What laptop or tablet has everything I want?
August 20, 2012 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Help me work out the best laptop/tablet to take away from home!

I have an MSI Wind netbook that I take on trips and to coffee shops, and a MacBook Pro 2008 that I use at home.

I've also have an ASUS Republic of Gamers laptop that my parents passed on to me recently.

The MSI drives me crazy in a lot of little ways. It's slow to boot up, has a short battery life, and the tiny screen and jumpy touchpad makes working on documents irritating. I need to replace it, but I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what I should be looking for.

I want something that is ultra-portable (throw it in a bag and go!) with a long, long battery life. But I also want to work with word processing, spreadsheets, .pdfs, etc. without too much hassle.

The ASUS is just too big and clunky to haul around, plus it's a little silly-looking. An iPad or similar tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard is very tempting; the idea of being able to read books on the go is nice too. But I can't tell if it's possible to work effectively with Office-type programs on a tablet. I want to be able to generate and save documents and spreadsheets and move them over to another computer without too much hassle.

A MacBook Air might be a compromise, thought it seems like overkill. I'm open to other laptops, but I really don't want to deal with power cords and bags on short excursions. The less I have to cart around, the better.

Am I asking too much, or is there a computer out there that balances portability and utility in the way I'd like?
posted by missix to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Apple is selling refurbed 2011 11" Airs right now.. Alternatively, an iPad 2/3 with Logitech's Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is a way I see a lot of people going now.
posted by mhoye at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2012

Really a Macbook Air is designed for this. As a comparison, I took notes last semester in a geology class on my Macbook Air, next to someone who was using an iPad and another person who was using a generic tablet.

My setup involved pulling my laptop out of the superthin sleeve (can I mention, lighter than a 3-subject paper notebook?) and the touchpad to take it out of sleep mode. I would usually plug it in so I could record lectures -- the power cord is a 3x3 square with a wraparound cord. I take it everywhere.

My neighbors with the tablets would have to unpack their tablets, attach the keyboards, fiddle with the right angle so they didn't fall over, etc. Never saw them with power cords, but then they weren't recording.

In terms of notetaking, I could use MS Word's notes thing, and took extensive notes. I could easily jump around to the previous lecture, then back to the current one, scroll up and back to add a random comment to an earlier part, add a section when the prof outlined an area and then detailed each area

My neighbors with tablets took spotty notes because of the hassle it was. Just scrolling up to fill in where he had outlined had to be done manually on the touchscreen and took so much time that the prof would be onto the next point.

So that's my plug for the Macbook Air, and I was hardcore pro-Windows until I got it in January.

I have seen commercials for a Windows version of the Air, which may be cheaper.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:45 PM on August 20, 2012

I recently faced a similar problem, but with an ee901. In the end I bought a Lenovo x121e to which I added a 128MB SSD. It's really fast, has a long lasting battery and, err, I like it a lot. It's also about half the price of an Air, with a similar footprint, although Airs are thinner, lighter and shiner. But anyway, I'm very pleased with it, the keyboard is great. and it feels like a proper laptop in a way that the eee didn't while still being very, very portable.
posted by rhymer at 12:50 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time I brought a Toshiba NB200 netbook and it was basically the most amazing thing ever. 9 hours battery life and incredibly good performance for a netbook. But they don't make them any more and I can't seem to find any successors.

If you're willing to spend the money, an ultrabook might be your thing. They tend to be under 2kg, even with 8 cells, and very thin. Apart from that however, I can't speak from experience.

If not, there are netbooks out there well under $500. You may run into performance issues because low memory and far from amazing processors but from experience, I ended up with a performance boost when I installed linux after windows xp got all sluggish on me. I suppose you could do a system restore once in a while too. But with my netbook I had little performance issues just using word/excel/onenote alone (or some combination of those programs and or in addition to whatever other program I may have had running), so long as I wasn't opening like 10 200 page pdfs at once or something crazy like that, everything was cool. However, with netbooks you still have the tiny screen problem.

I should add that it appears even bigger laptops have gotten significantly lighter; my 17" laptop that I got in march of this year is significantly lighter than my 15" laptop from 2008. Like, nearly half the weight (and somehow, 4 times the battery life).
posted by electriic at 12:58 PM on August 20, 2012

You could do what you want to do with an iPad, but I love my MB Air for this purpose.
posted by Silvertree at 1:01 PM on August 20, 2012

Asus Transformer + dock.

It is surprisingly competent with a mouse and keyboard. I picked the first gen (dual core) with dock for ~$250.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:22 PM on August 20, 2012

I get sort of annoyed by the reflexive MacBook Air/iPad/whatever Mac responses, especially when the OP indicates she/he's already considered a MacBook Air.

The HP Folio 13 is a reasonably priced ultrabook (slightly heavier, slightly larger screen than Macbook Air) that'll set you back $880 on Amazon (cheaper from some reputable eBay sellers).

The Sony VAIO T Series starts in the $700's and has been well reviewed.

The Acer Aspire S3 also receives solid reviews and comes in under $800 at many retailers. I've used this sub-model at work and liked it just as much as I did using a MacBook Air.

If you're willing to wait a few months, the Microsoft Surface tablet (as well as other Windows 8 tablets) promises a decent content production experience. The Surface, for example, includes a pretty slick folio keyboard and a basic version of Microsoft's next Office release. Also, depending on how you feel about the new Windows 8 Metro touch interface, a number of manufacturers will be releasing touchscreen-enabled Windows 8 ultrabooks this fall.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 2:00 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't mind the MacBook Air replies, since it's not off the table altogether.

The Transformer and the Surface both look really interesting, since they seem to have been designed for productivity along with entertainment. I guess the next step is to find a store where I can fiddle around with them to get a sense of what it would be like working with one.
posted by missix at 3:02 PM on August 20, 2012

I agree on waiting for the Windows Surface tablet. There's also rumors that Google might be releasing a Nexus 10 tablet to compete with the iPad. With Google's pure Android tablet, you will be able to do word processing and excel with Google Doc. Plus Google recently bought Quickoffice, currently the best mobile office application, so you will see that soon built in to its tablet.
posted by Thisispiggy at 9:37 PM on August 20, 2012

I have a MacBook Air 11" and an iPad 3 (aka "New iPad"). I scoffed initially at iPads but now I use the iPad instead of the Air 95% of the time. Long battery life, instant on, and good enough for email.

I would also consider Google's Nexus 7 Android Tablet.

For lots of typing, you'll want a physical keyboard too.
posted by zippy at 2:49 AM on August 21, 2012

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