A group of 13-inch laptops priced around $800 have been hitting the gym hard, like that Russian guy Rocky fought, in order to shed the pounds and learn to run for hours. But one is the best.
Why Not a Netbook?
In this battle, we're talking about a whole new class of notebooks that fall somewhere between Atom netbooks and full-blown Core 2 Duo machines.
There is no doubt that if you spend $400 more than the average netbook on one of these 13-inch travel friendly notebooks—the Acer Aspire Timeline AS3810T-8737, ASUS UL30A-A1, HP Pavilion dm3, and Toshiba Satellite T135—you'll be purchasing the comfort of a real notebook, the endurance of a netbook and a bit of the thin-n-light enticement of premium devices like the MacBook Air.
And instead of Intel's underpowered Atom processors, each is equipped with 1.3GHz Intel ultra low voltage (ULV) processor and Windows 7 Home Premium. Handling your everyday computing tasks (running a browser, productivity suite, iTunes, TweetDeck, etc.) and 1080p high definition video (each of them have HDMI out) isn't a problem for the CPU.
Meanwhile, your average Atom netbook can't play a 1080p clip without stuttering, nor can it multitask as smoothly. However, no UL system can reach the performance of a Core 2 Duo with discrete graphics. By way of comparison a 15.4-inch Acer Aspire with a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and discrete ATI graphics has about double the performance in Geekbench, but it pays in battery life.
But you don't need heavy graphics support or super processor speeds to surf the web. The assumption with all of these thin and lights is that we all live so far up in the cloud that we can see that there really is no boy in the balloon.
Even if most of the 13-inch thin and light notebooks out there have identical specs with ULV processors, hard drives and memory, they aren't created equal.
Design, ergonomics and battery life matter most, which is why ASUS takes the crown.
The Winner: ASUS UL30A-A1
The ASUS UL30A-A1 isn't an Eee PC, but its design reminds me of the company's chic netbook line. The metal lid looks slightly MacBook-like and it is the thinnest-feeling system of them all at less than an inch thick all around.
ASUS fares quite well on ergonomics. The keyboard is island-style (meaning that the keys are isolated from one another, like on the MacBook) and quite comfortable. However, there is a bit of flex to the overall panel. As for the touchpad, it happens to be the best of the entire group. While all the rest are technically capable of multitouch gestures, the UL30-AL's actually works (especially two-finger scrolling which I cannot live without)!
But ASUS really rises to the top in battery life. The UL30A-A1 is the only one of the bunch to come with an eight-cell battery. On our battery test (with Wi-Fi on and screen brightness set at 65 percent) a movie played back non-stop for 6 hours and 25 minutes, the longest of any of the systems in this Battlemodo. That's even longer than the HP Mini 5101 (with a six cell battery) netbook's 5:45. In real-world circumstances, that battery life can only get better since our testing is processor-intensive. For $800 flat it packs the best all around performance, endurance and ergonomics.
Acer Aspire Timeline AS3810T-8737
Acer kicked off the thin and light trend last spring with the Timeline series. And while ASUS has caught up, Acer still pulls the silver medal. The AS3810T is noticeably lighter than the rest. The design is more corporate looking than the HP or the ASUS, but if you are the buttoned up type that won't be a bother.
The island-style keyboard is just a pleasure, though the keys themselves are a bit slippery at first. The touchpad is kinda small and the single button a bit stiff, but navigating the desktop is still a decent experience. Acer's six cell battery doesn't last as long as HP's, but still makes out with more than five hours of runtime. If you can score a great deal on this system, it shouldn't be beyond consideration.
HP Pavilion dm3
Price: $740 (as configured)
The HP Pavilion dm3's aluminum lid looks great and feels really solid, but it isn't the trimmest of systems measuring 1.23 inches at its thickest point (or almost a quarter thicker than our winner).
Under the lid, the island keyboard (you seeing the trend?!) is by far my favorite of all. The keys are firm and the manufacturing quality is superb. If only I could give the same props to the touchpad. The mirrored pad, besides being custom-tailored for narcissists, is rough making it hard to push the cursor along. And if you have sweaty fingers forget about it! The Pavilion's battery life was second to ASUS', and really we can't say 5.5 hours is all that shabby!
Toshiba Satellite T135
Price: $710 (as configured)
Toshiba killed it with its NB205 netbook, but the T135 can't destroy the competition in the ULV space. Though the notebook is pretty thin (.87 inches at its thinnest point) it just doesn't look or feel as slender as some of the others. And the same goes for the Satellite's design and coated lid (available in black, white and red); it just isn't as attractive as the rest.
It doesn't have an island-style keyboard, but I actually typed pretty darn fast on the smooth black keys. But damn you mouse button! I wish you were chopped in half to make two buttons so I knew which one I was clicking on. The T135's battery was the weakest of the bunch, lasting just a bit more than 5 hours on our intensive video run down. Again, though that is pretty darn long.
The ASUS UL30A-A1 is our number one pick for a 13-inch ULV based system. It is thin, light, and comfortable to use for its over 6 and a half hours of juice. The Acer keeps a close second to the ASUS with its long run time and sleek bod. The HP Pavillion dm3 and the Toshiba T135, while still affordable and adequate performers, simply aren't the best.