Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Laptop

I'm willing to admit it: My laptop weighs a ton. It's like lugging around a two year old.

Give me a second. I'm going to weigh this thing...Oh, God! Sixteen pounds with my laptop, cables, backpack and the one or two books or mags I generally carry. My cat doesn't even weigh a whole five pounds. And at three and a half years strong, it's getting long in the bluetooth (could have resisted, but didn't). So, I'm looking for a computer--an ultramobile workhorse. Even now, I'm away from my desk as I post this, waiting for a meeting.

Vista worries me as it should. It was a poor roll out with device drivers not supported and other bits of Microsoft Weirdness (meaning, they beta test on paying customers). Except for the fact that my laptop (the HP Pavilion with the crystal clear screen and six hour battery life) is a Windows box, I'd gleefully get another. I just cant risk the squirrely Vista operating system.

So, in looking for a small computer, I'm working from a set of criterion that will be hard to get in one box:

  • Solid operating system
  • Works with my existing software (Quickbooks, Office Pro including Visio)
  • Facilitates podcast creation
  • Small form factor
  • Easy to read screen
  • Moderate cost
  • Did I already say solid operating system?

Trouble is: we're not quite there yet with the UMPC's (computers with less than three pounds). Here's what I'm looking at.

The MacBook Air, at $1,800, is the leader cost-wise. Though it's got the more solid Mac OS, it seems a bit like a Sony Vaio without the optical drive, fixed battery (instead of replaceable ones) and mono speakers. Might make a better bookmark than high-functioning computer, though I know Yorkali will read this with a disapproving glance.

The 1.6GHz chip is a little bit, well, pokey, but the heat output is low enough that you don't have to consider wearing a codpiece to use it (though us girlie types love the heat on cold days). It's got a full-sized keyboard and integrated 802.11n with solid performance.

So, unless I really need to put my computer in a manila envelope or use it at a murder weapon (you can swing it like an unwieldy hatchet), it just doesn't quite seem like a workable solution.

Then there's the offerings from HTC. One is the Shift, which is powerful enough to run most business applications, including Windows Vista, and has SnapVUE, a feature that lets the operator view common information apps (like calendar and email) without powering the machine up. It includes Sprint WWAN for connectivity, had lots of imput options and two resolutions and a full QWERTY keyboard. However, that keyboard is small (but OK for my little paws), has poor battery life and I've heard that the fan is kind of noisy. Oh, and that leather thingy on the bottown can't be removed as far as I can see. It's kind of a weird little tablet computer hybrid between smartphone and laptop.

HTC's other offering, the Athena Advantage, at first look, is like carrying around a brick. Still, it's geared towards playing media, working with documents or emails and web browsing easy. The screen is crystal clear (as you can see even from the image) and integrates Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. Shunning Vista, it runs on Windows Mobile 6. It has a built-in camera and a full keyboard. Note to self: this kind of keyboard doesn't work well for women with nails that extend beyond the tips of the fingers, making it hard to strike the keys. The speakerphone is said to be weak and though it can be used as a phone, I double-dog dare you to try it. You'll be in therapy by the end of the day (though you won't be able to use the Advantage to call for help). The Advantage costs around $1.599.

Asus as a new ultramobile, the Eee (nope, didn't stutter). It's tiny and relatively cheap at about $600, though an earlier Linux version suffered from short battery life , cramped keyboard and skimpy memory, the Eee 900 has a slightly bigger screen, touch pad and longer battery life. Still, there's not as much storage space as with the Linux version.