Computers & Laptops

A palette of portable performers

Updated on: Mar 30, 2011
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Commuters, backpackwearers and business nomads are now able to enjoy the power ofa desktop computer of just a few years ago, compressed into a machine that’s light and slim. These laptops offer superb portability without too many sacrifices. You can organise your life, use Office docs, edit films – even in HD – and perhaps enjoy a little gaming, all on the same svelte little head-turner of a laptop. Improved battery life means you won’t be running to the nearest socket every few hours, too. More powerful than a netbook, more versatile than a tablet, these are 2011’s hot tickets...

Aesthetics meets usability

Apple MacBook Air

The original MacBook Air was a gorgeous piece of kit, but its lust-inducing design was hampered by equally distinctive, sluggish performance. That's changed with the addition of a faster Intel Core 2 Duo processor and the use of a 128 GB solid state drive (SSD), rather than the traditional hard disk.

You'll now fly through most applications with ease and, although the Air lags behind some of the other laptops here on paper, it's still more than powerful enough to allow multitasking of everyday tasks.

Furthermore, the similarly beefed up NVidia graphics card provides enough muscle for editing HD films on the move and even a bit of light gaming.

So now there's brawn to match the Air's beauty. The seamless, aluminium unibody chassis ensures the MacBook Air is as durable as it is striking and at 17mm thick it's also perfect for slipping into a manbag. At 1.32kg you'll barely notice it's there. The 13.3-inch screen serves up razor-sharp images as long as you keep its reflective face out of bright sunlight. The keyboard is one of the best around, while the large touchpad offers Apple's peerless multi-touchpad control, making web navigation easy. Battery life is respectable at up to five hours. What really gives the Air an edge is Apple's superb Mac OS X operating system and the bundled iLife software suite, with apps such as iPhoto and iMovie making your digital life that much easier. As with the original Air, connectivity is lacking – there's no HDMI-out or Ethernet – and the price is a little high.

However, its mix of graceful design and impressive power is still very hard to resist.

Love - Unparalleled portability and usability. Decent performance. Mac OS X and iLife. Stunning looks

Hate - Expensive. Limited connectivity and storage. No optical drive

We say - A highly desirable, ultra-portable combination of grace and power

Rs 79,900

Small yet power-packed

HP Envy 14

When HP announced the Envy range in 2009 it was aiming to dethrone Apple's MacBook Pro. This latest version of the laptop is, at 14.5-inches, the smallest Envy yet but still delivers Pro-style performance. At 2.5kg this is the heaviest laptop on test, thanks in part to its machined aluminium design. This extra weight isn't wasted as the Envy 14 is a true multimedia powerhouse, packing a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor that offers more power than the average portable laptop.

If you're a gamer or use graphically demanding software packages this extra power and the ATi graphics card will make multimedia tasks a breeze. We easily got Call of Duty: Black Ops running smoothly. The 14-inch screen is very bright, crisp and clear, with a 1366x768, hi-def resolution making the most of content from games to HD movies.

The full-size, backlit keyboard is comfortable to use, but the touchpad is terrible – we regularly brushed it while writing this review.

There's a 500 GB hard drive for storing photos, movies and your music collection, which will sound especially good on the Envy 14. HP has collaborated with Dr Dre's Beats Audio to produce a dedicated speaker system for the Envy range. The result is great, well balanced audio through the powerful built-in speaker, giving musical clout that's rare indeed from a laptop. The only major weaknesses of the Envy 14 are its weight, rather ugly looks and relatively poor battery life – you get just under four hours per charge. Those things aside, it's an impressive machine.

Love - Impressive graphical performance and fast processor. Plenty of storage space. Rugged, aluminium design. Beats speaker system

Hate - Infuriating touchpad. Heavier than most ultra-portables. Runs very hot

We say - An action-packed and extremely powerful laptop with a host of extra features. Only poor battery life and its sheer weight let it down

Rs 75,000

A classy touch

Samsung SF310

Combining the power of the Sony Z Series ? well, near enough ? with the price tag and portability of the Toshiba R630, this is a bona fide, copper-bottomed, militarygrade bargain. Everyday performance is excellent thanks to the Intel Core i5 processor and 4 GB of memory on board, while the dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 330M graphics card allows quite a bit of play on the go as well as work. We're not talking highend gaming, although it is possible to run Call of Duty: Black Ops smoothly and HD movie editing is well within its reach.

