Looking for Light Laptop <$1.5k for Web and Word Processing, And/Or Website to Compare Laptops
January 17, 2004 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Suggest an ultralight laptop? (more inside)

Yes I know I could go to epinions and cnet but I trust you guys more.

I’m looking for something really light that does wireless - a new and mystifying realm for me. I’d like to spend less than $1,500, if possible. Dell’s website makes comparing laptops very easy, but I get lost when they start offering all these choices. And the other manufacturers are even more confusing.

All I really need to do is browse the web wirelessly and do word processing. A DVD player or burner would be nice, but not crucial. Are external DVD drives a good idea?

Are all new laptops pretty standard about wireless capability? There seem to be different types and I don’t understand the differences.

Also, is there some sort of website that allows you to plug in the features you want and spits out suggestions? (If not, there should be. Then I wouldn’t have to expose my ignorance here.)
posted by CunningLinguist to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
What do you consider light weight and are you doing a lot of traveling [outside of the home] with the computer?
posted by jerseygirl at 10:44 AM on January 17, 2004

As far as wireless goes: there's a basic comparison chart here. The important thing to know is that B is the oldest/most widely supported, and G is always backwards compatible with B. A is the newest and operates on a different band, so you'll only be able to use it in a few cutting-edge places.
posted by Aaorn at 10:44 AM on January 17, 2004

Since you didn't specify Windows, I'd strongly suggest an Apple iBook. Right now, they're $1100 for a 12" with ComboDrive (CDRW, DVD-rom); you could spend another $300 to max out the RAM and get an Airport card and still come in under $1500 (even better if you can manage an education discount. I have one (with a G3 processor, they now have the superior G4) and I love it. I'd never go back to a Windows machine. It's light and extremely portable, being about the size of a sheet of notebook paper. The construction is excellent as well (hard drive is rubber shock-mounted, for example): I've been in a rough bike accident and fell on the computer with no problems whatsoever. Even if you're not a huge Mac fan, I still think they're worth checking out for you; it's difficult to find a PC match in size, features, and price.

About wireless specifically: forget about A; B and G are the standards, and it doesn't seem like A will ever be popular enough to justify the format.
posted by The Michael The at 11:13 AM on January 17, 2004

The 12" PowerBook is probably a better value, as it will hold lots more RAM (and thus have a longer useable life) and it will drive a second monitor for expanded desktop space. I'm not sure which is heavier.
posted by sudama at 11:34 AM on January 17, 2004

I have a Sharp UM-20 single spindle laptop running WinXP. It weighs less than 3 pounds, has a nice screen, has an excellent keyboard, and there's an optional battery that will give you between 7 and 9 hours of battery life.

Sharp has discontinued then, but you can still pick them up pretty cheap. I got mine about six months ago for $600.

It's not for everyone, and I find that I use my new 15" AlBook much more, but it's still a sweet little machine.
posted by bshort at 11:37 AM on January 17, 2004

Response by poster: Weight is my number one issue - I will have to be doing a ton of traveling and dragging it everywhere.
What I really want is something tiny without a lot of bells and whistles - but with wireless....

Thanks for the wireless standards help.

And I'm a PC girl, so Apple is out. (I should have mentioned that, sorry.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:38 AM on January 17, 2004

Finding out the answer's to jerseygirl's questions will help.

The industry defines the "ultralight" as being under 3 pounds. Getting that light of notebook for under $1500 will be a challenge.

I had a Dell Latitude L400 a few years ago. It weighed about 3 pounds w/o the external dvd player. It was great for browsing the web, email and light applications. Battery life was rather short [45 minutes] so it wasn't great for long lengths of time without having a power plug nearby.

The external DVD [or other optical device] wasn't an issue at the beginning since I didn't watch movies, etc much. Over time I found myself doing that stuff more often and it would be a drag to plug the thing in and try and balance it on a coach airplane tray.

I replaced it last year with a 4.75lb Dell with a 14" screen and got the built in combo drive. That about 2 pounds extra seemed worth it for the longer battery life and convenience of built in optical drive.

I replaced that a few months later with a 15" PowerBook which weighs a little more but has a larger screen and all the other goodies that is Apple.
posted by birdherder at 11:39 AM on January 17, 2004

(please excuse pasted caps) I'm may be purchasing this through my company(it's on a web site so don't have a person I can speak to): IBOOK G4 14IN - 1GHZ 256MB RAM 60GB HD COMBO DRIVE - $1,490.00
Combo drive means:

These are being included(package deal) what are or used for:


Is this a good buy as too the sales tax is being paid by my employer added it will be reported on my taxes. I don't need it right now and would hate purchasing a better buy if I waited as I thought the this model was becoming an outdated computer.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:45 AM on January 17, 2004

I've used dozens of laptops as a consultant (mostly Dells) and I was recently in the market for one, until my new employer gave me yet another Dell. Dells are good, but it helps if you have a big IT department behind them. Dollar for dollar though, I think they're a bit overpriced; they have become the "standard" PC laptop for business and there's a price to pay for that. IBMs and Toshibas are probably the best-built (and have some of the lightest models) laptops out there, but they are also over-priced IMHO.

