No. of Recommendations: 3
Well, at least from my point of view (other's mileage may differ).

Before I begin, I might as well give my philosophical spin on why someone would want a laptop (I'm - at least for now - going to ignore tablets in this discussion). Only one reason - portability. Laptops, for a given level of performance and screen size are generally more expensive (sometimes, by far) than desktop computers. Their keyboards are not as convenient, their pointing devices not as easy to use as desktop ones and so on. You could buy a decent desktop and a functional laptop for about the same price (or less) than a high end laptop.

This is a subject I've been spinning over and over in my mind. My current laptop (purchased at a very high - special dealer price - of about $1,400 in 2007) is a Sony Vaio VGN-TZ170N (they used a carbon fiber case to keep the wieght down). I'll let the propeller heads look up the full specs, but simplistically it is a 2.6 pound 11.5" unit, now running Win 7, about .6" thick and has every imaginable port (of its time), wireless, bluetooth and incredibly a DVD burner. It actually adequately meets my needs (a unit used when traveling for email, web browsing, word processing, light spreadsheet work and storage of photos and stuff.

Before continuing on the laptop thing, just to show the contrast, my "desktop" (actually rack mounted) is a multiprocessor Cisco server augmented with a pair of decent graphics cards driving two 24" hi-res monitors and a 50" plasma, a backlit gaming keyboard (I don't play games, but like the extra function keys and tend to type in a dark room) and a wireless "gaming" mouse. IMHO, the user interface is the most important aspect of using a PC.

So (throwing budget out of the window) the Apple Macbook Air's are the units to beat vs. the assorted Windows Ultrabooks is a tradeup would be made.

The processor/memory bar is something I'm not setting very high. My currently adequate laptop runs on a dual core Intel U7500 at 1.06GHz and 2Gb of ram. Almost anything today will be an improvement (which I may - or may not - feel).

So, since this is a portable unit, I'm putting the maximum weight as the first filter. Few decent laptops (I'm excluding netbooks on screen and durability issues) are this light today, so I'm willing to go as heavy as 3.25 pounds. Anything heavier is arbitrarily thrown out regardless of other attributes.

The second filter is interface ports. There are a minimum suite that I think a current laptop should have: High resolution video output, SD memory slot, ethernet pot, USB 3 ports and wireless ethernet/bluetooth. (I've given up on an internal DVD burner in this class). Unbelievably, this minimal specification eliminates the smaller Macbook Air (no SD memory slot).

My current laptop runs at a resolution of 1366 x 768. Since it is already adequate and today most Windows laptops have standardized on this click, only a higher resolution gets extra points (and screens with poor angular views and/or low contrast immediately blackballs a unit).

Solid State Drives (SSD) have dropped in price substantially and offer faster booting/running, lower weight, better battery life and longer life expectancy (at the expense of having less capacity than rotating memory). This is, in my opinion, a very valuable attribute.

With today's laptops, the above specifications are actually apparently pretty hard to meet. There are surprisingly only a few that come pretty close. All are now about 13.5" which has the advantage of extra screen real estate and the disadvantage of the unit being physically bulkier than an 11.5".

The current short list includes a Sony, an Asus and as almost there a Macbook Air and a Toshiba Protege.

While I've decided that by properly choosing five years ago, my investment seems to be able to last another generation or two (say until next year's Cyber Monday :-), it makes sense to lay out the groundwork for the upcoming selection.

My biggest beef about Windows 8 is that Microsoft has taken away the "Start" button. I've downloaded a free utility to replace it (ViStart) and now it works fine.

Quick thoughts on tablets:
I was as frustrated with the iPad's lack of a file structure as I was with the missing "Start" button on Win 8. I took an iPad away with me on a trip, but it was as bulky as my laptop (admittedly a rather small one) and far less useful, so it was gifted to my wife (who is moderately technophobic, but likes its simplicity). I bought a Samsung Tab 2 7" tablet about a week ago and, after loading a couple of file utilities on the Android device find that it is close enough to adequate to take on my next trip for checking email at wi-fi hot spots (as it is lighter and smaller than even my laptop. The tablet was chosen as the least expensive unit with acceptable specifications with the understanding that all of the tablets being sold today are so rudimentary as to be barely usable. I fully expect to use the Samsung as a frisbee in a couple of years once this technology becomes more mature. Actually, I fully expect tablets to converge with laptops and form a single product class within a few years.

(Also own and even older Sony Vaio UX which, if it wasn't for its horrible keyboard would still be close to my traveling laptop of choice.
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