The Light Fantastic

The latest ultraportables are light on weight, but not on features.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the February 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

You shouldn't have to feel like a pack mule when you carry your laptop around. For entrepreneurs who don't mind ponying up a little extra cash, ultraportable notebooks can take some of the strain off your shoulders. Size often comes at a premium, both in your pocketbook and in power. But there are a lot of decent options that pack enough punch to handle your business applications. Cramped keyboards and small screens can put a squeeze on the user experience, so be sure to try out your potential new laptop (or tablet PC) in person.

When it comes to shaving off ounces, the Toshiba Portege R100 takes the prize. At 2.4 pounds and $1,999 (all prices street), it comes in at a midrange price point for ultraportables. You'll have to get your own external optical drive if you want one, but it's hard to beat in terms of sheer light weight. The Sony VAIO T150/L weighs 3 pounds with a very compact design package. The rewritable DVD drive and integrated Bluetooth are nice features for the $2,199 price tag, although you'll have to live with the smaller 10.6-inch display.

At 3.17 pounds, the IBM ThinkPad X40 is as light as a feather, and it starts at the most affordable price, $1,499. The ThinkPad X40 features a 12.1-inch screen and has a full-featured keyboard, although it feels a little cramped horizontally. For navigation, the ThinkPad X40 uses a TrackPoint eraser head located in the middle of the keyboard. Others, like Dell's Latitude X300, use touch pads. For $1,599, the Latitude X300 is equipped with a 12.1-inch screen and is a shade lighter than the IBM at 2.9 pounds. Like the ThinkPad X40, the Latitude X300 falls short on keyboard comfort because the body of the laptop gets in the way of the bottom row of keys.

Hewlett-Packard's Compaq Tablet PC tc1100 has an even smaller detachable keyboard. It does offer the perks of the relatively young tablet technology. For example, the tc1100 comes with a battery-free digital pen that uses Microsoft's handwriting recognition software--suitable for those who want to jot down notes while on the move. The tc1100 weighs only 3.1 pounds, but increases to 4 pounds when the keyboard is attached. Slightly heavier is the Fujitsu T4010 Tablet PC, at 4.3 pounds with weight-saver or 4.7 pounds with a media drive installed. Its convertible design keeps it close to being a regular laptop. With tablets, there is a premium to pay for handwriting features, so be sure that's what you want before you spend the extra money.

The Panasonic Toughbook W2 falls into a category all its own. It has a rugged design with a shock-mounted hard drive to withstand more than the normal wear and tear of travel. At just under $2,400, you get a well-stocked device with a cleverly integrated DVD/CD-RW combo drive, and it still weighs less than 3 pounds.

Most of the laptops in our chart come with 512MB RAM. If the model you're looking at has less, check into upgrading at the time of purchase. That extra memory can go a long way to keep your computing experience running smoothly. You may make a few compromises when you buy an ultraportable, but the technology has improved so today's models won't cramp your style. And best of all, they'll take some weight off your shoulders.

Shopping List
If you're shopping for ultraportables, don't get too lightheaded--keep an eye on memory, features and price, of course.
Latitude X300
(800) WWW-DELL
1.4GHz Pentium M128MB RAM2.9 pounds20GB hard drive, 12.1-inch screen, Dell Wireless LAN, Secure Digital slot$1,599
T4010 Tablet PC
1.6GHz Pentium M512MB RAM4.3 pounds60GB hard drive, 12.1-inch screen, 802.11b/g, Bluetooth, DVD/CD-RW combo drive$2,599
Hewlett-Packard Compaq Tablet PC
(800) 888-9909
1.0GHz Pentium M512MB RAM3.1 pounds (without keyboard)40 GB hard drive, 10.4-inch screen, 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth, Secure Digital slot$2,199
ThinkPad X40
(888) SHOP-IBM
1.1GHz Pentium M256MB RAM3.17 pounds20GB hard drive, 12.1-inch screen, Secure Digital slot$1,499
Toughbook W2
(800) 662-3537
1.1GHz Pentium M256MB RAM2.8 pounds40GB hard drive, 12.1-inch screen, 802.11b/g, DVD/CD-RW combo drive$2,399
(888) 315-SONY
1.1GHz Pentium M512MB RAM3 pounds40GB hard drive, 10.6-inch screen, 802.11b/g, Bluetooth, DVD+-RW/CD-RW combo drive$2,199
Portege R100
(800) 316-0920
1.1GHz Pentium M512MB RAM2.4 pounds40GB hard drive, 12.1-inch screen, 802.11b/g, high-capacity battery$1,999

Research editor Steve Cooper contributed to this article.


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