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The MacBook (Hot) Air is the usual triumph of wannabe coolness over value. But once we get away from the self-congratulatory Apple polishers, who pat themselves on the back for recognizing how "insanely great" Steve Jobs is -- while conspicuously advertising they've got the dough to purchase another toy, one without a DVD drive, yet -- most of us want a computer we can live with for business and leisure. That means a Windows machine. Fortunately, there are some nice ultra-portables out there.
January 20, 2008
5 Min Read
The MacBook (Hot) Air is the usual triumph of wannabe coolness over value. But once we get away from the self-congratulatory Apple polishers, who pat themselves on the back for recognizing how "insanely great" Steve Jobs is -- while conspicuously advertising they've got the dough to purchase another toy, one without a DVD drive, yet -- most of us want a computer we can live with for business and leisure. That means a Windows machine. Fortunately, there are some nice ultra-portables out there.First up is a product which doesn't quite exist yet. Fans of the ThinkPad -- and count me among that group -- love these machines for their reliability, durability, and performance. No, they're not cheap. But neither are they overpriced; they deliver great value for the money. That's why it's exciting to read reports that Lenovo is expanding its thin-and-light ThinkPad X Series with the upcoming ThinkPad X300. It'll sport a 2.0-GHz, dual-core Intel processor. That's a good deal faster than the 1.6-GHz Core 2 Duo which comes with the base, $1,800 MacBook Air. It even outpaces the 1.8-GHz chip you get if you spring for the solid-state-drive-equipped high-end MacBook, with its high-end $3,098 price tag.
Like the new MacBook, the Lenovo will have a 13.3-inch screen. But it apparently also will beat Apple in the weight category, gently tipping the scales at a mere 2.5 pounds, compared with the former's 3-pound profile. (Gee, it's heavier than it looks.) If you don't want to wait for the X600, you can get a 3.6-pound ThinkPad X61 today, with a 2.0-GHz Core 2 Duo, which outclasses the MacBook Air, for only $1,250.
The ThinkPad X61 is a good MacBook Air alternative. (Click picture to enlarge, and to see the other ultralights for Windows users.)
Next up on the list of alternatives is the 21st century's reincarnation of the much-missed Toshiba Libretto 75CT. That was the cigarette-pack-sized machine from the Windows 95 era. It's the only PC I've ever had people stop me and ask to look at it. Its Chiclet-sized keys made it a chore to type, but it was great to travel with. The modern equivalent I'm referring to is, of course, the OQO model 02. There are four versions to choose from, ranging from the low-end, $1,300 model with a 1.2-GHz processor, 40-GB hard, and Windows XP, to the $2,350 version outfitted with a 1.6-GHz CPU, your choice of Vista or XP, and a flash-based hard drive. How much does this thing weigh? Only 1 pound. OK, now that I've mentioned the two most interesting Windows ultra-portables, rather than go on with a bunch of specs, let me clue you in on some really useful information. We all know that the best ultra-lights come from Japan. This makes sense, since the Japanese have made a fetish out of compactness, for reasons both practical (there ain't much space in Tokyo) and cultural. Unfortunately, many of the really cool Japanese laptops aren't sold in the United States. Luckily, you can get around that by shopping on Dynamism.com, which specializes in subnotebooks from Japan and makes them available to domestic consumers. The most promising of Dynamism's current crop of offerings come from Toshiba and Sony. The Toshiba RX1 is really nice looking, all the more so when you consider that it's a Toshiba (the company has not been known for its aesthetics, in contrast to Sony. The machine has a 1.06-GHz Core 2 Duo, 12.1-inch screen, and weighs around 2 pounds. It sells for $3,800. I don't see the RX1 on Toshiba's direct-sales domestic site, so it's likely an import from Japan or a system sold as different SKUs in the two countries. (Whatever; it doesn't really matter. I just wanted to introduce Dynamism as a site worth checking out.) That's not the case with the two Sonys I like, which are sold both by Dynamism and domestically from Sony Style. The smaller is that Sony Vaio UX, and it gives the OQO a run for its money. It's got a 1.2-GHz or 1.33-GHz processor (unfortunately, single core only, the same deficiency as the OQO) and weighs 1.2 pounds. Pricing ranges from $2,400 to $3,300, depending on configuration. The larger Sony, the Vaio TZ91, is aimed at those looking for a lightweight replacement for a standard laptop. Running Windows Vista, it's got a 1.2-GHz Core 2 Duo processor, and 11.1-inch screen, and weighs 2.26 pounds. It's pricey, though, starting at $2,800. In summary, my Dynamism examples haven't really proved my thesis (that there are better options than MacBook Hot Air). But that's probably because the Air is brand new and the Toshiba and Sonys are from the N-1 product cycle. Still, it's clear the upcoming ThinkPad X300 will be the first of a wave of sleek-and-light Windows machines which will bring Apple-like style to Windows users. Not as "cool," maybe, but better options for business users.
The OQO model 2 seems like a Vista-era reincarnation of the Windows 95 Toshiba Libretto 75CT. (Click picture to enlarge, and to see the other ultralights for Windows users.)
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