The crisp, bright screen has a 720p resolution and makes the best of photos and films. The spacious keyboard is another impressive feature, with none of the spongy cheapness of the Toshiba R630. The 320 GB hard drive is about what you'd expect for the price and you also get a DVD-RW drive ? something you won't find on the MacBook Air.

There's a good spread of ports, including three USBs as well as both HDMI and VGA. As with all the laptops on test, N Wi-Fi ensures fast wireless networking in hot spots across the country.

The ivory white lid and gentle curves of the chassis make this an attractive, as well as functional, laptop. The palm rest features a brushed aluminium finish and the touchpad reflects light in a swirling pattern. It's far better looking than the HP Envy, if not the Air. One minor caveat is that at 2 kg it's by no means the most portable thing here. However, with battery life of over seven hours, allied to the impressive spec, this laptop is an absolute steal.

Love - Great everyday performance and decent graphical ability. Very affordable price tag. Very good battery life

Hate - Slightly chunky design. Not the lightest of laptops, although it is still fairly portable

We say - The price is exquisitely low for the spec. Add a slick design and long battery life and this is a killer laptop

Rs 58,000

The luxe lappy


The Sony Z Series continues to beautifully combine the holy trinity of power, portability and usability. It's ridiculously expensive, but for those after features and power at any cost, this is as good as it gets. The design lacks the super attractiveness of the MacBook Air but is similarly light, and the Z Series beats Apple's device to claim the crown of best screen on test. You rarely get such fantastic colour reproduction on a laptop, and the lack of a shiny screen coating means there are no irritating reflections in direct sunlight. The keyboard is spacious, with backlighting controlled by an ambient light sensor that makes using it in low light conditions no problem.

There's a Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory, and the battery life also impresses, helped by the presence of two graphics cards. Controlled by a switch above the keyboard you can toggle between the battery-friendly integrated Intel graphics card and a far more powerful Nvidia chip if you're dealing with HD video or getting down to some gaming. The Z Series can play all the latest gaming titles, from Fallout 3: New Vegas to Call of Duty: Black Ops, but you may have to turn down the resolution for a smooth experience. You can set the Z Series to automatically decide on the most appropriate graphics chip to use at any given time.

The 128 GB solid-state drive provides speedy if limited storage and there's a 3G module included that lets you insert a SIM card – for which you will need to sign up for a data plan with a network provider. Naturally, if you've bought something as lush and expensive as the Z Series, you don't want to besmirch it with a cheap-looking 3G dongle…

Love - Very powerful, with switchable graphics chips. Class-leading screen.

Backlit keyboard. 3G connectivity

Hate - Ludicrous price. Limited storage

We say - The Z Series offers brutally efficient performance… but what a price!

Rs 1.5 lakh

Pocket-friendly portable

Toshiba Satellite R630

Toshiba laptops tend to offer good portability, reliability and keen pricing without exuding too much of a Poundland vibe and the Satellite R630 is no exception.

The R630's tough magnesium chassis is light and slim. It's fractionally heavier than the Apple and Sony laptops, but very manageable at 1.5 kg. Despite the low price it boasts the same Intel Core i5 and 4 GB of RAM as the Sony, for less than half the price. The 398-minute battery life betters anything on test.

Where the Tosh falls down is in terms of graphical power. The integrated Intel chip offers basic graphics compared to the other laptops here. Although there's enough punch for entry-level photo editing and streaming clips from YouTube, it will struggle with video editing and gaming.

The 13.3-inch screen is slightly underwhelming, not coming close to matching the Apple and Sony laptops for colour and clarity. Similarly the keyboard doesn't pass muster, with an irritatingly spongy action and slippery plastic keys that make typing for longer periods of time a chore.

A 320 GB hard drive provides adequate space for your data, music, films and what have you and there's a healthy number of ports, including an eSATA interface for transferring data rapidly to an external hard drive. You also get both VGA and HDMI video out.

The R630 is not as slim as the MacBook Air, but it has some more powerful components and is still very light and easy to carry around However, while the R630 looks like a bargain at first, its lack of graphical oomph will put off leisure users while more casual/business users won't like the keyboard or screen. It's a laptop you tolerate rather than love, we'd say.

Love - Attractive price. Excellent battery life and portability. Good performance on non-graphically-intensive tasks

Hate - Very poor keyboard. Graphics are not up to HD video or gaming

We say - It's hard to knock the Toshiba's value for money, portability and battery life but it lacks versatility and style

Rs 58,000

This material is translated or reproduced from T3 magazine and is the copyright of or licensed to Future Publishing Limited, a Future plc group company, UK 2011. Used under license. All rights reserved

Published on August 17, 2011

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