptops have 11.6" 1366 x 768 LED screens. Both have b/g/n wifi. The Acer has an HDMI while Apple has its Mini Display Port. Acer has 3 USB ports, while the Apple only has 2. The Apple does not have a Ethernet port, so connecting to the Internet cannot be done through a LAN cable. The Apple is simply too slim to accommodate an RJ-45 connector.

The most significant differences are that the Acer has a 5-in-1 card reader while the Apple does not and the Acer supports Bluetooth 3.0 while the Apple supports the older 2.0 standard. The absence of the card reader would be an issue to the camera buff and the Acer does have more connectivity options, so we give this round to Acer.

Cost. The word value for money and Apple really do not belong in the same sentence if you are looking purely at specifications. When you factor in the build quality, the 11.6" Apple MacBook Air is worth its Php51,990 asking price. The Acer is priced a lot less, at Php32,500. Not bad for ultraportable with an Intel Core i3 processor. There is no winner in this round. Both are well worth the asking price.

Conclusion.  Which one is better? We think either one is a good choice. It really depends on your set of priorities. Neither is "perfect." If I were to redesign the Acer, I would push the battery back to increase the size of the touchpad, give it a stiff aluminum lid and a matte finish on the bezel. As for the Apple, I would make it a bit thicker and heavier and give it a bigger battery and larger hard drive.

If I were buying one of these machines, I would buy the Acer. It is cheaper, has a longer battery life, a faster processor and its video capabilities are sufficient. The MacBook Air's advantages are not so clear-cut, but its svelte aluminum ultra-thin case is the kind of thing that results in impulse-buy decisions.

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