All About Ultraportables, Part 2

Last week I compared notebooks on PC World's Top 5 Ultraportable Laptops chart to those on the Top 5 All-Purpose Laptops and Top 5 Power Laptops charts. My goal was to see how ultraportables compared to other laptops in terms of overall excellence and performance. I discovered that ultraportables--once considered lightweights in more ways than one--stacked up quite nicely against their bigger competitors.

This week I've compared the top ultraportables to our other top-ranking notebooks in terms of battery life, weight, and price. Here's what I learned.

Battery Life: Outstanding, in Most Cases

As a rule of thumb, the notebooks on our Ultraportable chart offer significantly better battery life than any notebooks on the Power chart. But some of you might be surprised to learn that their battery life is on par with what you'd get from a laptop on our All-Purpose chart.

Of the notebooks on our three Top 5 charts, the one with the longest-running battery was an ultraportable. The Lenovo ThinkPad X60s lasted an amazing 8 hours, 21 minutes in our battery tests. At 4 hours, 2 minutes, the Lenovo 3000 V100 has the shortest-lived battery among our top ultraportables. However, the batteries in our all-purpose notebooks lasted from 4 hours, 56 minutes for the Lenovo 3000 C100 to 7 hours, 8 minutes for the HP Pavilion dv2000t.

The moral of the story? On one hand, if battery life is a big concern for you, don't limit your notebook search to ultraportables.

On the other hand, it shouldn't be surprising that notebooks on our Top 5 Ultraportables chart last longer on battery power than do those on our Top 5 Power chart. The notebooks recently on our Ultraportables chart had screens sized 12.1 inches or smaller, while the notebooks on our Power chart had 17-inch screens. Given that the display is a major drain on battery power, it's no wonder that the ultraportables lasted longer on a battery charge.

At any rate, keep in mind that many notebooks--from ultraportables to power models--now offer a choice of batteries, such as four-cell, six-cell, and eight-cell batteries. The more cells a notebook battery has, the longer it lasts on a charge.

Weight: Lightest, but Sometimes not by Much

In our tests, we consider a notebook's minimum weight (the notebook itself) as well as its average weight, which adds the accessories you'd need to travel with, such as its AC adapter and an external DVD drive if necessary.

When you look at the minimum weight of the notebooks on all three charts, the clear winner is the ultraportable Fujitsu LifeBook P7120 at just 2.8 pounds. Compare that to the heaviest notebook on all three charts, the power Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV660, with a minimum weight of 10.3 pounds, and it's easy to see why an ultraportable is a more desirable travel companion.

But when you compare the average weights of ultraportables against some all-purpose systems, the differences can be surprisingly slim. Case in point: The ultraportable HP Compaq tc4400 has an average weight of 6.9 pounds. That's just slightly lighter than the 7-pound average weights of the HP Pavilion dv2000t and the 7-pound Lenovo 3000 C100, both of which are on our Top 5 All-Purpose Laptops chart.

If you need a notebook mainly for roaming around a corporate campus or within an office--times when you're unlikely to need its AC adapter--an ultraportable is ideal. But if you frequently use your notebook on long-distance business trips--when you'll need to pack its AC adapter and other accessories--you might not want to limit your search to ultraportables.

Price: A Premium for Portability

So how expensive are ultraportables compared to laptops on our Top 5 All-Purpose and Top 5 Power charts?

Three of the five ultraportables were rated Very Expensive in relation to the features and specs they offer for the money. By comparison, two Power notebooks were rated Very Expensive, and only one All-Purpose notebook earned that rating.

Let's look at it another way. Exactly what do you get for the money? I compared an ultraportable and a power notebook, each costing around $2000.

The Fujitsu LifeBook P7120 ultraportable was listed at $2099 when we reviewed it in September 2006. It features a 1.20-GHz Intel Pentium M Processor Ultra Low Voltage 753 processor; 512MB of memory (expandable to 2GB), a 60GB 4200-rpm hard drive; a dual-layer multiformat DVD burner; a 6-cell lithium ion battery; and 802.11 a/b/g wireless networking with Bluetooth. For that price, the LifeBook includes the Microsoft Works application suite. (At this writing, the Fujitsu is available online for about $1900.)

The Gateway M685-E power notebook was listing for $2044 when we reviewed it back in November 2006. It packs an Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 running at 1.66 GHz; 512MB of memory (expandable to 4GB); a 100GB 5400-rpm hard drive; a dual-layer multiformat DVD burner; an 8-cell lithium ion battery; and 802.11 a/g wireless networking with Bluetooth. Plus, you get the Small Business Edition of Microsoft Office. (At this writing, the Gateway is available online for about $1650.)

In short, with the Gateway notebook, you'd get a faster processor, a larger and faster hard drive, and a more attractive office application suite, among other things--and if you can find a deal online, it's much less expensive than the Fujitsu ultraportable. Lesson learned? Extreme portability comes at a price.

The Bottom Line

In terms of overall excellence, the best ultraportables aren't far behind the best all-purpose and power notebooks. Ultraportables often perform just as well as their larger cousins, and the most compact notebooks can offer long battery life--but so do many all-purpose notebooks.

As for weight, on its own an ultraportable is bound to be lighter than other notebooks. But when you add in its AC adapter and other peripherals, an ultraportable can weigh nearly as much as an all-purpose laptop. And when it comes to price, there's no doubt: ultraportability is expensive.

So is an ultraportable right for you? If you're frequently roaming around a wireless-equipped office or campus with your computer, I'd say yes. Are you often squeezed into a coach cabin seat on long flights and need to work? Ultraportables may be the most comfortable option, given the tight confines of an airplane's seatback tray. Nonetheless, keep in mind that the smallish screen and keyboard on these notebooks can be uncomfortable to use for long periods of time.

If you don't have these specific needs, you may want to peruse our Top 5 All-Purpose and Power Laptop charts before investing in an ultraportable.

What About Yours?

Do you use an ultraportable notebook? If so, please let me know which model you use, and what you like and dislike about it.

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