Slim Is In

Better Than Ever

Mininotebooks have had their detractors because of a few serious drawbacks that inevitably come with a reduction in computer size. With these latest models, however, manufacturers are attempting to solve those problems.

Among the drawbacks in earlier mininotebooks was an undersized screen, and while a few new products still feature small displays (around 8 inches), many models today feature bright, nonglare 11.3-inch or 13.3-inch LCD screens.

Keyboards can be tricky on small computers, but mininotebook keys far outdistance the tiny keys on handheld models. Sony's PCG-C1X PictureBook mini, like many other models, has a 90 percent-sized keyboard. In fact, most have almost full-sized keys and keyboards, with dedicated keys for Windows functions. Some mininotebooks have programmable keys and provide anywhere from 81 to 87 keys. To maintain the units' slimness, many minis today feature keys that are noticably flatter than the raised keys on traditional boards--but despite that, they still feel about the same as those of a standard keyboard. You may even find your desktop keyboard clumsy after getting used to a mini's smaller size.

Pointing and mouse devices are other features some users find frustrating on small computers. Today's mininotebooks answer that complaint by providing a full-sized touchpad and/or an eraser-head or stylus pointing device.

Batteries are the lifeblood of laptops, and high-powered mininotebooks gobble up a lot of energy. Lithium ion batteries are the batteries of choice, and most are rechargeable. Depending on the model, one to four hours is the average amount of time you can use the unit without electricity, unless you add a second battery, which can increase usage up to an extra five hours.

The principal disadvantage of today's little laptops is their big price: The word "mini" definitely doesn't refer to their cost. In fact, typically the lighter the weight, the heavier the burden on your budget. The majority are well over $2,000; the exceptions are Fujitsu's LifeBook B112, at $1,599 (street), and Ricoh's Magio, at $1,299 (street).

Yet more and more entrepreneurs are deciding they can stomach mininotebooks' steep cost for the convenience and usability they provide. Wonderful little travelers, today's mininotebooks combine just about all the features you need as a mobile professional, and in the next two years, they could well usurp the heavier laptops.

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This article was originally published in the October 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Slim Is In.

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