I recently received an e-mail from a reader looking to buy a really light laptop to be used chiefly on the road for e-mail and Web browsing, and I was reminded of my one-man crusade, in the late 1980s, to try and get vendors to create a personal e-mail machine. In the early 1980s I had a device called the Tandy TRS 80, and though it was CPM based and had only a four-line screen, I was able to send e-mail, post to bulletin boards and even write my columns on that less-than-two-pounds portable computer.
Nowadays I must travel with a pretty powerful laptop with at least a 14-inch screen and an optical drive inside, but upon reflecting on this person’s e-mail, I had to admit that there are times when I am on the road that all I really do is check e-mail and browse the Web.
Over the last three months, I have been testing two laptops that seem to fit that bill. The first one is the Averatec 1000. It has a 10.6-inch WXGA screen, a built-in DVD/CD-RW combo drive, a 4-in-1 card reader with an 80GB hard drive, Wi-Fi and a weight of just 3.6 pounds. This is a true lightweight multimedia portable that offers a lot of versatility. I really like the way it is designed, and it does a great job of doubling as a portable DVD player as well. Although Averatec is not one of the big brand name players in the mobile PC business, it has established itself as a solid, well-managed laptop vendor that has gained great distribution through outlets such as CompUSA, Office Max and Staples. The 1000 easily meets the needs of a person who mainly wants a small laptop to access e-mail and the Web but with the added bonus of DVD functionality.
The product that gets closest to my original idea of a personal e-mail machine, however, is the Dell X1 from its Latitude series of business portables. This lightweight laptop weighs 2.5 pounds, has a 12.1-inch WXGA widescreen and is less than an inch thick—yet it packs a lot of computing power into that small form factor, meaning it excels at handling e-mail, Web browsing and even PC games.
However, in order to get this ultra-lightweight under one inch, Dell had to make some serious compromises. First, the X1 does not have an optical drive inside, although you can get an external optical drive for loading CD-based software, if needed. It doesn’t have a PC card slot either, which makes it impossible to add most CDMA or GSM modem cards, though it does have SD and CompactFlash slots, and if your carrier offers a CompactFlash-based modem, then it can still be used as a WWAN system.
Without the DVD capability, its entertainment value on long plane rides forced me to move to another video medium. I downloaded TiVoToGo, and instead of watching DVD movies, I now catch up on episodes of “CSI,” “Numbers” and movies I have on my TiVo.
So, to the reader who asked about really lightweight laptops, as well as many of you who have come to the conclusion that a heavy laptop is sometimes too much laptop, check out these two new powerful lightweights, which make the life of a road warrior easier, without too many compromises.