SLIDESHOW

The Best Ultraportable Laptops

How powerful and full-featured can a superlight laptop be? These 10 models pack a lot of performance in a thin package.

Lenovo Thinkpad X200 Laptop

Because it bears a lower model number, you might imagine that this a less-powerful version of the ThinkPad X300, but the X200 actually has a more recent processor. The X300 has a 13.3-inch display, however, while the X200 has a 12.1-inch screen. Ah, but what you'll see when you fire this baby up!

At just under 3 pounds with its lightest battery installed, the X200 weighs a few ounces less than the ThinkPad X61, despite offering the same 12.1-inch-wide screen and a bigger keyboard. The bright little display has an easy-to-read, 1280-by-800-pixel resolution, making it quite comfortable for work on the go. And the built-in Webcam keeps you in visual touch with your colleagues. The redesigned keyboard is as big as the ones that members of Lenovo's ThinkPad T series carry.

Equipped with the new Centrino 2 processor, Lenovo's ThinkPad X200 looks like a mild-mannered ultraportable, and yet it can leap tall workloads in a single bound. Its battery life is phenomenal, and the keyboard is huge. In short, this is a much better laptop than the ThinkPad X61, which it replaces, and a surefire winner for on-the-run execs.

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Lenovo ThinkPad X61 Laptop

The Lenovo X61 laptop is the same light, sophisticated ultraportable as the earlier X60 model. Like the X60, the X61 lacks an integrated optical drive, but everything else about this business laptop is top-notch, especially the dazzling battery life.

This 3.6-pound X61 laptop, with a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 processor and 2GB of DDR2-667 SDRAM, earned a WorldBench 6 score of 75, which is fast among currently tested ultraportables. The extended-life four-cell battery lasted an amazing 6 hours and 14 minutes.

The UltraBase docking station adds four more USB ports (for a total of seven) as well as legacy parallel and serial ports. In addition, the modular optical drive has a side release, so you can swap with one hand between an optical drive, a second battery, or a second hard drive (those are optional accessories). Including the base, which is easy to snap on and off, the unit's total weight is a little over 6 pounds.

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Lenovo 3000 V200 Laptop

The Lenovo 3000 V200 isn't as light or as sleek-looking as some models, but it is very nicely equipped for a reasonable price--so long as you don't need built-in mobile broadband. The design is low-key but attractive, featuring a sloped front, a silver lid, and a dark keyboard. Except for very small arrow keys, typing is easy.

Features include a built-in Webcam, a fingerprint reader, and an instant-on multimedia button that will play media without your having to boot Windows. Including an integrated dual-layer DVD burner, our test unit's minimum weight came in at 4.3 pounds--that's on the heavy side for ultraportables, many of which don't have an integrated optical drive.

Performance was very impressive--more like a full-size laptop's, in fact. Its battery life of 4 hours and 4 minutes was 11 minutes short of average for this class of laptop. Still, 4 hours will let you get a good chunk of work done in transit.

If you've been looking for a nice travel laptop that won't drain your bank account, the light, comfortable, and capable V200 fills the bill.

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Lenovo ThinkPad X300 Laptop

The Lenovo X300 offers just about everything that matters to the business traveler.

It shares some similarities with the Macbook Air: They both have crisp 13.3-inch displays, although the X300 has a higher resolution--1440-by-900 pixels versus the Air's 1280-by-800--and with both, you can get a 64GB solid-state drive (it comes standard with Lenovo's machine, but tacks about $1000 onto the Air's price).

The X300 has a decent amount of power for an ultralight laptop--in fact, it performed surprisingly well against other ultralight models. With a 1.2-GHz Core 2 Duo L7100 processor and 2GB of RAM, it scored a 64, outpacing the MacBook Air by a healthy 7 points in our WorldBench 6 benchmark tests. On the other hand, the X300's performance is exactly average compared with the broad field of ultraportables we've tested. It also posted an average score in our battery life tests, lasting 4 hours, 22 minutes on a charge.

What the ThinkPad X300 lacks in style, compared with the Air, it more than makes up for with better features and more functionality.

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Micro Express JFT2500 Laptop

The Micro Express is an ultrafast, affordable laptop. The catch? Lousy battery life. Still, if saving money on a light, fast laptop is paramount to you, the JFT2500 is a good choice for some home- and small-office workers.

Equipped with a 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo T7700 processor and 4GB of RAM, the JFT2500 notched a WorldBench 6 score of 92. That result is faster than the mark of any other model in our current test batch of ultraportables. In fact, only three desktop-replacement laptops have come close to matching its performance. A midsize HP Voodoo Envy M:152, equipped with Intel's new 2.6-GHz Core 2 Extreme X7800 gaming processor, earned a tying score of 92. Two large laptops equipped with desktop quad-core processors, the Micro Express NP9261 and the Eurocom D900C Phantom-X, scored 96 and 97, respectively.

Battery life, on the other hand, was much shorter than average in our tests--2.2 hours shorter, in fact, than the 4.2 hours that the typical ultraportable lasts on one charge. With its short battery life, the Micro Express JFT2500 would be a poor choice for frequent travelers.

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Lenovo IdeaPad U110 Laptop

Somewhere between the fire-engine red, laser-etched lid and the rugged, rubbery base coating, the Lenovo IdeaPad U110 steps out as a bona fide rival to the MacBook Air laptop.

