MacBook Air Alternatives

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Steve Jobs and his talented team of industrial designers created yet another lust-worthy product with the MacBook Air.

But here's the thing: As undeniable as the Apple ultraportable's appeal is, the MacBook Air is laden with limitations. Plus, there are several thin-and-light Windows laptops that skirt many of the MacBook Air's drawbacks. Here's a quick look at three Windows competitors.

By the way, the MacBook Air isn't Apple's first foray into ultraportable computing. On Traveler 2.0, I've posted a TV commercial for an early 1990s Mac mini laptop.

Toshiba Portege R500

Unlike the MacBook Air, Toshiba's Portege R500 manages to offer a built-in optical drive. The R500 weighs only 2.4 pounds compared to the MacBook Air's 3 pounds. The chassis is also super-thin, measuring 0.77 inches thick. (Apple's MacBook Air is .076 inches at its thickest part, according to Apple.) In fact, the R500 is such a compelling ultraportable, we named it number 11 in our "25 Most Innovative Products of the Year for 2007" ranking.

Toshiba's ultraportable offers three USB ports; you get only one with the MacBook Air. The R500 also offers a removable battery, a full-size DVI video port, a PC Card slot, and Ethernet and FireWire connectors. On the MacBook Air, all these features are in absentia.

The MacBook Air has a few advantages over the R500. Example: The R500 has a 12.1-inch LED-backlit display compared to the larger 13.3-inch LED-backlit MacBook Air screen. Also, you'll pay more for the R500 than for the MacBook Air. Recently, the the least expensive R500 model available online was $1915 and included only 1GB of RAM, compared to the $1800 MacBook Air's 2GB.

As of this writing, Toshiba announced plans for a new version of the R500 with built-in 3G mobile broadband--something the MacBook Air lacks. No word yet on when the updated model will be available in the U.S.

Fujitsu LifeBook P7230

Fujitsu is a master of miniaturization. Exhibit A: the classy LifeBook P7230. At 2.6 pounds, it's one of the lightest laptops we've tested that includes an integrated optical drive (a dual-layer DVD burner).

The P7230 measures 1.3 inches thick, so it's is not as thin as the MacBook Air. And its screen is decidedly smaller, at 10.6 inches. But the Fujitsu LED-backlit screen is super-bright, and the ultraportable has a terrific keyboard. You also get two USB ports; a VGA port (which the MacBook Air lacks); PC Card slot; Wi-Fi; FireWire port; and a shared slot for Memory Stick, SD, and xD flash memory cards (also missing from the MacBook Air). Built-in Bluetooth and Webcams, standard equipment on the MacBook Air, are optional with the P7230.

In our tests, the Fujitsu ultraportable ran an impressive 5.2 hours on one charge. Fujitsu says you can double that time by adding a second, optional internal battery. This is no speed demon, however: The P7230 eked out an uninspiring WorldBench 6 score of 32. Recent online prices started around $1550, so the P7230 may save you money compared to the MacBook Air.

Fujitsu LifeBook T2010 Tablet PC

In our tests, the ultra slim and light Fujitsu LifeBook T2010 convertible tablet offered one of the best battery performances we've seen--lasting nearly 7 hours on a nine-cell battery.

The T2010 scored points for its versatile 12.1-inch screen, which is designed to be easily viewed indoors and out. The antiglare coating made the screen a bit difficult to read in direct sunlight, however. The keyboard layout is excellent. The tablet features one PC Card slot; two USB ports; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; and an integrated Smart Card slot for security. You don't get a built-in optical drive, however.

Our test unit arrived with a $279 USB double-layer DVD burner. But when you travel with the external DVD drive, the laptop's power adapter, and the machine itself, you're toting nearly 6 pounds--heavier than most ultraportables' traveling weights.

Fujitsu is expected to include built-in 3G mobile broadband soon. Current online prices begin around $1600.

For Further Information

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Should You Drain Your Battery Before Recharging? That's one of the questions Lincoln Spector answers in his recent article "25 Questions, 25 Answers." The answer: Unlike older nickel cadmium batteries, today's lithium ion laptop batteries don't suffer from the memory effect. Lincoln answers other questions that will interest mobile professionals, such as, "How Can I Get My Wi-Fi Signal to the Far End of My House?" and "Why Should I Buy a Desktop Instead of Laptop?"

The Future of Cell Phones: 2008 could be a year of big changes for cell phone users. You'll be able to customize your handset's interface. You'll have a wider variety of programs to use. Eventually, your camcorder, digital camera, and other devices may access cellular data networks, though not to make calls. Find out what's coming in the near future in "More Options With Tomorrow's Cell Phones."

Cell Phone Add-Ons With Style: Cathy Lu's roundup of new accessories for Palm Treo, Apple iPhones, and other phones includes the Callpod Chargepod. The $50 device lets you simultaneously charge six handheld devices without having to carry a bunch of cables. You'll have to pay $10 for each adapter that connects your handheld to the Chargepod, however.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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