At any rate, after quite a bit of market research I had settled on a Gateway 250XL; my budget was about $2,500, but if you opt for smaller/slower hard drives and less RAM, you could probably get an X or XL series Gateway in your price range. Didn't actually buy it though, so I can't recommend them directly other than that I've been a happy Gateway owner of a 5yr old 2500...
posted by costas at 11:47 AM on January 17, 2004

i have the 12" ibm x31. it's *slightly* smaller than the 12" powerbook (which my partner has). i prefer it to the powerbook because of the keyboard/pointer (and i'm not that keen on the mac interface - just too used to windows and linux i guess). it feels more solid than the mac and can take more memory too (although maybe that changed recently?). however, compared to the powerbook, it's lacking on the hardware front - in almost the same volume apple squeeze a cdrw/dvd drive, while the x31 has no cd or floppy drive - and i think the mac's screen is better.

i also have the additional battery pack, which means it can run for a fair while. however, i wouldn't recommend it because it's much bulkier than the internal battery, but actually lower rated (i think it's old technology from the x30). i'd suggest instead getting a spare internal battery and swapping them round when one expires (putting the computer into hibernation). but it may be outside your price range (work paid, so i have 1gb ram, 80gb disk etc, and it came to around 3,000 dollars, i think).

it's possible to install linux on it, but not much fun.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:52 AM on January 17, 2004

ps for carrying around, it's great - it fits into an old, small canvas shoulder bag from river island (i sewed fabric over the zipper to stop it scratching; the bag has a flap top), weighs little enough to not be a major pain, and looks like i'm carrying around a few books.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:56 AM on January 17, 2004

I'd look at the Panasonic Toughbook line, specifically the T2 or the C2 (no time to google for 'em at present). A guy who I know has one and I've played with it -- it's amazing.

I think he paid $1800 flat for it, which is a bit out of your price range, but it's one of the lightest notebook's I've ever used. And it's tough as nails (it's spec'd to drop from a 30" height, your desk say, to a concrete floor with no problems).

I think it's a PIII 2 ghz. Plenty for your needs.

On nearly all laptops under 3 lbs, you won't get an optical drive internally, but external. Don't konw if this is a big factor for you -- I for one like the idea because you don't have to lug the drive unless you'll need it.
posted by zpousman at 12:16 PM on January 17, 2004

Is this for travel? Do you really need a laptop, or will one of the bigger embedded OS devices work for you? (Like a PocketPC w/ a keyboard, etc)?

I really enjoy my slightly out of date Toshiab Portege 2000. Incredibly light, super long battery life, show as shit. But, it's light.
posted by daver at 12:25 PM on January 17, 2004

You might want to check out Dynamism, a company in Chicago (I think) that specializes in importing the latest (meaning light, small, feature-rich) laptops from Japan (that aren't available outside of Japan). I bought a Toshiba from them two years ago and was very happy with their service and the unit. I'm Mac now though.
posted by dobbs at 12:30 PM on January 17, 2004

was going to recommend Dynamism as well. Expensive, and beautiful. Hardware porn. Notebooks Pounds ligher than iBooks.

perhaps a sub-notebook would be better?
posted by th3ph17 at 1:48 PM on January 17, 2004

hmm. i'm suprised no one mentioned the fujitsu P series.... 13" screen . very nice. im on my second fujitsu - they have excellent customer service (being hard on my laptops this is a big one for me). highly recommended

posted by specialk420 at 1:56 PM on January 17, 2004

Best answer: oops my mistake. the fujitsu S series is the sweet light one.
posted by specialk420 at 2:06 PM on January 17, 2004

I would highly recommend you check out the pitch of the keyboard on the notebook. Doesn't matter how small it is if you can't type comfortably on it. I wouldn't go less than a 17.5mm key pitch. As a matter of fact, if you are going to do a lot of word processing, I think this should be among your main criteria. 18mm is great for a keyboard, 19mm is grand (but rare in a small computer). Anything smaller and you're prone to error.
posted by dobbs at 2:26 PM on January 17, 2004

My JVC MP-X3210 weighs around 2 pounds. I like it, even though a 650MHz Celeron and 256 MB of RAM (shared with graphics) aren't cutting it for some of my needs anymore. I paid around 1100eur for mine... The 3210 is not being built anymore, but there are several successors available, although some might exceed your spending limit.
posted by ckemp at 4:50 PM on January 17, 2004

Oh my. I just saw the Panasonic W2 and Sony VAIO X505. Both about £1200. I am suddenly very, very desirous.
posted by Mossy at 6:39 PM on January 17, 2004

Sony TR2. The smallest, most powerful ultra-portable machine I've ever used. I had reservations about all the crap that comes installed with laptops, but a clean installation of XP pro fixed that.
posted by LukeyBoy at 6:44 PM on January 17, 2004

ok, i just deleted all the stuff i wrote, because i didn't want to sound spammy. but. i work for dynamism, and if you want to give me a call tomorrow to discuss the stuff you need (this goes for everyone, not just CunningLinguist :) please feel free. the number is on the website, linked upthread.

i hope this is okay. also, if anyone wants to email the sales address available on the site instead of calling, I will get back to you asap. just mention that you read about us on AskMe so that I know where you found us. :)
posted by sugarfish at 4:26 PM on January 18, 2004

Response by poster: Also, is there some sort of website that allows you to plug in the features you want and spits out suggestions?

I found one, FYI - J & R computer world's website is awesome!
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:13 PM on January 21, 2004

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