This IdeaPad weighs 2.9 pounds with the seven-cell battery in place. It measures 10.8 inches by 7.7 inches by 0.72 inch, and for an ultraportable it packs a reasonable amount of power under the hood: A 1.6-GHz Intel L7500 Core 2 Duo CPU and 2GB of RAM help the U110 run a little faster than Apple's Air. In our WorldBench tests, the U110 scored in the middle of the pack, earning a 65 versus the thin-and-light Air's slower 57.

The U110's reasonably roomy 120GB hard drive spins at a pokey 4200 rpm, but the laptop had a respectable battery life of 4 hours, 38 minutes on a single charge.

As on the IdeaPad Y510, Lenovo's glossy treatment of the screen creates an annoying amount of glare, even with the brightness control set all the way up. At least you'll be fine indoors.

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Asus U2E Laptop

The Asus U2E ultraportable laptop's luxurious cladding and long list of extras will make you feel like you're handling premium gear. But we found other things to like about it beyond its style.

To begin with, the U2E weighs just 2.8 pounds, and its traveling weight (with AC adapter) is only 3.5 pounds. It has a brilliant 1366-by-768-pixel wide-screen display. Like Sony's VAIO VGN-TZ295N ultraportable, the screen is easy to view in tight spaces, though it lacks LED backlighting. The U2E isn't as complete a package as the VAIO, but it is much cheaper.

The U2E's WorldBench 6 score of 53 put it in the middle of the pack among ultraportable laptops we reviewed at the same time, but it's still pretty slow for laptops in general. What saved this machine in our rankings was its endurance in our battery tests--a whopping 7 hours, 11 minutes with the larger of its two included batteries. That's more than 50 percent longer than the average battery life of the ultraportables we've tested.

The Asus U2E is a fun, stylish notebook, and its cowhide couture is bound to turn some heads, though perhaps not those of die-hard Apple fans.

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Toshiba Portege R500-S5002 Laptop

Toshiba's Portégé R500-S5002 looks a little bit like a laptop version of a sports car, complete with gleaming silver plastic paneling and with glossy metal trim highlighting a plastic shell. But it has a somewhat anemic engine (a 1.2-GHz Core 2 Duo U7500). It slogged through our tests with a score of 49 on WorldBench 6.

But what the R500 lacked in the short sprint, it more than made up for by staying in for the long haul, lasting a little over 5.5 hours in our battery tests, or about an hour longer than the average ultralight laptop we've evaluated.

You can twist the Portégé R500's screen in your bare hands. Pressing the plastic panel on the bottom of the case underneath the hard drive makes it pop inward. The company insists that these unusual design attributes are intentional, and indeed bills both as features ensuring improved durability; even so, we'd prefer a rock-hard shell.

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Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 Laptop

This successor to the LifeBook T4020 offers several improvements. The T series now uses Intel's Santa Rosa processor line, and the hard drive, sealed before, is now user-upgradable.

Most important, the T4220 has a single, bidirectional hinge that is a first for a convertible and a major convenience breakthrough. When you want to switch between the tablet and laptop forms, you can swivel the screen right or left on its hinge--no worries about having to double-check a directional arrow or twisting the screen the wrong way on the first try.

The T4220 has a few protective features, starting with a shock sensor that protects hard-drive components during a fall by retracting the drive's read-write head. Sturdy plastic port covers attach to the notebook, so they can't fall off and disappear; they also keep dirt and moisture out of the network, modem, and monitor ports. In addition, the T4220 automatically shuts down the optical drive during tablet use.

Equipped with a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 processor and 1GB of RAM, our review model earned a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 65, which is unimpressive compared with a ThinkPad X61 model that scored 75; but the T4220 we tested came with a slower processor (a 1.6-GHz Core 2 Duo L7500), and the score is still well above the ultraportable average of 53.

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Sony VAIO VGN-TZ295N Laptop

Roughly the size of a hardcover book and weighing about 2.6 pounds (3.2 pounds with an AC adapter), Sony's VAIO laptop comes with some solid business features. Among the work-specific highlights: a fingerprint scanner, Bluetooth connectivity, and integrated wireless WAN through Sprint Mobile Broadband. These features are increasingly commonplace, but supporting EvDO Revision A wireless data transfers makes this an instant win for Sprint customers. Sony doesn't allow you to configure the VGN-TZ295N to your preferences, so if you buy it, you're paying for the Sprint-specific hardware whether you like it or not.

Mostly, though, this laptop is an entertainer--and the impressively crisp 11.1-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display can attest to that. In fact, its LED backlighting technology gives it one of the sharpest, brightest screens of all the ultraportables we've seen.

With Windows Vista Business and a 1.33-GHz Core 2 Duo U7700 processor installed, the VGN-TZ295N chugs along well enough. It came in close behind Lenovo's X300 in performance.

Ultraportables by nature often have cramped keyboards. But Sony's cut-out chiclet-sized keys are tiny even by ultraportable standards. Although the keys have ample space between them, the main QWERTY keys measure a little less than half an inch wide each. Stylish, yes; conducive to typing, not so much.

This VAIO looks great, and its screen is phenomenal. But for its lofty price, we'd accept no less than perfection, and it falls just short.

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